Sunday, 8 July 2012

Southview goes west

Ruin is always overstated; it is part of the ruin-drama staged perpetually in the human imagination, half of whose desire is to build up, while the other half smashes and levels to the earth.
- Rose Macaulay

I just found out, via a Facebook post by Richard Edney (one of my Isle of Wight relatives), about the irreparable damage by a fire sometime over Christmas to the last extant house in the "lost road" segment of landslip between Niton and Blackgang (see previously On the lost road). It's unknown if the fire was down to arson or a feckless squatter; but according to YouTube comments, the site had a history of theft and vandalism.

This tract of land, since it became disconnected from the road, has a depressing track record of properties burning. The owner who had been renovating it must be devastated, even though its situation made it uninsurable, and it could have succumbed to landslip damage at any time. It's a reminder that ruins, however temptingly evocative they can be (an aesthetic going back at least to the 18th century), are generally the result of traumatic changes in lives: whether caused by individual circumstance, environmental change, or geopolitical events.

I posted this in part to clarify identification of this house. Recent accounts tend to call it Southview, and some identify it with the Southview House (aka South View House) occupied by the Victorian entrepreneur Thomas Letts, who installed the Shakespeare folly and fountain by the road above (see Letts: a relic). It isn't. One of the commenters to this other YouTube video - Urban Exploring Blackgang Isle Of Wight Southview House remains - says that it was the adjoining coach house.

Historical maps bear this out. See Old Maps for OS sheets, which identify the original Southview House as a much larger building a little to the west: one highly identifiable in pictures by its Italianate tower. The now-ruined house of square cross-section at the foot of the steps down from the road is unnamed on the map.

Southview House, 1898 OS map. Historic map data is (© and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.
Southview was built at some point shortly before 1845. An advertisement appears in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle for Saturday, April 5, 1845, offering it for sale or let as "that new, substantial and convenient family residence":
To be SOLD or LET,—All that new, substantial
and convenient FAMILY RESIDENCE called
"SOUTH-VIEW HOUSE," completely Furnished;
containing on the ground floor, drawing room, 20 feet
by 13 feet, 9 feet high; dining room 10 feet by 13 feet,
9 feet high; breakfast room 10 feet by 9 feet; butler's
pantry, kitchen, fitted up with every requisite; larder,
scullery, coal house. On the First Floor—A best bed
room, 16 feet by 13 feet; dressing room adjoining; a
bed room, dressing room adjoining, nursery, water
closet, three servants' bed rooms. Second Floor—The
Tower. Under-ground cellars. Commodious and con-
venient out-offices. Detached are double coach-houses
and stables. The whole plentifully supplied with good water.
   The House stands on the summit of a bold slope,
springing directly from the shore, backed by magnifi-
cent rugged Cliffs in the breast of a down rising nearly
900 feet from the sea, crowned by ruined light-houses,
and a signal station, and environed by scenery where
nature sports in sublime grandeur or luxuriates in her
richest beauties. There is seen hill and dale covered
with bare colossal rocks, "the fragments of an earlier
world," tossed about in the wildest disorder; and here
gracefully clothed in a soft mantle of the richest verd-
ure, presenting new charms with every change of posi-
tion. In front, the vast ocean, blending with the sky,
and gemmed with countless ships, is spread in all its
boundless magnificence; while the delightful views of
the coast carry the eyes of the spectator over the pearly
cliffs of Freshwater even to the azure hills of Dorset.
   This valuable property is placed in a district, admit-
ted by the faculty to possess a climate more mild and
genial than perhaps any other in Great Britain, and
also adjoins the celebrated Sandrock Chalybeate Spring,
the waters of which have proved of the greatest efficacy
in the cure of many disorders, whilst the scenery and
prospects are of such a character as to divert the mind
and engage the fancy of the invalid, and to gratify the
taste of every lover of nature.
   Excellent roads lead to every part of the Island; and
there is a good carriage drive down to the shore. Good
   For particulars apply to the proprietor, Mr I. Morris,
Builder, Redhill, near Niton; Mr. J. Spary, Post
Officem Ventnor; or to Messrs. H. and R.B. Sewell,
Solicitors, Newport, Isle of Wight; and, in London,
to Mr. A. Trimen, Architect, 9, Adam-street.

- Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, Saturday, April 5, 1845
This overblown ad being posted by the builder and the London-based architect suggests that Southview was built as part of the early 19th century boom in speculative property building on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. "Fashionable List" entries for this upmarket house in the Isle of Wight Observer find early occupants to have been a "Mr Pringle and family", "Mr Wheatson and family", and "The Rev & Mrs Goold & family"; Thomas Letts moved in late in 1854; he died in 1873, but the Fashionable List has a "Mr & Mrs Letts and family" for July 1874, and the house finally went up for sale in 1885.

Coming back to the 20th century: the 1991 compilation Slope Stability Engineering has a paper that I've mentioned in the past, The recent history and geotechnics of landslides at Gore Cliff, Isle of Wight, has a good map of the landslide zone as Fig 3, page 191, and explains:
The landslide of 1978 led to the destruction of the remaining properties in the area: three directly as a result of the landslide (Cliff Cottage, Sandrock Spring and Sandrock Spring Cottage). Southview House, slightly damaged by encroachment of the toe of the landslide, was destroyed by fire shortly afterwards.
Southview House proper must have been an imposing property. The Times on Wednesday, Apr 18, 1951, has a description accompanying its sale following the death of its previous owner, the banker Sir Frederick Eley.
By order of the executors
South View House, Chale, Isle of Wight

SUPERBLY SITUATED FREEHOLD MARINE RESIDENCE, facing due South, with wonderful sea views and grounds down to the beach; 3 reception rooms, sun lounge, 7 bed rooms, 3 bath rooms; main electricity; own water (main supply available); cesspool drainage; garage and stabling with 5-roomed flat over; charming gardens, and grounds about 17 acres (much requiring no upkeep); low rates. Vacant possession.
Even at the time, the failure to mention it was sitting on the edge of a landslip seems pretty disingenuous, as there had already been ominous signs with the landslip of 1928 that broke the Niton-Blackgand road.
Happily the area of disturbance shows no sign of widening. It is confined to the space between the gap at Windy Corner and the opposite point on the Blackgang side, where Southview House, the residence of Sir Frederick Eley, stands on a sort of promontory. Fissures have appeared in the garden here, but neither Southview House nor any of the residences near it seems to be in any immediate danger.
- The Isle Of Wight Landslip. Widening Fissures, The Times, September 25, 1928

Addendum: I just found this picture of Southview House, dating from the 1920s, at Wight Memories. I haven't been able to ask permission; it's a very old Angelfire free site with no contact details; the creator describes having had a liver transplant in 1995, so could conceivably even be dead. "Mero", if you're extant and see this, could you contact me?

Addendum 2, October 31, 2013
I've just had a very interesting series of e-mail conversations with Steve from the newly-launched Wight Heritage forum site, and Keith from Isle of Wight Scooter Archives, comparing notes on these now-vanished houses. As Steve says, "There is confusion regarding the houses at Blackgang, and people are always debating which house is which".

This is the area of interest (the map is from The recent history and geotechnics of landslides at Gore Cliff, Isle of Wight, mentioned above): the houses in question are Southland(s) House (bottom left, close to sea), and South View House (centre right, slightly inland by fork in road).

Keith sent me this image; you can just see, when it's zoomed, the house at top right with a tower. This matches both my photo above and the vendor's description, and must be Southview.

Steve sent these, scanned from a booklet about Blackgang Chine. The first ...

 ... despite the caption "Southview House 1880s built by Professor Letts", nevertheless matches neither the location or appearance of Southview (with its prominent Italiate tower). The position suggests it's actually Southlands, which was destroyed by landslip around 1908. Nor was Thomas Letts of Southview a professor: see Letts lineage: a clarification.

The second ...

(The consensus of comments is that this identification is correct).

Update, 1 Nov 2014
I've found a deal more about Lowcliffe and Southlands: see Lowcliffe and Southlands: from cradle to grave.

Update, 5 Dec 2014
detail from image below
Heres another small image of Southview, from GeoScenic, the BGS geological photo archive. The house appears at the top centre of an image of the talus at the foot of the 1928 landslip.

Below Windy Corner, Gore Cliff. Mass of fallen material and lakelet. Jackson, J.F., Entry in BAAS
Report for 1930. British Geological Survey, National Archive of Geological Photographs, GeoScenic,
Cat. No. P253110 - permitted non-commercial reproduction. Not for re-use.

The Great Landslip at Rockenend
with the bold termination of the Undercliff near Black Gang
facing page 70, The Vecta Garland, Albert Midlane, 1860

It also features, along with Southlands, in one of the engravings in Albert Midlane's poetry anthology The Vecta Garland. In all such pictures, the tower clearly identifies it.

- Ray


  1. Yes it was the coaching house. Southview House was massive by comparison. The Southview Estate was owned by Matt and Dorothy Ross until 1968 when it was taken over by Bert Rate (I may not have spelt the surname correctly). I think the Rosses must have known it was only a matter of time, whereas the Rates seemed to think only the road was in danger - he invested a lot of money in the Estate and made it quite tacky. I remember people talking about the cottages by the road and saying that people would never get a mortgage to buy them or get buildings insurance, and that was in the mid 60s

  2. That picture of Southlands House looks right to me - it's definitely not a picture of Five Rocks..

  3. No, not Five Rocks. The 1862 1st ed. OS 1:2500 shows clearly the Orangerie and the horseshoe shaped flowerbeds which the photo confirms is the S.E frontage. A postcard by Walter Harry Kent shows the N.W frontage with the house looking abandoned and a hole in the roof and the road access from the SW gone. Great blog with much of interest, thank you! My father did some work at Southlands int 60's with Mechanised Garden Services and knew the owners. Very sad to read and see the fire damage which was news to me. In 2014 I found that path from Chale heavily overgrown with no sign of use and impassable at the cliff edge. The Blackgang owners have tried to block it below Five Rocks.

  4. Thanks likewise. When I walked through in 2011 the path at the Blackgang end was distinctly scary - right on the edge - in a couple of places. I've seen accounts of people finding a way in from the Windy Corner end since then.

  5. PS Thanks to all for your helpful comments. I've found a bit more about Southlands and Lowcliffe - see the update link.