Towns on the Isle of Wight
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The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is located in the English Channel, about 4 mi (6 km) off the coast of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by the Solent. The island has several resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times.
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 including boat building, sail making, the manufacture of flying boats, the world’s first hovercraft, and the testing and development of Britain’s space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including Bestival and the Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was the largest rock music event ever held. The island has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.
The Isle of Wight was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and was earlier a kingdom in its own right. It was part of Hampshire until 1890 when it became an independent administrative county. It shared a Lord Lieutenant with Hampshire until 1974, when it was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan ceremonial county, giving it its own Lord Lieutenant. Apart from a shared police force, there is now no formal administrative link between the Isle of Wight and Hampshire. In the 1970s, there was a political movement seeking the status of Crown Dependency.
The quickest public transport link to the mainland is to and from Southsea (Portsmouth) by hovercraft, while five ferry services shuttle across the Solent from Southampton, Lymington and Portsmouth.
There are theories that, during the Neolithic era, Bouldnor was a busy seaport that supported trade with the Middle East, as wheat was present there 8,000 years ago, hundreds of years before it is known to have grown anywhere in Europe.
Bronze and Iron Age
The Isle of Wight is first mentioned in writing in Geography by Ptolemy. Bronze Age Britain had large reserves of tin in the areas of Cornwall and Devon and tin is necessary to smelt bronze. At that time the sea level was much lower and carts of tin were brought across the Solent at low tide for export, possibly on the Ferriby Boats. Anthony Snodgrass suggests that a shortage of tin, as a part of the Bronze Age collapse and trade disruptions in the Mediterranean around 1300 BC, forced metalworkers to seek an alternative to bronze. During the Late Iron Age of Britain the Isle of Wight would appear to have been occupied by the Celtic Durotriges tribe – as attested by finds of their coins, for example, the South Wight Hoard, and the Shalfleet Hoard. Southeastern Britain experienced significant immigration from the continent that is reflected in the genetic makeup of the current residents. As the Iron Age began the value of tin likely dropped sharply and this likely greatly changed the economy of the Isle of Wight. Trade however continued as evidenced by the remarkable local abundance of European Iron Age coins.
Caesar reported that the Belgae took the Isle of Wight in about 85 BC and named it Ictus (or Vectis). The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the entire island was captured by the commander Vespasian, who later became emperor.
The remains of at least five Roman villas have been found on the island, including one that is now submerged near Gurnard.
Jutish and Saxon era
In 685 the island was invaded by Cædwalla of Wessex. Bede reports that Caedwalla “endeavoured to destroy all the inhabitants” and replace them with his own followers. Resistance to the invasion was led by the local King Arwald; after he was defeated and slain in 686, the island became the last part of the English lands to be converted to Christianity.
After Alfred the Great (who reigned 871–899) made the West Saxon kings the kings of all England, it became administratively part of England. The island was then part of the shire of Hampshire and divided into hundreds as was the norm. From this time the island suffered especially from Viking raids. Alfred the Great’s navy defeated the Danes in 871, after they had “ravaged Devon and the Isle of Wight.”
Later middle ages
The Norman conquest of England created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight. Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle were founded. The island did not come under full control of the Crown until it was sold by the dying last Norman lord, Isabel de Forz, suo jure 8th Countess of Devon, to Edward I of England in 1293.
On 20 April 1313, the ship St. Marie was wrecked in Chale Bay, its cargo of wine plundered by local landowners. This led to the construction of St. Catherine’s Oratory as penance for the crime.
In 1374, the fleet of the Crown of Castile, led by Fernando Sánchez de Tovar, sacked and burned the island.
The Lordship thereafter became a royal appointment. It is sometimes said that there was a brief interruption when Henry 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 supposedly expired on the death of the Duke in 1446. But there is no good evidence for this story, and it is considered baseless.
The French invasion of the Isle of Wight of 21 July 1545 was rapidly repulsed by local militia. English ships were engaged in battle with the French navy, and it was two days earlier, on 19 July, that the Mary Rose was sunk.
Early modern period
Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its permanent base at Portsmouth, fortified the island at Yarmouth, Cowes, East Cowes, and Sandown.
During the English Civil War King Charles fled to the Isle of Wight, believing he would receive sympathy from the governor, Robert Hammond. Hammond imprisoned the king in Carisbrooke Castle.
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 was 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, and Charles Dickens (who wrote much of David Copperfield there), as well as the French painter Berthe Morisot and members of European royalty. Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, aged 81.
During her reign, the world’s first radio station was set up by Marconi in 1897 at the Needles Battery, at the western tip of the island.
During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to France the island had a number of observation stations and transmitters, as well as the RAF radar station at Ventnor. It 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 of Wight Festival
The Isle of Wight Festival was a very large rock festival that took place near Afton Down, West Wight in 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 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.
Isle of Wight NEIGHBOURS
English Channel < Isle of Wight > English Channel