Friday, 31 October 2014

Lowcliffe and Southlands: from cradle to grave

I've touched on this topic a couple of times before, but I just found in Isle of Wight County Press Archive an editorial that's quite enlightening about the fate of Lowcliff (aka Lowcliffe aka Lowecliffe) and Southlands, two villas built in the 1800s on the unstable cliff terraces near Blackgang, Isle of Wight.

 From the Isle of Wight County Press:
Like many others who loved the rugged beauty of the spot and enjoyed its seaward views and the little grassy slopes so ideal for picnics, I was sorry to see the grim effects of the landslide at Blackgang last week. Another long stretch of the famous Undercliff Drive has been obliterated, as if by an earthquake. When I visited the spot on Sunday trees and bushes torn from their settings were withering in the heat, and the scene was one of ruthless destruction. The subsidence is not so awe-inspiring as that which occurred a little to the eastward in July, 1928, leaving a gaping chasm where the road ran round Windy Corner, but it is extensive, and I fear that further movement of this unstable land will follow. It was interesting to see the weird effects of the pressure of the moving mass on the surface of the road where it was not completely carried away. Huge blocks of tarmac and sandstone were pushed up at all angles, and corrugations formed where the surface is left unbroken. This once popular marine drive is obviously gone forever.
* * *
Fortunately no houses are threatened by the subsidence, although its western edge is perilously near to Southview, the residence of the late Sir Frederick Ely. That fine stone-built house still stands securely on a rocky promontory, and it is to be hoped that it will be many years before it shares the fate of two other houses, a little to the westward, which have disappeared in the last 70 years or so.
* * *
One was Lowcliff, which stood just to the west of The Terrace at Chale. It was a lovely house with a walled garden, the home of Mrs Catherine Swift, who provided the money to build the first lifeboat to be stationed at Atherfield in 1891, and which bore her name. The house was pulled down when the cliff had fallen away to within a few feet of its walls, and the only trace of it which remains are the two massive stone pillars which flanked the entrance to the drive. Where its garden used to be is now a knoll of blue slipper clay and sandstone, gradually being eaten into by the sea. The other house was called Southlands, and this stood on the other side of Blackgang Chine. Its last occupant was a Capt. Harvey, who sold it when it appeared to be doomed to similar destruction, but, as a matter of fact, its foundations still remain on the clifftop. The building was pulled down nearly half a century ago and the stones used to build walls near the Clarendon Hotel. The iron railings which formerly bordered the drive can still be seen in the undergrowth.
* * *
I am told that within the last century a road ran along the cliffs on the seaward side of these two houses, from near Southview to The Terrace at Chale, passing Blackgang Chine, which was crossed by a bridge. Not a trace of this road remains, save a few yards on the Chale side where it linked up with The Terrace Road.
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday May 24, 1952, page 6, (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
 I can fill out some of the details of this story.

Low-resolution image reproduced in accordance with dissemination statement: McInnes, R. 2008. Art as a tool in support of the understanding of coastal change. The Crown Estate, 106 pages, ISBN: 978-1-906410-08-7 First published 2008. Click to enlarge
To recap: the 1840s saw a housing boom with the breakup of the Buddle estate, near Niton, and an advertisement in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle for September 11, 1847 offers the individual sale of a portfolio of plots "with an extensive frontage to the Coast, affording a grand sea view, and admirably adapted for the erection of Marine Villas". There was then a rush of speculative development including Lowcliffe Lodge (the large house at bottom left of the colour image above):
Isle of Wight
Gothic Villa residence, on the Coast near St. Catherines and the Undercliff.
To be sold by Auction, by
MR. F. PITTIS at the Bugle Inn, in Newport, on Wednesday, September 22nd, 1847, at Four o’clock in the afternoon, the very beautiful Property known as
situate in the most romantic and delightful part of the Island,
BLACKGANG, near Chale;
consisting of an elegant stone-built Residence, replete with comfort and convenience, erected and finished in the most substantial manner, regardless of expense, and surrounded by about
of highly picturesque grounds, formed at considerable cost and with acknowledged taste, into Pleasure Grounds, undulated Lawns, Terrace Walks, and Kitchen Gardens, forming one of the most delightful retreats to be fond in the Isle of Wight.
The house comprises handsome drawing and dining rooms, kitchen, servant’s hall, housekeeper’s room, butler’s pantry, larder, dairy, brew and bake house, and offices. On the first floor – five best bedchambers and two dressing rooms, water closet, &c. and three servants’ bedrooms.
There is also excellent stabling and carriage houses with man’s room over same, harness room, cow stable, poultry pens, &c.
- Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian (Southampton, England), Saturday, August 28, 1847; pg. [1]
The colour scene above looks pretty idyllic, but this scan from my copy of Isle of Wight: Forty-one camera studies of the nooks & crannies, bays & chines of the garden isle, (c.1910) gives a better idea of how close the cliffs were (Lowcliffe was on the little road descending at the right) ...

click to enlarge
 ... as does image #1766 at the The Carisbrooke Castle HistoricImages site; Lowcliffe is the house at upper centre.

An extremely similar property (pictured above) was Southlands, built on one of the cliff terraces on the other side of Blackgang Chine, and given equal hype by the estate agent:
Isle of Wight, - Desirable Freehold Marine Residence, with about 15 acres of Land, in the most romantic and beautiful part of the Undercliff, and well-adapted for a first-rate Hotel or Boarding House.
MR. F. PITTIS has been favoured with instructions from the Proprietor,Thomas Willis Fleming, esq., who is about to remove, to submit to Sale by Public Auction, (unless previously disposed of by Private Contract, of which notice will be given) at the Blackgang Hotel, on Friday, the 22nd of June, 1849, at two o’clock in the afternoon; the attractive and desirable PROPERTY called Southlands, situate near Blackgang Chine, in the parish of Chale, and surrounded by the most romantic and magnificent scenery of the famed Undercliff of the Isle of Wight; within a short distance of the shore, and embracing a grand and uninterrupted view, with the Isles of Purbeck and Portland in the distance.
The House is a most substantial and elegant structure, recently erected and in excellent repair, adapted to the requirements of a gentleman’s family:- Comprising entrance hall, spacious and elegant drawing-room, dining-room, library, housekeeper’s room, butler’s pantry, servants’ hall, kitchens, numerous offices, and good cellarage, three principal bed-rooms, with dressing-rooms adjoining, and nine secondary, and servants’ sleeping rooms, closets, &c., &c. Also, a 4-stall stable, coach house, harness room, with man’s room and lofts over. Also, 15 ACRES OF PASTURE LAND, part of which is disposed in terraced walks, pleasure grounds, and gardens, and includes the most valuable and desirable building sites, in this delightful locality.
- Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian (Southampton, England), Saturday, May 26, 1849, page 1
These descriptions seem positively fraudulent in hindsight, as even at the time the terrain was known to be unstable, as commented by the author Robert Mudie, in his The Isle of Wight: its past and present condition, and future prospects (c. 1840).

The IWCP gives a brief history of the occupancy of Southlands:
Southlands was built on part of Chale Common, belonging to the Manor of Chale, and at one time the property of the Worsley family. It was bought by Sir Henry Johnson in 1858, and in 1865 was sold by his widow to the Rev. E.D. Pusey, the well-known divine. It was later owned by Capt. Douglas, then by the Ravenscroft family until it became unsafe to live there. 
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday April 6, 1963, page 10, (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
This misses some very interesting details, such as Pusey's Mission House ...
We understand that the Rev. Dr. Pusey is about the leave the Isle of Wight, and that his residence is to be sold. The original name of the property was Southlands, but when Dr. Pusey purchased it he called it the Foreign Mission House. It has been occupied for some years by the Lady Superior, several Sisters of Mercy, the young Princess Polama, and two daughters of chiefs from the Sandwich Islands, the rev. doctor coming down when his duties at Oxford would allow.
- Blackgang, Isle of Wight Observer (Ryde, England), Saturday, May 21, 1870; pg. 5
... and the opening of Southlands as a sanatorium after his death:
A New health-resort has just been opened at Blackgang, in the Isle of Wight, which seems calculated to supply a long-felt want. The establishment consists of a mansion with out-houses erected upon an estate of some forty acres. The property, which was formerly known as Southlands, belonged to the late Rev. E. B. Puzey, D.D. It was transferred in April to its present occupiers, who have since kept numbers of workmen employed upon it, in order to adapt it for its future purpose. It will at present accommodate about twenty inmates; but with the addition of other premises which are shortly to be built, between sixty and seventy persons will be able to be received. It is intended for invalids requiring change of air and scene, who object to the monotony of ordinary seaside lodgings with their small variety in diet, and to hotels with their attendant excitement and irregularities of all kinds, which are so unsuited to the convalescent or to the fatigued and dyspeptic dweller in towns. But if the sanatorium is not an ordinary hotel, neither, on the other hand, is it a hydropathic establishment; it is to combine the advantages of the two, and to be conducted in such a manner as to make it a suitable site for those who desire a quick return to health and strength. Rest and fresh sea-breezes, with the surroundings of splendid coast-scenery, will be at all times obtainable, and those by whom such adjuvants to convalescence are required should here be able to satisfy completely their very natural longings.

The sanatorium, being situated between six and seven miles from Ventnor, is approached from London by train to Portsmouth, thence by steamer to Ryde, by train again to Ventnor, and finally by coach to the destination. The train leaving Waterloo Station at 11.35 Am. seems well suited to the would-be traveller; as it lands him at Blackgang at about 5 P.M., and allows him to take a luncheon at Ryde Pier Head, after the arrival of the boat from Portsmouth and before the departure of the train for Ventnor. The route from Ventnor follows the well-known road through the Undercliffby Steephill Castle, the Royal National Hospital for Consumption, and St. Catherine's Point. At this stage of the journey, on a fine day, the southern coast of the Wight is seen ahead to the west, trending away to Freshwater Bay and the Needles; on the right hand is the high cliff extending to St. Catherine's Down; while to the left, between the roadway and the sea, nestles the sanatorium. From this description it will be obvious that the locality is thoroughly protected by the uplands from all northerly and easterly winds; at the same time it is open to the south and to the sea.

The roadway conducts one down the cliff to the lawn and the house, which are situated on a plateau about 150 feet above the shore. The residence has been fitted with all the newest sanitary appliances, including the ventilation of soil-pipes, Tobin's airshafts in the bedrooms, the best flushing system in the water-closets, a Jennings' bath, electric bells, and a liberal use of asbestos non-inflammable paint over all woodwork employed in the building. The amusement of the inmates has been liberally provided for, there being a billiard-room, lawn tennis and croquet ground, bowling green, archery ground, and other sources of recreation on the property itself, whilst the adjoining cliffs, shore, and downs can be utilised for most varied walks and excursions of all kinds. There is close to the grounds the widely-known Sandrock aluminous chalybeate spring, to which the inmates of the sanatorium will have free access at all times. The general water supply of the establishment is irreproachable, and issues as a spring from the cliff far from all fear of any contamination whatsoever. There is a good kitchen garden well stocked with vegetables, and the grounds are generally bright with flower beds and masses of bright evergreen and other shrubs. The kitchen department, it is promised, shall be well attended to, and altogether the establishment seems likely to prove highly restorative to those who seek renewal of strength and vigour within its walls. There is an honorary medical council, which includes about thirty medical practitioners, metropolitan and provincial. The terms seem to be moderate, and are inclusive, so that the cost of residence can be exactly reckoned beforehand. Mr. Anthony Pulbrook, of 20 St. Helen's Place, London, E.C., is the managing director, and will gladly furnish all particulars that may be required.
- The Sanitary Record , Sep 15 1884
I don't at the moment know how long it lasted in that incarnation.

Southlands, by the way, made it into literature. The 19th century author Elizabeth Missing Sewell set her novel Ursula in the Blackgang area, and in her 1907 autobiography she identifies one of its major locations, the house "Stonecliff", as being inspired by Southlands. See "Ursula" and Blackgang (March 2012) for more detail.

Lowcliff and Southlands disappeared with a whimper rather than a bang; they were mined for materials rather than being allowed to collapse down the cliff. Lowcliffe was the first to go, demolished in the last decade of the 1890s. There was a certain symmetry to the whole saga; the firm of Pittis, who had handled the original sale, also handled its dispersion into its component parts:
To Contractors, Builders, and others.
FRANCIS PITTIS AND SON will Sell by Auction, on THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 1895, at 2 o’clock precisely, the MATERIALS of the residence known as Lowecliffe, comprising a quantity of bricks, slates, rafters, joists, flood boards, doors, stair-cases, sashes and frames, Portland and other stone, stoves, marble mantel-pieces, &c. The above will be sold in numerous lots, stacked on the ground, conveniently placed for removal.
IWCP, Saturday, February 2, 1895, page 4 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
I so far haven't found a similar ad for Southlands, but the April 6, 1963 IWCP piece says it was also "bought by local residents and demolished." It appears to have been gone by around 1908.

See previously:
Nooks and crannies - an ill-fated housing boom 
Southview goes west

And read on at:
Southlands: Puseyites and Polynesian princesses

- Ray

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