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The Two ‘Ms’ Mill & Manor

A very short account of the very long life of our village By The Rector, The Revd. George Rayner Rector of Wootton from 1969 – 1989.

The article is quoted in full by kind permission of the author.

A busy main road, a few shops, a sprawl of new estates; this is the first impression of Wootton, yet how many visitors know that this sprawl spring from two “Ms” going back for nearly a thousand years … Mill and Manor.

The Tide Mill

As people sit sipping their drinks, or go a-boating at Lakeside, how many realise that they are looking at the reason for Wootton being here at all – a Mill pond. Until the early 1960s, the Lake was a tidal mill pond, which provided a flow of water to harness the tides?

With the narrow opening where the Bridge now stands, there was an ideal situation for a tide-mill. We are familiar with windmills and inland water mills, but the Island boasted no less than four mills using the ebb and flow of the tide.

As the tide rose in the Creek, extending through sluice gates under the bridge, the mill pond filled until the time of the high tide. Then the sluice gates were closed, and, as the tide dropped, the dammed-back sea water was allowed to flow through another set of sluice gates, under the road, and through the tide mill, turning a water wheel in the same way as a normal mill.

When the water was exhausted, the wheel stopped, the corn grinding ended until the next high tide. So, for 900 years, the tide ebbed and flowed through the sluices, grinding corn, and mainly for the benefit of Quarr Abbey, to whom the income of the mill was paid until the dissolution at the Reformation.

The Sloop Inn was originally the miller’s house, and the actual mill stood here until 1963, when modern vandals, in the shape of developers demolished it, to make way for the Yachtsmen’s cottages. So passed the last working tide mill in the Island, and a reminder that man need not depend upon coal, oil or atoms for energy to turn his wheels!

The provision of a creek crossing, and the presence of the mill, meant that a small community was here at the Bridge from fairly early times, and this was where the village of Wootton was situated. The group of houses around the Sloop are still the oldest part of Wootton, and are worth studying in this context.

The Manor

“But, why” people ask, “Was the church built so far from the village, if this is so”. The answer simply is, that the church wasn’t built for the villagers (who lived in the parish of Arreton anyway!), but to serve the Manor, St. Edmund’s parish church is a fine example of an “eigenkeirche” … an “owned church”, because it was built for a family and their own private use.

After the Norman Conquest, the Conqueror’s friends had the customary “perks”, and among them was William Fitzosborne to whom was given the lordship of the Island. After various intrigues, one Jordan de Insula was given lands, settling at Wootton, building a Manor House, and his own private chapel to provide for himself, his family and workers’ spiritual needs.

Basically, when the church was built in 1087, it was a solid Norman structure, probably with a low dark chancel, with small windows, and earth floor covered with rushes, and of course, no pews and few furnishings save an altar.

Which St. Edmund?

In olden times, people weren’t too fussy about which Saint they named their church after, so it isn’t surprising that there is some confusion regarding the patron Saint of Wootton. Which S. Edmund? For many years it has been taken as Edmund, King and Martyr of East Anglia1, who was martyred for his Christian Faith in 866 by the heathen Danish invaders. He was shot through with arrows, and the beheaded (just to make sure!), hence the design of crown and arrows on the sanctuary ceiling, and in a small stained glass window on the North side of the chancel.

Why a church in the Isle of Wight should remember an East Anglican Saint is a mystery, and indeed, the title in an Enquiry held at Quarr Abbey under Bishop Foxe is given as “St. Edmund the Confessor,” so it is really anyone’s guess. This Edmund the Confessor was a very holy young man, addicted to hair shirts (which he wore every Wednesday) who begged his way through the University of Paris, teaching eventually at Oxford, and after whom St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford is named. Falling foul of King Henry III, he also resisted the encroachments of the Pope, withdrawing eventually to Pontigny in France, dying in 1240. He was canonised remarkably quickly as a Saint in 1246!

It may be that the church was St. Edmund the Confessor, the Chantry, St. Edmund the King, but no one can say for sure.

The Chantry

Carved into the pillar of the arch which separates the present vestry from the nave, is a holy water stoup. An attractive piece of medieval work-study, being conveniently placed for the devotions of either the Rector (going to the main altar) or the Chantry priest going to his altar. (The reconstructed altar in the vestry gives some idea of the medieval lay-out of the church).

Two priests in one church ? How odd ! Not really, for this was common where wealthy families were involved. The chantry was the position of a paid priest, whose sole work was to offer Mass for the souls of departed members of the family, and a separate chapel was not always provided for this purpose. It would appear that such a chapel was set up at Wootton from the year 1305 and continued until the Reformation, when chantries were swept away. In the case of Wootton, the chapel seems to have gone as well: the present vestry erected on the site of the chapel is a Victorian structure. The fine archway had been closed for some 300 years until, in the time of Dr. William Coleman, Rector, the innovation of a surpliced choir required a suitable vestry, and so the chantry chapel site was built on again.

One has a lovely picture in mind of the two priest using the one church to fulfil their sacred functions, and one hopes that they never quarrelled as to the time each was to function!

The Fire

The French were in the habit of coming across the Channel occasionally to have, in modern jargon, a “burn up”. The pattern of the excursion was normally, plunder, rape and the burning of the village or town. Wootton suffered such an “away game” by the French in 1378, when the manor house and church were burnt.

Much of the present roof dates from this time, and most likely, in the rebuilding, the opportunity was taken to put in some modern windows instead of the narrow Norman type. One wonders if the village folk complained about the innovations!

If you look outside along the chancel wall on the North side, a straight line of joining can be clearly seen, where probably the height of the chancel walls was raised.

The de Lisles were responsible for the church and the appointment of the Rector, until 1767, when the estate passed into the hands of James Burton, who appointed Richard Walton to the living.

It is interesting, that the first of the known Rectors was a Lisle and the last appointed by the deLisles was also a Lisle! From then on, the church ceased as such be an “owned church”. The manor changed hands as did the rights of presentation, until eventually, the connection between church and manor disappeared, and the rights of presentation have now passed to a suitably faceless 20th century body … a Diocesan Board of Patronage.


Looking at St. Edmund’s now, it is good to turn the imagination back over the centuries, to the time when every Sunday and Holyday, the altar candles glimmered through the incense smoke, and the priest at the altar offered to God the bounden duty of the worship of the Mass.

Over the rood beam probably stood the crucifix, with the figures of Mary and John, and the nave was occupied with the workers of the Lisle estate, while the Lord of the Manor occupied a place of honour (even having his own entrance into the church … now seen on the North side, with a boarded up doorway).

Then came the Reformation: The Mass disappeared, the glory and the colour, and black preaching gowns and long sermons became the order of the day. The Church of England became drab, and often spiritually dead, and the ordinary working folk were to a great extent alienated.

The late Victorian years saw great changes at St. Edmund’s. In 1859, with Robert Hilton Scott as Rector, a musicians’ gallery was erected at the West end of the church (the two niches where the beams rested can still be seen at the base of the West window), but more splendour was yet to come.

With the institution of William Hobday Coleman in 1884, changes came with rapidity. A “High Churchman” of the Tractarian style, under Dr. Coleman, the whole standard of worship was raised. Two candles appeared once more upon the altar, choir stalls were erected, an organ provided (including a donation to the fund by Queen Victoria), and a surpliced choir of some twenty men and boys gathered together, the 8 a.m. Holy Communion was established at this time, with presumably Eucharistic vestments (the present Rector still wears a white albe, originally used by Dr. Coleman in 1891: a tribute to Victorian linen quality!

The plaster on the walls was chipped off, so that the original rough stonework was exposed (this was thought to be a great piece of “restoration”) the church repewed, and various improvements(?) made.

Nor was Wootton behind the times: in the early 1920s an electric light plant (housed in the present churchyard store) was given by Mrs Carnt of Westwood, so that the oil lamps were removed, and this modern marvel substituted.

With the death of Dr. Coleman came the end of the Edwardian era, which had to some extent stretched on into the post-war years, and gradually church attendance declined: the village was still unchanged, but the old ideas were under fire.

Through the Second World War, various problems arose, and not least the sudden transition from being a small village, with a fairly well defined class system (big houses along the Creek to Woodside, and the lesser mortals housed up the High Street and along Station Road) to a semi-suburban sprawl of estates, with a vast increase in population.

It is worth saying that the last Rector (The Revd. Arthur Genower) spanned all those years from the beginning of the last War, until 1969: that period of exceptional growth, a Ministry of thirty years being no mean achievement.

By 1970, the village was badly in need of a meeting place; the church life needed new buildings, and not least, St. Mark’s was re-opened to meet the needs of a new generation of people of Wootton.

Social Life

Although Wootton has grown enormously (from 152 people in 1900 to 3,500 in 1975), the older residents remember a village which was lively; there were no less than three clubs: The Conservative Club in the High Street (now a factory and store), the Liberal Club (behind the High Street Methodist Church) and the Wootton Social Club (the empty building in Church Road, near the School entrance).

Mrs. Mitchenson founded the Wootton Glee Club, which performed choral works (later taken over by Mr. Wickenden, the parish church organist).

There was an active Dramatic Society, and during the last war, Doctor Kennedy toured the isolated army sites in the Island with his own Concert party (being himself, an able conjuror).

The W.I. flourished in an ex-Army hut over the other side of the Bridge (in the parish of Binstead!)

Odd Parish Boundaries

The Island originally consisted of only a few very large parishes, from which the present parishes were extracted. So, the original parish of Wootton (which comprised only that area North of the High Street, from Dr. Kennedy’s house, to Aedy’s Garage stretching behind Red Road to Woodside) was taken from the older parish of Whippingham (and for seven hundred years, Wootton paid Whippingham an annual sum of 50p until the end of the 18th century). This parish was really drawn up to cover the manorial lands, and so we have the strange situation, that Wootton village, which until the 1960s was mainly High Street, Red Road, Station Road and New Road, was not in the parish of Wootton at all. People living in the village had to go to Arreton for marriage, baptism and burial, for that was the ecclesiastical parish which stretched from Wootton village in the East, to Staplers in the North, Rookley in the West and Merston and Arreton in the South.

So, there was the strange situation, of the village of Wootton being in the parish of Arreton, and the Rector of Wootton worked to death with a total parish of some two houses, a farmhouse and a cottage.

To save that long journey, a benefactress Mrs. Mary Nunn Harvey gave land in October 1892 for the provision of a burial ground at Wootton Common, and on December 11th, 1893, that land was duly consecrated.

To make further provision, a clergy house was provided (now Hillgrove House on the Staplers Road), known as St. Michael’s Clergy House, and a corrugated iron church dedicated to St. Michael and All Angels was erected on the land at Wootton Common.

In the meantime, another staunch supporter of the Church of Arreton in Wootton was Miss Sheddon of Wootton House, who taught Sunday School children in groups in houses, and at the Iron Church at the Common. She was very active, anxious, together with the then priest-in-charge from Arreton The Revd. Miles Atkinson to provide a larger, permanent building nearer the centre of the village.

St. Mark’s

Miss Sheddon gave the site of the present St. Mark’s in Station Road, and drawings were prepared by Mr. Percy Stone, the famous architect and antiquarian for a handsome church with bell-cote organ chamber, and spacious chancel.

This building was commenced in April 1909, when the Bishop of Southampton laid the Foundation Stone and on August29th, 1909 the completed building was dedicated. Quick work! Funds, however, were insufficient to complete the scheme in the somewhat grandiose style of the architect, and so the elaborate 2-bell tower over the entrance, the gallery, and the ringing chamber had to be excluded. The Organ Chamber was added in 1913, but funds were too slender for a pipe organ to fit in it, so an American organ had to suffice.

The old iron church was sold to a parish in Devon, and the worship and work transferred to S. Mark’s, which flourished right through the years of the Great War under Miles Atkinson, but after, when a Scheme of Union, divided up Arreton parish, adding a large portion to Wootton, St. Mark’s fell rather under the shadow of St. Edmund’s, until after War Damage and disrepair, it was closed as a church in 1946, to become a furniture store.

The desecration continued for nearly 25 years, with all the fittings sold or given away, and mattresses and bedding stacked upon the altar, when the present Rector arrived, and with the swiftly-growing village, the need for a larger church, and hall accommodation was recognised and S. Mark’s reopened.

The almost miraculous way in which fittings and furnishings were found, leads one to believe that the re-opening was in the mind of God, and on Easter Day, 1970, the church was rededicated by the Bishop of Portsmouth, restored to a glory which surpassed the pelmist days of the past.

The erection of the Annexe, mainly by self-help work by the parishioners makes a valuable array of buildings enabling the Family life of the Church, and the Community life of the village to be built upon.

The rapid growth of the congregation of St. Mark’s, and the size of the choir meant further building in the shape of space at the South and North of the Sanctuary, providing more seats for the choir, and a small but attractive Lady Chapel.

However, Miss Sheddon would be perhaps delighted to see the large numbers in the congregation, with more than double the number of Communicants every Sunday than at Easter in 1909, but taken aback by the way in which the worship has changed! Until its closure, St. Mark’s had no candles on the altar, and in true Evangelical fashion used ordinary bread for the Communion, while St. Edmund’s had altar vestments, candles and wafer bread. Historically, a case of the boot on the other foot!

An Update

In autumn 2002 St. Mark’s Church organ sadly breathed its last. With the help and advice of local organ builder Andrew Cooper a suitable replacement was found that would both fit into the existing organ chamber in St. Mark’s and give good quality sound throughout the building.

The instrument by organ builders ‘Foster and Andrews’ comes from a redundant church in Middlesbrough. It dates from about 1850.

A fund raising committee was assembled and work began on an intensive programme of fund raising, with a target of £30,000 to reach. The appeal was formally launched at a weekend of musical events from Friday 28th March, to Sunday 30th March 2003. The fund raising has been notable for its wide variety of events including an Arts and Crafts Exhibition, Rectory Fun Days, Garden opens, plant sales, a sponsored slim by our organist which raised over £1000, a hugely successful Forties evening, Concerts of varying kinds, quiz evenings, Salsa evenings, barn dances, supper and talent nights, wine and coco cola tasting, and the yearly big breakfast.

A combination of events, some very generous donations and around £1500 in grants from the Manifold Trust and the ON Organ Fund, has meant that we have now reached our target.

As well as the restoration of the new organ, the old organ had to be removed and the resulting space filled in. This also presented us with the opportunity to refurbish and restore the Chancel and Lady Chapel to its former glory at the same time. Volunteer labour played a large part in the building work.

Other modifications to the heating and lighting system and a reordering of the choir stalls to allow space for the organ were also necessary.

The scale of the task involved may be imagined from the following: - The organ has 507 pipes, ranging in length from 9 ft to 3/8”. The pipes are made up of 139 wooden; the facing pipes are made of zinc and the remaining interior pipes, of a tin and lead alloy. There are approximately 600 movements in the action between the keys, pedals, stops and pipes. If you laid the pipes in a straight line, end to end, they would stretch for ¼ of a mile.

At the time of writing (November 2005) the final phase of installation is almost complete. This involves assembly of the restored actions within the organ itself, the installation of the wind trunks and blower and all the internal pipes. Gold leaf has been used to decorate the mouths of the front pipes to complete their decoration and the west-facing opening of the organ chamber will be filled with five pipes decorated in the same manner as the front. Once the instrument has been regulated mechanically, the pipe work will be tonally finished to regulate it musically.

An evening service of praise and thanksgiving, led by the Island’s archdeacon, the Ven. Dr. Trevor Reader, was held on Sunday 16th October. Dr. Reader dedicated the new organ at the 10 a.m. Eucharist on 16th October 2005.

The Festival Evensong also featured choirs of St. Mark’s Church, St. John’s Church, Newport and the Ventnor Voices.

A Final Message From The Fundraising Committee

When the St. Mark’s Organ Restoration Fund was launched in March 2003, we hoped that at least 50% of the £30,000 needed would be in the form of grants. In the end the percentage was less than 5%. The Committee would like to express its gratitude for the level of support, generosity and commitment, which has contributed towards the successful completion of the appeal. It all goes to show what can be achieved when everyone works together.

The Bridge. The paper of the Parish of Wootton. November 2005 Isle of Wight County Press 21 October 2005

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This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:50

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