This guide is based upon a paper written by Canon George
Jeans MA FSA; a former vicar, which was presented to the
Hampshire Field Club in 1893.
The Original Church
A portion of the present north wall and the south door
are all that remain of the original
chapel which was first built for the tenants of the manor
of Northcourt circa 1100 (not long after the building of
the Priory Church at Carisbrooke). The chapel apparently
extended westward about as far as the present chancel
step; the difference between the Early English and the
far inferior Perpendicular walling can be plainly seen on
About a century later this little Norman Chapel was
rebuilt in the Early English style, an aisle was added on
the south, the size was probably doubled and covered the
site of the present chancel as well as the chancel north
The South Door
It is generally accepted that to this period
belongs the South door with its returned label moulding
cut into chevrons. Canon Jeans, a former Vicar and
benefactor, previously mentioned, was of the opinion that
it might safely be regarded that this interesting doorway
was part of the same early English Church as the east
part of the north wall which was of the lancet period.
In the 14th century then the Church was included in what
is now the nave and the north aisle, the former being the
vicarial, and the latter being the rectorial church.
It appears that in this parish a curious anomaly arose.
Shorwell at this time apparently had two distinct
churches; one vicarial, the other rectorial; the north
chapel was served from Carisbrooke Priory and the south
chapel was served by the Vicar. In 1547 however, there is
evidence of the Church of"Suthshorwell" being a
parochial church by itself.
15th Century and later additions.
The Church was completely re-modelled in the 15th century
and practically took the form as seen today.
The nave was extended westward, the south wall of the two-aisled
church was pulled down, making the south aisle into a
nave, and a new aisle was built to the south of this (under
a separate roof) of equal length with the others - thus
giving to the Church its singular plan of three equal
aisles (though aisle is of course not a strictly correct
word) with no external distinction between the nave and
chancel in any of these three (see plan, inside front
Each of these three aisles had its own chancel, the steps
to which remain in them all. The date of this
reconstruction is placed at about 1440, the tower being
The lower stage of the tower is vaulted in the same
manner as the towers at Carisbrooke and the Parish Church
of St. Thomas of Canterbury at Newport. The present stone
spire of St. Peter's, like so many other beautiful gifts,
is attributed to Sir John Leigh of Northcourt. The brass
weathercock, which surmounts the spire, bears on its tail
the date 1617 - two years after Sir John had finished
building his new mansion ofNorthcourt.
Only two additions to the Church appear to have been made
since the reconstruction of 1440:-
(1) The large window in the south wall, which may be
dated about 1500, and was probably a memorial window to
one of the de Lisles (John de Lisle died in 1500). This
window is remarkable for the somewhat rare fact of
ornament outside in the spandrels.
(ii) The south porch, dated on the keystone 1772. This is
of the plain round arched type of that period. The north
porch is apparently of the same date as the rest of the
The Decorated Cross
This beautiful Cross, now on the central gable, was,
before 1848, on the north gable.
The Poppy Heads
The first thing the visitor will notice on entering the
Church is the large number of carved poppy heads at
different angles. These poppy heads were carved by Sir
James Willougby Gordon early in the nineteenth century
and added to the original seventeenth century pews.
The font stands by the first pillar on the south arcade,
its mouldings being almost identical with the capitals of
the pillars. The font cover, now surmounted by a Holy
Dove, but perhaps originally only by a knob, has this
"And the Holy Ghost descended in bodily shape
like dove upon him. Luke 3. ver. 22."
This cover, like the pulpit canopy and spire, was
probably the gift of Sir John Leigh, in which case its
date would be about 1620.
The quaint brass font-ewer, the gift in 1890 of Canon
Jeans, is a notable example of Flemish metal work.
The Gun Chamber
The chamber enclosed at the west end of the south aisle
now used as a vestry, is of singular interest and is
believed to be the only example in existence. True, there
were somewhat similar chambers in other parishes but
practically all these were external and most have
The one in St. Peter's, however, being under the actual
church roof and an integral part of the structure, has
survived. An arch, now filled in, in the west wall under
the window, was the entrance for the gun and there was a
separate door, now blocked, from the outside.
The gun itself was cast in 1629 by Messrs. Thomas and
Richard Pit. It is 6' 8" long, with a bore of 2.25",
and it weighs 5161b. It is now in the possession of the
Powell Gotten Museum at Qucx Park, Birchington, Kent.
The west windows are unusually tall and graceful for the
Perpendicular period. A good deal of the tracery in the
upper parts of the side aisle windows seems to be
original. Lower down repairs have been necessary. Sadly
the tower window blew in during a storm in 1978. This has
been beautifully restored. The huge cost was borne by the
villagers of Shorwell,aidedby a grant from English
Heritage. The work was completed in 1985.
Outside, the west window of the north aisle bears in
stone the date 1623 showing that this again, like so much
of the church furniture, was restored by Sir John Leigh
There are five bells in the tower, three of which are of
the 17th century while two additional bells were
presented to the Church in 1893, one by Lady Mary Gordon
in memory of Sir Henry Gordon and one by Mrs. Leith in
memory of General Disney Leith.
The following particulars of the bells may be interesting:-
Note. Weight. Date.
Tenor G 11 cwt. 1611 Geve God the Glory. R.B.
2nd A 8 cwt. 1601 Geve thanks to God. R.B.
3rd B 7 cwt. 1893 (On Sir Henry Gordon).
4th C 7 cwt. 1641 God be our gude (guide). 1.11.
Treble D 6 cwt. 1893 (On General Leith).
R.B. Was R. Bond of Winchester, who cast many bells in
Hampshire. l.H. is supposed to have been his successor.
The two bells presented in 1893 were cast by Messrs.
Mears &: Stainbank, bell founders of WhitechapeI.
The Tower Clock
The ancient turret clock, believed to have belonged to
the Church at one time, but which had been in use at
Northcourt, was donated to the Church by Mr. Eric
Harrison of Northcourt and placed in the Tower by public
subscription to commemorate the Ministry of the Reverend
AH. Wakefield (1962 - 1972).
The Wall Painting
The wall painting of St. Christopher over the north door
is another well known treasure of this Church. It is
eleven feet wide and six and a half feet high and the
date assigned to it is 1440. In the latter part of the 19th
century it was skilfully and carefully cleaned -
analogous to the cleaning ofan oil painting- under the
direction of Mr. Percy Goddard Stone, and today the
painting is quite distinct
The subjects are:-
(i) On the dexter (left) side -
(a) The Saint riding in company with the devil, who has
the pointed ears of a Satyr, and wears a peculiar crown;
(b) The renunciation of the service of the devil, and
enlistment in that of the crucified Christ, marked by the
miracle of the blossoming staff.
(ii) In the centre -
(c) The great figure
of St. Christopher bearing the infant Christ, out of
whose mouth proceeds a label "ego sum alpha et omega"
the last word being in the Greek character. The Saint is
bearing the child across a river towards a small
hermitage or chapel, at the door of which a hermit is
standing with a lantern.
(in) On the sinister (right) side -
(d) The martyrdom of the Saint with arrows, like St.
Sebastian,- while above stands a tyrant having on a crown,
probably representing the Emperor Decius (in whose
persecution, circa A.D. 250 the Saint is traditionally
said to have been martyred) or possibly ' his Asian
(Note - The arrow entering his eye. An executioner stands
in front of him bearing a sword with which, on the
failure of the arrows to kill him. the Saint was at last
put to death).
Many of the details of this wall painting deserve notice,
particularly (i) the picturesque adjuncts, to some of
which it is futile to attach a symbolical meaning, such
as, for example, making the man fishing to be the devil
catching souls.(ii) the curious answering signals between
the crow's nest of the ship and the beacon station
offshore, (iii) the great variety offish, of fresh and
salt water kinds together, pike and skate, swimming side
by side, and, (iv) the three fishes combined, which are
clearly emblematical of the Holy Trinity.
The pulpit of St. Peter's is thought to be the only
medieval pulpit on the Island. It is thought to date from
1440, when the arcade of piers was built. The unusual
arrangement of the pews is so because of the position of
the pulpit, almost in the centre of the church. Although
strange for an Anglican Chuch, this arrangement of the
pews is very satisfactory. It means that even if there is
only a small congregation at an early morning service,
worshippers can see one anothers faces. For larger
occasions, the central position of the pulpit means that
the preacher never seems too far away. Thus in all
services the church has a feeling of intimacy and
The fine Jacobean canopy has the date 1620 carved on the
lower spandrels, and so is probably another gift of the
generous Sir John Leigh.
The hour glass stand is also Jacobean, and again assumed
to be the gift of John Leigh from a later date; the hour
glass itself is a modern replacement of the original,
given by Canon Jeans.
Although there is nothing of late decorated work in the
Church, the fine East Window of the north aisle is of a
character transitional between Decorated and
Perpendicular, having straight lines in the head, but the
mullions are not carried up direct through the tracery as
is usual in true Perpendicular windows. This window,
which is of about the date 1360-1380, or the end of the
reign of Edward III, was inserted, probably in place of a
double or triple lancet east window, when the oldest part,
the Northcourt aisle, was first joined with the parochial
aisle to the south of it, as part of the parish Church of
The Communion Table at the east end of the central aisle
is modern, dedicated in 1961. The Altar in the Leigh
Chapel is beautifully hand carved and has the date 1661
in the central panel. The small altar in the South Chapel
was given by Miss Elizabeth Leith in memory of her mother,
Mrs. Disney Leith. Beautifully carved figures of St. Mark
and St. Luke writing their Gospels decorate the side
panels. It belonged to Sir Willougby Gordon and was used
by him when acting as High Officer to the Duke of York in
the Peninsular War.
The central chancel has a plain shelf or credence, while
the south chancel (which served probably as the Wolverton
chapel) Has on the south side, a piscine with its
The Icelandic Altar piece
In 1900 Mrs. Disney Leith of Northcourt brought back from
the little Church in Thingvellir a painting of the Last
Supper which was executed by OfeigurJonsson in, 1834. It
was left to the Church in memory of her son Robert Thomas,
and placed above-Sir Willoughby's portable Communion
At the request of the Bishop of Iceland and the Icelandic
Government this was returned to Thingvellir Church in
1974. A television film of its return was made by Magnus
Magnusson for the BBC. The Vicar, the Reverend C.
Targettand Mrs. Targett were invited to Iceland as guests
to participate in the formal return of the altar piece to
its original resting place, and to bring back a copy
painted in Iceland which now takes the place of the
original. An Icelandic Bible was also presented to the
Church by the Bishop of Iceland.
The South Wall
At the east end of the south wall in the priest's door,
which leads out to the Old Vicarage. Above this door
appears a small Victorian coat of arms in the form of a
The Roof beam
The Roof Beam in the Chancel is particularly beautiful,
the work being characteristic of the wood workers of the
15th century. It is not a Rood Beam such as is usually
found in Mediaeval Churches and in which the central
figure is Christ on the Cross with figures of the Blessed
Virgin and St. John on either side.
The Beam in St. Peter's is, however, enriched with
beautiful carving, the central figure representing our
Lord reigning in glory with the figures of St. Michael
and St. Gabriel on either side, while the corbels on
which the beam rests represent sin and death - in both of
which the stone mason displayed to full advantage his
imagination and skill in carving.
The addition of the figures to this beam of the church in
1901 was part of a major restoration carried out by Canon
Jeans and the congregation of the day. The figures of St.
Michael and the archangel Gabriel cost £21 each. The
central figure of Christ in Majesty was the last to be
added, in 1904.
The monuments in the church are many and varied, mostly
brasses and stone; some are important, several
inscriptions are quaint.
(a) The Brasses
(i) The oldest is that of Richard Bethell, Vicar 1518,
now set for its preservation in the tiled floor in the
centre of the chancel. He is dressed in a long gown with
full sleeves, and a hood or scarf fastened to the left
shoulder by a brooch or clasp in the form of a rosette.
(ii) At the east end of the north aisle, over the place
of the first altar, is the very curious brass to the two
wives and children of Barnabas Leigh, son of Sir John
Leigh, the generous donor of so many gifts to this
beautiful Church, and the builder of Northcourt.
"To the remembrance of the two most worthy and
religious gentlewomen his late deare and loyall wives Mrs.
Elizabeth Bamptield who died the vii th of March 1615
having bin ye mother of 15 hopeful children, and Mrs.
Gartrude Percevall who died childles the xxii of Decemb'
1619" was this monument consecrated by their
loving and sorrowful husband Barnabas Leigh Esq.,
penne nor pencill can set forth
Of these two matchless wives the matchless worth
We're forced to cover in this silent tombe,
The praises of a chaste and fruitful wombe:
And with death's sable vaile in darkness hide
The ritch rare virtues of a barren bride.
Sweet saint like paire of soules, in whome did shine
Such modells of perfection faeminine.
Such pietie, love, zeale: That though we sinners
Their lives have lost, yet still yemselves arc winners
For they secure, heavens happines inherit
While we lament their losse, admire their merit.
The two ladies stand, each with a
foot on a central skull, and one hand on a large ring,
which is clasped from above by a lace cuffed hand.
(iu) On the east wall of the south aisle is a brass
bearing on the dexter upper corner in a shield, the arms
of Leigh impaling chose of Elizabeth, wife of Edward
Leigh, and daughter of Francis Helton of Portsmouth, who
died 1621. and the opposite corner, in a lozenge the lady's
own coat of arms and an inscription in capitals, ending
with ten English verses.
(b) The Stone Monuments
(i) Sir John Leigh and his Great Grandson, 1629.
As is only right by far the most important of the
monuments in the north aisle is that of Sir John Leigh,
the generous benefactor of so much in this Church and the
builder of Northcourt.
The knight in armour. With sword (broken) and wearing
trunk hose and a ruff, is kneeling at a faldstool, and,
behind him, curiously imitating his attitude, is an
alabaster figure, not, however, affixed to the stone, of
a little boy. This boy is Barnabas Leigh (son of John
Leigh and Elizabeth, his wife), who died at the age of
nine months, when his great grandfather was lying dead.
lie was buried in the same tomb, 1629. The inscription
was written by Sir John's son, Barnabas, the husband of
the two wives mentioned on the brass, and the tomb is
often called that of the "little page" from the
four verses which end.
"Innate in graue he took his grandchild heire,
Whose soule did hast to make to him repair,
And so to heauen along as little page
With him did poast to wait upon his age."
It will be noticed that on this monument the figures are
facing westward with their backs to the Altar. It is
thought that the tomb may originally have been designed
for the south chancel aisle, but that after the figures
were made it was decided to place it here where it blocks
a lancet window.
The visitor will notice at this point that traces of
another lancet window can be seen; also a doorway, or,
possibly, a rounded window. .
(ii) Elizabeth Leigh
At the east end of the north wall is a monument, which
retains a good deal of its colouring, to the memory of
Elizabeth Leigh, wife of Sir John Leigh, and daughter of
Sir John Dingley of Wolverton. She was thus connected
with both the great manor houses of the parish. She died
(iii) Adjoining the memorial to Elizabeth Leigh is a
memorial tablet to (a) John Leigh 1688, thought to be the
great grandson of Sir John and (b) Anna, wife of his son
In the north aisle there are also tablets to John Men-is
(1622), Susan Wilmot (1806), Sir James Willoughby Gordon,
Bart. (1851), and his wife (1867).
(iv) In the south chancel floor is a portion of a slab to
Mary Bull 1706, which at one time was used as a doorstep
to a cottage in the village and was recovered by a former
On the wall of the south chancel there is a stone shield
lettered "-E.L. 1569." In addition the
undermentioned memorials are placed in the south chancel.
(a) Memorial tablets to the late Canon Jeans, Vicar, 1886-1921;
and Revd. T. L. Kember, Vicar, 1939-1953.
(b) Two War Memorial Tablets on the south wall.
(v) On the walls of the nave above the pillars will be
seen several Interesting memorial tablets to members of
the Bull and Bonnet families ofNorthcourt, some of them
containing singularly quaint epitaphs.
(vi) Churchyard Monuments
An excellently carved type of low headstone, mostly dated
about 1700 can be seen frequently in the churchyard. (There
is one good example close to the south porch).
A red cross of Peterhcad Granite commemorates Bishop M'Dougall,
the first Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak, a former Vicar
ofShorwell and Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight (died 1886)
Close to it is the beautiful coped tomb, in grey Aberdeen
Granite, to the memory of Sir Henry Gordon.
The Chalice is a thin silver cup of the Elizabethan type
seven and a half inches in height, with two delicate
worked bands of carving, and the dace 1569 on the central
ornament of the lid which forms its base if used as a
As we use this beautiful chalice week by week, we are
uplifted by the knowledge that Christians in this village
have drunk from the same cup for over 400 years.
There is a separate paten, a credence paten and a fine
flagon. The ciborium was given in memory of Dr. and Mrs.
(i) The Registers begin from 1676, the first register
book of the parish having unfortunately been lost.
(it) The Churchwardens Accounts date from 1580 and an
interesting fragment of a service book is stitched as a
cover to the Accounts 1580-1598. This cover consists of
two pages of parchment or vellum, with illuminated
capitals and music notation in the old church unbarred
style. It contains part of the office for the twenty-first
Sunday after Trinity in the Sarum use.
(Hi) One of the earliest possessions of the Church is a
fine copy of Cranmer's Bible of 1541, the first Bible
which the Church owned. It was formerly chained to a desk,
as the rivets in its massive binding show; now it is
chained in a glass case in the north aisle.
The Bible is in a remarkably good state of preservation a
fact which adds greatly to its very considerable value.
The copy appears to be the third edition, the two earlier
editions being dated April 1540, and July 1540.
The title page was probably designed by Holbein. It
represents King Henry distributing Bibles to a vast
number of people, out of whose mouths comes the label
"Vivat Rex."Two seals appear on the title page,
one of which is left blank, while the other bears the
arms of Archbishop Cranmer. The blank seal points to the
extremely interesting fact that between the design and
the issue of the book, Thomas Cromwell, under whose
auspices, together with Cranmer's, the Bible was to have
been issued, had fallen into disgrace, and his seal was
consequently erased. Cromwell was beheaded July 28th,
(iv) Among other old volumes of value in the Church are a
Breeches Bible - 1579, a Bible-cum-Prayer Book dated -
1706, Richard Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity - 8 books -
1622, a Vinegar Bible - 1717, formerly in St. James'
The Village Record Book
In 1955, Shorwell Parish Council decided to keep a book
in which to record events of local importance, and the
deaths of local people, with an appreciation of any
special services they rendered the community. The Record
starts in 1887. Until 1980 the book was inscribed by the
nuns of St. Cecelia's Abbey in Ryde. Since then the
calligraphy has been carried out by members of the