The May Meeting 2017
The Isle of Wight - Ron Bavin
President David Richardson introduced Ron Bavin who called his presentation ’The Nostalgic Isle’ since many of us present were of an age when, for honeymoons/children’s holidays and more, this popular destination was the nearest many came to ‘going abroad’.
The Island is the largest and second most populous island in England and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery and green landscape. Its maritime and industrial traditions include boat building, the hovercraft and international sailing events and even at one time the manufacture of flying boats. Uffa Fox, the internationally known yachtsman, is buried in the churchyard of St Mildred’s at Wippingham. This church was designed by Prince Albert for his wife Queen Victoria, as a burial place, however she was actually interred in London.
Because of time constraints Ron was only able to give a brief account of the Island’s history. However, it was fascinating to learn that the Island became the Island it is today around 7,000years ago when sea levels rose a massive 200 ft as the great ice sheets of the Ice Age melted and first separated the British Isles from Europe. The powerful meltwater then drove floods through the Solent River which breached the ridge of chalk that had connected this now island to the mainland.
He then went on to look at the history of the Island which goes back to the time before it achieved island status. The Wealden Clay shows evidence of Dinosaurs inhabiting the area and bones dating back 100 - 125 million years have been found belonging to fifteen different species - one of which appears to be unique to the Island When the tide is right Dinosaur footprints can still, to this day, be seen at Compton Bay. There is evidence of the Island being inhabited from the earliest Neolithic times with Bronze Age Burial Mounds on the chalk downs both at Brook and Chillerton.
The Romans may never have established a garrison on the Island but they enjoyed living there as the climate was gentle and the soil similar in parts to that of Europe from whence they came. They gave the island the Latin name Vectis which is still in current use and is the name of the island bus company. They also planted vines and the vineyards currently produce many popular wines. There is an excellent Romano –British farmhouse at Newport dating back to around 280AD and a beautiful Roman Villa at Brading which was developed around 50 AD and which has a mosaic floor still in reasonable condition. This is one of the country’s finest Romano – British sites. In Roman times Brading was a sheltered port, though today it is inland.
The Normans, following the Saxons and Vikings, conquered the country after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and founded Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle. It was here during the English Civil War that King Charles I, fleeing to the Isle of Wight for safety, was actually imprisoned in the castle.
Henry VIII, fearing the military strength of the French and the possibility of invasion, developed the Royal Navy and its Portsmouth base and fortifications were also built on the island at Yarmouth, East Cowes and Sandown.
In the 1820’s the future Queen Victoria enjoyed childhood holidays on the Island. As Queen she made Osborne House her winter home and the Island subsequently became a fashionable holiday resort. Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived there. Edward Elgar honeymooned in Ventnor, Charles Dickens visited the Island and Karl Marx went there to recuperate after a long illness. Towards the end of Victoria’s reign the world’s first radio station was set up by Marconi in 1897 at the Needles Battery.
During WW2 the close proximity of the Island to German occupied France, its geography and its situation by the English Channel made it the ideal place for radar installations particularly on Niton Downs and at Ventnor. Observation stations and radio transmitters, which were important for ship to shore communications, were also installed. When the invasion of Europe was being planned Shanklin Pier became the starting point for Operation Pluto [Pipeline under the Ocean] in which a pipeline to carry petrol was rolled out on the sea bed to surface again on the invasion beaches of Normandy. The derelict ice-cream shops as well as other holiday attractions in Shanklin were used as camouflage to hide the pumping installations for the delivery of the petrol. One curious offshoot of the war concerns the garlic plant as the Free French and resistance fighters used to fly Lysanders to occupied France and fly the bulbs back with them. They grew well and today the growing of garlic is a thriving business and now many years later it is exported to France.
Later the Needles battery was used to develop and test the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets and the Hovercraft with its many military uses was developed here. They are still in regular passenger service between Southsea and the Island.
One of the Island’s most ancient boroughs was Newtown, situated on a large natural harbour, which originally sent 2 MP’s to London. However by 1832 the town had few inhabitants and now has only a Town Hall but no shops. The harbour is important as it has a huge bird sanctuary and is a major wintering ground for Lapwings and other birds that migrate from the North. It was also important before refrigeration as water from the receding tide could be trapped in small brick holdings. When the water evaporated salt deposits were then collected and sent to Portsmouth as a food preservative.
Ron went on to tell us about some of the myths and legends associated with the Island beginning with the village of Godshill. All Saints Church on top of the hill dates from the 14th Century but the villagers wanted to rebuild the Church at the bottom of the hill. They moved the stones down to the bottom of the hill only to awake the next morning to find them moved back to the top of the hill. This went on for a few more nights when the villagers agreed to rebuild at the top of the hill. They also agreed to honour the miracle by calling the village Gods Hill. The natural spring at Whittle was reputed to be able to cure many illnesses and conditions provided those who were ill had led an exemplary life. The village then became known as Whitson Well and finally Whitewell.
Rudyard Kipling is reputed to have described the oldest profession on the Island as smuggling. The Chale Churchyard has all the crew of the Clarendon which was wrecked offshore in 1856 buried there and this prompted changes in the law. However, In more recent times in July 2002 six men were arrested over a drugs haul which involved lobster pots loaded with cocaine being inadvertently found in the harbour in Yarmouth.
Quarr Abbey is a monastery between the villages of Binstead and Fishbourne and belongs to the Catholic Order of St Benedict. It is considered to be one of the most important religious structures in the U.K. The site has been occupied by religious orders since medieval times. Fewer than a dozen monks now maintain the regular monastic life and they also produce their own very high quality ale.
When answering questions Ron replied to Dennis Strudwick that many the islanders do not want a bridge or a tunnel connecting them to the mainland. Such ideas have been around for some time and keep cropping up. These structures would be difficult and expensive to construct and costly to maintain. In particular a bridge would need to be high enough to allow modern day cruise liners to pass underneath and high tolls would be necessary to use these crossings. Physical isolation from the mainland has its advantages, for example the red squirrel thrives on the island as there are no grey squirrels. Further foot and mouth disease is less prevalent. The Granville Fritillary, a rare species of butterfly, is found on the Island. To Rodney Murray-Jones he replied that the Island has a history of producing good quality wines and the vineyards producing the best and award winning wines are to be found just outside Ryde.
Mike Wise thanked Ron for a very interesting and informative talk. He found the talk very evocative as his family comes from the Island and many memories had been provoked including those of his great grandfather who was head gardener to Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
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