BRANNON'S PICTURE OF THE ISLE OF WIGHT;
The Expeditious Traveller's Index to Its Prominent Beauties & Objects of Interest. Compiled Especially with Reference to Those Numerous Visitors Who Can Spare but Two or Three Days to Make the Tour of the Island.
Printed and Published by George Brannon, Wootton, Isle of Wight
If nearly FORTY YEARS' RESIDENCE in the Isle of Wight may be allowed in some degree to qualify an ARTIST for the office of Guide, the Author has a fair claim to public patronage,—for few could have had better opportunity of acquiring local information.
He has endeavoured to render THE PICTURE an intelligent Cicerone, without being too garrulous or grandiloquous,—but always attentive to the stranger, leading him to every remarkable object, and giving just as much description of each, as would be acceptable to persons enjoying the full use of their eyes. It affords him, at first glance, an INDEX of what ought to be seen, and how best seen in the shortest time, in every place to which he may be successively conducted. This novelty in the work will prove very frequently of great utility, especially to those visitors who have too little time for their trip, and who, for want of such a laconic memento wherever they go, are known in a thousand instances to pass by the most interesting objects unnoticed,—not being aware even of their proximity.
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This being the production of the same hand as several other local works, it is due to the stranger to explain in what respects they differ:—
I.—THE VECTIS SCENERY is a handsome volume in Royal Quarto, substantially bound, containing 36 highly finished line-engravings of all the most celebrated landscapes, accompanied with ample letter-press descriptions, price L1.5.0.
II.—THE PICTURE differs from the above in being intended for a hand-book, it is in fact a Cicerone, and therefore occasionally dwells with a degree of minuteness which could be interesting only to a person actually on the spot; but the "Vectis Scenery" takes the higher rank of an Exhibitor of picturesque scenes which ask little aid from verbal explanation, and is entitled to a place on the drawing-room table with other works of Art. The Engravings in the two publications are quite different.
III.—The PLEASURE-VISITOR'S COMPANION is a compendium of useful information, with the different Tours, &c. and Views of the Country Inns, price 2s., or with Map, 3s.
IV.—The REV. LEGH RICHMOND'S DESCRIPTION of the Island, with explanatory Notes and illustrative Engravings, price 2s.6d.
V.—A MAP of the Island and the Opposite Coast—with the Tours, &c., in cover, price 1s.6d.
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It were useless to complain of the piracies committed upon the Author's labors, both literary and pictorial, by parties in London as well as in the country; but he may be allowed however to remark, that some of the most common facts and delineations are strangely perverted from the Truth in their new dress,—however artfully disguised to prevent the consequences of palpable detection.
In cases even where a professional Author may be engaged by a publisher on a local work, the time allowed is generally too limited for acquiring accurate knowledge of his subjects: he must depend either on prior publications or on his personal intercourse with the residents, for much of his information. In compiling from the first of these sources, he is very liable to mis-statement, by investing everything in a new dress to conceal his piracies; and the latter source leaves him open to imposition—for much of his matter will be sheer gossip, partial statements, or unfounded tradition, which a long experience only could detect, and place in a proper light.
CHAPTER I.—GENERAL ACCOUNT OF THE ISLE OF WIGHT. PAGE Its Peculiar Advantages for a Summer's Excursion, 9 Climate, Situation, and Extent, 15 Geology, Agriculture, and Zoology, 18 Eminent Natives, and Outline of the Local History, 21
CHAPTER II.—THE THREE PRINCIPAL TOWNS, AND THEIR ENVIRONS. Carisbrooke Castle and Village, 25 Newport and its Environs, 29 East and West Cowes, and their Environs, 34 Objects on the road between Cowes and Ryde, 43 Ryde and its Environs, 45 St. Helen's, Bembridge, Sandown, Brading, &c., 52
CHAPTER III—THE SOUTH-EASTERN COAST OF THE ISLAND, Distinguished for its Romantic Scenery. Shanklin Chine and Village, 59 Cooke's Castle, and Luccombe Chine, 63 East End, commencement of the Undercliff, 64 Bonchurch, and Ventnor, 65 Appuldurcombe and Godshill, 71 Steephill, and St. Lawrence, 73 The Undercliff, between St. Lawrence and Niton, 76 The New Light-house, and the Sandrock Spring, 79 Blackgang Chine, and St. Catharine's Hill, 81 Wrecks on the Southern Coast, 85 Chale, Gatcombe, Shorwell, Brixton, &c., 87
CHAPTER IV.—THE SOUTH-WESTERN COAST OF THE ISLAND, Distinguished for the most Sublime Scenery. The Road over the Downs to Freshwater, 89 Freshwater Cliffs, Bay, and Caverns, 90 High-down, Main-bench, and Scratchell's Bay, 93 Needle Rocks, Alum Bay, Light-house, &c., 95 Freshwater Village, Yarmouth, Calbourne, &c., 97
Conspicuous Objects on the Hills, 100 Tours through, and Voyage round the Island, 101 Lists of the Inns and Seats. Passage and Conveyance, &c.
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LIST OF THE ENGRAVINGS.
PAGE I—NORRIS CASTLE, Frontispiece.
II—PULPIT ROCK, Bonchurch, Title-page.
III—CARISBROOKE CASTLE, 24
IV—WEST COWES: the Castle, Parade, &c., 36
V—OSBOURNE, Her Majesty's Marine Residence, 40
VI—Town and Pier of RYDE, 44
VII—View from Bembridge Down, 52
VIII—SHANKLIN Chine; descent to the beach, 60
IX—Shanklin Church, 64
X—COOKE'S CASTLE, ib.
XI—The ancient Parish-church of BONCHURCH, 68
XII—VENTNOR, near the Church, ib.
XIII—STEEPHILL Castle and adjacent Coast, 72
XIV—ST. LAWRENCE CHURCH, 76
XV—St. Lawrence Well, ib.
XVI—The UNDERCLIFF near Mount Cleeves. 80
XVII—The new LIGHT-HOUSE near Niton, ib.
XVIII—BLACKGANG CHINE, 84
XIX—FRESHWATER BAY, 92
XX—WATCOMBE BAY, ib.
XXI—SCRATCHELL'S Bay and the Needle Rocks, 96
THE PECULIAR ADVANTAGES OF THE ISLAND AS THE OBJECT OF A SUMMER'S EXCURSION.
Variety is the characteristic charm of the Isle of Wight; the scenery being in fact a most happy combination of the grand and romantic, the sylvan and marine—throughout a close interchange of hills and dales, intersected by streams and rivers: combining the quiet of rural life with the fashionable gaiety of a watering-place, or the bustle of a crowded sea-port. But generally, its landscapes are more distinguished for beauty than sublimity, and hence the very appropriate designation of "THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND!" an emphatic compliment cheerfully paid by the thousands annually visiting its shores for pleasure or for health: and perhaps there is scarcely another spot in the kingdom, of the same narrow limits, which can concentrate more of those qualities that at once charm the eye and animate the soul. Nor should it be overlooked how large a source of interest is derived from the proximity of those two celebrated towns, Southampton and Portsmouth: and the beautiful termination given to most of the open prospects by the retiring distances on the opposite coast.
——"Intermixture sweet, Of lawns and groves, of open and retired, Vales, farms, towns, villas, castles, distant spires. And hills on hills with ambient clouds enrolled, In long succession court the lab'ring sight."
But the crowning beauty of the Island is certainly THE SEA! viewed in all the splendor of its various aspects;—whether under the awful grandeur of the agitated and boundless Ocean,—as a rapid and magnificent River,—or reposing in all the glassy tranquillity of a spacious land-locked Bay:—now of a glowing crimson, and now of the purest depth of azure: its bosom ever spangled with a thousand moving and attractive objects of marine life.
To those who have never had the opportunity of viewing the sea except under the comparatively dreary aspect which it presents from many unsheltering parts of the southern coast, as for instance Brighton, where almost the only relief to the monotony of the wide expanse is a few clumsy fishing boats or dusky colliers, and occasionally the rolling clouds of smoke from a passing steamer,—it may seem that we are rather disposed to exaggerate the picture; but not so, as would certainly be attested by every one who had visited the island: for here the scene is ever enriched by magnificent SHIPS OF WAR, innumerable merchant-vessels, and splendid pleasure-yachts, safely lying at anchor or gaily sailing about in every direction; and what moving object in the world can surpass, in grandeur, beauty, and interest, a fine ship under full canvass with a light breeze? Let the reader only imagine how glorious a sight it must have been, when 200 sail,—line-of-battle-ships, frigates, and large merchantmen under convoy, would weigh anchor at the same time, and proceeding on their voyage, pass round the island as it were in review!—thus affording a spectacle, as they floated
"O'er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,"
never to be erased from the memory of those who had once the incomparable pleasure to witness it. True it is, that in these happier times of peace, such exhibitions are not to be expected: but frequently even now, very large fleets of merchantmen, and perhaps several men-of-war, which have put in through distress of weather, or been detained by contrary winds, will all at the same moment weigh anchor at the first favorable change. [Footnote: The glories of the olden time have of late years been frequently revived at the departure of Experimental and other squadrons rendezvousing at Spithead,—accompanied as they sometimes are by hundreds of sailing-craft and steamers, including the beautiful yachts of all the neighbouring clubs.]
We think it ridiculous to attribute qualities to the island (as is often done,) which it really does not possess: all we contend for is, that few spots can excel the Wight altogether in the amount of its VARIOUS attractions; we mean especially to those parties who can only snatch occasionally a very brief period for a summer excursion; not only as regards its peculiar and acknowledged local advantages, but equally so from those adventitious and auxiliary circumstances that are derived from the present rail-road conveyance from the metropolis: and from the shortness and perfect safety of the passage across—being little more than an hour from Southampton, and only half that time from Portsmouth; the former an important mercantile port and fashionable watering-place; and the latter, the first naval station in the kingdom—its marine treasures too thrown open gratuitously to public inspection: and what curiosity can afford a Briton more gratification, than to visit such a dock-yard, and pace the deck of the very ship in which Victory crowned the last moments of the immortal Nelson?
Though the island has to boast of many passages of highly romantic and brilliant scenery, yet the predominant character of its landscapes is, as was hinted above, calculated to amuse, to delight, and promote cheerfulness, rather than to astonish or impress the spectator with feelings of awe by their stupendous grandeur; circumstances which, combined with its salubrity of climate, render it a most desirable retreat to the valetudinarian and nervous invalid: indeed all the alterations which have latterly been made, or are now in progress, tend to soften, embellish, and in point of convenience to improve the face of the country. On this subject however it will be a question with many persons of good taste, whether any of these artificial operations are really improvements upon the native character of the island. An artist would most probably decide in the negative: but we know there are many nevertheless, who consider that whatever deterioration the island may experience in some of her more wild and romantic features, is amply compensated by the spread of cultivation and rural decoration, by the increased facilities of travelling, and the multiplied means of enjoyment now afforded to the pleasure-tourist.
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A few particulars will suffice for the present, to prove the above assertions, and may perhaps be found
USEFUL HINTS TO STRANGERS
Purposing a visit to the shores of the Garden of England. They may arrange to breakfast comfortably at the usual hour in London—start by the rail-road, and reach either of the above ports at noon, or even earlier—steam-packets are in readiness to convey the passengers across, and stage-coaches and other vehicles await their arrival at Cowes and Ryde: our friends may then ride round one-half of the island, and return the next, or even the same night! but this of course is abridging the affair a little too much. But allow a full week, and that will suffice to render it a very pleasant trip. If, for example, you come to Southampton, sleep there, or at least tarry a few hours in the examination of it: then take the last steamer to Cowes or Ryde, and sleep there the first night: next morning commence the regular Tour of three days, dining and sleeping twice or thrice at one or other of the inns situated on the rocky side of the island, to enjoy at the same time the more unusual feast of a wide prospect of the sea, and the music of the foaming breakers thundering on the beach below. Supposing you start from Cowes, as being opposite Southampton, the Route will bring you round to Ryde; where you cross to Portsmouth, and having gone over the fortifications, the dock-yard, and Nelson's ship, return by one or other of the rail-roads. But if you arrive by Portsmouth and Ryde, then return via Cowes and 'Hampton.—For the details of the several routes, the reader is of course referred to the chapter "Tours," at the end of the Work.
That part of the island immediately opposite Hampshire is generally well-wooded, with an easy descent to the shore—populous and busy, as might be expected from the two considerable watering-places before named, and several excellent harbors. But the south side (familiarly called the Back of the Island,) being washed by the impetuous tides of the ocean, presents a very different aspect, showing the resistless progress of the waves:—and hence perpendicular cliffs of great altitude, precipitous slopes constantly detaching large masses of earth and rocks, and all the picturesque confusion produced by successive landslips: here therefore the scenery is variously characterized by dreary devastation, romantic beauty, or sublime splendor of effect. But not so of the Interior of the island, which presents the softer pictures of pastoral and rural life: for ...
"Creation's mildest charms are here combined,"
enlivened by several splendid mansions, with their parks and groves. The churches are numerous: some "embosomed soft in trees," and others picturesquely seated on commanding knolls: and many of the highest hills are adorned by a light-house or signal-station—some lofty obelisk, tower, or mill; so that in every direction a conspicuous object gives an interest and discriminative identity to those broad features of scenery, which would otherwise be perfectly tame and monotonous.
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Situation, Extent, Climate, &c.
The Isle of Wight extends from east to west 23 miles, by about 14 from north to south (being very nearly the figure of a lozenge), circumscribes at least 60 miles, and contains upwards of 100,000 acres. It is separated from the Hampshire coast by a strait called the SOLENT SEA, varying from three to seven miles in width: and bounded by the British Channel on the south—the nearest part of the French coast being Cherbourg (18 leagues distant), which is said to have been seen from the hills of Freshwater, &c. The extent of the English coast visible in clear weather is above 100 miles, from Beachy Head in Sussex, to the Isle of Portland in Dorset.
THE CLIMATE.—The purity of the air was always acknowledged by those who ever visited the island owing to the dry and highly cultivated face of the country: but it was left to an eminent Physician, Dr. James Clarke, to give due celebrity to the unrivaled salubrity of the climate:—
"The Island, from the variety which it presents in point of elevation, soil, and aspect, and from the configuration of its hills and shores, possesses several peculiarities of climate and situation, which render it a very favorable and commodious residence throughout the year, for a large class of invalids. On this account, the Isle of Wight claims our particular attention, as it comprehends within itself advantages which are of great value to the delicate invalid, and to obtain which, in almost any other part of England, he would require to make a considerable journey." And he further remarks, that "the Undercliff bids fair to exceed all other winter residences in this country, and the island will have added to its title of the Garden of England, that of the BRITISH MADEIRA."
The classical designation of the island is VECTA or VECTIS: but its modern name is derived from Wect, With, or Wict, as it is found variously written in Doomsday Book.
Some writers have supposed the island to have been once connected with the mainland by an isthmus stretching from Gurnet, near Cowes, to Leap, on the Hampshire roast; but nothing decisive has yet been advanced in support of this strange hypothesis.
The surface of the island presents a constant succession of valley and eminence—the two principal chains of hills being ... a range of chalk downs of a smooth rounded shape, and from 500 to 700 feet high, that stretch lengthways through the middle of the island, abutting the ocean at Freshwater on the west, and Bembridge on the east:-and a still loftier range, variously composed of chalk, firestone, &c., that skirts the south-eastern coast from Shanklin Down to St. Catharine's (the latter 830 feet in height,) and whose broken flank on the sea-side forms the celebrated and romantic region of the UNDERCLIFF.
The principal streams in the Isle of Wight navigable for marine craft are the Rivers Medina and Yar, and the Creeks of Newtown and Wootton.—The Medina, whose source is in the south, and which joins the sea at Cowes, divides the island into two hundreds of nearly equal extent, respectively called the East and West Medene; the first comprising 14, the latter 16 parishes.
The population of the island has doubled since 1802, and now exceeds 45,000. No manufacture of any consequence is carried on (with the exception of the lace-factory near Newport,) Corn being the staple article of trade,—for which there are about 42 mills, nearly all of them worked by water.
Almost encompassed by formidable rocks and shelves, few parts of the English coast are more dangerous to ships driving in a storm. The most dreaded parts are the Needles and Shingles, at the western point; Rocken-end Race at the south, and Bembridge Ledge at the eastern extremity: few winters pass without the melancholy catastrophe of shipwreck; though the danger is now of course diminished by the establishment of Light-houses—especially of the new one near Niton.—Owing to this cause, and to the precipitous nature of the coast itself, the island presents few points favorable to an enemy's landing, and even those were for the most part fortified by order of Henry VIII: The forts of Sandown, Cowes, and Yarmouth still remain; and though they might be of little use in the present state of military science, the presence of "England's wooden walls" at the stations of Spithead and St. Helen's, renders all local defences needless.
Geology, Agriculture, and Zoology.
The island presents many rare geological phenomena: and from its smallness, easy access, and the various nature of its coasts, offers an admirable field for scientific investigation.
One peculiarity deserves to be particularly noticed; namely, the extraordinary state in which the FLINTS are found in the great range of chalk hills,—for all those in regular beds, are broken into pieces in every direction, from two or three inches long, to an almost impalpable powder; and yet show no other indication of their fracture than very fine lines, until the investing chalk be removed, when they fall at once to pieces! But the separate flints or nodules in the body of the chalk strata are not so: which led the late Sir H. Englefield to conjecture, that the phenomenon was caused in the moment of the immense concussion which subverted the whole mass of strata, and placed them in their present nearly vertical position.
Another interesting circumstance in the geological structure of the Isle of Wight, is a series of strata, vertical or highly inclined, which run across the middle of it from east to west; while the strata on each side are horizontal; they consist of ... a very thick stratum of clay and sand (observable at Alum Bay), flinty chalk, chalk without flints, chalk-marle, green sandstone with lime-stone and chert, dark-grey marle, and ferruginous sand.
A PROGRESSIVE CHANGE is evidently taking place in the boundary line of the coast—the sea making considerable invasions on the south side, which is exposed to the resistless currents of the ocean; while on the north it is found to be more gradually receding, from the accumulation of sand and shingle drifted and deposited by the less impetuous tides of the Solent Channel.—About Brixton, for instance, between Blackgang Chine and the Freshwater Cliffs, the loss of land has been estimated (from the successive removals of paths and hedges,) to exceed 200 feet in breadth in less than a century; while in the neighbourhood of Ryde it is known that the bed of a valley formerly accessible to the sea is now rather above its highest level; and even in 1760, when Fielding visited the island, the coast there is described by him as a wide disgusting waste of mud, which is now covered with an increasing layer of sand, sufficiently firm to bear wheel-carriages; and no doubt but in process of time there will be a great accession to the beach, from the constant though slow operation of the same causes—denuding on the one side, and reciprocally accumulating on the other.
Good Stone of various qualities is found in most parts of the island: and with that procured from the quarries of Binstead, the body of Winchester Cathedral was built. All the houses along the Undercliff are constructed with a beautiful kind of freestone procured on the spot.
Extensive pits are worked in the downs for the chalk, which is used for manure, burning into lime, &c. A stratum of coals was formerly believed to run through the central downs, and Sir Rt. Worsley actually sunk a shaft for it near Bembridge; his labors however were but poorly rewarded. Veins of coarse iron ore have also appeared in some parts of the island.
The finest white sand in the kingdom is obtained from the sea-cliffs at Freshwater, and is carried in great quantities to the glass and porcelain manufactories. Excellent brick-earth abounds in almost every part of the island: common native alum, copperas, specimens of petrifactions, and many curious varieties of sea-weeds, are picked up on the shores; in the cliffs and quarries are found numerous beautiful fossil remains,—especially oysters and other bivalve shells, of a vast size.
The central range of chalk hills divides the island into two nearly distinct regions, the soil and strata being essentially different,—a stiff clay predominating on the north side, which is extensively covered with wood, while the south side is principally of a light sandy soil or mellow loam, and being exceedingly fertile, the whole tract is almost exclusively employed in tillage.
In geological terms, the north is formed of the Eocene or freshwater deposits: and the south of the Cretaceous or oceanic, except where the Wealden exhibits itself at Sandown and Brixton bays.—Though affording a great variety of soil, the island is upon the whole well calculated for farming as may be inferred from its proverbial fertility; "it was many years ago computed to produce as much corn in one year as its inhabitants would consume in seven,—and the improved cultivation, with the additional land brought into tillage, has doubtless kept pace with the increased population."
In AGRICULTURE there is now a close approximation to the routine practised in the rest of the county: and there is scarcely any peculiarity observable either in the system of Husbandry, or in the manners of the Yeomanry, who are a very intelligent and respectable class.
The constant intercourse which the inhabitants have with persons from other parts of the kingdom, has in fact erased all insular peculiarities. But the following extract from the Memoirs of Sir John Oglander, which were written about the year 1700, will be read with interest, as exhibiting a most
Amusing Picture of the Islanders in the 16th century.
"I have heard," says he, "and partly knowe it to be true, that not only heretofore there was no lawyer nor attorney in owre island, but in Sir George Carey's time  an attorney coming in to settle in the island, was by his command, with a pound of candles hanging att his breech lighted, with bells about his legs, hunted owte of the island; insomuch that owre ancestors lived here so quietly and securely, being neither troubled to London nor Winchester, so they seldom or never went owte of the island; insomuch as when they went to London (thinking it an East India voyage), they always made their wills, supposing no trouble like to travaile."
The extensive downs of the island afford excellent pasture for sheep, whose wool is of a staple not inferior to that produced on the South Downs: and many thousand lambs are annually sent to the London markets. From the improvements effected in Husbandry, there are now nearly sufficient oxen reared and fatted for the use of the inhabitants, instead of the butchers going as formerly, to Salisbury, &c. for their cattle.
The demands of the dock-yards (both here and at Portsmouth,) have greatly thinned the timber of the island, which is principally oak and elm, and is found to grow most luxuriantly in the wooded tract from East Cowes to St. Helen's.
In the time of King Charles II, woods were so extensive, that it is recorded, a squirrel might have run on the tops of the trees from Gurnard to Carisbrooke, and in several other parts for leagues together.
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In ZOOLOGY there is nothing very remarkable, except the absence of pole-cats, badgers, and till lately, even foxes: but the poultry-breeders are now indebted for the introduction of the latter to some sparkish amateurs of hunting: many have been killed, but they are still breeding rapidly in the favorable fastnesses of the more rocky and woody districts. Otters too are frequently seen.—GAME is abundant, particular attention having been paid to its preservation. "The great plenty of hares and other game is owing to the care of Sir Edward Horsey, governor in 1582, who is reported to have given a lamb for every living hare brought to him from the neighbouring counties."
THE NIGHTINGALE.—These much-prized birds of passage make the island their early and most favorite resort; and to those visitors from the north who perhaps never heard their unrivaled notes, the opportunity would prove not the least gratifying circumstance in a day's pleasure. On fine evenings in the months of May and June, the woods and groves in every direction resound with the delightful chorus of their inimitable songs.
Astonishing numbers of sea-fowl resort during the summer months to the cliff's of Freshwater and Bembridge: in the latter, the eagle has been known to build its eyry, and in the time of queen Elizabeth they were famous for a breed of hawks, which were so valued, that it was made a capital crime to steal them.
FISH of every kind common to the southern coast of England is caught off the island, but not in that abundance which might be expected, except crabs and lobsters, which are uncommonly large and fine. Mackarel are some seasons extremely plentiful, small, but peculiarly sweet. Numbers of porpoises are seen rolling along in the Solent Sea and Southampton Water; sharks are frequently observed off the back of the island, and sometimes even the grampus pursuing its prey. In 1814, a large whale was taken off the Shingles (west of the Needle Rocks,) having been left aground by the ebbing tide: and in the winter of 1841, another, measuring 75 feet in length, was caught near the same spot.
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Local Biography and History.
The following are amongst the most eminent natives of the island:
Sir JOHN CHEEKE, Knt., one of the most distinguished scholars and virtuous men of his time: he was tutor to Edward VI, and a zealous protestant, but being induced during the following reign to make a public recantation, his death, which happened soon after, was supposed to have been hastened by shame of that humiliating exhibition.
Rev. HENRY COLE, D.D., Dean of St. Paul's, a contemporary of the above, was born at Godshill: he shone in divinity and literature, and was a strenuous advocate of the Roman-catholic faith.
THOs. JAMES, D.D., a learned divine and antiquary: was esteemed, from his extensive erudition, a living library, Born at Newport, died 1629.
ROBERT HOOK, M.D., celebrated for his extraordinary inventive powers in almost every branch of art and science, was born at Freshwater anno 1635, and died at an advanced age, in Gresham College.
JOHN HOBSON, rose by his skill and courage from the obscurity of a tailor's parish-apprentice to an admiral's rank in the reign of Queen Anne: he headed Sir George Rooke's squadron in the attack on Vigo harbour, where a numerous Spanish fleet was entirely captured or burned.—The little village of Bonchurch claims the honor of his birth-place.
We shall conclude this general chapter with a brief summary of the local history, though the annals of a small dependent isle like this, cannot be expected to possess any very exciting interest.
[In fact it can boast of no important ancient settlements or records—no valued chronicles of the alternate successes and defeats of ambitious rival princes and their contending armies, or the unpitied sufferings of the sacrificed population: and perhaps it would never have been mentioned in the national history, had it not been for the imprisonment of fallen royalty in the case of Charles I. Its situation certainly exposed it to the attacks of Danish pirates, and subsequently of the French; but these distant events constituting but a broken and unconnected narrative, the ensuing brief sketch will we presume be sufficient for the majority of our readers. We refer those who wish further information on the subject to the valuable work of Sir Richard Worsley,—from which this article is partly abridged.]
It was subdued by the Roman troops under Vespasian, A.D. 43; but the conquerors could not have experienced much resistance from the natives, as no remains of their military works have been here discovered. Under the empire, the island was reckoned to contain about 1200 families.
The Saxon kings of the South of England several times attacked the island with their accustomed unsparing ferocity: particularly Cerdic, in 530, who replaced the slaughtered British by a colony of his own countrymen; and Ceadwalla of Murcia, who having seized it in 686, was so incensed at the idolatry of the inhabitants, that he resolved at first to extirpate them, and repeople the island with Christians! but at the intercession of bishop Wilfred, great numbers saved their lives by submitting to be baptized.
In the ninth and following centuries the island suffered, in common with the neighbouring coast, from the predatory visits of the Danes. For a time indeed they were checked by the great Alfred, who wholly captured or destroyed one large fleet, laden with the spoils of Hampshire and the Wight: but under the weak and disordered reigns of his successors, the northern pirates seem to have taken possession of this defenceless spot as often as they pleased; and after making it a depot for the plunder of the adjacent counties, and living freely on the inhabitants, sometimes wantonly burned towns and villages at their departure.
The island was also severely harrassed by some of the rebellious Saxon nobles in the reign of Edward the Confessor; but after the Norman Conquest, its tranquillity was not materially disturbed till the year 1346, when a party of French landed at St. Helen's; they were soon repulsed by the islanders, though the warden, Sir Theobald Russell, was amongst the slain. About this time a variety of excellent regulations were made by the inhabitants for their better security: the landholders were by their tenures bound to defend the castle of Carisbrooke for 40 days at their own charges; the county of Devon sent for its defence 76 men-at arms, and the city of London 300 slingers and bowmen.
Another party of the French seem to have made a more successful attack in the first year of Richard II: indeed the islanders at that time had little besides their own valor to depend on for protection; as there were no forts to obstruct an enemy's landing; Carisbrooke Castle standing in the centre of the island, could only serve for a partial retreat: and serious ravages might be committed ere any assistance arrived from the mainland. This want of domestic security so discouraged the natives, that many families withdrew, when an order was issued to the wardens to seize the lands of all such as refused to return.
Not long afterwards a powerful body of Frenchmen landed in the island, the militia of which (900 in number,) had been reinforced from Southampton and London, in expectation of this hostile visit. The invaders were unable to reduce Carisbrooke Castle, which was commanded by the governor, Sir H. Tyrrel—and moreover suffered considerable loss by an ambuscade at a place near Newport, still called Deadman's Lane; [Footnote: A tumulus where the slain were buried, at the south entrance to the town, was exultingly named Noddies' Hill—whence the present appellation Nodehill.] yet as the houses of the inhabitants lay at their mercy, they were at length bought off by the payment of 1000 marks, and a promise that no resistance should be offered, if they revisited the island within a year.
In the reign of Henry IV, the French made two other attacks: on the first occasion they were repulsed with loss; and on the second, when a large fleet made a threatening demand of a subsidy, the islanders were so elated at their past success, that they invited the French to land and try their prowess in fair fight, after having had sufficient time to rest and refresh themselves: this handsome challenge was not however accepted.
Owing to its comparatively remote situation, the island escaped those calamities which afflicted the rest of the kingdom during the bloody disputes of the rival Roses: nor was it engaged with any foreign enemy till the year 1488, when the governor, Sir Edward de Woodville, having raised a body of about 500 men, passed over to the continent in aid of the Duke of Bretagne against the king of France. At the battle of St. Aubin the Bretons were routed, and the islanders, whom hatred or contempt of the French probably impelled to a more obstinate resistance, perished to a man: this unfortunate event plunged the whole island into mourning; and in order to recruit the diminished population, an act of parliament forbad any single inhabitant from holding farms above the annual rent of ten marks.
On the 18th of July, 1545, a large French fleet appearing off the Isle of Wight, the English squadron which lay at Spithead, though greatly inferior in force, stood out to meet them: but the admiral's ship Mary Rose sinking with most of her crew, the others retreated into the Solent Channel; while the French landed several parties of troops, and after some sharp fighting, repulsed the islanders who had collected to oppose them; it was next proposed in a council of war to fortify and keep possession of the island, but this being considered impracticable by any number of men that could then be spared from the ships, they proceeded to pillage and burn the villages, till the inhabitants, being reinforced, attacked and drove them off with the loss of many men, and one of their principal officers. King Henry VIII, in order to prevent a repetition of such mischievous visits, erected several forts and blockhouses for the protection of the coast; and though the rapid advance of the British naval power still more effectually guarded it from the danger of foreign invasions, the islanders for many years afterwards neglected no precautions for their own defence: a train of field-pieces was provided among the different parishes, and the militia, in 1625, numbered 2000 men.
In the division between king Charles I and the parliament, the islanders at first manifested some zeal in the royal cause; yet as soon as hostilities commenced at Portsmouth, the Newport militia expelled the weak garrison of Carisbrooke Castle, which, with the other forts, were delivered to the parliamentary troops; and on the arrival of the Earl of Pembroke, the gentlemen and principal farmers assembled at Cowes, and tendered him their best services. The inhabitants having thus taken a decisive step in closing with the prevailing power, remained undisturbed spectators of the ensuing commotions, till the king injudiciously sought here an asylum.
On the 12th of November, 1647, Charles, who had just fled from Hampton Court, was met at Tichfield by Colonel Hammond, governor of the Isle of Wight, who invited him to take up his residence at Carisbrooke Castle. The offer was accepted, and for some time the royal guest appeared to be quite free and unrestrained in his actions and company; but afterwards his liberty was gradually abridged, his confidential servants removed, and himself imprisoned within the castle; the various unsuccessful attempts that were made to effect his escape only serving as a pretext to increase the rigor of his confinement. Yet during the subsequent negociations of the Treaty of Newport, he was set at large on his parole,—till a detachment of the army broke off the negociations by arresting and conveying him to Hurst Castle; 30 days before he lost his life at Whitehall.
As its situation preserved it from scenes of hostility between the troops, the island enjoyed a much happier state than any other part of the kingdom during the civil war, which caused many families to retire hither: a circumstance that for the time rose the farm-rents in the proportion of 20 per cent. The subsequent local history presents nothing of any interest, with the exception perhaps of the powerful armaments which assembled in the neighbourhood during the last French war, and the large bodies of military which were in consequence here quartered.
The absolute lordship of the Isle of Wight was given by William the Conqueror to one William Fitz-Osborne (in reward for his services at the battle of Hastings), "to be held by him as freely as he himself held the realm of England"; but in consequence of the defection of his descendant, it was resumed by the Crown. Henry I granted it to the Earl of Devon, in whose family it long continued, till the alienation of it was obtained by Edward I, for a comparatively small sum. The last grant was to Edward de Woodville in 1485; from which time there have been successively appointed by the Crown,—wardens, captains—and governors of the island: but the powers attached to the office have gradually declined, and at present it is a mere title, unaccompanied by duty or, we believe, emolument.—It is an amusing circumstance in the history of this little spot, that it had once the high-sounding honor of having a King of its own!—for the Duke of Warwick was so crowned by the hands of Henry VI, in the year 1444,—but it would seem that the glory of the name was all which his Vectis Majesty derived from his accession.
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Carisbrooke, Newport, Cowes, and Ryde.
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As a stranger's attention is frequently diverted from noticing many interesting features of a scene in the hurried moment of his visit, an index >> is placed at the head of each section, pointing only to the most remarkable objects—a peculiarity which, it is presumed, will be found extremely useful to those who have little time to spare for minute examination or research.
Our arrangement of the subjects supposes the reader to start from a point nearly central, and pursue his tour of the island in a regular progress, without frequently retrograding, or considerably deviating either to the right or left. This order must prove convenient for reference at all events, let the visitor commence his journey from any of the principal towns.
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"Still farther in the vale a castle lifts Its stately towers, and tottering battlements, Drest with the rampant ivy's uncheck'd growth."
>>The chief curiosities within the castle are ... THE KEEP, the immense WELL, and the apartments which were the PRISON of King Charles I and his family.
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The high antiquity of this beautiful ruin, which occupies the crown of a hill only one mile westward of Newport, renders it an object of the most pleasing interest with all classes of visitors to the Isle of Wight; and it is the only local specimen of ancient fortification deserving a stranger's notice. It is known to have existed for at least fourteen centuries, having in that long period been subjected of course to many mutations. The Saxon chronicles mention it as a place of strength and importance in the year 530, when Cerdic subdued the island; and it was subsequently rendered almost impregnable, according to the mode of fortification which prevailed among the Normans, by William Fitz-Osborne, to whom the island was given by the Conqueror. And in the reign of queen Elizabeth, it received the most substantial repairs and ample additions; when the outer trenches and bastions were formed upon the plan of those of Antwerp—circumscribing about 20 acres.
On our nearly reaching the top of the hill by the carriage-road, we see first the ancient KEEP, peering above the rest of the ruins; and next, the principal and well-guarded entrance to the interior of the fortress. Passing through an ivied gateway, built in the reign of queen Elizabeth, as appears by the legible inscription (40 E.R. 1520,) on a shield over the arch: we proceed to another gateway in a spacious square building, whose angles are strengthened by two noble round towers: this opens into the interior area; had several prison rooms, and was armed with a portcullis: but the whole of it is now in a sad condition,
"Defac'd by time, and tott'ring in decay!"
Nothing can be more picturesque than the first view of this venerable scene: the most luxuriant ivy everywhere mantles the grey walls and mouldering battlements, interspersed with the waving branches of wild vegetation: and the surrounding terraces are adorned with the opposing tints of pines and every variety of deciduous trees.
Being admitted through the curious old oaken wicket to the inner court, the attendant cicerone will lead the visitor to several objects in due succession: the most remarkable are ...
The place in which the unfortunate king Charles I was confined (1647), and his children imprisoned after his death: but the apartments are so dilapidated that it is next to impossible to decide upon their arrangement: the window however is shown through which he vainly attempted an escape: this is generally examined with a greater share of interest than perhaps any other part of the castle, and is often obliged to contribute as a relic, some minute portion of its crumbling walls.
THE KEEP is certainly the most ancient part of the fortress, having been built either prior to, or early in the time of the Saxons: and was rendered an appendage to the more ample fortifications constructed by the Normans. It is reached by a flight of 72 stone steps (nine inches each); was guarded by a portcullis-gate; and provided with a well 310 feet deep, since partially filled by the falling ruins.
At the S.E. angle are the remains of another very ancient tower called MONTJOY'S: the walls in some places are eighteen feet thick.
The WELL-HOUSE is to many persons the most attractive object within the walls of the castle,—for should the solemn ruins fail to impress that sentiment of reflection which proves to others the very zest of their visit, they will at least be not a little amused by the apt performance of a docile ass, whose task it is to draw up water from a well 300 feet deep! This office he performs by treading rapidly inside of an immense windlass-wheel (15-1/2 feet in diameter,) whereby he gives it the necessary rotatory motion. The natural longevity of these patient laborers is here exemplified by the instances on record; one done the duty for above 50 years, another 40, and another nearly 30. To afford some idea of the depth of the well, a lighted candle is lowered: and water is thrown down from a bucket, which produces quite a startling noise,—it will be three or four seconds in falling. For the same purpose, pins were formerly employed, but these were strictly forbidden, on account of their deleterious tendency on the water.
The Chapel, the Governor's apartments, the Barracks, Powder Magazine, &c. are also pointed out; but to go over the whole works of this venerable monument of antiquity, and give a minute detail of the several parts usually shown to strangers, would be tedious to the reader, though doubtless every spot and fragment must be viewed by the visitor with a lively interest.
If a party be not pressed for time, they should go round the outer terrace, reckoned a mile in circumference, the walk is in some parts sequestered and most pleasingly solemn, in other points presenting very charming views; and altogether calculated to raise our admiration, and give a more perfect idea of this beautiful specimen of ancient fortification.
The open space in the outworks, called the Place of Arms, is where the Archery Club resort during the season for exercise; no spot certainly could be more convenient: though by the bye, there is a degree of modish gaiety on such occasions, which is not altogether in character (at least to a picturesque eye,) with the solemnity of a scene betraying ...
"The grey and grief-worn aspect of old days!"
The military establishment of the castle is at present altogether a sinecure; formerly this was the regular seat of the insular government; but now it is quite deserted, save by the individual who has the privilege of showing the place to strangers, and his attendants.
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THE VILLAGE OF CARISBROOKE
Is an extremely pretty place, and still very populous, though much less so than formerly, when it enjoyed the consequence of a CITY, guarded by the only fortress in the island to which the inhabitants could fly for refuge in the moment of invasion: it rises on a hill opposite that on which stand the venerable ruins of the Castle: and in the intervening valley a beautiful stream winds its course towards Newport, sufficiently copious to turn several mills—the springs supplying water highly esteemed for its purity. The church is of great antiquity: and its tower is a very handsome specimen of Gothic architecture, proudly relieving itself from the surrounding trees and habitations. There are several genteel residences, and a few good lodging-houses in the village, whose neatly dressed gardens, interspersed with lofty trees, and environed by the most agreeable scenery, give to the place altogether an uncommon air of rural beauty.
"How picturesque the view, where up the side Of that steep hill, the roofs of russet thatch Rise mix'd with trees, above whose swelling tops Ascends the tall church-tower, and loftier still The hill's extended ridge, crown'd with yellow corn— While slow beneath the bank, the silver stream Glides by the flowery isles and willow groves."
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>>To form an idea merely of the Town, it will be sufficient for a stranger to pace two or three of the principal streets—the High-st. of course from one end to the other; he will then see the TOWN-HALL: the old PARISH-CHURCH, situated in the Corn-market; the public LIBRARY in the Beast-market; and the ancient GRAMMAR-SCHOOL. The most inviting short walks are over MONTJOY'S to Carisbrooke—to the top of PAN DOWN—and to Hurststake, on the banks of the RIVER, at high tide.
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NEWPORT is allowed by most travellers to be as clean and pretty a country-town as any in the kingdom. The houses are of a modern and respectable construction: the streets regular and well paved, with sufficient descent to be always clean; and two copious streams water it on the east and west.
Being closely surrounded by an amphitheatre of lofty downs, beautifully checquered by pasture and cultivation, cottages and villas,—the environs are of the most agreeable and inviting character, and the climate mild and salubrious; to those therefore who love to blend social intercourse with the pleasures of a cheerful yet quiet retreat, Newport presents many decided attractions. Years ago it was observed, that "there were few provincial towns which could afford independence more sources of rational enjoyment:" and since then there has been a great accession to the local means of intellectual pleasure, in respect of philosophical and literary institutions, private and professional reading societies, a Mechanics' Institution, circulating libraries, &c. &c. The places of public worship too have equally increased; being three episcopal (two of recent erection), two for Independents, two for Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, a Bible-Christian, a Roman-catholic, a Unitarian, and a Particular-baptist. There are five respectable inns, in the town (see the List), and two assembly-rooms.
From its central position, it is well calculated for being the principal market-town, and, as it were the metropolis, of the island. On the Saturdays in particular, it presents a very animated scene: being frequented by all classes who are obliged to attend for the purposes of business, or upon judicial affairs; which would naturally induce many other parties to visit in favorable weather, were it only for the sake of a pleasant jaunt.
These advantages of course give it a steady trade in almost every branch of business; and latterly the shops have exchanged much of their antiquated country appearance for the more imposing style of the fashionable towns,—where dazzling glare is resorted to as the chief attraction.
Though Newport does not depend, like the watering-places, upon the annual influx of visitors engaging their lodgings for a season, yet many of the best situated and most convenient houses are handsomely fitted-up for the purpose; and should the river be ever sufficiently deepened to admit a passage steamer to ply at regular hours without regard to the state of the tide, Newport might defy all competition, by the rapid improvement of its various local capabilities which would necessarily follow.
The River (called the Medina, from dividing the island in the middle,) is navigable from Newport to Cowes for vessels of sixty or seventy tons burthen, during high water. The banks are beautifully dressed with scattered groves and copse-wood: and interspersed with the arable fields and meadows are several churches, seats, villas, farms, and cottages, on either side: and as the lands rise rather boldly, the while scene is viewed to advantage from the water, and will be found to afford a very delightful trip on a summer's day, to or from Cowes; the party leaving by the returning tide after about two hours' stay at either place.
The gayest season at Newport is during the Whitsuntide Fair, and three successive Saturdays at Michaelmas, the time when the agricultural servants receive their wages, and re-engage for the following year. The old custom of the female-servants assembling at one part of the town, and the men at another, for the purpose of engaging in new situations, is still partially kept up; these occasions are familiarly called the "Bargain-fair Saturdays," the middle or principal one falling on the first Saturday in October.
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Of these the most conspicuous is the GUILDHALL, situated nearly in the centre of the town: it is rather a stately edifice of the Ionic order. Here the magistrates of the whole island meet every Saturday for hearing and deciding upon petty causes: and examining and committing prisoners to the Winchester assizes, or in, minor offences to take their trials at the quarter sessions for the Isle of Wight, formerly held at Winchester, but which are now very properly adjourned, to save the inhabitants the great inconvenience and expense of crossing the water. There are also the quarter sessions for the borough; and that excellent institution, the County Court for the settlement of small debts.—In the area beneath the hall is held the Saturday's market for poultry, eggs, and butter.
Another showy building is the ISLE OF WIGHT INSTITUTION, or permanent public Library, to which nearly all the neighbouring gentry subscribe. Besides the reading-room and library it contains a museum for local curiosities, &c. Temporary residents in the island may become subscribers for six months by a payment of 25s.
The FREE-GRAMMAR SCHOOL is the only building claiming respect for its antiquity (besides the parish-church), situated in the street leading to the Cowes road: it was erected by subscription in the year 1619, and duly endowed. Though recently having been repaired throughout, its appearance is still rather picturesque: and possesses considerable historic interest, from the memorable conference held here between the parliamentary commissioners and king Charles the First, up to the unfortunate moment when he was unexpectedly seized and imprisoned in Hurst Castle.
The PARISH-CHURCH is considered to be of the age of Henry II, as it is dedicated to St. Thomas-a-Becket: it is spacious, and has a fine lofty square tower; but there is nothing very particular either in its architecture or antiquities to call for minute description. The chief curiosities are ... the Pulpit, remarkable for its rich and ingenious carving: a monument to Sir Edward Horsey; and the spot where the second daughter of King Charles was buried: she died while the family were prisoners at Carisbrooke—and it was only by accident in the year 1793 that the vault was discovered.—ST. JOHN'S CHURCH, built a few years ago on the south side of the town, at the foot of Montjoy's, is a conspicuous object in most points of view: and though plain in appearance, is very convenient in its interior arrangements: it is supported on the voluntary principle.
Newport returns two members to parliament.—The number of inhabitants in the town, which has considerably extended beyond the limits of the borough, is about 7000. The corporate body consists of 24 members; but since the passing of the Municipal Reform Act, there can of course be nothing peculiar in their constitution of which the reader need be informed.
A Lace-factory on a very extensive scale is established just without the town, on the east side, going to Ryde: in the town is also an establishment which gives employment to many females in the lace-embroidering process.
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The Environs of Newport.
The following villages and hamlets are nearly connected with, or gradually approximating the town:—
On the eastern side, surrounded by meadows, is BARTON's VILLAGE, near which a neat little church has lately been opened, on the road to Ryde;—just above it is a gentleman's seat called BELLECROFT.
SHIDE, half a mile to the south, is picturesquely seated at the foot of the steep and high down called Pan: the river Medina flows through the grounds, and there are several respectable villas in its immediate neighbourhood.
Westward is the NEW VILLAGE, a street of genteel and comfortable houses (some of which are furnished for lodgings,) leading to Carisbrooke: behind it is the hill called Montjoy's, from whose lofty summit is obtained the most comprehensive view of Newport, its river, and the adjacent country. There is also a small hamlet on HUNNY-HILL, north of the town.
FAIRLEE is a principal seat, a mile north of Newport. The house is large and of respectable appearance: standing at the head of an extensive and beautiful lawn which slopes to the eastern bank of the river, surrounded by close and open groves.
About a mile from Newport, on the road to West Cowes, stands the HOUSE OF INDUSTRY, a very large building, generally containing between 500 and 600 paupers; it includes within its walls a lunatic asylum, hospital, school, and chapel: and has an extensive garden attached.
Its internal affairs and out-door relief are regulated by a Board of Guardians and Directors, consisting of a certain number of respectable inhabitants, chosen from every parish in the island,—under the provisions of an Act of Parliament obtained in the year 1770 for the parochial consolidation of the whole island. They are therefore independent of the Poor-law Commissioners, and have adopted only as much as they thought proper of the general statute.
ALBANY BARRACKS, on the opposite side of the road, are capable of accommodating nearly 2000 troops—for a long time however the complement stationed here seldom exceeded a few companies, and for months together there would not be even a serjeant's guard: but latterly the depots of several regiments have been removed hither: so that there are now often from 1000 to 1500 men at the same time.
Westward of the Barracks, bordering the Yarmouth road, is the extensive tract called PARKHURST FOREST, planted a few years since with oaks and Scotch firs, by order of Government.
PARKHURST PRISON, to the north of the barracks, is an extensive range of buildings, dedicated to the benevolent purpose of reclaiming from infamy, if possible, a large number of juvenile criminals of the male sex.
To accomplish this truly desirable object (as punishment ought certainly to be corrective in the best sense of the word), the boys are regularly instructed by competent tradesmen, in such branches of popular business as may be best suited to their respective capacities: in conjunction with the most approved course of common school-education. Particular attention is likewise paid to the elevation of their moral character, so likely to be permanently influenced by means of impressive friendly admonition, the frequent inculcation and daily observance of religious duties, and the exciting hope of reward for good behaviour in a mitigation of their sentence: in short, by the most encouraging and kind treatment, as far as is compatible with the strictness of prison discipline. None therefore, but the thoroughly incorrigible, can leave the institution without being greatly improved in their habits and dispositions, if not altogether reformed; since Order, Cleanliness, Activity, and Industry, must become almost natural to them by the time they are discharged,—their understandings cultivated, and their minds more or less impressed with the sentiments of virtue and religion.
It would be injudicious to enter in detail on the subject of the routine management, or the particular discipline adopted in the respective wards: as very probably many alterations will be introduced from time to time, as experiment and practice may suggest: and moreover, as a "Report" is annually published by order of Government (at a low price), containing the most minute particulars in every department of the Asylum. For the same reasons we have avoided any description of the architectural plan of the prison, a pretty good idea of which may be formed in passing by on the high-road.—We must however mention one fact that speaks highly favorably of the salutary system adopted, namely, that during the five years from the opening of the institution in 1838, there occurred but two deaths among the boys, though the number averaged about 250 at the same time.
The establishment has been visited by several eminent persons, who, after having particularly examined the course adopted in every department, expressed themselves so well pleased with its management and beneficial tendency, that another building at a short distance was erected in 1843; and altogether there is sufficient room now for 700 or 800 delinquents. No stranger is admitted without an order from the Home Secretary of State.
The newly erected residences of the officers and other parties connected with the prison, barracks, &c., altogether form quite a village, known by the general term of Parkhurst.
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>>The transient visitor here should immediately inquire for the PARADE—pass by the CASTLE on the beach, to the bathing-machines—retrograde by the carriage-road under the NEW CHURCH—mount the hill at the back of the Castle—reach the OLD CHURCH, which is contiguous to NORTHWOOD PARK—and then return, to cross over to E. Cowes.
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The decided advantages of Cowes are ... its excellent shore for bathing—and its safe and commodious harbour—which recommend it strongly as a fashionable watering-place, and the resort of gentlemen fond of aquatic amusements.
The appearance of this town from the water, particularly when approached by the passage from Southampton, is extremely pleasing; as the acclivity of the hill on which it stands is sufficiently bold to admit of the houses being seen above each other, as if built on a succession of terraces, while their starting formality is charmingly relieved by the intervening shrubberies and groups of lofty trees. To a stranger however, who may confine his walk to the streets just where he lands, this favorable impression would be almost obliterated,—for they are both narrow and crowded: though in these respects there is some improvement the further he goes either to the east or the west; but it is near the Castle that he must look for the greatest share of united beauty and respectability. The truth is, the lower part near the quay is of course occupied by tradesmen, for the advantages of business, and convenient landing-places; and as their houses stand at the edge of the water, many parties prefer their lodgings to those in the more open quarters on the top of the hill,—and many of them are therefore elegantly furnished for letting.
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THE PARADE affords a delightful promenade, being on the water's edge. Here are several first-rate houses, standing at the foot of the steepest part of the hill, which is luxuriantly clothed with hanging shrubberies and several groups of majestic trees, presenting a perfectly unique picture of sylvan and marine beauty. The Royal Yacht-Club House, with its ample awning, and the very elegant Gothic villa of Sir John Hippesley, will be particularly noticed.
THE CASTLE stands westward of the Parade: but were it not for a small battery of eleven guns in front, the stranger might search in vain for a fabric which he could identify as "a Castle," at least by any portion of its modernized architecture and surrounding embellishments. In fact, the original dwelling was a few years ago greatly enlarged—made a story higher—the open ground at the back inclosed (!)—with other alterations to render it a fit residence for nobility. It was built by king Henry VIII, about the same time as those at Sandown, Yarmouth, and Calshot, for the purpose of securing the coast against the then frequent attacks of pirates, as well as the more formidable invasions of the French.
Beyond the Castle are the bathing-machines; the villas of Earl Belfast and Lord Grantham; and behind these several others built in various tasty styles, and acquiring a picturesque effect from being more or less screened by the copse-wood on the steep slope at their back. But the chief ornament of this quarter is the new Episcopal chapel, whether viewed near, or from a distance on the water,—being a chastely-elegant structure in the Gothic style, in a most commanding situation: it is private property. Should the stranger feel disposed to extend his walk for about a mile further on the beach, which he would find very agreeable—he will come to a gentleman's residence distinguished by an air of antiquity, named Westcliff, though the neighbourhood is popularly called EGYPT.
We make this remark, because there is a lane close by, which turns up to the high-road from Cowes to Gurnard Bay, and by this road we would recommend the visitor by all means to return, for the sake of the magnificent prospect which it affords, and on the peculiar character of which the permanent attractions of the place so much depend. But to do this justice, the reader must have recourse to his Map. The most prominent objects are Calshot Castle, standing apparently isolated at the mouth of Southampton Water, and the tall tower of Eaglehurst, seated on the neighbouring shore.
By "permanent attractions," we mean, that many landscapes of the most romantic character fail to attract our attention for any considerable time, on repeated visits, if destitute of those ever-varying circumstances which have in some degree the interest of NOVELTY such for instance as the rural, and more particularly the marine prospects of the Isle of Wight; these afford an endless source of amusement to the speculative eye,—whether directed to the soft and gradual changes on the variegated face of Nature under cultivation, or to the more animated, and constantly shifting scene exhibited in a crowded sea-port, or where there are other safe and ample roadsteds for the heaviest ships of war. In these advantages Cowes and Ryde stand pre-eminent.
"Scenes must he beautiful, which daily viewed, Please daily, and whose novelty survives Long knowledge, and the scrutiny of years— Praise justly due to those that I describe"
We are now supposed to have reached the top of the hill, where the old CHURCH is situated: this is a spacious, plain building, having a very tall square tower, as destitute of beauty as anything of the kind can well be: yet as it peers loftily above all the surrounding objects, is a great improvement to the outline of the hill, when viewed from any considerable distance. Contiguous to the crowded cemetery stands ...
NORTHWOOD HOUSE, a large and elegant mansion in the Palladian style of architecture. The PARK is an extensive demesne, and profusely planted; there are however comparatively few of those venerable sylvan honors which constitute the beauty of park-scenery.
On the eastern slope of the hill, where the high-road turns off for Newport, stands WESTHILL, a charming cottage-ornee in the centre of a smooth sloping lawn interspersed with magnificent elms and close shrubberies.—In the environs of Cowes are several other genteel residences: MOOR-HOUSE is distinguished by its Gothic pinnacles and commanding station: and near Gurnard Bay is a pretty retired seat, appropriately called WOOD-VALE.
Besides the two churches, there are Catholic, Independent, and Wesleyan chapels. There are three large Hotels (see the List), and several minor places of good accommodation; reading-rooms, a Mechanics' Institution, &c.
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>> The town itself has nothing to interest a stranger: but in the vicinity are several first-rate seats and marine villas—the most distinguished being OSBORNE, NORRIS, and EAST COWES CASTLE.
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This little town is separated from West Cowes by the river Medina, which here joins the sea. From the unexpected concurrence of various favorable circumstances, it is looking-up to be a place of some importance: the value of property has already considerably advanced, and trade in general improved. It has one good Hotel, several respectable lodging-houses: a neat episcopalian church, and an Independent chapel. Having a large shipwright's yard, and a number of marine stores, wharfs, &c., where merchant-ships lie alongside to take in or unload their cargoes, it often exhibits much of the bustling appearance of a sea-port town. There is a private landing-place near the ferry, for the accommodation of Her Majesty. The Custom-house has been removed to the other side of the harbour.
The immediate neighbourhood of East Cowes has long been extremely beautiful, from being almost entirely covered with charming seats and villas, whose luxuriant groves and shrubberies give the scenery an uncommonly rich effect: and her Majesty having made this part of the island her marine residence, it now possesses a proud distinction in point of interest with the British public.
A stranger should make his perambulation by first ascending the hill by the old carriage-road, passing several villas (see list) secluded by dense shrubberies and large trees; a circumstance little to be regretted, as their chief boast is the amenity of their location. But through the tall plantations on the right our eye will be delightfully attracted by the picturesque turrets of East Cowes Castle, and the surrounding beautiful grounds. At the pretty lodge-entrance to the castle, the road divides,—the left-hand branch running to Norris, the right to Osborne and Newport; and in about eight or ten minutes' further walk, we can return by the new road through "East Cowes Park."
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The Principal Seats near East Cowes.
OSBORNE, the property of HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY, is entitled, equally from public interest and its own importance, to the first notice under this head.—The situation is everyway eligible for the marine residence of a sovereign of the British Isles: for it commands a most extensive and animated prospect, including Spithead and other naval stations: has a beautiful sea-beach (with a private landing-place); and is sheltered by extensive woods and plantations. The original seat was a plain family mansion surrounded by park-like grounds, which have been extended by the purchase of several farms—including BARTON (whose fine old Elizabethan manor-house has received a complete and judicious reparation): so that the estate is now most conveniently bounded on the west by the high-road from East Cowes to Newport; on the south by a branch of the same road to Ryde; on the east by a sheltered cove called King's Quay (as tradition will have it from the circumstance of King John there concealing himself for a time when opposed by the barons): and on the north-east by the beautiful Solent Channel. Thus compassed by the sea and the best roads in the island, it extends from north to south about two miles and a half, by nearly two miles from east to west; enjoying the most delightful variety of scenery, from the simple picture of rural life to the grandeur of our NAVAL GLORY, and the majesty of the ocean itself.
The quality of the soil differs very considerably; but the worst is well adapted for oak-plantations; and the thorough draining and other improvements now carrying on will make the whole admirably suited for agricultural pursuits, to which H.R.H. the Prince Consort is very partial. A great part of the estate is enclosed by a park-fence; and through the luxuriant woods and undulating grounds, several miles of excellent private carriage-roads have been constructed, much more being in progress.
The PALACE occupies the site of the old house; it is in the Palladian style (which so admirably admits the application to domestic architecture of the most beautiful features of the Grecian orders). Within the ballustrade of its lofty flat roof is a charming promenade in fine weather.
The flag-tower is 107 feet in height, the clock-tower 90, the first terrace-wall 17, and the second 10. The Royal Apartments are contained in the loftiest part of the building—they are handsome and spacious, and standing altogether in advance, command on every side the most uninterrupted views: at the back is the flag-tower, communicating with an open corridor which extends the whole of the north-west face of the building; and on the other side of the tower is the carriage-entrance, opening on pleasure-grounds adorned with the choicest varieties of ornamental shrubs—thriving with a luxuriance which promises well for the appearance of the estate, when the whole shall have been finished. The builder is T. Cubitt, esq.; but the design, we believe, was principally furnished by His Royal Highness Prince Albert himself—whose taste, and knowledge of the fine arts, well qualify him for the undertaking.
As it would be almost impossible to convey by verbal description a correct idea of the general appearance of this noble structure, we beg to refer our readers to the annexed Engraving—and also to the Views of Osborne, recently published in the "Vectis Scenery," and which may be purchased separately at 1s. each.
NORRIS is a noble specimen of the castellated mansion, having been built in imitation of an ancient Norman fabric—massive in its construction, and remarkable for a stern simplicity of style disdaining all minute decoration. From this circumstance, and some of the loftiest towers being enveloped in the most luxuriant ivy, the whole building has so venerable an air of antiquity, even when closely examined, that we can hardly suppose it to be the production of modern days: and enjoying too as it does an uncommonly fine position on the most northern hill of the island, its general aspect is truly magnificent in every point of view. It is scarcely necessary to add, that the castle commands a most interesting marine prospect.
Some of the rooms are of elegant dimensions, and the arrangement of the whole considered good—such indeed might be expected from the reputation of the architect, the late Mr. Wyatt. The stables, &c., are also on a very ample scale, and in the same plain, substantial style as the castle, for which they have not unfrequently been taken by strangers at the first glance.
The grounds are now well timbered: the plantations beautifully dressing the steep slope even to the water's edge. The utmost privacy might be enjoyed, for there is the accommodation of a good landing-place, and a carriage-road thence to the house.
Norris was the property of the late Lord Henry Seymour, who was engaged many years in its construction, and must in the course of a long period have expended immense sums in improvements that may be said to be now buried from our view. After his demise, it was two seasons chosen for the residence of their R.H. the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria (during which time the latter improved remarkably in her health): and has since been purchased on very moderate terms by R. Bell, esq.—who greatly extended the scope of the grounds by fresh purchases of land, especially by some belonging to the Osborne estate—previously to her Majesty's negociating for its possession.
EAST COWES CASTLE, which enjoys a truly enviable site (for it combines an uncommon degree of shelter with the most extensive and animated prospect), is built in the bold style usually termed the Moorish, and has three handsome fronts of varied elevations, with a tasteful diversity of towers, mantled more or less by the most luxuriant ivy, and a great variety of elegant flowering plants. The Conservatory is a splendid addition; and the grounds, though not extensive, are very beautiful.
East Cowes Castle was built by, and continued for many years to be the favorite residence of the late John Nash, esq., and was with him a sort of architectural pet, receiving from time to time such additions and alterations as appeared to be improvements to the general design, or called for on the score of enlarged accommodation; a circumstance certainly not calculated to insure the greatest amount of domestic convenience (as regards the size and arrangement of the rooms), though no doubt contributing largely to the picturesque effect of the exterior. On Mr. Nash's demise it was purchased by Earl Shannon,—and after his death by N. Barwell, esq., who in 1846 sold off all the furniture, and valuable productions of art which adorned this beautiful object of interest to visitors.
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"EAST COWES PARK"
Is the title of a very extensive building speculation, which comprehends above 100 acres of land, lying between Osborne and East Cowes. This tract was a few years back laid out for the erection of a number of elegant villa-residences, each to be surrounded with its garden and shrubbery, yet to command a delightful marine view. Excellent roads were made, having on either side a foot-path, flower-border, and neat iron pallisade; handsome gateways erected; and a pier, botanic garden, and other attractive improvements commenced or projected. The speculation did not however meet the success it merited, and comparatively few houses have as yet been built.
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To which Cowes is principally indebted for its origin and present importance, enjoys a high character for safety as well as convenience: it is used by vessels of heavy tonnage, either in waiting for a favorable wind, or for the purpose of repairing damages sustained at sea; and after stormy weather, is often crowded with ships of various nations, in addition to those registered at the place—this being the port for the whole island.
There are spacious dockyards, patent slips, &c., both at East and West Cowes: at the latter, excellent dry docks. The naval builders have long held a high reputation for skill: several men-of-war were built here during the last century; and of late years numerous beautiful pleasure-yachts, merchantmen, sloops of war, and other vessels—including the Medina, a first-rate steam-ship (lost on the West India passage), and some large steamers for various foreign governments.
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Make Cowes their port of rendezvous: they contribute largely to the maritime gaiety of the place, and give particular classes of tradesmen an extensive share of employment; but the town altogether does not, it is said, derive that degree of fostering patronage from their presence which might be expected. The Royal Thames Yacht-club often make this their summer-station.
Generally takes place in August, and is an exciting source of hilarity with the inhabitants of Cowes, as well as numerous visitors from every part of the island and opposite coast,—should the weather prove favorable at the time. The sailing-matches are now mostly confined to the members of the Royal Yacht-squadrons: and it is to be regretted, that owing to the distance which they sail, and the number of days engaged, comparatively little pleasure is afforded to the mere spectator: there is however usually one day's continued amusement—when sailing and rowing matches for liberal subscription-prizes likewise take place between the local watermen, &c.—excellent bands of music attend,—and in the evening there is a brilliant display of fire-works, both from the shore and from the yachts in various parts of the harbour. On these occasions the appearance of the whole is animated beyond description; and to a person from the country, the exhibition of such a numerous assemblage of the most beautiful vessels in the world must prove a lively gratification, for they are of every size and variety of rig, from the stately ship of 4 or 500 tons burthen down to the yawl of only 10.
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Cowes lies extremely convenient for parties fond of aquatic trips: for which purpose a number of experienced watermen ply excellent boats: they are most frequently engaged in the short and pleasant excursions to Beaulieu, Netley, Southampton (on the opposite coast), and Newport; sometimes to Alum Bay, and even for a voyage round the island.
The bathing here is considered very excellent: particularly so at W. Cowes, from the boldness and pebbly character of the beach, admitting the machines to be put in requisition in all states of the tide,—a very great advantage. There are also hot and other baths for the use of invalids, both at the machines and at certain parts of the town.
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The Road from East Cowes to Ryde.
WHIPPINGHAM CHURCH stands near the second mile-stone, on the ascent of a hill rising from the eastern bank of the Medina: it is perhaps the neatest old ecclesiastical structure in the island, and is frequently attended by her Majesty and Prince Albert when residing at Osborne. Close by are the Parsonages and PADMORE HOUSE, embosomed in groves, and commanding an extensive prospect—the nearest object on the opposite side of the river being the ancient though plain church of Northwood. Altogether this is a very pleasing rural spot, and to visit it will make the difference of only a few minutes in diverging from the regular road.
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Here we pass over an inlet of the sea, indifferently called Fishbourne Creek or Wootton River; the cottages border the road on either side, and have a remarkably clean and comfortable appearance. There are also a few good houses: the Parsonage, though rather secluded, enjoys a charming marine prospect; and Kite-hill will be known by its antique aspect and screen of lofty firs. But the pride of the place is FERNHILL, a first-rate seat: the house is built in the light Gothic style, and stands at the head of an extensive lawn sloping to the water, interspersed with groups of trees and flourishing plantations.
We shall often see the prospect-tower of Fernhill peering above the masses of variegated foliage; and indeed the whole has much the air of a religious structure, enjoying one of those happy localities which distinguished such retreats of former days. The opposite banks of the river, or rather lake, are clothed with the finest oak-woods in the island, feathering from the very water's edge; and the whole neighbourhood presents the rich appearance of an extensive forest covering hill and dale. Should therefore the visitor reach this spot at the favorable concurrence of high water on a calm sunny day, he will agree with us that the whole forms a splendid landscape,—rock being in fact the only feature denied to make it perfect.
Excellent roads have recently been made (by the proprietor of the estate,) on the west side of the river, below the bridge: affording a very pleasant drive; and as they open many delightful sites, will probably cause a considerable accession of buildings in that direction.
At the mouth of the creek on the east side is a large hamlet called FISHHOUSE, including a dockyard, where several frigates have been built.
WOOTTON COMMON is a mile nearer Newport: and affords an instance within a few years of a wild tract of gorse and brambles being profitably converted to tillage and garden. Here too are several scattered dwellings forming an improving hamlet; and in one of them (called in courtesy Landscape Cottage,) was produced in all its stages the present little work, as well as its other kindred publications.
About midway between Wootton and Ryde, on the sea side of the road, we pass the remains of
The most considerable ecclesiastical establishment ever founded in the Isle of Wight, which had, like every other part of Great Britain, previous to the Reformation, its full share of monastic and other religious institutions. This was among the first settlements of the Cistercian Order in England, having been built in the 12th century; was most amply endowed, and had several illustrious persons buried in the chapel, to whose memory sumptuous monuments were erected; but after its dissolution, the property was purchased by a merchant of Southampton, and the sacred edifice reduced for the value of the bare materials.
The merchant's son afterwards sold the estate to the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Thomas Fleming, with whose descendants it still remains. Some of the outer walls are still extant, and must have circumscribed at least 20 acres. A foot-path passes through the grounds to Ryde, &c.
Of this once-magnificent establishment little now remains; merely portions of the appendant offices, which were converted into barns, &c., for farm-purposes. What was spared in the moment of ruthless spoliation, lay long buried under heaps of rubbish and weeds—till a few years since, when one of the occupiers, with laudable zeal, rescued from total annihilation the few remaining fragments, which are now open to the view of strangers.
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The other Religious Structures
Scattered through the island were ... a Priory at St. Helen's; one at Appuldurcombe; one at St. Cross, near Newport; and another at Carisbrooke, vestiges of which may still be traced; together with a great number of oratories, chantries, chapels, and religious houses, amounting in the whole to 70 or 80, exclusive of the regular parish-churches;—and yet scarcely any of these interesting monuments have survived their reckless doom to ruin and neglect; not even a spiry fragment sufficiently large or romantic to form a pleasing subject for the pencil, invite the mind to contemplation, or aid the poet's retrospective muse.
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BINSTEAD, to which there is a good foot-path from Quarr through the woods, is about a mile westward of Ryde. Several genteel residences, mostly built in a pleasing cottage-style, adorned by groups of trees and shrubs, are scattered over a wide space of broken ground, where extensive stone-quarries have been worked for many centuries. It is a favorite walk with the inhabitants of Ryde, across the fields to the church (not seen from the road), which has lately been considerably enlarged and improved. The names of the respective villas will be found in the List of Seats.