A Tour Around St Mary's Church
Charity No. 1128975

A Tour Round St Mary's with Janet Coates–Jones


Hayling Island, part of a drowned landscape, has been a ‘holy’ island since the late Iron Age when an important Celtic shrine was built in the centre of the north part of the Island. This wooden shrine was replaced by a stone temple after the Roman conquest of South Eastern Britain after AD 43.

The shrine/temple had strong links with not only all the local tribes, but with northern France, the latter continuing into the Middle Ages by which time the temple had declined and the Venerable Bede, writing about 730 AD records that there was a small monastery of the British or Celtic church at Bosham.

By the late 7th Century there is evidence of a series of minster churches – mother churches presiding over a number of subordinate parish churches – Havant was probably the minster church for Hayling and it is certain that a parish church was founded and dedicated on the Island in the late Saxon period.

Gradually over 200 years up to the middle of the 14th Century the coastal plain was inundated by the sea, until it became ‘so deep in the sea that a Great English Ship may pass over it’.

There thus had to be a new church. At the same time there was a squabble between the rector Nicholas de Rye and the prior, John de Ousqueto, over the size of the tithes each should have. Eventually, in 28th December 1253, a Great Charter was signed, granting Nicholas, as vicar, the small tithes and John as the prior on behalf of Jumièges, the large tithes. This was an important event and it coincided with the building of this church on its new site.

The Church

The church is set out to one design – not added to by successive generations – apart from the old vestry which now holds electric/heating devices. What you see is what was envisaged from the outset.

The Chancel.

The 2 words which I think could summarise this part of the building are ‘Simple’ and ‘Beautiful’. I am also somewhat reminded of the Amish communities of North America, where everything has to be ‘Plain’.

East window And the Chancel is ‘plain’. It is built in Early English Style. It begins at the East Wall with its five beautifully proportioned lancets making up the East Window and ends at where the Rood Screen was – you can see the marks where it was held in place – and that was the whole of the priory part of the church. Beyond the rood screen was the church itself – the parochial nave.

Remember – the prior held sway in the priory/chancel – the rector in the church.

Building started at the east end and was probably as far as the rood screen when the Charter was signed, December 28th 1253 and it took another 20 years to complete the ‘parochial nave’.

The 5 lancet windows go progressively taller and wider as one reaches the centre. Round them is this beautiful simple roll–moulded frame. Bosham has a similar 5–lancet East window, but the proportions are not so ideal.

On each side wall – high up – are four deeply splayed lancets with similar roll–moulded frames.

Running around all 3 sides, under these lancet windows is a half–rounded string course. Simply moulded like the ones around the east window, it runs without interruption on the north wall, but has to step up over the aumbry and piscina and prior's door on the south wall.

The original medieval glass of the windows has gone – what you see is 20th Century glass – and so have any wall paintings.

Lectern mouse The lectern in the chancel commemorates Olive Roberts and her husband. An interesting feature is the manufacturer's motif depicting a small mouse climbing up the leg of the lectern.

The ‘hangings’ on the east wall depicting St Benedict and St Mary were sewn by Pauline Clothier and Jane Carpenter.

The Reredos.

These are two recesses – one on either side, both with dog–tooth ornament. They could have been shelves for lamps, but it is now thought that there was a beam across the chancel from recess to recess holding up a reredos screen behind the altar and that the altar was further forward than it is now, the space behind acting as a vestry to store church goods. There was certainly a wooden screen there in the early 19th C.

There is a painting in the vestry blieved to date from the 1920's showing curtaining hanging from a pole across the Chancel reredos and also higher banners above this, suspended from cords.

The Piscina and Aumbrey.

Aumbry This is a lovely example of a double piscina. One part would be used for washing utensils, the other for washing their hands. Please particularly note the beautiful simple moulded trefoil around the piscina – I will need to refer back to this when we reach the other end of the church. To the left of the piscina is the square–headed aumbrey which was used for storage.

The Lady Chapel has a single piscina.


The Graves in the Chancel.

Priors tomb The most unusual grave is the prior's tomb. It has a cross carved on it, which has worn away to look like a crozier. It is believed it was the tomb of a high dignatory in the monastery, but whether it was a prior is unknown.

The other graves are chiefly those of the families of tenant farmers. The nearest to the altar are the Budds. Henry and Martha Budd had six children who all sadly died in infancy and the slabs of their graves are decorated with cherubs. Henry was the tenant of the prosperous Hayling Manor Farm and Martha was the daughter of Matthew Monlas a very much appreciated vicar of Hayling. Andrew Bone and his wife Martila followed the Budds into Manor Farm and there is also a slab of John Bone d 1798 aged 17.

Despite the sadness of losing his Budd grandchildren, vicar Matthew Monlas 1668 had a good sense of humour. His congregation kept complaining that they could not understand his accent, so in one sermon, he said that he was returning home to dine on good beef with wine and anyone who wished to come and join him could do so. I understand that his house was packed – and no one ever complained of his accent again!.

The Wall Memorials.

Four white on black marble memorials in the form of classical sarcophagi erected to the memory of William Padwick, the Lord of Hayling Manor, who bought the manor from the Duke of Norfolk and was very unpopular as he kept going to court to re- assert his manorial rights. William, his wife, Grace and their 4 daughters, their son–in–law and their baby son. Their vault lies under the chancel. I do not know anyone who has been down there. If there is a crypt it is arguably very shallow. If there is no crypt, then where are William Padwick and his family buried? The only two graves in the churchyard carrying the name 'Padwick' are to three of his servants.

David Painter McEwan was a Scottish gentleman who developed Hayling Island as a resort. He died in Monte Carlo.

Francis Henry James Startin died at Gallipoli in WWI aged 23. He had joined the navy, got his commission and then resigned due to poor health in 1913. With onset of the war, he rejoined the Naval Division and regained his commission. The Naval Division was a ‘naval regiment’, the idea of Winston Churchill's, as there were too many who wanted to join the navy for the available ships to take them.. Francis was mentioned in despatches, he was mortally wounded east of Helles, Turkey, taken to the hospital ship where he died. He was buried in Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Helles, Turkey.

The Stained Glass Windows.

West window Arguably, the finest stained glass in the church is Bryan's Great East Window. It combines the Tree of Life with the Tree of Jesse. The stems are peopled with figures of saints and prophets: at the summit is the Crucifixion.

The large West Window depicting the 4 ‘national’ saints together with 4 English saints. This window was given by the children of Lord Robert Brudenell Bruce in memory of their father and one of his sons is remembered on the brass plaques which commemorate most but not all of the 100 Islanders who were killed in the GreatWar. We are hoping to rectify the omissions this summer.

The most recent window 1994, is that dedicated to the memory of the Rev'd Owen Fulljames a much loved local priest. You can see the profile of St Pauls' Cathedral and I interpret it as depicting an enemy air raid over London in WWII.

The Tower.

The tower rises above 4 wide arches. It has rather thin walls of coursed stone and is about 3 feet high, the broach spire rising from it.

The Spire

The octagonal spire is supported on two A-frames, reared complete and surrounded by a pyramid roof. This supports the mast of the spire proper on the base of 8 spikes with braces notch-lapped to it all the way up in two further stages. Reports in the 19th C that the spire had been badly damaged by lightening were far fetched. The original structure is fairly intact. BUT the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, did cause damage: the spire was repaired and the shingles replaced.

The Belfry

Inside the belfry is the massive oak bell-frame. It is the original frame, dated about 1250. It is one of the very few known examples of early medieval carpentry which uses the ‘notched–lap joint’ in England. This method of construction was brought into southern England by the Normans but had gone out of use by 1300.

There were pits for 4 bells – 3 were removed in 1803 (one was dated 1324) and sold to provide money for church repairs. There is just one tolling bell left, recast in 1634 which carries the inscription ‘In God Is My Hope’.

The Nave and the Aisles

Ten Commandments On the Nave side of the Tower , above the massive arch, there are 2 tablets bearing the words of the Ten Commandments. This was to comply with the orders of Elizabeth I.

The Nave has 3 bays of wide Caen-stone arches matching those supporting the tower.

Each column has very shallow octagonal capitals. They start at the ‘priory’ end of the nave with plain columns – no carving – plain as the prior and monks would expect and then gradually get more ‘exotic’ carved differently in foliage. It's as though the pent up creative instincts of the sculptors have suddenly taken wing.

Another peculiar feature is that the arches do not ‘spring’ from the top of the columns, but from upright octagonal shafts like thicker extension to the piers, Originally of Purbeck marble, they were not strong enough to withstand the earthquake of 1889 and were eventually replaced with granite replicas – the whole parish rallying to save the nave from collapse. Lord Robert Brudenell-Bruce, Rev'd C Clarke and Messrs McEwan and Padwick were the chief benefactors.

Roof construction The western nave arches ‘die’ into the west wall, just as the west aisle arches ‘die’ into the north and south walls, this means that there was never an intention to form transepts and the ‘dying’ of the arches into the side walls thus make ‘chapels’ rather than transepts. The South one was used until the re-ordering as a Lady Chapel and opposite on the north side is the ‘North Chapel’, where the organ now sits. The bay under the tower is thus the ‘Nave Chapel’ of the nave. Since the re-ordering, to extend the use of the church, a dias has been built under the tower.

The carpentry of the roof of both the Chancel and the Parochial nave is outstanding – much is original; about 1260 – and employs the ‘king-post’ method of construction. This is rarely seen in the County, as many examples have been destroyed by fire.

The Victorian pews were removed in 2010 as part of the re-ordering and were replaced by chairs all of which were gifted by members of the congregation and community in remembrance of individuals or occasions.
A brief history of the re-ordering can be found here

New altar

The new altar and ambo

These were made by Bob Randall and stand on the dais which was installed during the re-ordering of 2010. Their design echoes that of the chancel arches and the East window.
More details can be found here.


Unique Features

Then we come to 3 things which are unique to Hayling. The first is the base of a Saxon Cross which did serve as a font for some time. All sides are differently carved and there are intricate vine stems and leaves.

The second are the stunning corbels which are beautifully imagined and carved as stops to various arches – and if you peer through the steps of the pulpit (please ignore the pulpit) you will see a bishop on the pedestal of the column.

Corbel head Corbel head There are two carvings of kings - possibly Edward I – one is on the NE column of the North aisle, with a corresponding queen – probably his wife Eleanor of Castile in the South aisle. The other portrayal of a king is on the base of the South column at the junction of the parochial nave with the chancel. There is also a beautiful lady behind the screen and to the left of the West Door – there is a serpent on the matching column on the other side of the West Door.

There are carvings on the column bases as well, which obviously have not worn as well. There are also a couple of blanks as though they ran out of time.

The standard of these sculptures is unique to our lovely Priory Church. It stems from skills learned at Jumièges and at Salisbury, the latter under the patronage of Henry III – which makes the heads of the king and queen perhaps more likely to be those of Henry III and his Queen Eleanor of Provence (d 1272 and 1291) and there is nothing like it in any comparable church in England.

And then there is the Font

Font The Font is probably the most unusual feature of the church. It has a square bowl of Purbeck/Sussex marble which is slightly splayed. Again there is the rolled moulding, again horizontal and on each side are 4 shallow blank arches with semi-circular heads. The chief features of this font are the elaborate limestone capitals and bases – similar to the Piscina in the Chancel and added in c. 1250.

Font The 2 corbel heads are different. The treatment of their hair and eyes suggests that it is the same sculptor who made them. The one on the right has its hair gracefully waved and probably represents the State of the Saved.


The one on the left is grotesque. FontIts head is part human and part reptile. There is a hare-lip with dribbling mouth and depression between its eyes – it might be a depiction of the damned – which is the suggestion my grandson made.

At the foot of the first one is a small upside down figure with beard and open mouth and pointed ears. It is difficult to work out what the whole is meant to be.

The new 'lid' of the font was made by Brian Baggett to the pattern of the previous one.

Entering the main church in Iona, which is much later than this church, I was stunned. Bottom jaw sagged because there, right in front of me, was ‘our font’ – same size, same shape, BUT NO Columns and no figures. Its trapezoid well was decorated with a pinkish tiny almost a Paisley pattern. I was told it was 4 years old so clearly it is very new by comparison.

So here we are with a stunningly beautiful church a testimony to the skills and knowledge of the workmen – albeit Norman workmen – of the 13th C.

Iona has floods of tourists and pilgrims – how many know about the Priory Church of St Mary on Hayling Island. More to the point, how many glory in the vision and the workmanship that these men had and the exquisite stonework they created for us both to admire and to treasure through the generations.

Outside the church points of interest include:

  • The Broach Spire
  • The Porch – 1400
  • The Lych Gate – after WWI
  • The 3 Gargoyles: one where the ridge of the chancel roof meets the tower and 2 others over the Lady Chapel window.
  • The Buttresses
  • The Sundial
  • Alexander McKee OBE 1918-1992 on a stone recovered from the Solent by the Mary Rose Branch
  • Grave of Mr Richard Aubery of Hayling. Died on Hayling, 10th September 1742 aged 56 (born 1686) and his wife, died 2nd March 1759, aged 70 (born 1689).
    Note: This grave has the oldest gravestone that I could find in the churchyard. I am certain there are older ones – there must be – but the inscriptions have become weathered over time and impossible to read. Should anyone decipher an older one than that of the Aubreys, I should be delighted to learn about it.
  • Grave of sailor John Jacob, died 19th March 1767 aged 44 (born 1723). Compare with Holy Trinity Bosham and the Avenue of the Dead, Pompeii

with acknowledgements to Graham Soffe