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St Michael the Archangel, Shalfleet, Isle of Wight

(50°42′3″N, 1°24′54″W)
Shalfleet, Isle of Wight
SZ 414 892
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Hampshire
now Isle of Wight
  • John Margham
29 May 2016

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Feature Sets

Shalfleet church forms the core of the small nucleated village of the same name a little inland the island’s NW coast and to the S of a series of fleets draining into the Solent. The church consists of a substantial W tower, nave, S aisle, N and S porches and the chancel. The massive tower is slightly wider than the nave. The main entrance to the church is through the N porch and the doorway with a tympanum above. The lower parts of the N wall of the nave would appear to be contemporary with this doorway, with much of the wall being rebuilt in 1812. The S arcade of the nave of four bays was constructed in the mid to late 13thc and the chancel rebuilt at about this time. The north porch was constructed in 1754 (Lloyd and Pevsner 2006, 259-261). The Romanesque features are the N doorway to the nave and the W tower.


There was 'a church' at Seldeflet in 1086, with the manor having been assessed at six hides in 1066 (Williams and Erskine 1989, 53v). The possibility of a much earlier origin of the church was raised by the excavation in 2005 of eight inhumations at the site of the former vicarage, to the E of the church. Radiocarbon dating suggests a later seventh or earlier 8thc date for these inhumations (West Wight Archaeological Heritage). An Anglo-Saxon charter purporting to date from 838 granting 40 cassati [hides] by king Egbert the bishopric of Winchester in Scealdanfleote may be of significance here (Sawyer 1968 S281; Finberg 1964, no.15 ) with the church of Winchester possibly providing a church for this substantial estate.


Exterior Features




The creatures depicted on the tympanum can be seen as lions, their form being very similar to that of St Mark’s lion in Anglo-Saxon and Irish gospel books, for example the Echternach and Trier gospels, and to that of lions in medieval bestiaries (Henderson 1987, 75, 91; Barber 1992, 21-2). The medieval dedication of Shalfleet church is lost, the present dedication to St Michael originating in 1964. It is possible that the central figure depicted on the tympanum is St Mark and that this was the medieval church dedication (Margham 1997, 95). Alternatively, Keyser identifies the scene as Daniel in the lion’s den (Keyser 1927, lii-liii). A further possibility is a representation of the Trinity (Wood 2017). The iconography of the Shalfleet tympanum invites comparison with those at Charney Bassett, Berkshire and Down St Mary, Devon (Keyser 1927 figs. 71, 72). The N doorway is constructed of an orange-coloured sedimentary stone which is not found on the Isle of Wight. The importation of the stone is a possibility, as is the colouration of the stone by ochre (personal communication, David Tomalin).

The W tower seems to have had a defensive function, perhaps explained by its position just to the S of the tidal limit of Shalfleet Lake which enters the Solent at Newtown Bay. The medieval beacon site at Hamstead to the north-west is visible from the top of the tower along with other beacon sites on the chalk downland to the south, and the tower dominates the east-west road crossing the Caul Bourne nearby. The E window in the upper wall of the tower would appear to be an insertion of the early 13thc, perhaps associated with the provision of a church bell or bells. The tower can be seen as originating as a tower-nave, with the present nave added in the mid- to late twelfth century. The infilling of the eastern face of the recessed section of the tower appears to be contemporary with the provision of the double lancet window. The truncation of the double billet on the east face of the tower would either be associated with the construction of the present nave or the later insertion of this window.


R. Barber, Bestiary, being an English version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford M.S. 764, Boydell, Woodbridge, 1992 (reissued 1993)

H.P.R. Finberg, The Early Charters of Wessex, Leicester, 1964

G. Henderson, From Durrow to Kells: the Insular Gospel Books, 650-800, Thames and Hudson, London, 1987

C.E. Keyser, A List of Norman Tympana and Lintels, second edition, Elliot Stock, London, 1927

D. Lloyd and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Isle of Wight, Yale, 2006

J. Margham, ‘Saints in an Island Landscape: A Study in Church Dedications’, Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society 13, 1987, 91-106

P. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: an annotated list and bibliography, Royal historical Society, London, 1968

West Wight Archaeological Heritage: Shalfleet, West Wight Landscape Partnership, accessed on-line 25/5/17

A. Williams and R.W.H. Erskine, The Hampshire Domesday, Alecto Historical Editions, London, 1989

R. Wood, Paradise: the world of Romanesque Sculpture, YPD books, York, 2017