|ST MARK'S CHURCH HIGHCLIFFE|
St Marks Church at Highcliffe is a 19th century building of some historic importance. It was erected in 1842 on land donated by Charles, Lord Stuart de Rothsay, a distinguished diplomat and British Ambassador distantly related to the royal line. He also built Highcliffe Castle between 1831 and 1835 after he had re-aquired most of his ancestral estate back after it had been sold off by his grandfather, another Charles Stuart. Today, after a troubled history, Highcliffe Castle is a Grade I listed building owned by Christchurch Borough Council. Lord Stuart de Rothsay, was the great grandson of the 3rd Earl of Bute (who was a founder of Kew Gardens), and he also contributed to the cost of the Highcliffe church building. He died in 1845 and is remembered inside St Marks, in the chancel, as its founder.
The Parish Magazine for February 1968 carried an article which says that the foundation stone of St Mark’s was laid on 14th April 1842 by Lord Stuart’s wife, but in her book of Recollections, Rothsay’s daughter and heir, Lady Louisa Waterford, refuted this. She stated that the honour of laying the first stone was hers. Unfortunately between then and now the actual stone has been lost. The church was consecrated on 27th January 1843 by the Bishop of Winchester, Charles Sumner. The service was attended by Lady Canning, Rothsay’s other daughter, and she wrote to her parents, then in Russia, that the service had been more that 3 hours long; that the sermon was not very good; but “you would have admired a very Papistical procession down the middle and up again….”.
The builder of St Marks was John Bemister. He, it is thought, was both its builder and its unqualified architect. He came from a local and well known Christchurch family, as did another, much more distinguished architect, Benjamin Ferry. The latter, it would appear from his obituary published in September 1880, was also involved in later restoration and additional work at St Marks, but his most well known, comparatively local designs, are Holy Trinity Church in Yeovil, and Lufton church not too far away.
Just what Benjamin Ferry did at Highcliffe is not known but he was probably responsible for the first enlargement of St Marks in 1867 when it is believed a westward extension of some 20 or 30 feet, and a gallery were added. It was from this gallery that the Australian born Dame Nellie Melba, the opera diva, is reputed to have sung Gounod’s “Ave Maria” one Sunday morning. She was often the guest of Edward Stuart Wortley and his wife, and her singing career spanned from 1888 to her death in 1926.
Old pictures of the church show that the original entrance to it was in the north transept, but other pictures show that another entrance was opened after the extension was built, in the new part of the north wall of the nave. In 1881 further work was carried out, records showing that this was when a completely new roof was added. The roof was supported by a simple kingpost, but in order to support the continuous series of rafters from one end to the other, a further supporting arch was placed across each transept. These are, in turn, supported on corbelled padstones.
In 1932 the chancel was extended to make room for choir benches; a new organ chamber was built; and the vestry was enlarged. Funds unfortunately ran out and a proposed north aisle was never built, although a north porch was erected over the main entrance. The church architects at this time were Reynolds and Tomlin’s from Bournemouth.
In 1948 Church Avenue was sold to the Church Commissioners by the then owner of Highcliffe Castle, the Earl of Abingdon, for £5. Until then the lychgate had stood at the Church Avenue end but was moved to where it is now, on Lymington Road, after the sale. The reason for this was two fold. From a practical point of view the gate was too close to the newly built porch; but also lychgates traditionally mark the boundary of church property. The boundaries were now changed and so the lychgate was moved.
In recent times further alterations have been made to the church fabric under the guidance of advising architect, Richard Scott, and the vicar, John Seaford. In 1990-1 the west end was redesigned and a new entrance created; the porch and doorway were removed and replaced by the stair tower; and the library, cloister, and choir vestry were built. A service of commemoration was held on 14th April 1991 by the Bishop of Winchester, and when the additions and alterations were complete in August 1991, the church was rededicated. The service was attended by the Bishop of Southampton, John Perry.
The latest work to be done at St Marks was the refurnishing of the west porch. This was paid for by individual donations and from a grant given by the Friends of St Mark’s to mark the millennium.
CARVINGS AND DECORATION
The font is Victorian with a later cover. It may have been given to the church in 1842 by Lord Canning, Lady Waterford’s brother in law, husband of her sister, but there is no recorded proof of that. The benches and the carved panels of the bench fronts in the chancel were given anonymously in 1934, and are presumed to be Jacobean.
In the north wall of the north transept the window there is a memorial to Edward Pardoe who died in 1870. In the lower panel there is a scene from the garden after the Resurrection, and in the opposite panel are the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene. The upper panels of both lights show a group of Christ’s followers looking upwards toward – in the quartrefoil above – Christ’s Ascension. Texts between and below these panels are from the Gospel of St John.
The two windows in the south wall of the nave match those in the north wall. The one on the left depicts the parable of the lost sheep and commemorates George Astell Pardoe, second son of Edward Pardoe. He was killed at the Battle of Ulundi, the conflict that brought the Zulu War in Africa to an end in 1879. The window on the right was given in memory of Ellen Mary Lindon who died in 1886. She was the wife of Highcliffe Vicar, Thomas Angell Lindon.
The Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael are to be seen represented in a window in the east wall of the north transept. The Victorian painter, HT Bosdet, was the artist and the window commemorates Albert Llewellan Nugent, 3rd Baron Nugent of the Austrian nobility, along with his wife, Elizabeth, and his son, George Frederick.
Bosdet would probably turn in his own grave if he knew that today some of his paintings of classical gods such as Apollo and Adonis are used as gay icons.
The group of lancet windows above the altar at the east end of the church were paid for from a legacy from Honoria Thomson, one of Lady Waterford’s friends. They were a replacement for the original east window which had been broken during the extension work. The original had been painted by Lady Waterford herself. The new windows were made by James Powell and Sons from Whitefriars, London, and tucked in the bottom left hand corner of the window their trademark of a White Friar can be seen.
The Stuart family are remembered on a commemorative window in the south transept. The window was given to the church in 1866 by General Charles Stuart and commemorates his parents, Captain John Stuart RN. and his wife, Albinia. Captain John was Lord Stuart de Rothsay’s younger brother. Also commemorated on this window is General Stuart’s only child, John, who died in infancy. He was the last direct male representative of the fifth generation of this particular Stuart family.
PICTURES AND PAINTINGS
Louisa Waterford’s preferred painting medium was watercolour, and in the church office is another of her renderings, usually called “Suffer the Little Children”. There are no records of how the church acquired it, but it is the style of her best known work, the Biblical murals and decoration of the schoolroom at Ford in Northumberland, now called Lady Waterford Hall.
Lady Waterford particularly admired the work of 15th century Italian painter, Antonello da Messina. She painted a copy of his “Christ with St John and the Virgin Mary” which hangs in the clergy vestry at St Marks. It is not known who gave it or when it was donated to the church. The original Messina once hung in Highfield Castle but it is now in the National Gallery.
Lady Waterford and her sister, Lady Canning, were fortunate enough to see the original painting of “The Light of the World” in William Holman Hunt’s studio in 1853. There were deeply impressed by it, so it is fitting that a print of this famous painting should hang behind the font. It was given to the church by retired clergyman, Herbert Bloomfield.
VISITORS AND EVENTS
Perhaps the most famous worshiper, however, was Kaiser Willhelm II who attended Matins whilst at Highcliffe Castle in 1907. His visit had unhappy and unpleasant repercussions. The Kaiser was the summer guest of Colonel Edward Stuart Wortley (later General Wortley) and discussed with him the best way to put over to the British his friendly feelings for them and Britain.
Later, Colonel Stuart Wortley visited Germany as the Kaiser’s guest, and between them they decided to issue a statement from the Kaiser in the form of an interview. The Daily Telegraph put together and published the interview but instead of creating harmony, it caused sensational resentment in Germany and exacerbated any ill feeling and distrust felt in Britain. Eventually because of the reactions of his own people, the Kaiser was forced to officially deny that the interview had ever taken place. Some historians have put forward the view that this “disaster” of public relations helped bring forward World War One.
Vicki Turner 2003
Highcliffe, Highcliffe Castle, St