Bonchurch is a small village to the east of Ventnor, now largely connected to the latter by suburban development, on the southern part of the Isle of Wight, England. One of the oldest settlements on the Isle of Wight,[1][2] it is situated on The Undercliff adjacent to the Bonchurch Landslips (or "The Landslip") Site of Special Scientific Interest. The main village is backed by a cliff to the north, with the Upper Bonchurch section on the clifftop halfway up St Boniface Down on the main A3055 road.

Bonchurch, IW, UK
Bonchurch is located in Isle of Wight
Location within the Isle of Wight
Civil parish
  • Ventnor
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townVENTNOR
Postcode districtPO38
Dialling code01983
FireIsle of Wight
AmbulanceIsle of Wight
EU ParliamentSouth East England
UK Parliament


Bonchurch is situated on a stable section of former landslip, its main street (Bonchurch High Street) running east-west in a valley sheltered to the north by cliffs, and to the south by The Mount, a ridge of slipped rock. Bonchurch High Street has an adjacent landscaped pond, fed by a spring, on the site of former withy beds. The Shanklin-Ventnor route originally passed through Bonchurch, descending the ciff by the steep Bonchurch Shute; now it is bypassed by the clifftop A3055 Leeson Road.


The presence of a water spring is believed to be the reason why humans first settled in the area where present-day Bonchurch is located.[1][2] A prehistoric race lived in the area[2] around the Undercliff, land which was wild forest.[1] Evidence has also been found showing that men that lived during the Stone Age had lived near to the water spring.[1] Five burial mounds have been discovered at St. Boniface Down.[1] Evidence has also been discovered showing that the Romans[2] established a settlement in the area.[1]

The Saxon patron saint, St. Boniface, is believed to have visited the Isle of Wight, and possibly the area where Bonchurch is now located, in the 8th century. Legend states that monks from Lyra in Normandy landed at Monks Bay, near to modern-day Bonchurch, and erected a building in dedication to St. Boniface. This building could be the wooden building which is believed to have existed in the 9th century where the Old Church now stands.

The first documented proof of the existence of Bonchurch is found in the Domesday Book.[1][2][3] In the Domesday Book, the settlement was called Bonecerce.[3] 'Cerce' is Anglo-Saxon for 'church', whilst 'Bone' is presumed to have been derived from St. Boniface.[3]

Bonchurch has two churches.[1] The oldest one is called the Old Church.[1] The Domesday Book recorded its existence.[1] See Old St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch and St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch.

In July 1545, the Battle of Bonchurch was fought.[4] 500 French soldiers had landed at the coast near Bonchurch, one of three landings that took place on the coastline of the Isle of Wight by French soldiers.[4] 300 Isle of Wight militiamen engaged the French forces, and the militiamen won the engagement.[4] Some accounts state that local women participated in the battle by firing arrows at the French soldiers.[4] The victory is considered to have decisively stopped the French invasion of the Isle of Wight.[4]

Soon after the battle, a number of men from the French fleet which had retreated from the Solent after the Battle of the Solent landed on the coast near Bonchurch.[4] The men were engaged in a military action by English soldiers whilst they were on a mission to collect fresh water on the island.[4] A French senior officer, Chevalier D'Aux, was killed. His body was buried in Bonchurch, but was exhumed and taken back to France in 1548 after the war between England and France had ceased.[4]

In the late 1830s and onward, the hitherto rural Bonchurch was extensively developed for exclusive private villas, following land acquisition and sale by the Reverend James White. White married Rosa Hill, heiress to the manor of Bonchurch, and subsequently obtained a private local Act of Parliament to overturn parts of his father-in-law's will forbidding development and breakup of the estate.[5] In the mid to late 19th Century, Bonchurch developed into a fashionable centre for writers and artists. Celebrated Victorians such as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay came here and stayed in large villas that they rented, often for the season.

The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne spent his boyhood in Bonchurch, at East Dene, and was buried in 1909 at Bonchurch New Church, his grave being the subject of a poem by Thomas Hardy. He had an atheist funeral which was picketted in protest by his relatives. In the 20th Century Henry De Vere Stacpoole lived in the village for over 40 years, and was buried here in 1951.

Pop culture

In the 2006 TV Robin Hood, Much is made Earl of Bonchurch in the episode "A Thing or Two About Loyalty". It is implied it is not far from Locksley, but the non-fictional geography is different.

The village is also the setting of Graham Masterton's supernatural horror novel Prey.

Bonchurch, and its church is featured in the Commodore 64 videogame Spirit of the Stones, in which the game itself is set on the Isle of Wight itself.

Notable Residents

The engineer Thomas Rumble retired to Bonchurch for health reasons and died there in 1883. He is buried in the New Churchyard there..[6]

Tony Bristow had a studio pottery in Bonchurch from 1961-1967 and in 1974 his son, Andrew, began production in Bonchurch. The pieces are often signed 'Bonchurch' on the base.[7]


Southern Vectis route 3 is the main bus service through the upper part of the village, to Newport, Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin.


  • Goodwin, John. Bonchurch from A-Z. Bonchurch: The Bonchurch Trading Company, 1992. ISBN 1-873009-00-3
  • Brett, Peter. Bonchurch. Bonchurch: Bonchurch Parochial Church Council.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Goodwin, Bonchurch from A-Z, 8.
  2. ^ a b c d e WightStay, retrieved 10 February 2008
  3. ^ a b c Brett, Bonchurch, 1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Goodwin, Bonchurch from A-Z, 7.
  5. ^ An Act to enable the Reverend James White and the Persons for the Time being entitled to certain Estates situate in the Parish of Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight in the County of Southampton, devised by the will of Charles Fitzmaurice Hill, Esquire, deceased, to grant Building Leases, 21 June 1836
  6. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  7. ^ "Bristow Pottery or 'Tony Got Around!'". Retro Mojo. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
Battle of Bonchurch

The Battle of Bonchurch took place in late July 1545 at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight. No source gives the precise date, although 21 July is possible from the sequence of events. The battle was a part of the wider Italian War of 1542–1546, and took place during the French invasion of the Isle of Wight. Several landings were made, including at Bonchurch. Most accounts suggest that England won the battle, and the French advance across the island was halted.The battle was between French regular soldiers, and local English militiamen. Although the French force that landed was considerably larger than the English force, it is thought that the number of French soldiers involved in this battle to be about 500, with the number of militiamen uncertain, with one source stating 300 and another 2,800. The English forces are believed to have been commanded by Captain Robert Fyssher, and the French by Le Seigneur de Tais.The battle was one of several fought between English and French on the Isle of Wight. The majority of sources state that the English won this battle, although one suggests that the French were victorious. The battle was fought as part of the French attempt to cause enough damage to force English ships to leave their defensive positions and attack in less favourable conditions. Something they failed to achieve and had to withdraw from the island Other French landings were made at Sandown, Bembridge and St Helens.


Blackgang is a village on the south-western coast of the Isle of Wight. It is best known as the location of the Blackgang Chine amusement park which sits to the south of St Catherine's Down.

Blackgang forms the west end of the Ventnor Undercliff region, which extends for 12 kilometres from Blackgang to Luccombe, also encompassing the town of Ventnor and the villages of Bonchurch, St Lawrence, and Niton. It also marks the edge of the Back of the Wight.

Bonchurch Landslips

Bonchurch Landslips is a 28.2 hectare site of special scientific interest which is located north-east of Ventnor, Isle of Wight. A wooded coastal landslip zone, the site was notified in 1977 for both its biological and geological features.

Part of the Isle of Wight Undercliff, it is accessed by several footpaths, including V65C, that descends into the landslip via the Devil's Chimney rock cleft; V65, descending via another rock chimney called 'The Chink'; V65b from Ventnor; and V65a from Luccombe.

Bonchurch Manor

Bonchurch Manor is a manor house on the Isle of Wight, situated in the parish of Bonchurch.

Chink (Isle of Wight)

The Chink is a scenic rock cleft between Bonchurch and Luccombe, Isle of Wight, with steps descending from St Boniface Down to the Bonchurch Landslips below.

Its upper end is at the northern end of clifftop parkland accessed from the Leeson Road (A3055) car park, where there is a Southern Vectis bus route 3 stop.

The Chink was known in Victorian times as part of the development of the Bonchurch Landslips as a picturesque woodland walk.One of several such paths with carved steps connecting the clifftop to the Isle of Wight Undercliff, it follows a joint through the Upper Greensand crags capping the cliffs above the Landslip. The path continues down through the Landslip as footpath V65, which joins the coastal path V65A at its foot.A similar rock cleft, the better-known Devil's Chimney, is about 200 yards south.

Devil's Chimney (Isle of Wight)

The Devil's Chimney is a scenic rock cleft with steps descending into the Bonchurch Landslips between Bonchurch and Luccombe, Isle of Wight.

Its upper end is at the Smuggler's Haven Tearooms on St Boniface Down, at the southern end of clifftop parkland accessed from the Leeson Road car park on the A3055 road, where there is a Southern Vectis bus route 3 stop.

One of several such paths connecting the clifftop to the Isle of Wight Undercliff, the Devil's Chimney follows a joint through the Upper Greensand crags capping the cliffs above the Landslip. The path continues down through the Landslip as footpath V65C, meeting the coastal path V65A at its foot.

A similar rock cleft, the Chink, is about 200 yards north.

The feature is within the Bonchurch Landslip nature reserve, managed by Gift to Nature on behalf of the owners, the Isle of Wight Council.

Elizabeth Missing Sewell

Elizabeth Missing Sewell (19 February 1815 – 17 August 1906) was an English author of religious and educational texts notable in the 19th century.

French invasion of the Isle of Wight

The French invasion of the Isle of Wight occurred during the Italian Wars in July 1545. The invasion was repulsed.

France had a long history of attacking the Isle of Wight, and the 1545 campaign proved to be the last time to date that the French have attempted to take it. Although the French forces, led by Claude d'Annebault, greatly outnumbered those of the English, the battles fought (including the battles of the Solent and Bonchurch) ended without a clear winner. However, as the French were repelled, it could be considered an English victory. Although the operation was inconclusive, the English suffered heavily, including the loss of the carrack Mary Rose in the Battle of the Solent. Details of the conflict have not been very well recorded, and some accounts claim that the French were defeated at each battle rather easily.French strategy was to effect a landing at Whitecliff Bay and cross Bembridge Down to attack Sandown, and another landing at Bonchurch with a view to marching to link up at Sandown. The northern force was intercepted whilst crossing the Down, but fought its way to Sandown Castle, which was then under construction offshore. Both forces were repulsed after stiff fighting.

The Chronicle of Charles Wriothesley (died 1562) reports: "The 21 day of July the French galleys and navie came before Portesmouth haven, and landed certeine of theyre armye in the Yle of Wyght, and there burned and camped there about to the nomber of 2,000 men, and came every tyde with theyr gallies and shott their ordinaunce at the Kinges ships in the haven; but the winde was so calme that the Kinges shippes could bear noe sayle, which was a great discomfort for them." Three days later a muster of 1500 men was sent from the City of London to repel them, but by the King's command turned back at Farnham, the French having left the Isle of Wight "and divers of them slaine and drowned."

Contemporary accounts suggest that the French (or their mercenaries) sacked the area in order to provoke the English fleet into battle against a far larger fleet. Martin Du Bellay wrote: "...To keep the enemy's forces separated, a simultaneous descent was made in three different places. On one side Seigneur Pierre Strosse was bidden to land below a little fort where the enemy had mounted some guns with which they assailed our galleys in flank, and within which a number of Island infantry had retired. These, seeing the boldness of our men, abandoned the fort and fled southwards to the shelter of a copse. Our men pursued and killed some of them and burned the surrounding habitations..."A later mention by Sir John Oglander evidently paraphrases du Bellay: "They landed at three several places at one time, purposely to divide our forces. Pierre Strosse landed at St Helens where there was a little fort, and beat our men, being divided from the fort, into the woods. Le Seigneur de Tais, General of the Foot, landed at Bonchurch, where there was a hot skirmish between them and us, and on either party many slain."The French seem to have landed at undefended points and then attacked defences from inland. At Whitecliff Bay and at Bonchurch they moved swiftly to seize the high ground. However the attacks were expected and in both cases local forces reached the high grounds to oppose them. The settlement at Nettlestone and its manor were burnt.

At Bonchurch the French landed easily at Monk's Bay, but were then faced with the difficulty of breaking out from what is known descriptively as the "Undercliff". Their solution was to ascend the extremely steep slopes of St Boniface and Bonchurch Downs, which are over 700 feet (210 m) high. The defenders thus had them at a considerable advantage, having taken up positions on the top of the hill.

Horseshoe Bay, Bonchurch, Isle of Wight

Horseshoe Bay is a bay on the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight, England. It lies to the south-east of the village of Bonchurch. It faces south-east towards the English Channel and its shoreline is approximately 250 yards (230 m) in length. It should not be confused with a similarly named bay about 8 miles (13 km) along the shoreline to the north near Culver Down.

List of people from the Isle of Wight

This is a list of notable people born in or strongly associated with the Isle of Wight, alphabetically within categories.

Luccombe, Isle of Wight

Luccombe is a village on the south coast of the Isle of Wight near Shanklin. There is some indication of Bronze Age settlements on the top of the nearby hill of Luccombe Down.The Luccombe area features some spectacular cliffs and scenery. It is a popular site for hang gliding and paragliding if there is an Easterly wind of around 12mph and it is low water, and on good days flights to Sandown and back can be achieved.

Luccombe forms the east end of the Ventnor Undercliff region, which extends for 12 kilometers from Blackgang to Luccombe, also encompassing the town of Ventnor and the villages of Bonchurch, St Lawrence, and Niton. There is some concern that the Ventnor Undercliff area is experiencing substantial coastal erosion.Public transport is provided by Southern Vectis bus route 3, which run between Newport, Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor.

Monks Bay

Monks Bay is situated on the southern coast of the Isle of Wight, England just to the east of the village of Bonchurch, it is around 1⁄3 mile (0.54 km) in length. It has proved popular with visitors and is one of the natural highlights of the town, which has been the venue for such figures as Charles Dickens. It has also proved to be a good state for local flora to be established. The bay has a row of houses which look out to the English Channel.

Old St Boniface Church, Bonchurch

Old St Boniface Church, Bonchurch is a parish church in the Church of England located in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight.

Robert Fyssher

Captain Robert Fyssher led the local Isle of Wight militia to victory against French forces in the Battle of Bonchurch, in July 1545.

St Boniface Church, Bonchurch

St Boniface Church, Bonchurch is a parish church in the Church of England located in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight.

St Boniface Down

st boniface down is

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St Boniface Down is a chalk down on the Isle of Wight, England. It is located close to the town of Ventnor, in the southeast of the Island, and rises to 241 metres (791 ft), the Island's highest point, 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) north of the town. There is reputed to be a wishing well on its southern slope, which requires the wisher to climb up from the south without looking back.

In 1545, a French invasion force attempted this against a force of the Isle of Wight Militia commanded by Sir John Fyssher – which allegedly included several women archers- and were routed.

In 1940, the radar station was bombed by Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers, which is reconstructed in the film "The Battle of Britain". The top is surmounted by a round barrow.

At the eastern foot of the down, on the A3055 road between Bonchurch and Luccombe, a path descends into Bonchurch Landslips via a scenic rock cleft, the Devil's Chimney.

Steel Bay

Steel Bay is a bay on the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight, England. It lies to the north-east of the village of Bonchurch. It faces south-east towards the English Channel, and has a one-half-mile (0.80 km) shoreline. It stretches from Bordwood Ledge in the north to Dunnose headland in the south.

The bay is remote and is best viewed from Dunnose which can be accessed by scrambling over The Landslip which is close to the Isle of Wight Coastal Path in the woods to the east of Upper Bonchurch. The bay has a drying reef with outlying rocks, which can be a danger for marine traffic.

Undercliff (Isle of Wight)

For other locations of the same name, see The Undercliff.

The Undercliff, Isle of Wight, England is a tract of semi-rural land, around 5 miles long by 0.25–0.5 miles wide, skirting the southern coast of the island from Niton to Bonchurch. Named after its position below the escarpment that backs this coastal section, its undulating terrain comprises a mix of rough pasture, secondary woodland, parkland, grounds of large isolated houses, and suburban development. Its sheltered south-facing location gives rise to a microclimate considerably warmer than elsewhere on the island. Although inhabited, the Undercliff is an area prone to landslips and subsidence, with accompanying loss of property over time. Settlements along the Undercliff, from west to east, are: lower Niton (also called Niton Undercliff), Puckaster, St Lawrence, Steephill, the town of Ventnor, and Bonchurch.


Ventnor () is a seaside resort and civil parish established in the Victorian era on the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight, England, eleven miles (18 km) from Newport. It is situated south of St Boniface Down, and built on steep slopes leading down to the sea. The higher part is referred to as Upper Ventnor (officially Lowtherville); the lower part, where most amenities are located, is known as Ventnor. Ventnor is sometimes taken to include the nearby and older settlements of St Lawrence and Bonchurch, which are covered by its town council. The population of the parish in 2016 was about 5,800.

Ventnor became extremely fashionable as both a health and holiday resort in the late 19th century, described as the 'English Mediterranean' and 'Mayfair by the Sea'. Medical advances during the early twentieth century reduced its role as a health resort and, like other British seaside resorts, its summer holiday trade suffered the changing nature of travel during the latter part of that century.

Its relatively sheltered location beneath the hilly chalk downland produces a microclimate with more sunny days and fewer frosts than the rest of the island. This allows many species of subtropical plant to flourish; Ventnor Botanic Garden is particularly notable. Ventnor retains a strongly Victorian character, has an active arts scene, and is regaining popularity as a place to visit.

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See also


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