St Thomas Church & Churchyard
Ryde was once part of the large parish of Newchurch and people from Ryde had to walk up to six miles to attend the Parish Church. In 1719 Thomas Player, lord of the Manor of Ryde, had the first Chapel of St Thomas’ built in Picket Close. The Right Rev Jonathan Trelawney, Bishop of Winchester, consecrated it on 27 June of that year. It was a Chapel of Ease to Newchurch, and endowed with a stipend of £10 payable yearly to the vicar of the parish to officiate in person or to send a deputy.
In the early 19th century, the population of Ryde was still expanding as it became a popular watering place, and it was decided to enlarge the chapel to accommodate the growing congregation. Unfortunately this still did not provide adequate space and the chapel was demolished in 1826 and rebuilt on a larger scale in 1827 by George Player, grandson of the founder, at a cost of £3,500.
The new Church was designed by James Sanderson of Cork Street, London, who also designed Brigstocke Terrace, Ryde. It was the same width as the old chapel but was much longer. In 1822 Elizabeth Lydia, younger daughter and co-heiress of George Player, married Captain Thomas Robert Brigstocke RN and ownership of the church eventually passed to them. It remained in the Brigstocke family’s possession until 1956 when George Robert Brigstocke, the last in his line, passed away.
The church was built in the Early English style of architecture, and consisted of a nave, chancel and two aisles on the north and south sides. It had a turretted tower with wooden spire. The Church appears to have remained in its original form until 1947 when the spire became unsafe and was taken down.
Services continued at the church until Sunday 28 June 1959, when doors closed for the last time.
Sadly the church fell into disrepair and the interior suffered occasional vandalism. By 1969 it had fallen into such a sad and sorry state that it was threatened with demolition. In 1972, a group called The Friends of St Thomas was formed with the aim of raising sufficient funds to restore the Church to its former glory.
In 1979, The Trust of St Thomas was formed as a registered charity to take over the building on lease from the Portsmouth Diocese, and by applying for grants and donations it hoped to fund a complete restoration of the Church. Events moved slowly and in 1982 Medina Borough Council took over the churchyard and laid it out as a rest garden. Towards the end of 1985 the Trust was finally able to obtain a ten year lease on the building and, in January 1987, work started on the first stage of restoration. This entailed the repair of the roof tower, west front, and windows on the south side.
In the late 1980s the church housed an exhibition celebrating the bicentenary of the sailing of the first fleet to Australia.
Since then more restoration work has been carried out on the church with the hope of turning it into an exhibition and heritage centre for the town. Unfortunately the building now stands empty. Inside the church there are still some fine memorials to the lords of the Manor and many other notable residents of Ryde, and some beautiful and unique stained glass windows.