Ryde - St Mary

High Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight

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A ‘rogue’ Gothic design of great strength and personality. The church is important as an early yet accomplished work of great personality by the young J.A. Hansom, executed to a high quality and at great expense. With the two eighteenth century Catholic churches on the Isle of Wight, St Mary’s is important in the revival of Catholicism on the Island. It was 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.

St Mary’s was founded and paid for by Elizabeth Countess of Clare (1793-1879), who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1841. 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. Presbytery 1863. North aisle extended westward in 1880. Lady Chapel 1893. Sacred Heart chapel 1898.

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 northeastern 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. Tall sanctuary arch, 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. Painted in blue and gold. The sanctuary has a stone reredos but the High Altar was removed in the 1970s. Sedilia and piscina on the south side and the founder’s tomb on the north side. Encircled trefoil east window with saints in niches below. On the north wall a brass to Charlotte Elliott, companion and friend of the Countess of Clare. High in the north wall are windows into the first-floor founder’s chapel, vaulted and with a stone fireplace. Lady Chapel at the east end of the south aisle, elaborately painted with narrative 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. Brass altar rails. The Sacred Heart Chapel 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. The church has a good deal of stained glass, much of it of high quality and by Westlake.

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: J.A. Hansom

Original Date: 1844

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II