Parishes: Bonchurch

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.

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'Parishes: Bonchurch', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5, (London, 1912) pp. 155-156. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]

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Bonecerce (xi cent.); Bonechirche (xiii cent.).

Bonchurch contains 565 acres, of which 89 are arable land, 246½ permanent grass and 51 acres woodland. (fn. 1) Fifty years ago it was a collection of villas under St. Boniface Down; to-day it is a suburb of its younger neighbour Ventnor (q.v.), and includes the well-known Landslip. The entrance to the old village by the ponded water, the site of a former withy-bed, which skirts the road to the north, is, or was, very picturesque. At the Landslip end of the village stands the old church, now disused, with its graveyard of notable dead. Here is buried John Sterling, the friend of Hare and Carlyle; and here too the Rev. William Adams, fellow and tutor of Merton College, Oxford, best known perhaps as a writer of allegories. Monks' Bay lies to the north under the old church, and is said to have derived its name from having been the landing-place of the monks of Lire when they came to collect dues from their island possessions. A small outlying piece of land attached to the glebe is called 'Bishops' Acre,' and has given rise to a legend without foundation. (fn. 2) The only houses of any note are Undermount, occupying the site of the old farm-house, and now the property of Mr. Henry Michell; and East Dene, once the home of Algernon Charles Swinburne, the poet, but now in the hands of an English religious community of the Sacred Heart. Bonchurch is said to have been the birthplace of Admiral Sir Thomas Hopsonn; Algernon Swinburne lies buried in the new churchyard. Edmund Peel, the poet, resided many years at Underrock, and for sixty years Miss Elizabeth M. Sewell, the authoress, lived at Ashcliff.


BONCHURCH was held before the Conquest as an alod by Estan of Earl Godwin. In 1086 it belonged to William son of Azor, (fn. 3) and was of considerable worth, doubtless owing to the grazing value of its chalk downs. Sir John Oglander gives the following fanciful account of its early history: 'The church was erected in the reign of William the Conqueror by John de Argenton, a Frenchman, to whom William Fitz Osbern gave Bonchurch. Argenton "got it to be made a parish by means of his brother's son Walkelin, then Bishop of Winton." ' (fn. 4) The Argenteins, however, do not seem to have held any land in the Isle of Wight until the end of the 12th century. It was one of the manors held by John de Lisle at the end of the 13th century of the honour of Carisbrooke, (fn. 5) and it followed the same descent as West Court in Shorwell (q.v.) to the Popham and Hill families. (fn. 6) The part held by the Hills passed to Rosa daughter of Lieut.-Col. Charles Fitz Maurice Hill, who married the Rev. James White. (fn. 7) The Bonchurch estate, belonging to Mrs. Rosa White, was put up for sale in 1836 and passed to different owners. (fn. 8) In 1863 the manorial rights were purchased by Dr. Leeson, but none are now exercised.


LUCCOMBE (Lovecombe, xi cent.) was held of the Confessor by Sawin as an alod, and at Domesday was in the hands of the king. (fn. 9) It formed part of the original endowment of Quarr, (fn. 10) having been given to the abbey by Hugh de Mandeville. At the beginning of the 13th century Walter de Insula (Lisle), with the consent of his son Geoffrey, endowed Quarr with the cultivated ground on the side of St. Boniface Down next Luccombe. (fn. 11) Luccombe continued to belong to the monastery till the Dissolution, (fn. 12) when it passed to the Crown. It was granted in 1553 to Thomas Reve and George Cotton, (fn. 13) who sold it two days later without licence to William Colnett. In 1557–8 William obtained licence to retain the manor, (fn. 14) of which he died seised in July 1594, leaving as his heir his son Barnabas, (fn. 15) who in 1602 disposed of it to Michael Knight of Landguard, (fn. 16) who died seised of it in 1612. (fn. 17) It remained in the Knight family till 1753, when Anne Knight, spinster, disposed of it to William Pike, (fn. 18) who devised it to —Bonham. In 1782–3 it was in the possession of members of the families of Bonham, Carter and Atherley, (fn. 19) and in 1791 Edward Carter and his wife Harriet were dealing with it. (fn. 20) At the beginning of the 19th century it had come to the Atherley family; in 1891 it was sold by Mr. Arthur Atherley to the Slater Ball Syndicate, and is now split up into various ownerships.


There was probably a church here before the compilation of Domesday, but the oldest part of the present building is at least a hundred years later. The church itself is of the usual early type: a nave and chancel separated by a simple arch springing originally from imposts, now hacked away. Windows have been inserted in the 13th (fn. 21) and 15th centuries. The arch to the south door seems made up of voussoirs from elsewhere. The porch is comparatively modern, probably added in the 17th–18th century, and the bell-cote at the west end is a modern addition of the last century. A tempera painting on the north wall of the nave (fn. 22) was discovered in 1847, but no copy was made of it before it crumbled away. There is a Renaissance wooden cross on the altar of good design, probably Flemish, and against the south wall is fixed the funeral achievement of the Hill family. The church has been disused, except as a mortuary chapel, since 1848. The new church of St. Boniface was erected in 1847–8, on a site given by the Rev. James White, from designs by Benjamin Ferrey, and consists of nave, chancel, transepts and south porch. It was added to in 1874, but is a building of little interest. A memorial font commemorates the Rev. William Adams.

The bells and plate are modern.

The registers begin in 1734 and include some entries for Shanklin. The earlier ones were destroyed by fire in 1769.


The advowson of Bonchurch apparently passed with the manor to Dr. Leeson, (fn. 23) from whose executors it was bought about 1873 by the Simeon trustees. It passed from them in 1880 to the Church Patronage Society, who still hold it. (fn. 24)


Mrs. Sibella Hamilton by her will proved at London 22 May 1889 bequeathed £100, the income to be applied for the benefit of the poor. The legacy is represented by £102 13s. 11d. consols, with the official trustees; the annual dividends, amounting to £2 11s. 4d., are duly applied.

A convalescent home in connexion with the Royal Hants County Hospital is situated in this parish, for endowment of which the official trustees hold the sums of £291 16s. 8d. consols, and £2,103 13s. 4d. India 3 per cent. stock, transferred to them under an order of the High Court 13 July 1903, arising from the gift of the Rev. Edward Thomas Hoare, producing £70 7s. 8d. a year.


  • 1. Statistics from Bd. of Agric. (1905).
  • 2. Davenport Adams, Guide to Isle of Wight (1888), 190.
  • 3. V.C.H. Hants, i, 521.
  • 4. Oglander Memoirs (ed. W. H. Long), 196.
  • 5. Testa de Nevill (Rec. Com.), 240. Five of the eight manors held at this time by John de Lisle belonged in 1086 to William son of Azor.
  • 6. For references see Wootton and Shorwell. William Jakeman of Bonchurch 'fermor,' who was holding Bonchurch in 1431, was perhaps a lessee under the Lisles (Feud. Aids, ii, 365).
  • 7. Berry, Hants Gen. 185.
  • 8. Tithe map, 1844.
  • 9. V.C.H. Hants, i, 458.
  • 10. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 316–17; Harl. Chart. 55 D. 21.
  • 11. Madox, Formulare Angl. cccxvi.
  • 12. Dugdale, op. cit. v, 320.
  • 13. Pat. 7 Edw. VI, pt. xiii, m. 27.
  • 14. Ibid. 4 & 5 Phil. and Mary, pt. xi, m. 16.
  • 15. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), ccxxxviii, 31.
  • 16. Feet of F. Hants, Mich. 44 & 45 Eliz.
  • 17. W. & L. Inq. p.m. xlvi, 107.
  • 18. Feet of F. Hants, East. 21 Chas. I; Hil. 26 Geo II.
  • 19. Ibid. Div. Co. Trin. 23 Geo. III.
  • 20. Ibid. Mich. 31 Geo. III.
  • 21. Lancet in north wall of chancel. Stone, Archit. Antiq. Isle of Wight, i, pl. viii.
  • 22. Said, at a meeting of British Archaeological Society at Bonchurch in 1855, to have been a representation of the Last Judgement.
  • 23. Egerton MS. 2031, fol. 4, &c.; Feet of F. Hants, East. 4 Edw. III; Chan. Inq. p.m. 19 Edw. III (1st nos.), no. 52; Cal. Pat. 1377–81, p. 525; 1381–5, p. 403; Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.); White, Gazetteer of Hants, 1859.
  • 24. Clergy Lists.