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St. Blasius Old Parish Church

Shanklin, Isle of Wight

Some other mysteries

The Renaissance Chest

One of the church's treasures, situated in the former Baptistery now the Parish Room, is a beautiful heavy oak chest, inscribed "Dom Prius Thomas Silksted, Prior from the year of Our Lord 1512".

Thomas Silksted was Prior of St. Swithin's, Winchester, known to be a patron of sculpture in wood, and that part of the chest's provenance is not in doubt. The small mystery is how it comes to be in Shanklin Old Church.

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As usual, there are conflicting suggestions. Perhaps it arrived at the time of the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century, sent filled with some Winchester Cathedral treasures for safekeeping by the Royalist manorial family. When the treasures were returned, the chest may have remained. Alternatively, it may have been a domestic chest (surely an unusually fine one) which might have passed by gift, bequest or sale to other hands when Prior Thomas died.

The Crypt

Access to the burial crypt under the chancel (part of the 12th century chapel) now seems to be impossible, and perhaps the dust of long dead members of the Lisle, Denys and Popham families should be left undisturbed.

Perhaps only idle curiosity leads to the wish to know more about this inaccessible place, but examination of the stonework that must be there might throw interesting light on the date of the earliest chapel on the site. 11th century or 13th? Perhaps 18th or completely altered in the mid-Victorian refurbishment?

Steps leading to a bricked up wall have recently been uncovered, under the pews to one side of the original doorway. One day repairs may need to be made, but until then this intriguingly inviolate space will guard its secrets - or lack of them.

The Hatchments

There are three funeral hatchments displayed in the church, one over the door to the parish room and two in the chancel over the choir stalls. At one time it was believed that the one over the door dated from Stuart times but after it was cleaned and restored (thanks to Mrs. Anne Springman, great-great niece of Francis White-Popham, the last resident Lord of the Manor, and the direct descendant of Geoffrey de Lisle) it was found to be the funeral hatchment for King George II. How this hatchment came to St. Blasius Church remains a mystery.

The two hatchments in the chancel belong to the Popham family. The one on the right hand side facing the altar (also cleaned and restored thanks to Mrs. Springman) bears the arms of John Popham, of Shanklin and Newchurch, married to Grace Shapleigh of Newcourt Deven, who died in 1763. His memorial slab can be seen partly concealed by the kneeler at the altar rail. The other bears the arms of John Popham of Kitehill and Shanklin, married to Mary Perry of Kitehill, who died in 1816.

There are also two wooden panels hanging on the end wall of the South transept depicting the arms of King Charles I and Charles, Prince of Wales (later Charles II). These are not funeral hatchments but rather arms that hung in all churches during the reign of Charles I. During the Commonwealth, following the English Civil War, most of these panels were destroyed by Parliament. The Lord of the Manor at the time was a Royalist and hid the panels until after the Restoration, when they were reinstated in the church. Perhaps these, with the Georgian hatchment and the wooden coat of arms of William III above the clergy vestry door, are evidence of the loyalties of the Manor during those reigns.

Some recorded griefs - moving memorials

Inside St. Blasius Church, there are more than the usual number of memorials to children and young people who died before their time.

A natural place for visitors to stand is in the centre, under the tower. At their feet on the chancel floor they are sure to notice the white marble slabs, diagonally inscribed to the memory of three Popham children. All were the issue of John Popham who died in 1763.

Elizabeth, aged 13, was the daughter of his first wife Grace. The other two were children of his second wife, Elizabeth. They died aged 5 months and 10 months respectively. The simple recording of these deaths is perhaps more moving for leaving the grief it represents to be imagined.

On the wall of the chancel is a graceful marble tablet paying tribute to another Popham child, twelve years old Sarah Shapleigh Popham who died in 1808. The inscription's moderation increases our awareness of love and grief

"This small tribute of regard and gratitude to the memory of a most excellent child is given by her affectionate parents."

What more could her parents give their lost daughter?

Two later records of girls who died young are in the form of stained glass windows, near to the south transept door. These both date from 1861. One shows a little girl tenderly guarded by an angel and bears the inscription, "To the memory of little Kate". The other, in a strongly similar style, shows Jairus' daughter being raised by our Lord. It is dedicated to Charlotte Wilhelmina Walker, who died on the 8th January 1861, aged 19. The watching figures lead us to remember the parents who chose the inscription, "She is not dead, but sleepeth" ... a more comforting sentiment with which to contemplate these sad memorials.

Other windows

The main window in the South transept is a memorial window given in memory of Francis White-Popham who died in February 1894, by his widow, Margaret. This depicts the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. The lozenge shaped window at the top bears the arms of the Popham family. It bears, scratched on it, the name of the local glass maker who constructed it - Wm. D Grounsell - painter - Shanklin July 5 1872, and pre-dates the rest of the window.

The East window, over the altar, depicts the angel telling the shepherds of the birth of Jesus. We have no record of when this was put in place or who had it erected.

The window in the North transept depicts Jesus and his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. It is unusual in that not even Jesus is shown with a halo. This window was erected in 1881 in memory of the Rev. George Southouse, rector of the parish from 1853 - 1880.

The window in the parish room shows the parable of the sower. This was placed by the family of Captain Charles Douglas- Hamilton R.N. in 1911.

There was a round Rose window installed at the West end of the church when it was extended in 1852, but this was obscured when the two-manual organ by Forster and Andrews was installed in 1874, and can only now be seen from outside the church. Seven of the original thirteen panels have been replaced by plain glass.

The engraved glass panel depicting St. Blasius in the small window in the North transept is in memory of the Rev. Canon Edmund Dana, Rector of the parish from 1949 - 1962, and who was a regular worshipper at the church after his retirement from ministry in 1981. The window has been designed and produced by a local glassmaker, Martin Evans of Glory Art Glass, Sandown, who also engraved the shields in the parish room windows.

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