The Story of Christ Church, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight 1875 -1975
An extract from the Centenary Booklet by Jack Wheeler published in 1976
This delightful resort does not share the antiquity of neighbouring Yarmouth nor of nearby Freshwater which lost some of its acres in 1875 to form the parish of Totland Bay, but it is justly proud of its lovely setting and the splendours of its sunsets that leave a lasting impression on the beholder. The place took its name from the bay it overlooks, spelling it in various ways since the early 17th century. In “The Place Names of the Isle of Wight” by Helge Kokeritz we find the following alternatives – “Totland (1608); Totland Bay (1720); Totland Chine (1751); Tollands Bay (1852);” whilst the latter example also occurs in White’s “History, Gazatteer and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight” (1859).
The Parish of Totland Bay – How it all Began
The parish of Totland Bay was formed in 1875 out of the parish of Freshwater and includes the famous Needles Rocks and Lighthouse. That the legal formalities were carried through satisfactorily was mainly due to the Revd Christopher Bowen, MA, a resident who most generously gave the land necessary for the church, churchyard, vicarage house and school. To him and his friends we are also indebted for “their energy and patient efforts” in connection with “the building and consecration” of the church. In recent years the vicars of Totland Bay have also acted as honorary chaplains to the keepers of the lighthouse.
In 1869 a temporary church of wood was erected opposite the present parish church where it stood until the latter, begun in 1874, was finished a year later. It was then re-erected on the beach and for a time served as the village reading room and library. It now belongs to the Totland Bay Hotel and Pier Co, and serves as annexe to the hotel.
The Building of Christ Church, Totland Bay
Christ Church, consecrated on 14th August 1875, was at that time large enough for the community it served. The passing years, as we will see, imposed certain important alterations on the fabric which added a welcome touch of interest to a very simple building. Its dignity thus enhanced by these later works, the church has also been enriched by the gifts of succeeding generations, and as the reader turns the pages of this chronicle he will become acquainted with all that has been achieved in the past hundred years.
The exterior of the Church
Entrance to the churchyard is by the lych-gate, designed by Percy Goddards Stone,* FSA, FRIBA, and given by Mrs H W Burnett in memory of her husband Frederic Wildman Burnett who died in 1904. It was dedicated by the Right Revd H E Ryle, DD, Bishop of Winchester, on 10th March 1906. The superstructure is the work of an Island craftsman, J H King, of Blackwater, and the stonework by Garrett and Haysom, of Southampton. A plaque states “the wood was taken from the timbers of HMS Thunderer, 74 guns, which fought on the lee line at Trafalgar”**
As we approach the church, the nave stands before us. It was begun on 2nd September 1874 and consecrated by the Right Revd F T McDougall, at that time Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, on 14th August 1875. This part of the church, designed by Habershon and Pite, was built at a cost of £3,800, the money being raised by contributions. Messrs J B Tucker and T Waterhouse were the first churchwardens. The west wall is devoid of ornament except for a sculptured panel depicting the Agnus Dei, symbol of the dedication of the church as ‘Christ Church’. Above the two windows that at first sight appear to be identical, but a second glance reveals differences in the traceried circle at the head of each. It will be noticed as we go around the church that all the window tracery is varied in this way, a happy arrangement that adds interest and avoids a tedious repetition of detail.
The north side is remarkable for the unusual attached octagonal building which at once attracts attention. Thought to have once been a vestry, it was converted into a belfry by the addition of the wooden upper stage in 1936 at a cost of £124. The work was carried out by the local firm of Messrs W Downer, to the design of A E Tutte, LRIBA, of Southsea. The bell, weight 5 cwts 1qtr 7lb, cast by Gillett and Johnstone, of Croydon, is in memory of Henry J, Mara L and Enid L Rouse, for many years visitors to Totland Bay, and was presented by their family.
We now reach the outside of the chancel. It supersedes the original east end which terminated in an apse, and was erected by Messrs Downer to the design of Percy G Stone. The work which seems to have cost between £800 and £1,000 was consecrated by the Right Revd J Macarthur, DD, Bishop of Southampton, on 20 July 1910.
A few writers have stated that additions were made in 1888 but omitted to give details of the work. In the absence of documentary evidence such claims cannot be disputed and it is therefore probably that the south transept was part of the additions referred to. This transept contained a gallery and opened into the nave; it provided a considerable number of extra seats needed for the increasing congregations.
Following excavations for a heating system, serious fractures appeared in the transept walls, threatening their stability. The Building Committee formed in June 1900 to discuss “church repairs and parish room matters” met on the 14th of that month to ascertain the cause of the fractures and after examination on the site, decided against underpinning the walls. The consultant architect advised the building of an aisle instead of a transept and in May 1901 plans for the proposed aisle were laid before the committee. Despite the need for prompt action, matters moved slowly so that it was not until January 1902, that tenders were received and this gave the committee the first of several shocks that were to be their lot during the next few years.
Frustration dogged the efforts of the committee during the whole of 1902 and towards its close, with less than £600 in the building fund “it was resolved that no active steps be at present taken in the direction of the church enlargement”. This was no solution to the problem and conditions grew worse. So serious had the situation become that in January 1903 the transept was sealed off completely “to prevent its being used by the congregation”.
Under the chairmanship of the newly appointed vicar, the Revd C T Wilson, parishioners and subscribers to the building fund met in July 1903 and reached their final decision. It was agreed to build an aisle instead of the transept, whose seating has been lost to them, and P G Stone was again the architect. With only £748 at their disposal, the committee decided to launch an appeal for £1,500. It is not clear when the plans were approved, but tenders were opened on 16th May 1904, and to the dismay of those present the lowest received was for the sum of £1,535 or £300 more than had been subscribed to date. Several meetings followed in quick succession to consider reducing the cost by making economies where practicable, but to no avail. Sadly, another year closed and the aisle remained but a dream.
At last in June 1905 they were in a position to begin building and, once started, the work continued without interruption until completion. Certain alterations and additions of a minor character brought the final cost to £1,808. In the presence of a large congregation that filled the church to capacity, the new aisle was consecrated on 10 March 1906 by the Right Revd H E Ryle, DD, Bishop of Winchester, who preached the sermon on the text “They go from strength to strength” Psalm 84.7.
*He was the son of a London architect and came to live in the Isle of Wight which he grew to love. He reconstructed the Chapel of St Nicholas, Carisbrooke Castle, later beautified to an elaborate design by him as a memorial to the Island’s Fallen in the 1914-1918 war. He also built St Mark’s Church, Wootton. From his pen came “Legends and Lays of the Isle of Wight”, “Songs of the soil” and the monumental work “Architectural Antiquities of the Isle of Wight”. He died in 1934 aged 78 years and was buried in Shanklin Cemetery. JW
**Current opinion casts doubt on the accuracy of this inscription and supports the view that the timbers came from a later ship of the same name. JW
The interior of the church
Upon entering the church for the first time, the visitor cannot long remain unaware of its surprising spaciousness. Let us stand in the nave, much altered since it was built in 1875, and face the chancel. On our right is a graceful arcade of three bays inserted by Percy Stone when he built the south aisle in 1906, using the Early English style of the 13th century. The columns are monoliths of polished Hopton Wood stone. Both nave and aisle show differences of detail and treatment typifying their dates of building.
The brass lectern was given by the widow of Henry W May, Barrister-at-Law, and in his memory, Easter 1887. Nothing appears to exist that sheds light on the origin of the pulpit. Its only inscription “In Memoriam” tells little, but we may not be far from the truth in assuming it has been here since the consecration in 1875. Originally it stood where the lectern now is and was moved some time later to the north side. Below the pulpit can be seen the church’s first lectern. It is of oak and was the gift in August 1875 of Capt Ward, RA. In 1975 it was cleaned and carefully restored by the pupils of West Wight Middle School.
From the chancel steps the view eastwards is one of quiet dignity. The last of Stone’s work in Christ Church, this is a worthy setting for the altar – focal point of the interior. A sculptured reredos was intended but did not materialist. Three so-called beams, quite independent of the roof, once spanned the chancel. Whether they were contemporary with this part of the church or put up later is uncertain, but of light construction and therefore only dummies, they were used to carry fittings and piping for gas lighting of those days. Their removal in 1966 and that of stained glass in the north and south windows of the sanctuary in favour of clear glass, together with a scheme of much improved electric lighting of the entire chancel, is the family memorial the the late Major-General Sir Horace Roome, KCIE, CB, MC, DL, who died in 1964. He it was who suggested removing the spurious beams rendered unnecessary long since by the introduction of electric lighting.
The altar was an anonymous gift in 1957. It bears the inscription “To the Glory of God” and the letters HSM appear on the north side of the altar. The original altar now stands at the back of the church. About one year after the chancel was erected, new choir stalls and the clergy stall on the south side were provided. More recently the chancel furnishing were completed by the addition of a clergy stall on the north side, the gift of Roome family in memory of Lady Helen Isabel Roome who died in 1970. The work was expertly carried out by Mr T Westlake a local craftsman and dedicated on 1st May 1972. On the south wall may be seen the memorial to those who died in the Great War (1914-1919).
For many years the singing was accompanied by an American organ that stood in the transept until 1893 when it was moved to the south side of the chancel. The present instrument was installed in the recess on the north side of the new chancel in 1911 by Norman Beard at a cost of £400. The well known philanthropist Andrew Carnegie promised to pay one half of the cost of the new organ, provided the congregation raised the remained by 31st August 1911, on which date the offer expired. This gave them a year to raise their portion and it is gratifying to note they succeeded. The instrument consists of two manuals and pedals, 13 ‘speaking’ stops, tremulant and 6 couplers; the compass of manuals CC-C is 61 notes, and of pedals CCC-F 30 notes. The action is tubular pneumatic and blowing is by an electric motor installed in 1939.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit, formerly the south aisle, was furnished and arranged in accordance with a scheme prepared by Robert Potter, FRIBA, of Salisbury. It is the memorial to all those from the parish who lost their lives in the Second World Ward (1939-1945) “and also of some of those who loved, served and worshipped in this church”, the cost being defrayed by public contributions. The work was entrusted to the local firms of Messrs W Downers & Sons, whose workmen gave their labour in moving pews and constructing the altar pace in memory of those employees of the firm who made the supreme sacrifice. On 26th September 1954 the chapel was dedicated by the Right Revd W L S Fleming, DD, Bishop of Portsmouth. On the south wall is a glass case containing the Book of Remembrance, dedicated on 19th June 1955. The font, transferred here from its original position in the nave, was given in 1903 by the family and friends of Jeanie Ring and in her memory.
Electric lighting was installed throughout the church in 1937 in memory of James Earnest Needham, CBE, by the generous gift of his widow. The present oil-fired central heating system was installed and an old ‘tortoise’ stove that stood near the main door was removed about 1956 during the incumbency of Revd C W Good.
The church is not rich in stained glass; there are only four windows, none of which is of recent date. In the west wall of the nave are two windows by Lavers and Westlake depicting the four evangelists; these are in memory of Edwin Fox, churchwarden for many years. Near the pulpit is another window by the same artists. It depicts Jesus waking on the water, as records in the gospels, and was erected in memory of Francis Ainger Bunrnett, Lieut 1st Battalion Shrophsire Light Infantry, who lost his life in the wreck of the SS Bokhara on Sand Island, Piscadores, China Seas in 1892. There remains the east window of the chancel, the most striking and the most colourful, in the church. It may well be called the Good Shepherd Window; it also carries the well known words from Psalm 23. It came from the studios of Jones and Willis, and was given by the sons and daughters of John and Jennie Ring in memory of their parents in 1910.
The Rev. Christopher Bowen
It is regrettable that, despite the debt of gratitude the parish owes to the memory of Christopher Bowen, so little about him may be found in the church archives. We have to look elsewhere for accounts of the priest who came to live here before either church or parish existed and to whom their origin is mainly due.
The Revd Christopher Bowen, MA, was ordained priest at Killaloe, County Clare, in 1825. He became curate of Bath Abbey in 1838 and perpetual curate of St Mary Magdalene, Southwark, from 1843-1855; in that year he became Rector of St Thomas, Winchester, where he remained until 1869. On his retirement he moved to Totland Bay and, finding a need of a church in the village, was instrumental in providing a temporary building for the purpose where he ministered, according to one account “as a labour of love”. Land for Christ Church National Schools, opened in 1880, was also one of his gifts.
He was a most generous benefactor, as we have seen, and there is little doubt that is pioneering work at the temporary church not only emphasised the need for permanent building and parish, but led to their establishment. He died in Italy on 18th March 1890, aged 89 years. A tablet to his memory was erected by his widow on the west wall of the nave, a constant reminder of one who did so much for the church in Totland.
Francis Thomas McDougall
Francis Thomas McDougall who consecrated Christ Church was a most interesting figure. Born in Sydenham in 1817 he became the first Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak. He graduated in medicine at London University and then superintended an iron works in South Wales. It was there he met his wife. His intention had always been to take Holy Orders and the opportunity came when the iron works failed. Following his ordination in 1845 he had two curacies in the Norwich diocese and then moved to London on becoming curate of Christ Church, Woburn Square.
It was an unusual thing in those days for a priest to have medical training, and it so happened that Rajah Brooke was then looking for a medical missionary. In Francis McDougall he found the man he sought and invited him to Sarawak where he and his wife arrived in 1848. His consecration in 1855 made history, for he was the first bishop of the Church of England to be consecrated outside the country by Special Commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Bishop of Calcutta.
Life in Sarawak was hard and often his work seemed likely to be swept away. It came very near to it in the Chinese insurrection of 1856. His health and that of his wife suffered terribly and all their children died there. Added to these anxieties they had to contend with troubles between Malays, Dyaks and Chinese and the unwelcome attentions of raiders. On one occasion he and his party were attacked by pirates and, being outnumbered by them, every man was required to fight. He felt it is “stern duty” to take up arms against them, fought bravely, and dressed the wounds of his companions.
Declining health forced him to return home in 1867 and in the following year he resigned his bishopric. He became successively Vicar of Godmanchester (1868), Archdeacon of Huntingdon(1870) and Canon of Ely (1871). It was the translation of the Bishop of Ely, Dr Edward Harold Brown, to Winchester in 1873 that led to Bishop McDougall’s connection with the Isle of Wight. In that year he also went to Winchester, having accepted a canonry there. In 1874 he became Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and in 1876 accepted the small living of Milford where he died on 16 November 1886.
The Rev. Wilson Carlisle
The Revd Wilson Carlile, born at Brixton in 1847 and Founder of the Church Army, spent his holidays at Totland Bay regularly every summer from the eighties until 1912 in which year he was guest of honour at the annual Christ Church garden party at the Hermitage and was president of the Totland Bay annual regatta. In 1887, 1888 and 1890 his signature appears in the Church registers. The Garrow Private Hotel on Church Hill, formerly known as “Culverdene” as built by the Burnett family, also founder members of the Church Army, to provide a house for Prebendary Carlile on his visit to Totland, and rest accommodation for his staff of Church Army workers from London.
VICARS OF TOTLAND BAY (with date of appointment)
- Raymond Blathwayt, BA – 1875
- Alfred Martin Maynard, MA – 1894
- Herbert Knott – 1900
- Charles Thomas Wilson, MA – 1903
- John William Hall, MA – 1911
- Thomas Cumming Rainsford Moore, MA – 1923
- William Mackenzie Hulbert Wathen – 1928
- *Cecil Norman De Vine, MC, Hon CF – 1945
- *Claude Wilfred Good, MA – 1955
- *Frederick George Ralph, ALCD – 1960
- *Peter Russell Akehurst, BSc (Agric) – 1975
*Hon Chaplains to the Needles Lighthouse. Records of appointment prior to 1945 were destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War.
ADDENDUM TO VICARS OF CHRIST CHURCH (Added post 1975)
- *Kenneth Charles White – 1981
- John Andrew Yorke – 1992
NON STIPENDIARY MINISTERS
- James Robert Cook – 2013
A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF CHRIST CHURCH
1869 Christopher Bowen’s first temporary wooden church built on land in York Road opposite present church
1875 Christ Church consecrated and opened for public worship. Constitution of new ecclesiastical parish of Totland Bay, formerly part of the parish of Freshwater
1877 Vicarage build
1880 Christ Church National Schools opened
1887 Gift of brass lectern
1888 Probable date of building south transept
1890 Extension of churchyard down York Road
1903 Gift of present font
1905 Demolition of south transept, building of south aisle, porch and vestry
1906 Consecration of new south aisle and dedication of Burnett lych-gate
1909 First Totland Parish Room built in Broadway
1910 Demolition of old apsidal chancel, building and consecreation of present chancel and organ recess, and gift of east window
1911 Installation of Norman and Beard organ
1918 Gift of altar cross
1924 Institution of first parish electoral roll
1927 Creation of new Diocese of Portsmouth
1931 New Church Hall build in Broadway
1936 Gift of new bell, conversion of original vestry into belfry
1954 Conversion and consecration of south aisle to Chapel of the Holy Spirit and baptistry
1955 Book of Remembrance placed in Chapel of the Holy Spirit
1957 Gift of high altar
1966 Removal of chancel beams
1972 Installation of clergy stall on north side of chancel
1975-1976 Centenary Year Flower Festival, Exhibition, and publication of “The Story of Christ Church, Totland Bay”
ADDENDUM TO A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF CHRIST CHURCH (Added post 1975)
1980’s Reinstatement of original Holy Table in Chancel Sanctuary
1988 – 1989 Renovation of Church roof
1989 – 1990 Renovation of Chancel ceiling
1990 – 1991 Organ rebuilding, extension and renovation
2008 Restoration of the south side aisle, formerly the Chapel of the Holy Spirit
2012 – 2014 Repair of the south side aisle east window
2014 Replacement of halogen with L.E.D. lighting in nave, chancel and south side aisle
2015 Replacement of the Churchyard north and south boundaries with fencing and the planting of native hedging
2015 Removal of the font from the south side aisle and restoration to the entrance area in the nave
2016 Resurfacing of drive and provision of parking spaces at the entrance to the churchyard
2016 Ground at south-east corner of churchyard recovered to provide additional burial space