Isle of Wight : Chineland
Saturday 18th November 2017

Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is roughly diamond-shaped and covers an area of 380 km2. Slightly more than half of the island, mainly in the west, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The island has 258 km2 of farmland, 52 km2 of developed areas, and 57 miles of coastline. The landscape of the island is diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of “England in Miniature”. West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the chalk downland ridge, running across the whole island and ending in the Needles stacks – perhaps the most photographed place on the Isle of Wight. The south western quarter is commonly referred to as the Back of the Wight because it has a unique social and historical background. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down, at 241 metres (791 ft), which is a Marilyn (a mountain or hill).

The rest of the Island’s landscape also has great diversity, with perhaps the most notable habitats being the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are scenic features and also very important for wildlife, and are internationally protected. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the Eastern Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at BembridgeHarbour at the eastern end of the island. There is another river in the west of the island called the Western Yar, flowing the short distance from FreshwaterBay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth.

The south coast of the island borders the English Channel. Without man’s intervention the sea might well have split the island into three; at the west end where a bank of pebbles separates Freshwater Bay from the marshy backwaters of the Western Yar east of Freshwater, and at the east end where a thin strip of land separates Sandown Bay from the marshy basin of the Eastern Yar, east of Sandown. Yarmouth itself was effectively an island, only connected to the rest of the island by a regularly breached neck of land immediately east of the town.

The Isle of Wight is one of the few places in England where the red squirrel is flourishing, with a stable population (BrownseaIsland in nearby PooleHarbour is another). Unlike most of England, no grey squirrels are to be found on the island, and there are occasional sightings of wild deer. Rare and protected species such as the dormouse and many rare bats can be found. The Glanville Fritillary butterfly’s distribution in the United Kingdom is largely restricted to the edges of the crumbling cliffs of the Isle of Wight. A competition in 2002 named the Pyramidal Orchid as the Isle of Wight’s county flower.

The island has one of the most important areas in Europe for dinosaur fossils. The eroding cliffs often reveal previously hidden remains particularly along the region known as the Back of the Wight.

The ancient Romans knew the Isle of Wight as Vectis, is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 3 to 5 mi (5 to 8 km) off the coast of Hampshire, separated from Great Britain (referred to by its residents as “the Mainland”) by a strait called the Solent. It has the distinction of being England’s smallest county – but for only half of the time. It has been calculated that during high tide Wight’s area is slightly less than that of Rutland, but not during low tide. The island has many resorts which have been holiday destinations since Victorian times.

Its rich history includes a brief status as an independent kingdom in the 15th century. Until 1995, like Jersey and Guernsey, the island had a Governor.

Home to the poets Swinburne and Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes, the island has a maritime and industrial tradition such as boat building, sail making, the manufacture of flying boats, the world’s first hovercraft and the testing and development of Britain’s space rockets.

Early history

The Isle of Wight is first mentioned in writing in Geography by Claudius Ptolemaeus.

The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the entire island was captured by the commander Vespasian, who later became emperor. The remains of at least 5 Roman villas have been found on the island, including one near  Gurnard which is submerged.

At the end of the Roman Empire, the island of Vectis became a JutishKingdom ruled by King Stuf and his successors until AD 661 when it was invaded by Wulfhere of Mercia and forcibly converted to Christianity at sword point. When he left for Mercia the islanders reverted to paganism.

In AD 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla of Wessex and can be considered to have become part of Wessex. In 686, at Caedwalla’s insistence, it became the last part of England to convert to Christianity. Following Alfred the Great’s reign (871 – 899) making of the West Saxon kings the kings of all England, it then became part of England. The island became part of the shire of Hampshire and was divided into hundreds as was the norm. From this time the island suffered especially from Viking predations. Alfred the Great’s navy defeated the Danes in 871 after they had “ravaged Devon and the Isle of Wight”.

Middle Ages

The Norman Conquest created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight. Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of CarisbrookeCastle were founded. The island did not come under full control of the Crown until it was sold by the dying last Norman Lord, Lady Isabella de Fortibus, to Edward I in 1293.

In 1374, the Castilian fleet, led by Fernán Sánchez de Tovar, the 1st Lord of Belves, sacked and burned the island.

The Lordship thereafter became a royal appointment, with a brief interruption when Henry de Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick was in 1444 crowned King of the Isle of Wight, with King Henry VI assisting in person at the ceremony, placing the crown on his head. With no male heir, the regal title expired on the death of Henry de Beauchamp in 1446.

Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its permanent base at Portsmouth, fortified the island at Yarmouth, Cowes, East Cowes, and Sandown. Much later, after the Spanish Armada in 1588, the threat of Spanish attacks remained and the outer fortifications of CarisbrookeCastle were built between 1597 and 1602.

During the English Civil War King Charles (who was meant to be their leader) fled to the Isle of Wight, believing he would receive sympathy from the governor, Robert Hammond. Hammond was appalled, and imprisoned the king in CarisbrookeCastle. Charles had originally intended to flee to Jersey, but became lost in the New Forest and missed the boat.

During the Seven Years War, the Island was used as a staging post for British troops departing on expeditions against the French coast such as the Raid on Rochefort. During 1759 with a planned French invasion imminent, a large force of soldiers were kept there so they could be moved at speed to any destination on the Southern English coast. The French called off their invasion following the Battle of Quiberon Bay. A later French invasion plan involved a landing on the Isle of Wight.

Queen Victoria made Osborne House on the Isle of Wight her summer home for many years and, as a result, it became a major holiday resort for fashionable Victorians including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Dickens (who wrote much of David Copperfield there) as well as the French painter Berthe Morisot and members of European royalty.

During her reign, in 1897, the world’s first radio station was set up by Marconi, at the Needles Battery, at the western tip of the island.

The Isle of Wight was part of Hampshire until 1890 when it became an independent administrative county. Until 1974 it continued to share the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire when it was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan ceremonial county which gives its own Lord Lieutenant and recognised as a postal county.

The island has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe. It also has numerous Chines including the well know Blackgang and Shanklin Chines.

More recent times

During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to France the island also had a number of observation stations and transmitters, and was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to the Normandy landings.

The Needles battery was used as the site for testing and development of the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.

The Isle hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight International Jazz Festival, Bestival and the recently revived Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was the largest rock music event ever held. This 1970 show was notable both for being one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees reaching, by many estimates, 600,000. The festival was revived in 2002 in a different format and is now an annual event.

Its quickest access from Great Britain is from Southsea (Portsmouth) by hovercraft. Four main ferries shuttle across the Solent: the route from Southampton to Cowes is 10 miles (16 km), Portsmouth to Ryde 3 miles (7 km), Portsmouth to Fishbourne 7 miles (11 km), and Lymington to Yarmouth 3.5 miles (5.6 km).

Courtesy Wikipedia

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