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Isle Of Wight, UK

 

The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest and second-most populous island of England. It is in the English Channel, between two and five miles off the coast of Hampshire, from which it is separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines. The island is part of the historic county of Southampton (or Southamptonshire). It is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

 

The island has been home to the poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Alfred, Lord Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. It has a maritime and industrial tradition including boat-building, sail-making, the manufacture of flying boatshovercraft, and Britain's space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, which in 1970 was the largest rock music event ever held. It has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe. The island has played an important part in the defence of the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, and been near the front-line of conflicts through the ages, including the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain. Rural for most of its history, its Victorian fashionability and the growing affordability of holidays led to significant urban development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically part of Southampton, the island became a separate administrative county in 1890. It continued to share the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire until 1974, when it was made its own ceremonial county. 

Apart from a shared police force and fire and rescue service, and the island's Anglican churches belonging to the Diocese of Portsmouth (originally Winchester), there is now no administrative link with Hampshire; although a combined local authority with Portsmouth and Southampton was considered, this is now unlikely to proceed. The quickest public transport link to the mainland is the hovercraft from Ryde to Southsea; three vehicle ferry and two catamaran services cross the Solent to SouthamptonLymington and Portsmouth.

Geography

The Isle of Wight is situated between the Solent and the English Channel, is roughly rhomboid in shape, and covers an area of 150 sq miles (380 km2). Slightly more than half, mainly in the west, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The island has 100 sq miles (258 km2) of farmland, 20 sq miles (52 km2) of developed areas, and 57 miles (92 km) of coastline. Its landscapes are diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description as "England in miniature". In June 2019 the whole island was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, recognising the sustainable relationships between its residents and the local environment. 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. The southwestern quarter is commonly referred to as the Back of the Wight, and has a unique character. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down in the south east, which at 241 m (791 ft) is a marilyn.The most notable habitats on the rest of the island are probably the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are scenic features, important for wildlife, and internationally protected. The island has three principal rivers. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, the Eastern Yar flows roughly northeast to Bembridge Harbour, and the Western Yar flows the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. Without human intervention the sea might well have split the island into three: at the west end where a bank of pebbles separates  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 Eastern Yar basin. The Undercliff between St Catherine's Point and Bonchurch is the largest area of landslip morphology in western Europe.

The north coast is unusual in having four high tides each day, with a double high tide every twelve and a half hours. This arises because the western Solent is narrower than the eastern; the initial tide of water flowing from the west starts to ebb before the stronger flow around the south of the island returns through the eastern Solent to create a second high water.

19th Century - Present Day

In the 1860s, what remains in real terms the most expensive ever government spending project saw fortifications built on the island and in the Solent, as well as elsewhere along the south coast, including the Palmerston FortsThe Needles Batteries and Fort Victoria, because of fears about possible French invasion.

The future Queen Victoria spent childhood holidays on the island and became fond of it. When queen she made Osborne House her winter home, and so the island became a fashionable holiday resort, including for Alfred, Lord TennysonJulia 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's bathing machine, is preserved at Queen Victoria's Beach east of Osborne House. Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, at the age of 81.

Until the queen's example, the island had been rural, with most people employed in farming, fishing or boat-building. The boom in tourism, spurred by growing wealth and leisure time, and by Victoria's presence, led to significant urban development of the island's coastal resorts. As one report summarizes, "The Queen’s regular presence on the island helped put the Isle of Wight 'on the map' as a Victorian holiday and wellness destination and her former residence Osborne House is now one of the most visited attractions on the island[49] While on the island, the queen used a bathing machine that could be wheeled into the water on Osborne Beach; inside the small wooden hut she could undress and then bathe, without being visible to others. Her machine had a changing room and a WC with plumbing. The refurbished machine is now displayed at the beach. On 14 January 1878, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated an early version of the telephone to the queen, placing calls to Cowes, Southampton and London. These were the first publicly-witnessed long distance telephone calls in the UK. The queen tried the device and considered the process to be "quite extraordinary" although the sound was "rather faint". She later asked to buy the equipment that was used, but Bell offered to make "a set of telephones" specifically for her.

 

The world's first radio station was set up by Guglielmo Marconi in 1897, during her reign, at the Needles Battery, at the western tip of the island. A 168-foot (51 m) high mast was erected near the Royal Needles Hotel, as part of an experiment of communicating with ships at sea. That location is now the site of the Marconi Monument. In 1898 the first paid wireless telegram (called a "Marconigram") was sent from this station, and the island was for some time the home of the National Wireless Museum, near Ryde. During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to German-occupied France, the island hosted 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 Europe after the Normandy landings. The Needles Battery was used to develop and test the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, which were subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.

 

The Isle of Wight Festival was a very large rock festival that took place near Afton Down, West Wight in August 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 1970 show was notable both as one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees, reaching by some estimates 600,000. The festival was revived in 2002 in a different format, and is now an annual event.

On 26 October 2020 an oil tanker the Nave Andromeda, suspected to have been hijacked by Nigerian stowaways, was stormed south east of the island by the Special Boat Service. Seven people believed to be Nigerians seeking UK asylum were handed over to Hampshire Police.

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