Church and Manor: an outline history

The chapel of St. Blasé (Blays, Blasius) or St. John at Shenklyn

Inception and the early centuries: 11th to 15th

Pre-conquest, there are no records to help us, but the Domesday survey in 1086 gives the first mention of Shanklin, held by Joscelin FitzAzor. It is a fact that a church, at neither Brading nor St. Helens, finds a place in the return made to the Conqueror.

The first chapel was built here in the twelfth century by Geoffrey de Lisle for the use of his family and tenants at Shanklin and for the tenants of Ralph de Glamorgan in Landguard and Sandown. Several writers state that one of the Lisle family, who then held the Manor, built it in the reign of King Stephen (1135 - 54).

An agreement in Latin, dated about 1160 (translated by Sir John Oglander of Nunwell in 1632) was made under the authority of Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, and brother of King Stephen. This agreement was between Simon of Beverley, parson of Brading, Geoffrey of the Isle (de Insula) and William Stower and concerned the establishment and endowment of a chapel in Shanklin, owing fealty to Brading as the mother church. The agreement is signed by Ralph, Archdeacon of Winton; Roger, Archdeacon of Surrey; Robert de Lyra, William Russell and Ralph Bearne. The dedication was to St. John the Baptist; though in 1367 it is referred to in the Bishops' Registers as "The Chapel of St. Blays of Shanklyng".

On this evidence, it is safe to say that the church of St. Blasius (or St. John the Baptist) dates from the twelfth century. From the very beginning, the alternative dedications were recorded, and through the centuries that followed the connections with Brading and Bonchurch were also to vary.

Throughout the Hundred Years War (1337 - 1453), the Island was subject to French incursions and frequent alarms. At this time, the "Church at Shentlyn" furnished one archer, for the defence of the Island. However, in quieter times, Cardinal Beaufort's "Valor, Beneficium in Insula Vecta" deemed the Chapel of St. John of Sentling to have no value on account of its insignificance.

By the fourteenth century, the records (Calendar of Patent Rolls) indicate that St. Blaise was the saint of the Lisle family sanctuary within the church. When the chapel was first presented for institution, the King (Edward III) as custodian of the land had the living in his gift.

Through these centuries, and later, the chapel may have looked very much like the Old Church at Bonchurch. It was entered by what is now the door between the Parish Room (old Baptistery) and the nave, the hollowed steps testifying to the years of use. On the jamb of the door can still faintly be seen, with the scratched outlines of simple crosses, a crusader's cross. Was it carved there by the follower of Richard the Lionheart who brought the dedication of St. Blasius back with him to Shanklin? Perhaps...

The chapel from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries

In the intervening centuries, the chapel of St. Blasius remained under the patronage of the Lords of the Manor. It was connected to Bonchurch by various appointments of Rector and Clerk, although in 1519 the Rector was instituted on the same day but separately to Bonchurch and Shanklin, and in 1558 the chapel is referred to as "the free chapel of St. Blaze with the parish of Brading".

There is, however, no record of annexation to either Bonchurch or Brading and the next institutions to Bonchurch omit St. Blasius, until in 1570 the Clerk, Richard Cook, was instituted to the Parish Church of Bonchurch and Shanklin. When he died in 1604, the next presentation was to the Rectory of Bonchurch with the chapel of Shanklin. The inhabitants of Shanklin were buried at Brading "as of right" until the first interment in the churchyard in 1857. Ministers continued to be buried at Brading until the mid-18th century. Before that only the Lords of the Manor and their families were buried at Shanklin.

It is in the eighteenth century that the parish registers record the first baptism, the first marriage and the first recorded burial of a rector:

1724            William, son of David and Elizabeth Proctor was baptised on Christmas Eve.

1754            John Robin of the parish of Shorwell was married to Mary Weeks of Shanklin on May 1st.

1766            Reverend Cornelius Norwood, Rector 1763 - 6 was buried on January 16th.

In 1788, the chapel is recorded as still maintained by the patrons, William Hill and Sarah Popham.

The Tomkins engraving dates from the late eighteenth century (1794 or 1796) and shows the simple chapel with the bellcote at the west end, with entry through the south wall porch.

It seem that the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Civil War, Protectorate and Restoration, the 1688 revolution and other major upheavals in national affairs had only incidental effects on the Shanklin Chapel, though the arrival of the Silksted chest may have been a result of the Civil War, and tradition says that Charles I, whilst a prisoner at Carisbrooke Castle, was allowed to ride under escort to visit the Manor and chapel where he received Communion in the church porch.

The early nineteenth century: changes become necessary

In the early years of the nineteenth century, the Shanklin chapel proceeded much as it had done for most of its existence, though the recorded baptisms and marriages were more frequent. In 1831, Shanklin was a small coastal settlement of 355 people: so far, even the well-documented visits of John Keats had made little difference to the place. The church baptism registers record children of fishermen, coastguards and customs officers. It is probable that the fishermen had other, less legitimate, occupations, which accounts for the Preventative men. The invasion fears of the time of the Napoleonic Wars had gone and a resident of Shanklin in earlier centuries would have noticed few changes had he been able to return.

However, the need for definitions became pressing as is shown by the record of disagreements between the incumbent (the Reverend Justly Hill) and the patrons (his cousins).

In 1816 - "the present incumbent about seven years after his appointment adopted measures to set up a Rectory (parish) at Shanklin took virtual possession of the freehold by locking up the key after Divine service and carrying it away to his own house demanded parochial Rights and the Appointment of a churchwarden failing in the last point the key was placed in neutral Hands for some Years and accessible, for repairs by the Patron who also buried and placed a Hatchment in the interior " (Original punctuation retained)

In 1836 - "Alterations for increase of accommodation having been made which did not please the incumbent from that date. He has assumed the sole possession of the Chapel put a Door to the porch and kept it locked so as to exclude the Patron, from internal repairs needful to an ancient and dilapidated building. He has also procured a Sermon to be preached - by a colonial Bishop to raise money for improved accommodations and has signified to the Agent of the Patron /who has been very anxious and is still willing to effect them at his own charge/ that he intends to rearrange a lot out the old chapel under sanction of the ordinary for whom he is preparing a proposal for this interference.”

There followed a request for clarification:

"Is the benefice of Shanklin Chapel or a Rectorial Parish Church.

Has it by frequent though desultory insertion in the same presentation with the Rectory of Bonchurch, where there is a separate church and Distinct Parish, become presentative and so amassed/ although by no formal deed or arrangement/ as to demand union therewith in future presentations or may it be separately disposed by Donation. If presentative or otherwise in whom is the freehold?

If in the Patron how is this right to be resumed in course of the Law? How exercised, and maintained against the usurpation of the Incumbent or Ordinary. By whom if a free chapel as admitted by Bishop Waynflete when instituting on lapses by whom is the chapel visitable if process to enforce repairs become needful - the Lord Chancellor or the Ordinary?”

It is clear that the easygoing ways, when no one seemed particularly concerned about areas of power, were becoming insufficient!

The mid-nineteenth century

Signs of changes to come began to appear (rather like the spring flowers, first just one bloom, then a few, and more - until everything seems to bloom at once). An early indicator from the Church records was the baptism in 1838 of John Daish, Hotel Keeper. The gathering momentum of the changes is confirmed by two other entries: 1864 records the baptism of the child of a railway worker and 1865 that of a child of the stationmaster.

The railway came in 1864, the result of the growing popularity of Shanklin and a cause of further growth of the town. By then the transformation of the church had happened, the work starting in 1852. The original, probably aisle less, chapel had been lengthened westward, the north and south transepts were added and, with the roof being raised some five to six feet, a bell turret constructed at the intersection. The date, 1859, can be seen carved on one of the cross beams of the octagonal tower, if you stand by the Rector's stall and look upward. The Reverend George Southouse guided the enlargement. Fittingly, the window of Christ with the twelve apostles is a memorial to him, and at the west end of the nave is the organ loft, added in his time, the organ replacing the flute and clarinet accompaniment of earlier years. In Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree", we are given a wonderful picture of church music when organs were rare, except for major churches.

Much of the church as we now see it dates from this time of major rebuilding. The baptistery was built then, retaining the original south door (way) with its worn steps showing that people had gone down into the old church. Two symmetrical pointed arches separate the baptistery from the south transept and until 1997, the font was in this room. Perhaps the most important recognition of the change in church and village was that, under the patronal name of John the Baptist, the church became a parish church in its own right in 1853. Shortly afterwards the first person was interred in the churchyard.

The History of
St Blasius Old Church

Some Other Mysteries

Church & Manor: An Outline History

Features of the
Church Interior

The Church from Outside

An incomplete list of incumbents and patrons

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