Catholic Views from the Solent
As you journey across the Solent on the ferry from Southampton or Cowes it is always interesting to try to identify the buildings which come into view. As you approach Cowes it is possible to pick out the Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury amongst the other buildings. The central position of this Catholic church in the town and its proximity to the Anglican churches is surprising as there was a determined effort at the time to restrict pre-Victorian Catholic churches to the periphery of a town. The building which is far more prominent is the Convent of the Sisters of Christ at situated on Springhill at East Cowes. The convent grounds offer spectacular views across the Solent and up Southampton Water. This is also the site of the Holy Cross Catholic Primary school. The nuns (originally known as Sisters of the Holy Cross) were resident at the convent next to St. Mary’s in Ryde High St. from 1901 until 1947 when they moved to Springhill.
If you take the ferry from Portsmouth you will find Ryde dominated by the two church spires of All Saints and Holy Trinity. The latter was founded largely by the Hon. Lindsay Burrell, brother of the Countess of Clare. The church was built in 1845 and is about a year older than St. Mary’s. The same builder, Thomas Dashwood worked on both churches. The taller Parish Church of All Saints to the right (west) was founded in 1869 and dominates the skyline. At just under 200 feet it is the tallest building on the Island. Between these two churches and just to the right of the town hall is the smaller Proprietary Church of St. James in Lind Street. This was the parish church of the Countess of Clare in her Anglican days. Not far away and clearly visible from mid Solent is the Italianate style block of apartments (built in 1826) where the Countess used to live in Brigstock Terrace. The Former Royal Victoria Yacht Club founded once again by her brother, Lindsay Burrell (just recently upgraded as apartments) is the most prominent building at sea level to the west of the pier. On the east side of the town St. Cecilia’s Abbey can be seen towards Appley with the square pyramid bell tower clearly visible. If you expect to see St. Mary’s from the ferry you will need to use binoculars. The upper part of the red brick convent building can be seen with the stone cross on the north wing but the only part of St. Mary’s that I could identify was the weather vane and the top layer of Portland stone on the steeple.
If you take the car ferry into Fishbourne, Quarr Abbey will dominate the last mile of your journey. The red brick abbey buildings contrast vividly with the green foliage of the trees and if you cross over at the right time the abbey bell will welcome you as it calls the monks to church for the Divine Office.
With good eyesight it is just possible to see the weathervane on the top of the steeple of St. Mary’s Church in Ryde High Street. It is easier to notice parts of St. Cecilia’s Abbey, notably the abbey church and bell tower, as you look to the left (east) beyond the boating lake. When the Benedictine nuns moved here from Cowes in 1906, they came with their monastic possessions by boat. At this time their was access by sea to within a few hundred yards of the abbey buildings.
The coastal path between the sea and the abbey gardens offers a glorious walk towards Seaview with stunning views over the Solent. You soon pass the Appley Tower folly which once served teas to its Victorian guests who braced the east wind along the Esplanade. In the past this route was taken by Catholics walking from Seaview and St. Helens for Sunday Mass, as St. Cecilia’s was nearer to those villages and avoided the uphill final ascent to St. Mary’s in the High Street.