Ryde Congregational Church
The Congregational Church stood at the corner of George Street and Melville Street and had a long and interesting history dating back to 1799. Through the Church Minute Book of 1816, held at the Isle of Wight Record Office, Newport, we are able to gain an insight into its history.
A gentleman from London, Robert Curling, was visiting Ryde in 1799 and noted with regret there was nowhere for the poor to receive religious instruction. Together with the help of some friends, he set about finding a solution. They soon hired a barn and engaged a young man as a teacher to instruct the children. Before long over 100 children attended and were taught to read using stories from the Bible.
On Sunday, religious instruction was given to the children, their parents, and any others who wished to attend. Eventually the barn became too small, and in 1802 a chapel was built on the roadside above Upper Ryde, (now Newport Street), funded once again by Mr Curling and his friends.
For several years, the Church was without its own pastor, but neighbouring ministers kindly held services during the week and on Sunday, a minister would come from The Church Academy at Gosport to conduct services.
As attendance at the Church continued to grow, another larger Church was planned, on land in George Street donated by James Kirkpatrick. With donations, subscriptions and the sale of the old chapel, the project went ahead.
James Kirkpatrick with the Rev A Douglas of Reading, Berkshire, officiating, laid the foundation stone and on 20 November 1816, the Church opened for public worship with seating for nearly 350 people. Still with no settled pastor of their own, the Rev T S Guyer, who had often taken services, was approached. He agreed, and on 26 November 1817, he was ordained.
The Church continued to be enlarged to accommodate the ever-growing congregation and on 2 September 1837, the first marriage took place between Henry Wicker and Margaret Jennings. A smaller chapel, costing £132-6s, was opened in Green Lane, Ashey, in 1839 with money raised through subscriptions, and another followed at Langbridge in 1846; the same year in which the long serving Rev Guyer died.
*In July 1852, when the Rev R Ferguson was minister, he invited William Booth (later Founder of The Salvation Army) to be his assistant minister. Booth declined.* During 1854, while the Rev R Ferguson was still minister, plans were made to erect a new chapel on the site, and although he left shortly after, he asked the congregation to build a school at Weeks, Ryde, making a generous donation to start the fund.
The new chapel was erected at a cost of £2,500, and in White’s Directory of 1859, it is described as handsome in the Italian style with approximately 850 sittings.
Built like a Roman temple, it was lit from the roof, as there were no side windows. The Church was very ornamental with Corinthian pilasters and a handsome portico with four pillars supporting a pediment crowned by a small but elegant cupola.
In 1859, the Rev Cultart came to the Church and, under his guidance and leadership, the Church continued to flourish. Attendance increased, the school was finally built at Weeks, Ryde, and the chapels built at Green Lane and Langbridge became free of debt.
In 1866, the Church celebrated its Jubilee, but unfortunately, a few years later on 29 April 1870 the Church was destroyed by fire. By the November of that year, John Kemp Welsh had laid the foundation stone for a new Church.
The inscription read:
First built AD 1816
The Rev T S Guyer, minister
Taken down and rebuilt 1855
The Rev R Ferguson, minister
Destroyed by fire 29th April 1870”
The Historical and Commercial Directory of 1871 gives a brief description of the new Church nearing completion – Designed by Richard J Jones, it was to be built in 14th century style, modified to suit Protestant Nonconformists of the 19th century.
Built of Swanage stone with Bath stone dressing, the plan consisted of a nave with seven bays separated from the north and south aisles by arcades of iron columns carrying wooden arches with ornamental tracery in the spendrils. The roof was to be high pitched and eventually covered with tiles. There were to be galleries around three sides of the building and at the east end, a space reserved for the organ. There was also to be a raised platform for the choir with the pulpit in front.
The new Church opened in 1872 with the Rev Theodore Hooke as its minister.
Over the years, the congregation grew smaller and smaller and was unable to maintain the upkeep of the Church. They bought a house in Upton Road and built a chapel in the grounds. The Church in George Street closed in 1974 and was taken down. Richwoods Furniture Store stands on the site today.
Excerpt from RSHG’s book Ryde’s Heritage: Our Town, Your Histories published June 2008
* Reference by David Bennett, leading researcher into the lives of William and Catherine Booth, having transcribed, edited and published their personal letters, plus Catherine’s Diary and Reminiscences).