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Shalfleet Church, Isle of Wight

Shalfleet Church exterior by Barbara Ballard St Michael's Church, at Shalfleet on the Isle of Wight, occupies a place where Christian worship has taken place for 900 years. It is not known exactly when the church was built or dedicated. Founded between 1070-1086, it is thought that Roger de Breteuil, son of William Fitz Osbern, built it. The church appears in the Domesday book compiled in 1085. The church only received its name in 1964 when it was dedicated, by the bishop of Portsmouth, to St Michael the archangel on September 29, 1964

Shalfleet Church tower by Barbara Ballard The oldest part of the church is the massive tower with its five foot thick walls. It served as a place of safety for local villagers to retreat to when invaders appeared on the scene. Entrance was only achieved by climbing a ladder reaching to the parapet. The Danes frequently came over the sea and up the Newtown river to this spot. In the 14th century the French made numerous forays of destruction. A 3 pounder gun in the tower (removed in 1779) helped protect the inhabitants.

Other parts of the original church that remain are the north door and the foundations of the north wall of the nave. There was, at one time, a stained glass Perpendicular window in this wall. Above the north door is a carved tympanum. The south aisle is thought to date from 1190.

The church was remodeled and enlarged in 1270. At this time the current south aisle with the arcade of Purbeck stone piers was added. The arms of Isabella de Fortibus, lord of the island 1283-1293, once decorated one of the aisle windows. In 1290 the chancel was constructed and the great arch opened in the tower’s east wall.

During the 1300s the western buttress was added to the towers and original windows in the tower walls were filled with transitional decorated perpendicular tracery. The south porch and the south buttress on its east side were constructed in the 1400s. At the same time a new roof was put on.

In 1754 the north porch and the cupola tower were added. The cupola was removed in 1800 and a wooden, tile-hung steeple replaced it. This lead to a rhyme about the people in the parish: “Shalfleet poor and simple people Sold their bells to build a steeple.”

Shalfleet church stained glass window by Barbara Ballard In 1889, restoration was done throughout the church including unblocking the tower arch. 15th century roof timbers were uncovered, and the whitewash on the church was removed. The steeple was taken down in 1912 due to stability concerns. This precluded the north-east corner of the tower collapse in 1914. Further restoration as needed took place in the 20th century.

The church font is partly late 16th century while the carved oak pulpit dates from the time of Charles I. Altar rails and box pews are from the 1700s. The piscina is 13th century while the church organ dates from 1886. The church has two bells cast in the 1800s. There are memorials and memorial windows in the church.

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