Sunday, 3 June 2012

A summer morning in Carisbrooke

Priory Farm Cottage, Carisbrooke, May 25th 2012
Priory Farm, Carisbrooke, undated postcard by FB Windrush
Scan reproduced by kind permission of Alan Kimber

In the very early morning of May 25th, I took a walk around Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight.

My initial reason was to take the above comparison shot (it wasn't possible to reproduce the exact location without standing in the middle of the duckpond). The house, now called Priory Farm Cottage - see map - gets its name from the farm on the site of St Mary's Priory that, historically, adjoined the church. As an "alien priory" - one under the patronage of Lire Abbey, France, it was dissolved by Henry V during the Anglo-French wars in 1415. Traces of the Priory existed as late as the 18th century; Charles Tomkins's 1796 A Tour to the Isle of Wight (Internet Archive atourtoislewigh01tomkgoog) says:
There are but few remaining vestiges of the Priory, and those are chiefly in the barns and out-houses of the farm, where some stone arches are still to be seen. In an orchard to the North of the Farm, is the shell of a building, one hundred feet long, and twenty-five feet broad, having two windows on the North side, and an opening, probably the door way, on the South. The walls, which are over-grown with Ivy, are three feet thick, and built with stones of various sizes.
Now, nothing remains of it; modern housing, on the north side of Priory Farm Lane adjoining the pond, covers the site of the building mentioned by Tomkins. Priory Farm Cottage, however, incorporates masonry that has a distinctly historical look, and St Mary's Church has a quaint incised slab clearly dating to the time of the Priory.

As I mentioned a couple of years back - Isle of Wight flying visit (1) - in the middle of the 19th century, Priory Farm was the home of the family of Elizabeth Trickett Gleed, mother of the Newport-born novelist Maxwell Gray. Carisbrooke appears as a location in a number of Maxwell Gray works, initially as "Chalkburne" in her 1886 The Silence of Dean Maitland. It's also recognisably the location of "Stillbrooke Mill" in her 1891 The Heart of the Storm; and Carisbrooke Castle appears as "Carlen Castle" in her romantic story Sweet Revenge, in the 1899 anthology The World's Mercy.

Anyhow, May 25th had such a beautiful and mild morning - I was comfortable in shorts and t-shirt even though it was only just after sunrise - that I took a further wander around the village and up to the castle, while the sun was properly rising and the dawn haze clearing.

Click to enlarge any image.

Carisbrooke High Street, around 6am
One of the houses on the right was my great aunt Chrissie's home. Due to mobility problems (there are steps at the front, and a very narrow spiral staircase) in early May she moved to sheltered accommodation in Newport, after 67 years in the same house. After being reunited with my father fives years ago and beginning to revisit the Island, it was one of the nicer surprises to find that Chrissie, who I remembered fondly from my childhood, was still alive, thoroughly compos mentis, and living in the same house that we used to visit 50 years ago. Her new flat is extremely nice, but I can't imagine the wrench in moving after so long.

View across churchyard to castle

View across churchyard to castle (detail)
Priory Farm Cottage (detail)
Ford, Castle Street, Carisbrooke
Before Newport grew in prominence, it's most likely that Carisbrooke was the original settlement in the centre of the Isle of Wight. It runs up a valley that rises into the chalk downs that form the 'backbone' of the Island; its central stream, the Lukely, is further fed by springs arising from the chalk aquifer, forming a string of ponds and forded streams (and supplying a waterworks even now).

Footpath up to the castle
Castle from rim of northern moat
Carisbrooke from the castle

Carisbrooke, and beyond, from castle

The above view has, I'm sure, changed remarkably little since the poet John Keats was in Carisbrooke in 1817. He stayed for about a week in lodgings at a Mrs Cook's of New Village, then a development on the outskirts of Newport. As described in James Clarke's 1822 The delineator; or, A description of the Isle of Wight (pages 16-17) and shown on this 1835 map, New Village was at the junction of Carisbrooke Road and Castle Road (here). It has now become part of the suburban development joining Newport and Carisbrooke. Keats wrote:
To John Hamilton Reynolds. Carisbrooke, April 17th [1817]

... Yesterday I went to Shanklin, which occasioned a great debate in my mind whether I should live there or at Carisbrooke. Shanklin is a most beautiful place—Sloping wood and meadow ground reach round the Chine, which is a cleft between the Cliffs of the depth of nearly 300 feet at least. This cleft is filled with trees and bushes in the narrow part, and as it widens becomes bare, if it were not for primroses on one side, which spread to the very verge of the Sea, and some fishermen's huts on the other, perched midway in the Balustrades of beautiful green Hedges along their steps down to the sands. But the sea, Jack, the sea—the little waterfall—then the white cliff—then St. Catherine's Hill—"the sheep in the meadows, the cows in the corn." Then, why are you at Carisbrooke? say you. Because, in the first place, I should be at twice the Expense, and three times the inconvenience—next that from here I can see your continent from a little hill close by the whole north Angle of the Isle of Wight, with the water between us. In the 3rd place, I see Carisbrooke Castle from my window, and have found several delightful wood-alleys, and copses, and quick freshes. As for primroses—the Island ought to be called Primrose Island—that is, if the nation of Cowslips agree thereto, of which there are divers Clans just beginning to lift up their heads. Another reason of my fixing is, that I am more in reach of the places around me. I intend to walk over the Island east—West—North—South. I have not seen many specimens of Ruins I don't think however I shall ever see one to surpass Carisbrooke Castle. The trench is overgrown with the smoothest turf, and the Walls with ivy. The Keep within side is one Bower of ivy—a colony of Jackdaws have been there for many years. I dare say I have seen many a descendant of some old cawer who peeped through the Bars at Charles the first, when he was there in Confinement.

- Letters of John Keats to his family and friends (Keats, John; Colvin, Sidney, Sir, 1891, Internet Archive lettersofjohnkea00keatiala).
See the Isle of Wight Family History Society and Isle of Wight Historic Postcards for further old views of Carisbrooke.

- Ray

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