St Mildred’s Church
This document has been edited from one which which accompanies a guided tour of the church written by Janet McNeal.
History and Building
This is the 4th church on the site, and is named after St Mildred, she was an Anglo-Saxon Princess, who died in 725. Her mother was the Abbess of the Minster in the Isle of Thanet. Mildred having received her religious instruction in France, succeeded her mother as Abbess of Thanet, then later became Abbess of Canterbury. There is no documentary evidence of when she was Sanctified.
The first church was Anglo-Saxon, and there are some rudimentary remains on the West wall of the Porch, of Knights on horseback. The second church was Norman, recorded in the Doomsday book of 1086. This remained until the beginning of the 19th century, when John Nash the renowned architect reconstructed the church.
In 1845 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Osborne House, they employing an agent by the name of Anson, from Lady Isabella Blachford, this is mentioned on the memorial tablet on the East wall of the South transept. Lady Blachford firstly agreed to a sale price of £28,000 then tried to increase the price to £30,000. In the event the final purchase price was £26,000 without furniture or crops [I quote].
Queen Victoria did not like Nash’s church it was too small, not private enough and she did not like the design! So in 1857 a new chancel was installed at the Queens expense, this for the use of the Royal Family when in residence at Osborne. In 1860 the remainder of the church was demolished, and a foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the building of a new church. The architect was A.J.Humbert [who later went on to design Sandringham and many other buildings associated with Queen Victoria], he was assisted by Prince Albert who made a huge contribution to the design. The builders were Williams and Co from Pimlico, London. The first service took place in the church in January 1862, sadly Prince Albert died in December 1861, [more information later in this article].
As you enter the church, the font is immediately on your left. The design has been attributed to Princes Louise, but has never been authenticated. Princess Louise was the sixth child of Queen Victoria and was very artistic, attending the Kensington College of Art, now called Royal College of Art. The building of the college was funded by the Great Exhibition of 1851. Her real talent lay in sculpture, she designed and embroidered the carpet surrounding the font ably assisted by her younger sister Princess Beatrice together with several of their Ladies in Waiting. By the late 1980’s part of the carpet had become worn and was reworked by some talented ladies of the church.
Above the font is the organ, which was installed in 1868, it is a Father Willis Organ. There are four other organs of this make in churches on the island and several of our cathedrals have the same type of organ. The organ in the Royal Albert Hall was made by the same company. The choir is located in the organ loft as Queen Victoria when she attended the church, did not wish to be observed by them.
At the beginning of the nave by the south door, is a memorial to 84 Hessian soldiers, who were billeted in barracks beside the River Medina during the French Revolution. They died of Typhus and were buried in an unmarked mass grave at the river side of the churchyard. The memorial was placed in the church in 1906, by the Landgraff of Hesse, a list of their names can be found in the exhibition hall.
Continuing down the nave, you will observe the wrought iron candelabra with glass bowls, this was presented to the church by Queen Victoria. They are lit at Christmas time, or on payment of a fee at weddings or other functions.
Arriving at the centre of the church facing the alter, the north and south transepts are to your left and right respectively. Look upwards and you will see the Lantern Tower which is approximately 30 metres in height. Before the introduction of electricity, a lantern would be raised by a pulley to illuminate the church. Located at the centre of the tower can be seen the Cross of St George.
In both transepts there are Rose Windows, these are copies of those in Notre Dame in Paris. In 1856 the Queen and Prince Albert went to Paris with two of their daughters, as guests of Napoleon and Empress Eugenie. Queen Victoria greatly admired the Rose Windows and asked Prince Albert if she could have a copy in her new church at Whippingham. Prince Albert replied “My darling you may have two” [that is how St Mildred’s came to have two Rose Windows].
Empress Eugenie was horrified at the Queens lack of dress sense and how dowdily her daughters were dressed. She had noted the clothing of Princess Victoria in particular, during her visit to England the previous year and ordered a life size doll to be made. Dresses and gowns from the House of Worth were ordered and made which the young prices could wear during her stay. The Empress hoped this would not offend the Queen.
In the North Transept, there is a memorial to Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby, 1826-1895 who was the Queen’s private secretary, and Keeper of the Privy Purse, he is buried in the churchyard. There is also a memorial tablet to William Arnold, father of Thomas Arnold who founded Rugby School, plus many plaques to the Sheddon family who were wealthy landowners in East Cowes.
We next look at pulpit, this was presented to the church by the people of Whippingham in memory of Queen Victoria in 1905. It is made of English Oak, with a Hopton Wood stone base and steps. The panels represent, five of the eight Beatitudes [Mathew, Chapter 5] and was designed by A.Y.Nutt and made by R.L.Bolton and |Sons of Cheltenham at a cost of £271-10s.
The Royal Pew
Moving into the Chancel, on the right is the Royal Pew. King Edward VII ordered pews to be fitted after the death of his mother, these replaced the homely chairs that were there during her reign, however Queen Victoria’s own chair is still there. You can see the private entrance that the queen and the royal family used in the left hand corner.
On the west wall there is a memorial to Prince Albert, who it is reported died from Typhoid on the 14th December 1861. His health had not been good for some time, when in November unsavoury news about Prince Edward [Prince of Wales] reached the palace. The prince had been in Cambridge, but had gone to the Curragh in Dublin to join the guards. While there, he had formed a relationship with an Irish actress called Nellie Clifden, and was discovered in bed with the lady. When he returned to Cambridge, Prince Albert was sent by the Queen to reprimand him as to his conduct. On his return to Windsor Prince Albert’s condition worsened and he died two weeks later during his illness he was nursed by his daughter Princes Alice. In his memory in 1864 Queen Victoria had a beautiful memorial of white, green and pink marble designed by A.J..Humbert and made by W.Theed placed in the pew.
On the south wall is a memorial to Princess Alice, the third child of Victoria and Albert, she was born in Buckingham Place in April 1843. She married Prince Louis, the Grand Duke of Hesse at Osborne in 1862, at that time Queen Victoria was in mourning for the husband Albert who had died six months earlier as a result the marriage was sombre affair. After her wedding the couple moved to Darmstadt in Germany the home of her husband, During her life he princess was well know for helping those less fortunate than herself and learned about nursing from Florence Nightingale. She had seven children and during an epidemic of diphtheria, several of her children caught the disease, and her daughter Princess Mary died but as a result of caring for her children Princess Alice caught the disease and died on the 14th December 1878 age 35. She is buried in Rosenhohe, Darmstadt, Germany.
Princess Alice’s daughter Victoria [April 1863 – Sept 1950] married Prince Louis of Battenberg in April 1884, he was a naturalised British subject and a navel officer and later became the First Sea Lord in 1912. This post he had to resign just after the start of the First World War due to his German origin. In 1917 the family name was changed to Mountbatten and he became the first Marquess of Milford Haven. They had four children, George who became the second Marquess of Milford Haven; Alice who married Prince Andrew of Greece and they were the father and mother of Prince Phillip, he was born in Greece in June 1921; Louis became the Queen of Sweden and finally Lord Louis Mountbatten who was the Governor of the Isle of Wight until he was murdered by the Provisional IRA in 1979. There are brass plaques to all these people in the Battenburg chapel.
The next memorial is to Prince Leopold the eight child of Queen Victoria who was born in April 1853 but unfortunately was a haemophiliac, and this restricted his life style. This birth was unique, in that it was the first time that Queen Victoria had used chloroform to ease childbirth and in doing so gave royal approval for its use. He gained a doctorate in civil law at Oxford and was a patron of arts and literature. He married Prince Helene Frederica in April 1882 and they had two children. Due to his condition and to avoid the harsh winter in Britain, he was staying in Cannes in 1884, when he slipped on fell, and he died on the 28th March, he died before the birth of his son.
Still on the south wall, the last two memorials are for two of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, these are children of her eldest daughter Prince Victoria who married Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia. Prince Sigismund born September 1864 and died of meningitis at the age of 21 months in June 1866. The second memorial is to Prince Waldemar who was born February 1868 and died of diphtheria in March 1879 at the age of 11 years. Their elder brother Prince William born 1859, went on to become Kaiser and some say was reason for the starting the First World War.
On the east wall there is a picture entitle Beato Angelica, this was formerly hung in the chapel at Osborne House [now converted to the Terrace Restaurant], and was commissioned by Queen Victoria from an original hung in San Marco, Florence.
Battenberg Chapel (opposite the Royal pew)
This was formerly called “the Household Chapel”, where senior members of the royal household use to worship when in residence at Osborne House. In 1884, Princess Beatrice, the younger of Queen Victoria’s children accompanied her mother to Darmstadt, Germany to the wedding of her cousin Princess Victoria [daughter of the late Princess Alice] to Prince Louis of Battenberg. While on the visit Princess Beatrice became very attracted to the bridegroom’s younger brother Prince Henry, and he to her. On her return to London, Princess Beatrice asked the Queen for permission to marry Prince Henry. Queen Victoria was most upset by this request as she assume that Beatrice who was her companion and handmaiden would remain so for the rest of her life. So for the next six months they did speak, only passed notes as required. Eventually the Queen gave permission for the wedding on the condition that the couple would stay with the Queen. The wedding took place at St Mildred’s Church on the 23rd July 1885 amid royal pomp and circumstance. A copy of the princess’s wedding dress is on show in the in the South Transept together with details of the wedding breakfast and photographs. For her wedding Beatrice was allowed to wear her mother Honiton Lace veil, but the honeymoon at Quarr lasted for only two days, before the Beatrice was back to her roll as companion to the Queen.
The couple had four children Alexander 1886-1960, Victoria 1887-1969, Leopold 1889-1922 and lastly Prince Maurice [1891-1914] who was killed in the First World War and is buried at Ypres.
Their father became a favourite of Queen Victoria and when he asked permission to join Prince Christian [eldest son of her daughter Princess Helena] to help quell an uprising in the Gold Coast, the Queen refused. However Princess Beatrice persuaded her mother that he should be allowed to go as her husband was a professional soldier. Unfortunately he caught malaria and was taken back to base and placed on a ship for England. However he died on the way home and his body was preserved in rum. Princess Beatrice met the ship in Portsmouth and his body transferred to the Royal Yacht and taken to Cowes. His funeral took place at St Mildred’s on the 5th February 1896.
The Queen commissioned a bronze grill screen which was placed in the front of the chapel which incorporated the Battenberg Arms. Princes Beatrice took over her husbands roll and became the Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1897.
This is a foretaste of a very interesting guided tour of St Mildred’s Church at Whippingham and there is much more to be learned, as you will see that the church is steeped in history. It is a very beautiful and well preserved church and within the church grounds are buried many people of note, but to learn the full story you must visit the church.
For details of opening times and to arrange a conducted tour please contact:-
School and Group Visit Bookings: Mr Colin Dutton Tel: 01983 293140 or E-mail
We are open to visitors throughout the summer season – Monday to Thursday 10am – 4pm.
Services are held each Sunday at 11.15am.
Church Wardens: Jean Kirby Tel: 01983 291295 or E-mail and Bunnie Triggs Tel: 01983 200276.