THE POET ALFRED TENNYSON made his home in the village of Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight (‘IOW’) from 1853 until his death. His presence there attracted many Victorian cultural figures to the village either as residents or as his visitors. In 1907, fifteen years after Tennyson died, the Bishop of Winchester visited Freshwater and decided that the village needed a better church than the rather primitive one being used at the time. The Reverend AJ Robertson, who was Rector of Freshwater in 1907, made a watercolour painting of the type of church he hoped would be built. It included a thatched roof. Such a church as he had envisaged was designed by the architect Isaac Jones of Herne Hill in London, and constructed on land donated by Tennyson’s eldest son Hallam, Lord Tennyson (1852-1928). It was Hallam’s wife Lady Emily (1853-1931; née Prinsep), who gifted the new church’s porch and suggested that the church be dedicated to St Agnes.
St Agnes is the only church on the IOW to have a thatched roof. Much of the building was built using stones from what had once been the home of the scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703). The use of old stones makes some people believe that the church is older than it really is. One of the old stones has the date 1694 inscribed on it, a reminder of the origin of the stonework. The interior of the building is well lit by natural light through its many windows. The timber framed ceiling is fine as is the beautifully carved chancel screen. The screen with delicate bas-relief carvings of plants was created by the Reverend Thomas Gardner Devitt, who was curate of St Agnes between 1942 and 1946.
In brief, this thatched church is charming. In appearance, it manages to combine a feeling of mediaeval antiquity with the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was in its heyday when St Agnes was built. Seeing it was one of many delightful experiences we enjoyed whilst spending a week on the IOW.