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St John the Baptist, Yaverland, Isle of Wight

(50°40′10″N, 1°7′57″W)
SZ 614 859
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Hampshire
now Isle of Wight
  • John Margham
1 August 2016, 10 July 2017

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St John’s church is situated close to the early 17thc. manor house known as Yaverland Manor; together they occupy a small level of rising ground, to the S of the lateral chalk ridge in the ‘Bembridge Isle’ area at the eastern extremity of the Isle of Wight. St John's church originally consisted of a nave and chancel dating from the 12thc., connected by an elaborately carved chancel arch. It was restored in 1887--89 by the architect, Ewan Christian (1814--1895), who added the western bell turret and the south porch, which now protects the Romanesque S doorway of the nave (Lloyd and Pevsner 2006, 310-2). The Romanesque features are the S doorway and the chancel arch.


The identity of the original builders of the 12thc. church remain uncertain, but it has long been believed that the church was raised by a member of the knightly de Aula family (VCH Gloucestershire, v. 206--208). The earliest known member of the family active on the Isle of Wight was Warin de Aula, who can be found witnessing deeds of Baldwin de Redvers, earl of Devon, in the 1140s and who was a benefactor of the Savigniac abbey of Quarr (Bearman 1994, 67--69, at 68 (no. 17); 70--71 (no. 19)). The earliest evidence for possession of Yaverland by the de Aula family occurs in the 1220s, so it is unclear when precisely the manor came into their possession. It is possible that the church was built by the family who held the estate before the arrival of the de Aulas. What is not doubt is the close relationship of the church to the seigneurial residence in Yaverland. The earliest explicit reference to the church occurs in 1330--31, when it is referred to as a chapel of the manor (TNA, Feet of Fine, 4 Edward III, CP21/1/205/15 (no. 31)). The chapel was originally subject to the matrix ecclesia of Brading, and as late as the 18thc. the inhabitants of Yaverland continued to bury their dead in the cemetery of Brading (Albin 1795, 490). The church is situated very close to the present manor house, which dates from the reign of King James I. It is likely that this building replaced an earlier residence. We may be justified in interpreting the manor and church as a discrete seigneurial residence.


Exterior Features



Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

The status and situation of St John's church make it certain that it was founded as a manorial chapel by one of the 12thc. lords of Yaverland. The square-head of the S doorway cutting through the tympanum would appear to be an original feature. It certainly had this form in 1832 when the church and manor house were depicted in a Brannon engraving. The height of the doorway opening to the lower surface of the tympanum would have been only 1.86 m. The chevron and pellet ornament of the chancel arch has strong parallels with decoration in the Augustinian priory church of St Mary’s within Porchester castle, in particular with the western doorway of the nave and with the E archway in the N transept. The construction of St Mary’s can be reasonably dated to between its date of foundation in 1133 and the relocation of the priory to Southwick, which occurred in 1144 x 1153 (Pevsner and Lloyd 1967, 382). A similar date can therefore be suggested for the construction of Yaverland church in the 1140s.

A sepia watercolour by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson produced in the 1840s shows the S doorway before the construction of the porch. It does not depict the sculpted head which is now set above the doorway. In 1969 Derek Renn referred to ‘the loose carved idol at Yaverland’, which is presumably a reference to this head (Renn 1969, 269). The face is approximately round with the exception of a rounded protruding chin or beard and protruding disc-like ears. The nose is damaged. The eyes are lenticular and the upper surfaces of the cheeks are accentuated. Upper and lower lips define a straight mouth. The head appears to be bald. The head is probably Romanesque. The cutting back of the hood-moulding of the chancel arch would appear to be related to the construction of a rood loft at a date after that of construction and before the Reformation. Steps rise up from the chancel through the wall immediately to the N of the chancel arch which would have given access to the rood loft.


J. Albin, A New, Correct, and Much Improved History of the Isle of Wight, London, 1795.

R. Bearman, Charters of the Redvers Family and the Earldom of Devon 1090-1217, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, New Series vol. 37, 1994.

TNA, Feet of Fine, 4 Edward III, CP21/1/205/15 (no. 31).

S.F. Hockey, Insula Vecta: The Isle of Wight in the Middle Ages, Phillimore, Chichester, 1982.

S.F. Hockey (ed.), The Charters of Quarr Abbey, The Isle of Wight Record Series vol. 3, Isle of Wight County Record Office, 1991.

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

W.H. Long (ed.) The Oglander Memoirs: extracts from the mss of Sir J. Oglander, KT, 1888, reprint from the collections of the University of California Libraries.

N. Pevsner and D. Lloyd, The Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1967.

D.F. Renn, ‘Some Early Island Churches’, Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society 6, 1969, 266-270.

Victoria County History A History of the County of Gloucestershire, Vol. 5, London, 1912.

R. Worsley, The History of the Isle of Wight, Hamilton, London, 1781.