Building » Isle of Wight (Ryde) – St Mary

Isle of Wight (Ryde) – St Mary

High Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight

  • AHP 2021

  • Presbytery (Alex Ramsay, 2014)

  • Alex Ramsay, 2014

  • Memorial window to Countess of Clare (Alex Ramsay, 2014)

  • Countess of Clare's oratory (Alex Ramsay, 2014)

  • Chapel of Our Lady of Ryde (Alex Ramsay, 2014)

  • 'Pugin' altar in chapel of Our Lady of Ryde (Alex Ramsay, 2014)

A ‘rogue’ Gothic design of great strength and personality. The church is important as an early yet accomplished work 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 Catholicism in 1841. She had hoped to employ Augustus Pugin to design the church but as he was heavily committed elsewhere she employed the young Joseph A. Hansom. Building of the church, together with school (originally located in the crypt) and presbytery, took two years, from 1844-6, and cost the large sum of £18,000. The church was consecrated by Bishop Grant of Southwark in 1863. The north aisle was extended westward in 1884 from designs by J. S. Hansom, who also built new school and convent buildings for the Sisters of Mercy at that time. The chapel of Our Lady of Ryde was added in 1893 and the Sacred Heart chapel in 1898, both probably from designs by A J. C. Scoles.


The church is built of local ragstone with Caen stone dressings (largely renewed in Portland stone in 1879) and consists of an aisled nave, sanctuary with a chapel to Our Lady of Ryde to the south and sacristy with the founder’s oratory 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; it was intended and prepared as the burial place of the Countess of Clare (in the event she was buried at Carisbrooke, alongside her long-term companion Charlotte Elliot). The presbytery is directly attached at the east end and the former 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 vesica and triangular window, deeply recessed porch and a tower rising from one side with bell stage and short stone spire. A statue of the Virgin and Child (1862) is set beneath a heavy gabled canopy with a 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 small courtyard was created on this 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. One of the quatrefoils bears the date 1863 (date of consecration of the church) and the arms of Bishop Grant of Southwark.

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. Some evidence of painted polychromy has been uncovered on the piers. The tall sanctuary arch is richly moulded; above this a painted scene of Christ in Majesty by Philip Westlake added in 1881 has been overpainted. 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 is painted in blue with gold and silver stars. The sanctuary has its original stone screen against the east wall but the high altar was removed in the 1970s. Above this is an encircled trefoil window with a stained glass representation of the Countess of Clare (in Dominican habit, presenting a model of the church), St Elizabeth of Hungary and the Virgin and Child, by Philip Westlake and installed in memory of the Countess, c.1881. Sedilia and piscina on the south side and the foundation stone and inscription on the north side. In the north aisle is a memorial brass to Charlotte Elliott (d. 1861), in the style of Hardman. High in the north wall are windows into the first-floor founder’s oratory chapel, vaulted and with a stone fireplace. The chapel to Our Lady of Ryde (1893) is 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 said to be based on designs by Augustus Pugin, of uncertain date and provenance. Brass altar rails. 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. The church has a good deal of stained glass, much of it of high quality and by the Westlake brothers. The painted Stations of the Cross (1881) are by Philip Westlake. The seating consists of benches with convex rounded, shouldered and chamfered ends (probably 1884).

The church (including the presbytery and part of J. S. Hansom’s convent school) was upgraded to II* in March 2022 .

Entry amended by AHP 18.03.2022

List description



Roman Catholic church, built between 1844 and1846, designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom, funded by the Countess of Clare, with a contemporary attached presbytery and later extensions, including part of the attached convent school, built between 1883 and 1884, designed by Joseph Stanislaus Hansom.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of St Mary, with presbytery and later additions including the convent school chapel wing and linking corridor, High Street, Ryde, first built between 1844 to 1846 to a design by J A Hansom with extensions by J S Hansom, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: it is an accomplished, relatively early example of the ecclesiastical designs of J A Hansom, one of the foremost church architects of the C19, who was responsible for the design the church and the attached presbytery; it retains high-quality finishings, including several phases of paintwork and stained glass attributed to various important C19 craftspeople, most notably Nathanial and Philip Westlake, as well as John Hardman and Company; the original layout of the church survives well, enhanced by later side chapels and extensions, including work by J S Hansom; the more than special architectural interest is principally found in the design quality of the church, which is of particular note in this instance given the constraints of its building plot in a prominent position on Ryde High Street.

Historic interest: built in the period between the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act and the reinstatement of the Catholic hierarchy in England 1850, the church represents very well a period of the increasing boldness of Catholic church design, aided by the generous support of its private patroness, the Countess of Clare.


The construction of the Church of St Mary, Ryde, (also known as the Church of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary) was financed by the Right Honourable Elizabeth Julia Georgina (née Burrell), Countess of Clare (1793-1879). The Countess, originally an Anglican, became interested in Catholicism after attending services at the Parish Church of St Thomas, Ryde, led by the Reverend Richard Sibthorpe, who became part of the Oxford Tractarian movement. The Countess made a tour of Europe with her long-term companion, Charlotte Elliot, and was received into the Catholic Church at the basilica of St Peter’s, Rome, in September 1841.

When the Countess returned to the Isle of Wight, she acquired land on Ryde High Street in order to build a Catholic church. She hoped to engage Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin to design the church; however, he was heavily committed elsewhere. She turned to Joseph Aloysius Hansom to act as architect. The Countess’s preference was for a Classical design, for which Hansom at the time was well known. Hansom ultimately persuaded the Countess that the site and positioning of the church lent it better to the Gothic style. The builder was Thomas Dashwood of Ryde, a leading local contractor. Construction began on 15 October 1844. Reverend John Clark of Gosport laid the foundation stone on the north wall of the sanctuary on 17 December that year. The church originally comprised an aisled nave, and sanctuary with a sacristy to the north topped by a private oratory for the Countess. Beneath the sanctuary was a crypt; it is understood that a brick-lined vault was constructed below the crypt, intended to be the final resting place for the church founder; however, this was prevented by the 1860 Intra-Mural Act. The crypt, originally known as St Peter’s Chapel, initially accommodated a school. A presbytery was also built, connected by linking ranges to the east side of the church. Construction was completed in late 1846, to a cost of £18,000.The first Mass was said in the south aisle on Trinity Sunday, 7 June 1846, with the formal opening on 22 September that year.

Initially the interior walls and columns were largely undecorated. In around 1860, the first painted scheme was undertaken. It consisted of the Marian ‘M’ monogram interspersed with foliate decoration laid out over the walls and vaults of the sanctuary, the sanctuary arch and the columns of the nave. It is believed that the work was carried out by John William Jolliffe, a builder of Ryde, working under the direction of John Hardman and Company of Birmingham. In 1861 the statue of St Mary was installed in the bell tower niche, and the first stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary, most likely by Philip Westlake working with his brother Nathaniel Westlake. The church was consecrated by Thomas Grant, Bishop of Southwark, on 21 May 1863.

In 1879, the original Caen stone dressings failed, and most were replaced with Portland stone. In 1880, the east window was remodelled and filled with stained glass by Philip Westlake commemorating the Countess of Clare who had passed away that year. He also designed the Stations of the Cross, painted onto slate, which line the church walls. In 1884, a new porch, narthex and extension to the north aisle was added to the north-west. This was part of a larger scheme of construction on land to the north side of the church, including the addition of a convent school, all designed by Joseph Stanislaus Hansom, son of JA Hansom. In the 1880s a second decorative painting scheme was undertaken, enhancing and regulating the existing scheme. In 1893 the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Ryde, was added to the south-east side of the church, along with a rebuilt link between the church and presbytery. The extension was funded by the parishioner Frederick de Courcy-May. The Sacred Heart Chapel was added to the north aisle in 1898 and, along with the Shrine Chapel, is attributed to the architect AJC Scoles. At the turn of the C20 a third decorative scheme was carried out, including with the addition of Christian symbols in the sanctuary and decoration to the aisle walls.

By the 1970s much of the earlier paint scheme had been painted over. The sanctuary was reordered in 1972-1973; the original high altar was replaced, and the painted reredos depicting the Crucifixion, the communion rails and the statues in the sanctuary arch were removed. Between 1990 and 1993 a major programme of work was undertaken in advance of the founder’s bicentenary, including a new crucifix on the east wall of the sanctuary, returning the font to its original position, restoration of the Countess’s oratory, and restoration of the paintwork in the Shrine Chapel and some of the Stations of the Cross by local art teacher Marion Rodrigues. In the late 1990s work was done to the eight-bell carillon in the tower and an internal clock face was added. Glazed doors were also installed behind the west door. The roof tiles over the church were renewed in 2018. In 2021 sampling was undertaken which demonstrated that the earlier paint schemes survived beneath later paint treatments at various locations throughout the church.

Attached to the north side of the church, and behind the later entrance porch, is part of the 1884 convent buildings, including a storeroom range, linking corridor and convent school chapel wing. They were built on land formerly occupied by the White Swan public house. It was purchased as part of a series of land acquisitions made by the Rector of St Mary, Father John Baptist Cahill, between 1877 and 1883. The first purchase was land to the rear of the White Swan to provide a larger garden for the presbytery, followed by the public house. In 1883, the church bought 55 High Street (formerly 48 High Street) a newly constructed pair of shops with accommodation above, and the contemporary clubhouse to the rear which for a few years had been home to the local conservative club. Between 1883 and 1884 this land was redeveloped to extend the church and establish a convent school. This included the addition of the narthex and porch, behind which was a two-storey cloak and storeroom, a long corridor running back from the church porch along to a convent chapel wing with accommodation above to the east. All this was laid out around a courtyard on the north side of church. Also, part of this work was the conversion of the adjacent clubhouse into a gymnasium wing (under separate assessment) with classrooms above, incorporating the external envelope of the earlier building. The Sisters of Mercy, an order founded in Dublin in the 1820s, came to Ryde to open a convent school in the new complex. An advertisement first appeared in The Tablet in July 1884 headed ‘Education at the Seaside’ at the Convent of Mercy, High Street, Ryde. It announced a ‘boarding school for young ladies to be opened on 18 August attached to the beautiful Church of St Mary’. Between 1901 and 1902 the Sisters of Mercy left Ryde and were replaced by the Sisters of the Cross from St Quentin, northern France. In August 1948 the convent was taken over by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, becoming known as the Presentation Convent. The convent school closed in 1990 and the final nuns departed in 2010. The convent chapel wing has largely fallen out of out of use and the two-storey cloak and storeroom range is a church shop with archive above. Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803 -1882) was a prolific and celebrated Catholic architect. He designed several prominent Catholic churches among them St Walburge, Preston (1850-1854; Grade I; List entry 1207341) and Holy Name of Jesus, Manchester (1869-1872; Grade I; List entry 1271296). On many of the later commissions he was assisted by his younger son and eventual partner (from 1869) Joseph Stanislaus Hansom (1845-1931), who inherited the practice in 1882 and designed Our Lady of Sorrows, Bognor Regis (1881-1882; Grade II; List entry 1426198).


Roman Catholic church, built between 1844 and1846, designed by J A Hansom, funded by the Countess of Clare, with a contemporary attached presbytery and later extensions, including part of the attached convent school, built between 1883 and 1884, designed by J S Hansom.

MATERIALS: the CHURCH and PRESBYTERY are built of local coursed ragstone, with mostly Portland-stone dressing, and later brick additions; the roofs are mainly covered in clay tiles. The late-C19 CONVENT SCHOOL BUILDINGS are mostly ragstone and brick.

PLAN: the CHURCH is orientated west to east and consists of an aisled nave (west), sanctuary (east) Shrine Chapel (south), and (north) a sacristy, first-floor founders private chapel, and Sacred Heart Chapel. There is also a porch and narthex (north-west). To the east is a courtyard bordered by linking ranges (north and south) and the PRESBYTERY (east) on a triangular plot. To the north is another courtyard surrounded by part of the late-C19 CONVENT SCHOOL BUILDINGS.

EXTERIOR: the gabled west front of the CHURCH faces on the High Street and has an asymmetrical design. At the centre is a deeply recessed entrance porch topped by a carved triple two-point arch and within a cable porch. The porch is partially cut off by a square tower which diminishes to a slender upper stage and a short spire. Within the tower are lancet windows, a clock on the north side, and a statue of the Virgin Mary in a niche beneath a heavy-gabled canopy with ogee arch. Above the porch and to the left of the tower are three pointed-arch lancets in moulded frames, and the elevation is topped by a vesica. The right side of the gable has a clasped column topped by a tapering pinnacle. The gable end of the south aisle includes a moulded triple-arch arcade, a cusped triangular window at the apex, and a clasped buttress with decorative pinnacle. To the north of the west elevation is the 1884 addition. The single-storey addition to the north aisle has seven tightly spaced lancets divided by slender moulded columns, and a copped parapet roof; behind is the top of the original north-aisle gable with a trefoil window. To the left is the flat-roof narthex with five lancets windows divided by columns. The adjacent pitched-roof porch includes a recessed pointed-arch entranceway with metal gates. All the gables are topped by stone crosses.

The blind north church elevation faces into a courtyard and is built up against the adjoining convent buildings (described below). Towards the east end of this elevation is the brick apse of the Sacred Chapel with lancet windows. The south church elevation faces onto St Mary’s Passage; it has pointed-arch lancet windows divided by flat buttresses. The east gable end of the church faces in a courtyard shared with the presbytery. This end is topped by a trefoil east window and at the base is a three-light round-arched crypt window, and there are three further windows on the south return.

The four-storey PRESBYTERY is separated from the church by a courtyard with linking ranges to the north and south. The north range is rubble-stone with a central canted bay and a set of external steps. The southern linking range, rebuilt in 1893, is yellow brick with ashlar dressing, and a pitched slate roof. The presbytery’s three-storey west elevation faces onto the courtyard; it includes triple-light mullioned windows with a combination of sashes and casements, and a later two-storey brick and glazed lean-to porch. The presbytery’s multi-faceted east elevation has an entrance and asymmetrical fenestration, including irregularly placed casement and sash windows. There is a first-floor projecting four-light bay window placed on the angle of a keel in elevation, above which are further windows with colonettes and two quatrefoils plaques that bear the initials and arms of the founder, the Countess of Clare, and the initials and arms of Thomas Grant, Bishop of Southwark along with the date church’s consecration. Over the north and south elevations are stone stacks. Further along the south elevation, between the presbytery and the church is the south side of late-C19 brick linking range which includes a side door and rectangular windows that have metal casements on the ground floor and ashlar mullions on the first.

Attached the north of the church, and to the east of the late-C19 church porch, is part of the CONVENT SCHOOL BUILDINGS (1884), arranged around a courtyard. At the east end of the group is a two-storey ragstone storeroom wing with a pitched roof and stone ridge stack. To the north is a long brick corridor with a side entrance and round-arch ground-floor windows with stone sills. The window surrounds and plat bands are in yellow brick and at first-floor level is a row of timber-casement windows. On the east side of the courtyard is the brick convent chapel wing with yellow-brick detailing to the windows and plat bands. The wing’s west elevation is two-storey with an attic level, has windows topped by pointed cambered arches, and there is later lean to which encloses the stairs leading to the founder’s oratory in the main church. The wing’s east elevation is three storeys, and windows are topped by paired and triple segmental arches supported by stone columns on stone sills. There is also a round stair turret topped by a conical roof with a foliate pinnacle. The wing’s south return faces the church and is clad in complimentary ragstone. The wing is topped by a mansard roof with brick stacks and timber gable dormers with trefoil headed windows. Most of the windows in this wing are boarded over.

INTERIOR: the current entrance door to CHURCH is within the 1884 porch and leads into the narthex. Within the main body of the church and flanking the west door is a set of wooden confessionals (installed in 2012) and the door to a spiral stone stair within the bell tower, which leads up to the organ gallery. The gallery has a panelled dado and a pierced timber front; the organ was replaced in 2007.

The nave is flanked by arcades with cylindrical pillars topped by large capitals. They support moulded pointed arches, with the upper mouldings springing from corbel heads. The arches have masonry infills that are pierced by quatrefoils and supported by depressed arches. The arch-braced king-post trusses of the nave roof have decorative openwork timber supports rising from corbels with carved angel heads bearing text scrolls. Between these supports, the paired trefoil-headed clerestory windows have their original coloured diamond and square quarries. The seating in the nave and aisles consists of open-back pine benches on raised timber platforms incorporating heating pipes and grilles; the seating may be contemporary with the 1884 black-and-white marble slab floor.

The sanctuary arch is tall and richly moulded. On either side of the arch are the reused top and steps of the dismantled late-C19 pulpit. The sanctuary floor level, step and high altar date to the 1970s. The blue-painted sanctuary roof, part of the earliest decoration scheme directed by John Hardman and Company, has transverse arched braces and bosses brought out in paint and gilt. Along the east wall is a wall arcade with eight triangular panels, each with a pair of trefoiled arches below. Above are statues of St Peter and St Paul flanking a central crucifix (brought from Ireland in 1993), and the stained-glass trefoiled circular east window, by Philip Westlake, depicting the Countess of Clare and her patron, St Elizabeth of Hungary, kneeling before the Virgin and Child. On the south side of the sanctuary is a triple-arched sedilia, a double-arched piscina with quatrefoil, and an opening leading to the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady. On the north side is a memorial to the founder, probably originally painted by Philip Westlake, and a door to the sacristy. Above are two pairs of trefoil-headed windows with red stone columns and topped by quatrefoils, beyond which is the founder’s oratory.

The aisles have similar trusses to the nave. At the west end of the south aisle is the baptistry. The original baptismal font, returned to its original location in 1993, has an octagonal bowl with colonettes and carved foliage on a circular stem and square, chamfered base, and topped by an oak cover. At the east end of the south aisle is a mosaic floor and beyond is the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Ryde (1893), with an earlier altar traditionally attributed by some to P P Pugin, or A W N Pugin (unconfirmed). The chapel’s walls and ceiling are decorated in devotional and biblical scenes and inscriptions, first painted by Nathanial Westlake in 1894, and it is topped by a pitched roof which is divided by ribs into panels, some filled with stained glass, top-lit by glass slates in the roof above. At the west end of the north aisle is the 1884 extension with seven stained glass windows that depict the Sacraments, designed by Nathaniel Westlake. Attached to the north aisle is the Sacred Heart chapel (1898) faced in thin marble and alabaster, and with a marble altar and floor. At the east end of the north aisle, is the sacristy. Above is the founder’s oratory, accessed from a later set of stairs in the adjacent convent chapel wing. The oratory has a vaulted roof and a fireplace on the north side. It has a modern timber altar and a recently relocated tabernacle behind, flanked on the wall returns by memorial plaques to the Countess of Clare and Charlotte Elliot. Stained glass in this space have been stylistically compared to those in the manner of Burlison and Grylls. On the north side is the Lady Altar, built using part of the wooden casing from the old church organ and over it is a polychrome wooden statue given by the Countess.

Below the sanctuary is the Norman-style crypt chapel of St Peter. A set of stairs accessed from the floor of the nave descend to a corridor leading to the crypt. The principal space has a groin-vaulted roof supported by substantial columns with cushion capitals.

Other features include the consecration crosses on the aisle walls. Monuments and memorials include the alabaster mural monument to Edmund Randolph, a brass memorial to Charlotte Elliot marking the site where she died in church in 1861 (stylistically attributed to John Hardman and Company). Several of the stained-glass windows are the result of multiple decades of work by Philip and Nathaniel Westlake; in addition to those described above this includes the 1863 windows in the south side of sanctuary and further windows in the south aisles by Philip Westlake. The late-C19 painted Stations of the Cross (also designed in Philip Westlake) are on the north and south aisle walls. There is also statutory of various dates, including a painted wooden statue of St Joseph, given by the Countess of Clare, as well as brass and silver light and wall fixtures. Most of church walls and pillars have modern paint finishes; small sample areas around the church have been uncovered to show the earlier polychromatic paint scheme surviving beneath.

The rooms in the PRESBYTERY are arranged over four levels and around the principal staircase with chunky newels and swept handrails. There is also a service staircase in the north-east corner. Most of the doors have four-panels. At ground-floor level, the ceiling above the east door incorporates a tile with the crest and coronet of the Countess of Clare. Many of the rooms retain window shutters. There are fireplaces on most floors with stone or plaster surrounds and cast-iron grates. The level of decoration to the fireplaces varies, with those on the first floor being the most elaborate, including a surround with an ogee arch, deeply carved spandrels and inset tiles. There is an Adam-style fireplace on the ground floor; this may be a later replacement. Later partitions have been added to some of the rooms on the upper floors.

Also accessed from the presbytery are ground and first-floor rooms at the east end of the 1890s brick linking range. At the west end of the range there is a ground-floor room accessed via the door on the south elevation; this leads through to the church crypt. There is also a first-floor flower room (not accessed).

The CONVENT SCHOOL BUILDINGS attached to the north of the church include a two-storey corridor accessed via a door on the east side of the church porch. The corridor is tiled on the ground-floor. At west end of the corridor is a pointed arch leading through to a ground-floor former cloak room and, at the top of a staircase, the first-floor former storeroom (later archive room). Further along the corridor are panelled doors leading through to the other convent wings to the north (under a separate assessment) and one to the courtyard to the south. At the east end of the corridor is a staircase and a doorway into the convent chapel wing, with a waiting room and convent chapel room on the ground floor. The convent school chapel is attached to the church and the top of the south wall is corbelled; there is a brass light fitting in the centre of the room. Attached to the west side of the convent chapel is a lean to with a painted timber staircase that leads up to the first-floor founder’s oratory within the church. The two upper levels of the convent chapel wing are former bedrooms (staircase and upper floors not accessible).


Books and journals

Clarke, P, Ryde to Rome, (2003); Doubleday, AH, The Victoria History of the County of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, (1912), 186; Harris, P, The architectural achievement of Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), (2010); Lloyd, DW, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Isle of Wight, (2018), 226-227


Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies: Hansom, Joseph Aloysius, accessed 4 October 2021 from


Architectural History Practice, Church of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ryde, Isle of Wight Statement of Significance (2021); Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock: St Mary, Ryde (2007); Arte Conservation Ltd, St Mary’s Church, Ryde: Paint Scheme Research and Conservation (2021); Harwood E, Historic England report: Convent, High Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight (2021).

Heritage Details

Architect: J. A. Hansom

Original Date: 1844

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*