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St Mary, Brading, Isle of Wight

(50°40′55″N, 1°8′36″W)
SZ 606 873
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Hampshire
now Isle of Wight
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • John Margham
9 April 2016

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Brading is a town on the Isle of Wight about three miles W of Bembridge, and St Mary’s church occupies a locally prominent site in the central E part of the island just NW of the Yar gap in the lateral chalk ridge. The lower Yar valley was formerly the site of Brading Haven. It is situated at the N end of the two row settlement of the medieval town of Brading. The church consists of an early 13thc tower, a nave with Transitional Norman arcades of five bays, N and S aisles, a S porch, a chancel which was extended in 1875-6 with flanking N and S chapels of the late 15th or early 16thc. The Romanesque features are the nave arcades and the piscina attached to the S wall of the chancel (Lloyd and Pevsner 2006, 91-2).


Brading was not named as a manor in Domesday Book and probably formed part of the manor of Whitefield at this time. No church was accounted for in this area in 1086. It is however quite likely that Brading church did exist at the time of the Domeday Survey, despite not being mentioned and not being amongst the various churches on the Isle of Wight given by William fitzOsbern to his abbey of Lyre in Normandy between 1067 and 1071. According to reference in a document of c. 1300 to a now lost charter, a substantial estate named 'Brerdinges' was granted to the church of Winchester by Ine of Wessex (Finberg 1964, no.1). A tradition was recorded in the parish registers in the earlier 17thc by Sir John Oglander that St Wilfrid founded the church at Brading. The estates of Brading, along with Yaverland and Calbourne, may have formed the quarter of the Isle of Wight which was granted to St Wilfrid.

Post conquest documentary evidence suggests that Brading church had the status of a minster with an extensive parochia. Links with the later parishes of Shanklin and Yaverland are attested, and the configuration of parish boundaries suggests that St Helens parish was also part of Brading’s parochia (Margham 2000). The first documentary evidence for the church dates from the mid 12thc when William de Insula granted the advowson to the nearby priory of St Helens (Page 1912, 168). The earliest physical evidence for a church at Brading is the later 11thc piscina now in the chancel.


Interior Features




Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


The arcades of the nave which can be dated to the late 12thc are the earliest structural evidence for the existence of the church at Brading. The sculpture now used as a piscina in the chancel suggests the existence of a stone-built church here a century earlier. Various parallels for this can be cited. The volutes found on the capitals of mid-wall shafts in Lincolnshire towers such as Glentworth have a date range of c. 1180 to the first decade of the 12thc (Stocker and Everson 2006, 55). A geographically much nearer parallel are the volutes on the imposts of the tower arch at Netheravon (Wiltshire). Blair has pointed out that this church was ‘waste and roofless so that it is almost collapsing’ in 1086 and argues that the tower was rebuilt c. 1090 to replace this derelict church (Blair 1987, 273, fig. 2). If the Brading sculpture was originally a piscina then the pillar piscina with its volute spirals at Sherburn (East Yorkshire) is a valid parallel (see separate site report). Renn has pointed out that pillar piscinas usually consist of a column with the capital hollowed out but with no abacus. He also cited Sir Alfred Clapham who argued that the Brading sculpture was a respond from which sprang an arch or vault (Renn 1969, 269). It is quite possible that the sculpture did not start out as a piscina but has been adapted to this use.


W. J. Blair, ‘Local Churches in Domesday and Before’, in Holt, J.C. (ed.), Domesday Studies, Woodbridge 1987, 265-78

H. P. R. Finberg, The Early Charters of Wessex, Leicester 1964, no. 1.

D. W. Lloyd and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Isle of Wight, London and New Haven 2006, 91-2.

J. Margham, 2000 ‘St Mary’s, Brading: Wilfrid’s Church’, Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society 16 (2000), 117-35.

W. Page (ed.), The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, vol. 5, London 1912, 168.

D. F. Renn, ‘Some Early Island Churches’, Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society 6 (1969), 266-70.

P. Stocker and P. Everson, Summoning St Michael: Early Romanesque Towers in Lincolnshire, Oxford 2006, 55.