The Isle of Wight Society

August 2023

The Georgian churches and chapels were often of simple designs, compared with the later Victorian Gothic structures. Of the 130 or so places of worship on the Island in 2023, only 61 are Anglican. Non-Conformist Chapels such as Baptist first appeared in 1774, when a simple chapel was built in the High Street in Newport. This is presently the Unitarian Church, with Victorian alterations.

Methodism was popular and the Wesley brothers preached in Cowes in 1735. John Wesley returned to open a chapel in Newport in 1781. A beautiful example of the Wesleyan chapels is the Methodist Chapel at Godshill, in the heart of the village. This very simple building was built in 1838 just after Victoria became Queen. It is a great contrast to the elaborate Anglican church on the hill, and is well worth a visit to pause and reflect.

Newport's Roman Catholic Church

It is surprising that it was not until 1791 that the Act of Parliament was passed to allow new Roman Catholic churches to be built. The Island was quickly off the mark, and in that same year the Catholic Church in Pyle Street, Newport, was the first to be built anywhere in England. Dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, it is simply built of red brick with a white stone porch facing the road. This is listed Grade II*. The Catholic Church with the same dedication in Cowes was built just five years later, but has some Victorian changes thanks to damage from a tornado!

Bible Christian Chapels also appeared, encouraged by Mary Toms who was a very popular preacher around 1820. Many of these congregations combined with Wesleyan Methodists in later years.

Godshill Methodist Chapel

Congregationalists built some early chapels, such as that by the chain ferry in East Cowes in 1823 – the first church in the town.

Congregational Church, East Cowes

Many villages still have a chapel building. Not all of these are still places of worship – several have been carefully converted to accommodation, such as the early Victorian Wootton Wesleyan Chapel.

Wesleyan Chapel, Wooton

New Anglican churches were built in the expanding towns, often by a local landowner as a Chapel of Ease. The expanding town of Ryde was in the Parish of Newchurch, six miles away, so Mr Player built St Thomas’s church in 1719. This was replaced in 1827 by the church we see today. We look forward to a new use after more restoration of this derelict building. Holy Trinity, Cowes, built in 1832, saved a long walk out to Northwood, the Parish church.

St Thomas's Ryde

Holy Trinity, Cowes

Several prominent architects designed Island churches. John Nash, the Regency Architect, was a resident of East Cowes, and in 1804 a Church Warden of Whippingham. The small old church was pulled down and Nash designed a new one, with external stairways to access the galleries above the nave. By 1861 this building had been demolished to make way for Queen Victoria’s new church.

Whippingham Church, 1813 by John Nash

In 1831 John Nash designed St. James church for East Cowes. Princess Victoria, visiting the Island with her mother, laid the foundation stone. Unfortunately this was lost during extensive enlargement in the 1860s! John Nash is buried there, by the tower he designed.
Visit and explore some of the Island’s rural and urban churches and chapels this summer, which are all part of our rich Island heritage.

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Isle of Wight Society
East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road
East Cowes, PO32 6EP

Tel: +44 (0) 1983 280310

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