The Architecture of the Catholic Churches of the Isle of Wight

St. Mary’s Church, Ryde

St. Mary’s Church in Ryde is important as an early yet mature work of great personality by the young Joseph Hansom, executed to a high quality and at great expense. With the two 18th century Catholic churches on the Isle of Wight, St Mary’s is important in the revival of Catholicism on the Island, paid for entirely by the Catholic convert, Elizabeth Countess of Clare, at a time when the restoration of Catholicism in England was still highly controversial.

It was founded and paid for by the Countess of Clare(1793-1879). She had hoped to employ Augustus Pugin to design her church in Ryde but as he was heavily committed elsewhere she employed the young Joseph A Hansom. Building took two years, from 1846-8 and cost the large sum of £18,000. It is a ‘rogue’ Gothic design of great strength and personality. The north aisle was extended westwards in 1880. The Lady Chapel was added in 1893, and the Sacred Heart chapel in 1898.

The church stands hemmed in by other buildings in the High Street. The site was acquired in relative secrecy as freehold land was rarely available in the centre of Ryde and there was antipathy to non Church of England churches being erected in prominent locations.

The church is built of local Ragstone with Caen stone dressings and consists of an aisled nave, sanctuary with a Lady Chapel to the south and sacristy with the founder’s chapel over to the north. The Sacred Heart chapel is set off the north eastern corner of the north aisle, the baptistery is at the west end of the south aisle and the church is approached by a narthex running north from the west end of the north aisle. Below the church the crypt was originally a schoolroom and is now a café, shop and small museum. The presbytery is directly attached at the east end (a common arrangement) and convent buildings are attached to the north.

Despite being hemmed in by other High Street buildings the west front is a vigorous and wild composition with attenuated lancets, a vessica and triangular window, deeply recessed porch and a tower rising from one side with bell stage and short stone spire. Statue of the Virgin set beneath a heavy gabled canopy with nodding ogee arch. The north side of the church is plain and without windows as it was built up against other buildings. When the convent was built a courtyard was created on the side. The south side faces St Mary’s Passage with a row of sharply pointed lancet windows. The east elevation is that of the presbytery, an equally idiosyncratic design, keeled and facetted in plan, windows set on the angle of the keel, with colonnettes and boldly projecting quatrefoils.

The richly decorated interior has arcades with cylindrical piers and tall pointed arches with masonry infill supported on depressed arches with short straight lower sections, the masonry panels pierced by quatrefoils. The tall sanctuary arch is richly moulded. The nave roof trusses are carried on elaborate openwork timber supports on carved corbels. The sanctuary has a pointed tunnel vault with transverse arches and subsidiary ribs rising from corbels between the windows, with lierne pieces and painted in blue and gold. The sanctuary has a stone reredos but the High Altar was removed in the 1970s. A sedilia and piscine on the south side and the founder memorial on the north side. There is an encircled trefoil east window with Sts. Peter and Paul in niches below. On the north wall there is a brass to Charlotte Elliott, companion and friend of the Countess of Clare. High in the north wall are windows into the first-floor founders chapel, vaulted and with a stone fireplace. The Lady Chapel at the east end of the south aisle is elaborately painted with biblical and devotional scenes by Nathaniel Westlake (1894). The extraordinary pitched roof is divided by ribs into panels, mostly with painted narrative scenes, but three on each side are filled with stained glass depicting angels. The altar is attributed to Peter Paul Pugin, possibly based on designs by Augustus Pugin. The Sacred Heart Chapel was added in 1898 is an apse, with facetted sides and lancets, opening from the north aisle. The vault is made of thin sheets of coloured marble through which the light shines to dramatic effect. These two chapels were designed by Canon A. J. Scholes. The church has a good deal of stained glass, much of it of high quality and by Westlake.

The church is a Listed Grade II but probably meriting upgrading to II* for its fine interior and an early but mature work by J A Hansom. A design of great imagination, executed to a high quality, reflected in the high cost of the original building.

The church including presbytery is highly unbalanced asymmetrical composition in free Early English style. The gabled main body of the West front partially cut off as is the gabled porch by a square tower with an arcaded gallery and stumpy spire above. Additions to the North in similar style with close set arcading and vertical eye shaped window on gable above. The interior has unusually depressed arcade arches, two centred on vertical pieces, with the normal two centred arches appearing much higher as drip moulds. Adjoining to the East and reached through St Mary’s Passage is the presbytery, again a highly irregular elevation in coursed rubble with stone dressings. Asymmetrically spaced gables, casement and sash windows and a pointed first floor bay of two lights. A quatrefoil plaque bears the date 1863,when the church was consecrated.

Sacred Heart Church, Shanklin.

The church is a good example of a small 1950s church building of some character and distinctive design. It is the work of a local architect of whom little is known. The firms most celebrated work, Chert, a private house in Ventnor, is thought to be largely the design of the clients.

The first church on the site, a ‘tin’ church was opened in 1888. This was replaced by a permanent Flemish Gothic brick church by Benedict Williamson (designer of Farnborough Abbey) in 1906-7. This church received a direct hit from German bombers on 3 January 1943 and was almost totally destroyed. A temporary church was used until the present building was erected in 1956-7 to designs by R Lethieullier Gilbert of Gilbert & Hobson of Ventnor. The plan followed that of the previous church and is unusual in having a four-square porch tower (the lower part survived the bombing) placed in the middle of the north side and set back from the road at a higher level.

The church stands north of the town centre, close to the railway station and amongst Victorian suburban streets of spacious character. Although the church is elevated from the road it is set back, with the presbytery and other buildings close on all sides, such that it does not have significant townscape presence.

Sacred Heart has only one generally viewed aspect, that to the north. It is set back behind a steep forecourt and is of distinctive 1950s design, with a mighty tower broader than it is deep, the lower part clearly of a different brick (surviving from the previous church). Into this is inserted the entrance which has a rounded Gothic arch with a kind of rusticated surround altering to a parabolic form. The bell stage is of strongly horizontal form divided into five bays to the north, four bays to east and west, each divided by a plain equilateral cross. The high-level nave windows to either side are angled, a la Coventry Cathedral, with concrete frames. It has a pantile roof with deeply overhanging eaves. The interior is a single volume with a canted gallery to the liturgical west (the church is actually oriented the wrong way round). Light and airy because of the uninterrupted rectangular volume and the angled windows throwing light towards the altar. The sanctuary is differentiated by sycamore wall panelling and projecting bricks to form a decorative pattern at higher level. A full height velvet curtain hangs behind the altar and there is a fabric-covered tester above. The cross is by Henry Farmer of Stratford on Avon and dates from 1949 when it was commissioned for the temporary church. The sanctuary originally had side altars and the high altar placed against the wall and was re-ordered in 1988. The pointed arch and brickwork above the entrance internally shows the retention of the surviving part of the tower of the previous church. The Stations of the Cross are of distinctive primitive design executed in painted wooden relief with integral frames.

St. Thomas of Canterbury Church, Cowes.

The church is of great importance as an early Catholic parish church, being built just five years after the Second Catholic Relief Act. Architecturally the building is a good example of a Georgian chapel. As with Newport, the church at Cowes was paid for (£2,808) by Elizabeth Heneage (1734-1800). It was opened five years after Newport, work starting in 1796 and the church opening in June 1797, a very early date for a Catholic parish church. It is said to have been designed by the first priest, the Rev. Thomas Gabb, from London and who trained as a priest at Douai in France. A contemporary biography corroborates the fact that he was skilled in architecture. Problems with settlement of the structure, exacerbated by being struck by a tornado in 1876, lead to repairs being carried out and it is likely that at this time the rather gaunt plate tracery was inserted into the windows. The church was re-roofed in 1967 (Lobb & Sweetmen of Cowes, architects) and the interior redecorated. Re-ordering took place circa 1975 and there was further restoration and redecoration in the 1990s. The church was originally dedicated to the Holy Trinity but the dedication was changed when an Anglican parish church dedicated to the Holy Trinity was opened in Cowes in 1832.

The church, which is Grade II listed, stands on the hillside above the town centre of West Cowes. It stands above the road, set back from other domestic buildings and for this reason is a significant element in the townscape.

The church is built of a buff brick, apart from the north wall which is of red brick, and a slate roof. The main façade faces south and has the appearance of a Georgian preaching box. It has five rounded arches with four windows set in, divided by (perhaps later) stepped buttresses. The plate tracery in the windows probably dates from the restoration in 1876. The entrance is in the right hand bay, with a pair of panelled doors beneath a decorative fanlight and set behind a handsome porch with Ionic columns and a dentilled pediment. On the blank wall above are a timber bellcote and a della Robia ware plaque of the Virgin and Child. The whole façade has a dentil cornice and parapet, with a foundation stone centrally located at high level. At the (geographical) west end the three-storey presbytery is attached under the same continuous roof. The ground floor of the presbytery has a round-arched window and doorway in typical Georgian domestic manner. A modern porch has been added recently. Two tiers of tripartite windows above are set within a single all embracing round arch. The other elevations of the building are largely blind with just two windows to the presbytery at the west end of the north wall and a circular window in the pedimented east gable. There is a small single storey extension to the north. The church is set back from the road behind a brick wall, stepped up over a pointed-arched entrance to a flight of steps leading up to the porch. Two further arches give access to the presbytery.

The interior is memorable for the treatment of the (liturgical) east wall. It is said to be a copy of a reredos now in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Church of St Jacques at Douai, France but originally at Douai College. This has the altar backed by a reredos with giant fluted pilasters, triglyphs frieze with paterae, and a keyed arch between the pilasters, the full height of the building. There are smaller round-arches on either side with recesses and round-arched doorways below. There is a large altarpiece on canvas of Joseph and Nicodemus taking Christ’s body down from the cross. The interior of the church is a single undivided space with a flat ceiling and an arcade of blind round-arches on the north wall. The west gallery has triglyph frieze and balustrade, elegantly curving forward in the centre. Above it is the organ, inserted in 1913 and rebuilt in 1953. The pews are simple Victorian pine with trefoil and quatrefoil motifs, as is the panelled dado around the walls and the octagonal stone font was given in 1874. The sanctuary area was re-ordered circa 1975.

The church was built in 1796-7 by Mrs Elizabeth Heneage, who was also responsible for building the Catholic Church at Newport. The architect was the Rev Thomas Gabb and the builder was Thomas Young of Portsea. It is built of yellow brick with five bays with a buttress between each and a cornice and parapet. The north easternmost bay is blank but has a porch with Ionic columns and pediment. The doorcase has pilasters, segmental fanlight and 6-panelled double doors. There is a bellcote above. The other bays contain round-headed windows of 2 lights with stone mullions and transoms. The south-westernmost bay forms the presbytery, which is under the same roof span as the church. This is of 3 storeys and has one window facing the street. Round-headed windows and doorcase with semi-circular fanlight. The interior contains a wooden organ gallery supported on Tuscan columns and altar wall having triglyph and paterae cornice on giant Doric pilasters and a round-headed arch in the centre flanked by putti.

St. Saviour’s Church, Totland Bay

William and Mary Ward built Weston Manor in 1869-70 (designed by Catholic architect George Goldie) with a private Catholic chapel. Her ambition was to build a Catholic church at Totland but it was her son, Grenville, who died in 1915 and made this a reality by leaving £5,000 for this purpose. The church was eventually built in 1923 to designs by the well known, Catholic Church architects Mangan & Mangan of Preston.

The Mangans were prolific architects of Catholic churches in the Inter-War years. Their output varies in style and quality. St Saviour’s, Totland Bay, is a work of considerable originality in its detailing and is most attractive and unexpected in its Italian Romanesque style.

Freshwater and Totland are scattered settlements in the hilly country of West Wight. St Saviour’s church stands about half a mile south of Weston Manor on a gentle slope spaciously set back from the lane. In its overtly Italian character, visitors come across it with some surprise.

In style the church is like an Early Christian basilica or Italian Romanesque church. With bright red brick, the main body of the church is rectangular with a shallow-pitched and deeply overhanging tiled roof. Much lower lean-to aisles are screened at each end by raised walls elegantly curved. East view depicts a polygonal apse and projecting side chapels, all with shallow roofs and deep eaves. The west front has a colonnaded narthex (now enclosed with glazing) and the distinctive vertical feature of the north west tower with projecting eaves. A polygonal baptistery (now the Martyrs Chapel) projects from the west face of the tower. There are arched-corbel tables and other decorative brick projections. ‘Perhaps the form was based on that of a Romanesque basilica, but with overtones of Art Deco and strident individualism’ (Pevsner & Lloyd).

The interior is spacious and largely of red brick with decorative use of blue brick. In the west gallery there are arcades with segmental arches on square pillars, herringbone patterns in the spandrels and paired clerestory windows above. The sanctuary arch is broad and the sanctuary internally is half-domed and semi-circular, plastered and painted white in contrast to the red brick. The half-dome is pierced by three small windows. The narrow passage aisles have transverse brick arches and the nave is roofed with robust utilitarian trusses with diagonal bracing. The font (repositioned in the 1990s) has a deep octagonal bowl with carved Gothic panels on a base of clustered polished shafts. It looks earlier than the church and may have been brought from elsewhere. In the Martyrs Chapel there is a painted triptych of 1983 by Lyn Cottrall, together with paintings of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More. The sanctuary was re-ordered in 1973 by C A F Sheppard. The organ is placed on the west gallery and may have been installed in the 1950s but dates from the late 19th century, by Bryceson Brothers of London. There is stained glass mostly at the east end and mostly figures of saints. Some windows signed by Barrowclough & Sanders of London.

St. Patrick’s Church, Sandown

In the mid 19th century there were always large numbers of soldiers garrisoned at the Granite Fort, many of whom were Catholics and it became a regular occurrence for mass to be said there. In 1907 Father de Mainvilliers became Sandown’s first resident priest, saying Mass at Albert Lodge Chapel. In 1914 Father Flynn proposed the building of a permanent church. Delayed by war and fund raising the foundation stone was not laid until May 1928 and St Patrick’s was opened on 25 June 1929. The architect was Mangan but the Romanesque design was closely modelled on the Honan Church at Cork (1916 by James McMullen, a major work of the Irish Arts & Crafts movement, inspired by the nationalist taste for Irish architecture and design of the Romanesque period).

The church stands close to the junction of Beachfield Road and Broadway, south of the town centre and in a Victorian and later suburb. The ‘Cashel’ tower is a landmark in views from the south and the church stands out for its scale and form, largely unbroken and raised high over a crypt, and for the use of a white stone.

St Patrick’s consists of a long nave and sanctuary raised over a deep undercroft hall, unbroken externally, with shallow unequal transeptal projections (much larger on the north side), tripartite west porch and a slender cylindrical tower projecting at the south west corner. Following the early Romanesque style, the windows are narrow and tall and the walls unrelieved except by flat buttresses linked by an arched corbel table. Steeply pitched roof with Celtic crosses on the gables. The entrance has shafts and mouldings of three orders and elaborately carved cushion capitals. The interior is undivided and tunnel vaulted with transverse arches. A decorative arched corbel table links the heads of the windows. The sanctuary arch and sanctuary are richly decorated with carving, mostly nailhead and dogtooth but with some more Celtic forms, and with a vocabulary picked up in the altar, font and ambo. An immensely tall arch breaking into the tunnel vault opens into the shallow south chapel and a similar two arches open into a north chapel with a lower arch on its east wall opening into the chapel sanctuary. There are original altars in both chapels. The west wall of the nave has a five-bay arcade, the larger central arch opening to the porch. There are two smaller arches on the right for the confessional and two open arches to the left. Even the built in stoups have little Romanesque arches. The pews are plain with open backs. Excellent stained glass throughout the church by the Harry Clarke Studios of Dublin. The proportions of the windows lend themselves to the long sinuous figures familiar in the work of Clarke and his studio, combining ‘Byzantine dignity with Beardsley-esque decadence’. The windows have an intense jewel-like quality which remain in the minds eye long after leaving the building.

This is not listed but recommended for listing Grade II for its completeness as a Hiberno-Romanesque inspired church and with a high quality scheme of stained glass by the studio of a leading Irish Arts & Crafts glass artist.

St. Thomas of Canterbury Church, Newport

This Grade II* listed church was built immediately following the Catholic Emancipation Act 0f 1791 and paid for by Elizabeth Heneage, an Island born girl who married into the old Catholic Heneage family from Lincolnshire. It is reputed to be the first Roman Catholic parish church built after the Reformation. The presbytery faces the church across a garden and pre-dates it. North of the church and presbytery, a former school of 1859 and church hall complete the close-knit campus.

The church is situated at the western end of Newport town centre. Pyle Street, one of the towns principal streets, runs parallel to the High Street and was already well developed and part of the town by the mid 18th century. The character today is of a mixed-use edge of town centre location.

Bryan Little, in Catholic Churches since 1623 describes the church as ‘having little to mark it off from the almost contemporary Methodist Chapel down the street’. It is a red brick ‘preaching box’ as was the style of most church building in the late 18th century. Externally it is of typical Georgian design, a single rectangle, three by five bays and two storeys with a pedimented gable to the street and a handsome Tuscan columned porch. The window openings are round-arched, sometimes blind, to complete the symmetry, and have timber sash windows. Apart from the stone porch and pediment, the entrance front is given greater emphasis by the use of a continuous first floor string-course, keystone and impost blocks to the central window and a blind circular window with key blocks in the pediment.

The church contains almost all the original details, – brick front to street of 2 storeys, with a band at sills and cornice, small modillion pediment containing a rusticated round lunette, 3 windows (centre blocked) with round heads and no glazing bars. The side elevation has 5 stucco keystones round headed double doors and rectangular porch in Roman Doric. The interior retains galleries on composite columns, good contemporary altar rails, coved altar recess and font with cover, and is quite outstanding of its kind for this period.

The interior is charming and elegant with galleries supported on fluted Composite columns and a dentil cornice, and curved forward on the short side. The gallery has box pews and a front with turned balusters. Deep coving to the flat plaster ceiling. Below, at the liturgical east end the last bay is enclosed by partitions with round-arched windows of domestic character. These enclose the sacristy to the east and the benefactresses’ former private chapel to the west. A shallow recess or apse beneath a round-arch terminates the sanctuary. This has an open altar table designed in late 18th century style with the tabernacle set on a pedestal behind and the whole oversailed by a tester. The pews are 19th century pine with open backs. The altar rails have been removed and placed on the wall at the back of the church. To the right of the side entrance is a marble wall tablet to Elizabeth Heneage who died in 1800. There is an elegant 18th century marble font with an oval basin on a pedestal, the basin with fluting to the underside and a ontemporary cover. There is coloured or stained glass over the liturgical west entrance below the gallery and in the founders chapel and sacristy screens and elsewhere, including Victorian pictorial scenes and plain coloured glass, some of almost art Deco character. There is a rudimentary Victorian Gothic organ case on the gallery.

St. Michael’s Church, Bembridge

From 1842 Mass was said in a private chapel at nearby St Helens and from 1859 mass was said in the private chapel at the home of Prime Minister Gladstone’s sister, Helen, who also lived at St Helens. It was not until 1935 that a permanent Catholic church was provided at Bembridge and this was in the former Wesleyan Chapel in Kings Road (built in 1844 and now a private house). Bembridge expanded greatly in the 1950s and a purpose built church was built, to designs of C. Sheppard, and opened on 20th June that year.

The church was an inexpensive building; it cost £12,000 in 1965. It is a portal frame clad in red brick and roofed with concrete tiles. It is a straightforward rectangular church with only the entrance porch and sacristy projecting from the rectangle. The exterior is given interest by the use of stone facing on the gabled entrance wall, either side of a full height glazed slot. The south side has a trio of full height windows, which break through the eaves, whilst the north side has high-level horizontal windows.

The interior is a single uninterrupted space, plain but dignified, light and spacious, with pews and sanctuary furniture mainly of 1965, with some additions of 2011. Only a few statues of saints were brought from the old church. The sanctuary lamp is Victorian and comes from St Mary’s, Ryde. The Stations of the Cross, which appear to be in some form of GRP, date from the 1940s and were brought here in the 1970s from a church in Hampshire. The figure on the external cross mounted on the west window was brought here in the 1980s from St Joseph’s Guildford were it had been part of a war memorial.

St. David’s Church, East Cowes.

A parish was established in East Cowes in 1906, largely owing to the presence of the nearby Naval College at Osborne. A tin church was erected on the present site in Connaught Road in 1906, replaced in 1923 by a modest brick building, which was demolished by German bombardment in 1942. In 1945-6 the present hall was built, by Newport architect Mr Aldridge, with the intention that the church could be built on top of it at a later date. This happened in 1951-2 when the present church, by C.A.F. Sheppard, architect of Ryde, was built.

Connaught Road is a suburban street, developed largely after World War One and much redeveloped in the 1950s, on the hillside overlooking the River Medina and across to West Cowes.

The church is essentially of rectangular form with wire-cut brick walls under a plain concrete-tiled roof, gabled at either end. There is a modest widening at the liturgical east end. The basement hall is rendered and buttresses divide it into three bays each with a semi-circular headed window with stepped surround. Three similar window openings light the nave above and there are smaller, higher level windows lighting the sanctuary. The church is set on the steeply sloping hillside such that the entrance façade is set just a few steps above the level of Connaught Road. The windows to the hall have been replaced in UPVC whilst those above have painted metal frames with glazing bars, elegantly following the curve of the arch. The entrance front is gabled with paired entrance doors with stepped jambs forming a bold recess and effectively a porch, the whole with a projecting concrete frame. Similar frames to the tall narrow windows to either side and symmetrical arrangement of five windows above. The interior is dominated by three pierced concrete trusses, like cruck frames, which support the roof. The liturgical east wall is of exposed brick in a tripartite arrangement of pointed arches, the centre opening to the sanctuary, the lower flanking arches blind but incorporating doors to vestries. The liturgical west gallery is over an internal porch and service rooms. The seating is a mix of modern upholstered chairs and Victorian pine pews from the chapel at the Convent of the Cross, Springhill. Re-ordering of the sanctuary took place around 1981, though the unusual glass communion rails were not removed to storage until 1990. The Stations of the Cross, pinnacled gothic designs, must have been brought from elsewhere. A restoration and repair programme took place in 1994. At the time of opening the County Press considered the church ‘spacious and well designed’ and commented upon the concrete arches and the glass altar rails.

Holy Cross Church, Seaview

Helen Gladstone, sister of the Victorian statesman, came to live in St. Helens in 1858 and the following year converted a room into her house into a Catholic chapel. No permanent arrangements were made and in the 1930s Mass was said in various public halls. Spurred on by the opening of a Catholic church at nearby Bembridge, the Catholics of Seaview eventually achieved their objective of a Catholic church at Seaview in 1957.

Seafield Road is a suburban street of mostly 1920s housing running down to The Esplanade. Holy Cross church stands between two detached houses and is set in line with them. It is smaller than the adjoining houses and has very little presence in the street scene.

Holy Cross is a small portal frame brick building with gable end to the street. This has characteristic 1950s design of a central entrance recessed with plain stepped brick jambs, a large window above rising into the gable and the plain red brick walls to either side decorated with projecting blue header bricks, the whole enclosed by pilasters. The east wall is more simply treated but also has a pattern of projecting blocks, and the side walls are more utilitarian with high-level Crittall windows and large French doors throwing light onto the sanctuary. The interior is modest and devotional, with the focus on the sanctuary; a narrow space formed by the placing of sacristy and confessional on either side. The roof structure of rafters and purlins is exposed and painted and the lower element of the middle truss becomes a kind of lightweight screen, an attractive feature in such a plain building. The sanctuary furniture dates from 2006. The nave seating is Victorian chairs. The most interesting furnishings are the Stations of the Cross and the painting of the Resurrection over the west door, all of 1961 by the Irish artist Father Jack P Hanlon (1913-68) in a painterly expressionist manner with vivid colours.

This church closed in July 2011.