Spacious, warm and bright.
Where the island’s lords and ladies
Danced all thro’ the night.
But then the boggarts and the brownies
And elves, in they came.
Took over the mansion
Now things aren’t the same.
It’s dark and it’s gloomy.
The humans have fled.
It’s a fine house no longer.
It’s Rumpus instead!"
- cited from transcript at jbonline.org.uk/blackgangchine
One of the highlights of the Blackgang Chine amusement park (see Blackgang Chine, March 2015) is "Rumpus Mansion", a walk-through 'haunted house' based on the premise that a mansion has been taken over by supernatural creatures. Dating from 1993, it isn't a naff 'ghost train' setup with gory things jumping out at you; introduced by doggerel, most of the denizens of the house are more quaint than malign, and its tableaux are witty and creative, with clever use of occasional animation and Pepper's Ghost transformations.
|Someone knows their Isle of Wight history - this reclining knight's tomb appears to be |
strongly inspired by that of Sir John Oglander in St Mary's Church, Brading (see Flickr).
At this point, it's worth looking at the National Library of Scotland's excellent side-by-side georeferenced map viewer, which lets you compare the modern geography with the 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey map. Currently, you can walk from the Blackgang Chine car park down past the old coastguard cottages and a little down the southward road to where it's now securely fenced-off. A bridge over the road joins the main theme park to the upper sections that include Rumpus Mansion. Click here to explore.
|National Library of Scotland Map Images|
Low-resolution screenshot for non-commercial illustration purposes
Southview and Southlands). It was also, historically, handily situated just off the main road between Niton and Chale (the now-inaccessible broken section that has been called 'the lost road').
I haven't found a precise date for its building, but it's recognisably in the style of the many villas built in the 1830s-40s as part of the speculative housing boom on the south coast of the Island (see Nooks and crannies - an ill-fated housing boom). The earliest reference I can readily find is for 1840 ...
Charles Peterson, esquire of Harpsfield Hall, Herts but now residing at Five Rock Cottage p. Chale I.W.... which makes it more or less contemporaneous with the Blackgang Chine Hotel, built in 1837 (ref: advert, Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, March 18, 1837) and pre-dating Alexander Dabell's development of Blackgang Chine as an attraction from 1842 onward. There's a nice description of it in an 1856 property ad:
- National Archives, ELD87/38/5/32
ISLE OF WIGHT, AT THE UNDERCLIFF, RESIDENCE WITH GARDENS, PLEASURE GROUNDS AND PADDOCKA quick skim of 19th century newspapers finds the occupancy history to be quite a lengthy saga that I'm not terribly inclined to pursue, but it sums up as a mix of the rich and the entrepreneurial types who tended to gravitate to the area. The abovementioned Charles Peterson, for instance, who had recovered from being declared an insolvent debtor in 1848 (ref: The Jurist, Volume 11, Part 2, 1848, page 336), and who by 1855 had moved to a similar villa, Low Cliff, took out an 1854 patent for ...
To be SOLD by AUCTION, by MR. FRANCIS PITTIS, at the Blackgang Hotel, at Chale, on Monday, the 25th of August, 1856, at Three o’clock in the Afternoon, the pretty Villa RESIDENCE known as “Five Rocks Cottage” situate at Chale, a short distance from the sea, and surrounded by the most beautiful and romantic scenery of the Undercliff.
The House is substantially built of Stone, and comprises on the basement, drawing and dining rooms, kitchen, glass closet, scullery, pantry, and offices. On the first floor, three bed rooms and dressing room. On the top floor, three bed rooms. A court yard with 2-stall stable, carriage house, wood and coal house, &c. Delightful pleasure grounds, kitchen garden, and paddock, walled in.
The Property is a short distance from the Blackgang Hotel, and is bounded by the high road.
There are Coaches passing several times in the day during the summer months.
Any Gentleman requiring a Marine Residence, of moderate pretensions, and to kept up at a small outlay, should View this Property. It is held under a Lease for Three Lives, now aged 56, 30 and 21 years or thereabouts, at a rent of 15l. Per annum, and renewable on the dropping of each life, on payment of a fine of 30l. To View, apply to Mr. DABELL, Chale.
Particulars may be obtained of the Auctioneer, Newport, Isle of Wight, or of MESSRS. WING & DU CANE, Gray’s Inn, London.
- Advertisements & Notices, Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Saturday, August 16, 1856; Issue 2967, 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
2500. Charles Peterson, of Low Cliff, Chale, in the Isle of Wight, esquire, for an invention for "The application of a new vegetable substance to the manufacture of textile fabrics, and pulp for paper, card-board, papier-mache', and similar purposes." Letters Patent sealed.... this plant material being the inner lining of the bark of the "seatree mallow" (Lavatera arborea) - see page 123, Patents for Inventions. Abridgments of Specifications, 1858. This is not as weird as it sounds: see page 253, On the Manufacture of Hemp and Paper from the Lavatera arborea. By Mr. Robert Plunkett. The Journal of the Royal Dublin Society, Volume II, No.14, July 1859. Then as now, correlation of patent applications doesn't seem wildly efficient; Plunkett patented what seems to be exactly the same idea Peterson came up with three years previously.
- page 151, Chronological index of patents applied for and patents granted [afterw.] of patentees and applicants for patents of invention, Patent Office, 1855
Peterson, incidentally, is named as Captain Peterson in the 1855 Post Office Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Dorsetshire; (according to his memorial inscription, he had been a captain of the 11th Hussars). His "cottage" Low Cliff is at centre left of this Brannon print (origin unknown, but reproduced in the paper Geotechnical Study Area G8: Blackgang Landslide, Ventnor Undercliff, Isle of Wight, UK from www.risknat.org.
ISLE OF WIGHT... and no source I can find mentions "Five Rocks" and "Rockside". Under the latter name it appears in The Fashionable List (a weekly directory of who of significance was living where) in the Isle of Wight Observer in 1872-74, but by the end of the 19th century it had stabilised to Five Rocks.
Freehold Marine Residence, on the South West Coast, with possession.
MESSRS. FRANCIS PITTIS AND SON are instructed by the Trustees of the will of the late J.F. Campbell, Esq., to sell by Auction, at the Blackgang Hotel, on Thursday, July 16th, 185, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the attractive Freehold Villa RESIDENCE, known as “Rockside,” delightfully situate at Blackgang, a short distance from the celebrated Chine, commanding extensive sea and coast views, and in the midst of the most beautiful scenery of the Undercliff. The house is substantially built, and contains two reception and seven bedrooms and offices, a 2-stall stable and coach-house. The surroundings of about 4a. 13r. 38p. Are tastefully disposed in pleasure grounds, gardens and paddock.
Possession will be given on completion of the purchase.
For cards to view apply to the Auctioneers.
Particulars and conditions of sale may be obtained at the Auction Mart, London; the place of sale; of Mr. Creeth, builder, Niton; the Auctioners, Newport, Sandown, Shanklin, and Ventnor; or of Messrs. Wing and Ducane, Solicitors, Grays Inn, London, W.C.
- IWCP, Saturday, June 20, 1885, page 4 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive archive.iwcp.co.uk).
The villa maintained its manorial style of occupancy well into the 20th century. One distinctive resident was Dr Armstrong, Medical Officer of the St. Catherine's Lighthouse Establishment (ref: page 27, Niesbet's Medical Directory, 1908):
Our Doctor at this time was Doctor Armstrong, a Scottish doctor with a slight stammer. He lived at a house called 'Five Rocks', quite secluded, behind a screen of dark fir trees next to what used to be Blackgang Coastguard Station. He had a very fine collection of Island prints, all in neat black frames on the walls of the hall at 'Five Rocks'. I can see him now, not a very big man, with what used to be called a Norfolk jacket and hat to match, with sturdy leather leggings to protect him from the splashes when he got off the beaten track push-starting his Douglas motorcycle.And there was Wing-Commander Herbert George Edward Greville, a 1914-18 war veteran whose life at Five Rocks was archetypal Establishment, as described in his obituary:
On the carrier of the motorbike firmly strapped on, was his little Gladstone leather bag. The road past Windy corner had not slipped away at this time, so he could get through to Niton pretty easily. He later changed to a -Bull-nosed Morris, which was much better for him. He was never known to ail. On being asked why this was, he expressed the opinion that the bugs ate one another so leaving him unscathed! I feel that his modest bills were not always promptly paid as money was short in those days with some of his patients.
- It Used to be Like this: Reminiscences of Life at Castlehaven, Niton, Isle of Wight, in the Early 1900's, George R Haynes, Isle of Wight Teachers’ Centre, 1984 (quoted in Some facets of Isle of Wight Medical History by Alan Champion, iwhistory.com).
From London the family came to reside at Five Rocks, Blackgang, in 1939, and remained for a period of 20 years. During this time Mr. Greville took a keen interest in the life of the village and was a member of St. Andrew’s Parish Church congregation and for some time a church warden. A member of the British Legion and a Parish Councillor, Mr. Greville was also an active member of the Conservative Association and was on its panel of speakers. At the outbreak of the 1939-1945 war he joined the Home Guard, and his home at Five Rocks was used for storing the unit’s armoury.
- IWCP, Saturday, February 7, 1970, page 12 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive archive.iwcp.co.uk).Finally, there's a possible small literary connection for Five Rocks. A number of accounts mention that the American author Wolcott Balestier stayed at Blackgang with his family shortly before his death from typhoid in Dresden This was the visit when the invalid Mary Tuttiett (Maxwell Gray), on one of her few excursions, went to visit him.
Two or three visits each year to Freshwater, and rarer visits to other seaside places — of which one was paid to Mr. Wolcott Balestier and his family at Black Gang, shortly before Balestier's untimely death and the marriage of his sister to Rudyard Kipling — are the limits of her wanderings.The Balestiers stayed at Rock Cottage (a.k.a. the Royal Sandrock Hotel) ...
- Book News, No. 134, Oct. 1893, p.44 (reprint from Great Thoughts).
BLACKGANG... and this is confirmed by the 1891 census. But The Centre for Henry James Studies has in its collection a letter to W Morton Fullerton, dated 28th August 1891, from "Calcott [sic] Balestier" and headed "The Five Rocks, Chale, Isle of Wight" (ref: XLS spreadsheet). I wonder what he was doing writing from there?
DEATH OF MR. WOLCOTT BALESTIER
He was well known in this locality, having from some time resided at Rock Cottage with his mother and sister, and it was intention to have spent Christmas here.
- Miscellanea, IWCP, Thursday, Dec 24, 1891 , page 7 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive archive.iwcp.co.uk).