Tuesday, 20 August 2013

St Mary, Brownsea Island

St Mary's is a picture-postcard church on the island of Brownsea in Poole Harbour, famed for being the site where the Scouting movement started and for its red squirrel colony.

For a Victorian church, it has had a complex history. It was built in 1853 by Colonel Waugh, one of a series of owners during the 19th century. A retired Colonel from India, he tried to establish a porcelain industry on the island, but the clay turned out to be suitable only for heavy earthenware such as pipes and tiles, and the business venture failed. One of the later owners was the Dutch tobacco magnate Charles van Raalte, who was buried in a fine mausoleum in the church, and whose wife established an early daffodil industry on the island.

The church fell into disrepair under the subsequent owner, Mary Bonham-Christie, who lived as a recluse and expelled most of the population from the island on its purchase in 1925. On her death in 1961, the island was made over to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The church, along with the rest of island, was restored, although it is the only building on the island not in National Trust ownership.

The church is in the Decorated Gothic style and consist of an aisleless nave, chancel, porch, tower, mausoleum and vestry. The church has neither water nor electricity, and its chief interest lies in it being almost unaltered, and for containing a range of interesting imported furnishings. These include extensive 16th century linenfold panelling brought from Crosby Hall in London, a grand 17th century imported fireplace under the tower with carved figures and a canopy, further 17th century panels on the nave walls, and a carved marble effigy of Charles van Raalte in the mausoleum.

The church has regular services in the summer months, attendance varying according to the number of visitors on the island (during scout camps there can be hundreds).

Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, BH13 7EE

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