Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Rambles Through England: Isle of Wight

Rambles Through England: Isle of Wight is a rather idealised description of an 1890s Isle of Wight visit by the uncredited correspondent of the Fleet Street based Ludgate Monthly - launched in 1891 as "a new illustrated threepenny magazine". A deal of it is pretty standard stuff - feel free to skim - but it's a pleasant account of touring the Wight in more genteel days, with a few topics worthy of commentary, such as the uncommon account of the decor of Mrs Harvey's Home of Rest in Shanklin, and the procedures for getting to visit Osborne House when Queen Victoria was alive.

Out-of-copyright text transcribed from Google scan. Images and text reproduced from Google scan for non-commercial use; not for commercial reproduction.

Shanklin Chine - upper booth
Rambles Through England
Isle of Wight 

The Ludgate Monthly
published at 53, Fleet Street, London, E.C.
ISLE OF WIGHT, The ... illustrated from Photographs
March 1894, page 502 in bound Vol VI compilation (Nov 1893 - Apr 1894)

AS I sit on the broad verandah of the Queen's Hotel at Ventnor, duly preparing my copy for the LUDGATE MAGAZINE, the summer sunshine is tempered by a gentle breeze, the waves of sea as blue as the far-famed bay of Naples, are rippling on the beach, where, within a dozen yards of me, and with that absence of conventionality so characteristic of the British tourist, both sexes are gaily disporting themselves at a very safe distance from the shore. On my left is a model promenade pier; on my right I see the Undercliff with its rugged white walls, dotted over with picturesque villas, covered over with ivy and creepers; while immediately in front of me two denizens of the sunny south, with an asthmatic barrel organ, are grinding out the sweet strains of “My Old Dutch,” interspersed with a few bars of “The Lost Chord.” What could any reasonable person require more in a health and pleasure resort than this.

Chine Road, Shanklin
            Ventnor is certainly the gem of the island; for land and sea-scapes it is unrivalled, and it also possesses the further advantage of being a good centre for marine and country excursions.
            Like the majority of visitors, I made Ryde my first resting-place. I strolled on the Pier and wandered in the Esplanade Gardens, and traversed the miniature lake beyond, where ladies and children may take their first lessons in rowing with impunity, as its uniform depth is only two feet. I sauntered up Union Street, and gazed into every shop window. I enjoyed the hospitality of the Royal Pier Hotel, and ruralised in its garden, which runs down to the water's edge. I made minute inquiries as to the length of the landing stage and to the method of generating the electricity by which its miniature railway is worked, and I watched the Portsmouth boats come in and go out. Then, like Caesar—or was it Marc Antony, or Napoleon ?—I sighed for new worlds to conquer, and booked seats for Ventnor in the good coach “Hero” for the following morning; and, with a sense of something attempted, something done, retired, and slept the sleep of a just person who suffers not from the qualms of a too sensitive conscience.

Crab and Lobster Hotel, Ventnor
            That drive to Ventnor, behind a splendid team of bays, I shall always treasure as one of the pleasant memories of a lifetime. The warm spring morning, the sweet scent of wild roses and woodbine which garlanded the hedges, and an occasional whiff of newmown hay, formed a delightful contrast to the dust and smoke-laden atmosphere of the grandest city in the world, and one realised that former methods of travelling possessed certain advantages not to be compensated for by the extra speed of the iron horse. From Ryde to the ancient village of Brading is only three miles. There two objects, naturally attract the attention of visitors: the stocks, in which malefactors of former days expiated their sins amid the jeers and derision of their friends and relations; and the splendid specimen of Roman domestic architecture, which was accidentally discovered a few years since, and is believed to be the finest example of its kind in the British islands. In many of the rooms are elaborate pavements of tesserae, for the most part depicting pastoral subjects and surrounded by a deep border. The villa shows traces of destruction by fire, and formerly consisted of a central block of apartments, with large wings on either side. This was probably the residence of a Roman governor, who would occupy the main building, reserving the wings for his soldiers and servants.

Hollier's Hotel, Shanklin - which still exists
            A couple of miles further and Sandown is reached. This may be considered one of the most fashionable towns in the island, and enjoys the distinction of a regatta in August. An esplanade has been constructed along the sea front, and on the hill-sides various roads have been cut, which are bordered on either side by terraces of houses and charming villas surrounded by their own grounds. As one walks along the Esplanade, or stands upon the firm beach, with its myriad of of children paddling in a waveless sea or burrowing in the sand, one can hardly believe that a mile or two from here, off Luccomb Point, the brave ship Eurydice foundered with three hundred souls. Only two escaped to tell how the vessel had been struck by a sudden squall, with sails set and port-holes open, through which the cruel waves instantly rushed and prevented her righting herself.
            The rural beauty of Shanklin must be seen to be realised, and one is sorely tempted to make a halt in this lovely spot, with its exquisite combination of sea, leafage and blue sky. The ground upon which it stands is well-wooded and undulating. The houses are placed at picturesque angles, without the slightest regard for uniformity, but always surrounded by luxuriant gardens, while the dainty, dimity-draped bedrooms and spotless linen, scented with lavender, are so attractive that, to do them justice, they require an entire article to themselves. The sweet songs of birds reach us, through the open casements, or as we lounge on the wide verandah (for every house, large and small, in the island is provided with this useful and picturesque adjunct), and with the simple food and salt sea breezes, seem as if they would lure one back from the edge of the grave. The sides of the Chine are almost perpendicular, and are clothed with rich undergrowth, trails of ivy and trees of various descriptions. About a hundred yards from the shore the chasm makes an abrupt bend to the left and grows much narrower, and it terminates in an exceedingly small fissure, down which the rill which has formed the Chine falls about thirty feet.
The following is particularly interesting; I must check it out in more detail. Mrs. Harvey's house of rest is very much in the same vein as the Ferny Bank House of Rest for Women in Business, which existed in Babbacombe in the same era, but it looks to have a broader demographic intake than Ferny Bank.
A house of rest at Shanklin, built by the munificence of Mrs. Harvey, and presented by her to the Winchester branch of the Girls' Friendly Society, was opened last year, and will doubtless prove a haven of rest to many a worn and weary woman who has found the burden of life too heavy for her. This large house, which has seventy-three beds, in addition to the accommodation for the staff, is intended for ladies, as well as poorer women and girls who require change of air and quiet, and the three classes whom it is to benefit will pay small weekly sums in proportion to their requirements. The house is situated at the edge of the cliff, and there are extensive views by sea and land. It is prettily decorated and furnished. The sitting-rooms are large, and the bedrooms, entrance hall and corridors light and airy. Along the front of the house, and looking seaward, run two verandahs, each one hundred and twenty-six feet long, one on the ground floor and the other on the first floor, which will be invaluable to invalids for exercise; and in the little chapel, with its quaint fittings of oak and its sweet-toned organ is a stained-glass window, which diffuses a dim religious light around. Indeed, the house has been a work of love to the generous donor, and everything connected with it is as perfect as possible, as she has personally superintended and taken the keenest interest in every detail.

St. Lawrence Church
            But I might not linger; a stern sense of duty, not to mention the pangs of hunger, urged me on, and, fortified by the idea that luncheon awaited me at the “Crab and Lobster” at Ventnor, I once more laboriously mounted the ladder placed by the steep sides of the “Hero.” Half-an-hour more and we were seated in the cool coffee-room, with its French windows opening on to a garden which reaches far up the face of the cliff. In this ancient and historically interesting hostelry resided, some two hundred years ago, the Vintner of the Island, whose calling suggested a name for the surrounding district, which, in course of time, has been softened into Ventnor.
To my surprise, this partially checks out. Historically, Ventnor was called "Holweia" (c.1200), and the modern name dates only from the early 1600s, despite attempts to track it back to the Latin "venta". The usual 19th century accounts variously mention "Vyntnor", "Vintner" and "Vintnor" from the 1600s, but are divided as to whether it was to do with someone who was a vintner, or someone just called "Vintner". A Dictionary of British Place Names (David Mills, Oxford University Press, 2011) cites "'(Farm of Vintner' 1617. Probably a manorial name from a family called le Vyntener".
I am not surprised that this place has earned a world-wide reputation as a sanatorium, or that it is the Mecca of consumptives, for the warm sunshine, combined with the Down and sea air, simply breathes longevity.

Ribband's Hotel, Bonchurch
            At Ventnor, sea-bathing can be indulged in under the most favourable circumstances, fishing is easily obtainable, and excursions by steamer and inland to Ryde, Freshwater, Carisbrooke, Cowes, Osborne, etc, are of daily occurrence.

The Crab Inn, Shanklin
            Those who prefer greater privacy might do worse than wander around the lanes of Bonchurch, St. Lawrence and Luccomb in the pony carriages which may be hired for a mere trifle; or go further afield to Blackgang, Godshill and Newport on the one hand, or to Shanklin, Sandown and Brading on the other. The town itself may be explored by hardy pedestrians, not afraid of hills, and affords many points of interest.
            There is the pretty little park and the quaint church of St. Lawrence, which is said to be the smallest in England. This I can quite believe, as it more nearly resembles a tiny model than a place of religious worship. The late Lord Yarborough enlarged the chancel by ten feet and added a new porch and bell turret; and the dimensions are now only thirty feet in length, and height to eves, six feet; greatest breadth, twelve feet.

Sandrock Hotel, Blackgang
            Near at hand is the Hospital for Consumption, consisting of isolated blocks for the reception of patients. There is now accommodation for over a hundred; the grounds are of a very extensive character, and it has proved a priceless boon to many who were unable to provide for themselves those little luxuries so dear to the invalid. It is impossible to do justice to such an institution in a single paragraph, but I would earnestly urge those who are in the neighbourhood to go and see it for themselves, when, I feel sure, they will willingly spare their mite towards the funds as a thank-offering for their own renewed health and strength.
            At Hillside, Ventnor, died John Sterling, the friend of Carlyle and Archdeacon Hare, and he was buried in the old churchyard at Bonchurch. Among the other celebrities who have resided near here may be mentioned the Rev. James White, the dramatist and historian; Edmund Peel, the poet of “The Fair Island”; the Rev. Canon Venables, who has ably illustrated the topography of the Isle of Wight; the late Dr. Martin, author of an interesting book on “The Undercliff”; Sir Lawrence Peel, the Indian Chief Justice and brother of the late Sir Robert Peel; and Miss Sewell, authoress of “Amy Herbert,” “Gertrude” and “Ursula.”
A few explanatory links:
John Sterling.
Rev. James White - this is the vicar-turned-writer, friend of Dickens, who figures not so creditably in the story of the breakup of the Bonchurch estates and wholesale development of the area in the 1830s. See Undermount.
Edmund Peel. Check out The Fair Island: A Poem, in Six Cantos (Edmund Peel, London: Francis & John Rivington, 1851, Internet Archive fairislandapoem00peelgoog).
 • Rev. Canon Venables - this is Edmund Venables, curate of Bonchurch, 1853-55.
 • "Dr. Martin" - this is George A Martin M.D., author of the 1849 The " Undercliff" of the Isle of Wight; its Climate, History, and Natural Productions (British Library BLL01014818635 - click "I want this" for links to the PDF viewer options).
Sir Lawrence Peel.
Elizabeth Missing Sewell - and see "Ursula" and Blackgang.
The Pool, Bonchurch
Sitting at breakfast one sunny morning, the waiter, when handing me my letters, suggested that it was a fitting opportunity for a visit to Newport and Carisbrooke, and that the coach would call at the hotel in an hour's time. As I had a great deal to get through in a given time, I felt that his proposal was not to be scoffed at, and booked my seat without further delay.

The grave of John Sterling
            Our first stoppage was at Blackgang Chine, which, in my humble opinion, is a delusion and a snare. The wild and savage grandeur of the scenery of which the guide book: speaks so glibly, to me only suggested a railway cutting, and we had passed twenty places in our drive along the Undercliff which possessed more natural beauty than this ochreous coloured mountain, unrelieved by tree or shrub.
            Near the Chine stands an excellent hotel, and there are some good lodging-houses in the vicinity. Half a mile inland lies the village of Chale, with its church dedicated to St. Andrew. It has a square, grey tower, wind-beaten and weather-worn, and standing in an exposed position; while among the grass-grown graves may be found the last home of many a shipwrecked mariner.
            A road of an agreeable character leads through Chale Street by way of Stroud Green to Kingston Down, and, after traversing the valley of Bowcombe, we come in sight of Carisbrooke Castle and village, where, at the Castle Hotel, I did full justice to the very substantial repast provided for those who had come by the coach, exploring the neighbourhood afterwards.
Here I've snipped a chunk of the Ludgate article: an interminable standard account of Charles 1 and his imprisonment at Carisbooke Castle, very probably compiled straight from guidebooks. Here are the relevant images for the Carisbrooke / Newport section.
Carisbrooke Castle
King Charles' Window
Carisbrooke Well

Princess Elizabeth's tomb in Newport Church
Pulpit, Newport Church
Returning to the main narrative, we come to Osborne House.
Osborne House
Another pleasant day can be spent in an excursion from Ventnor to Cowes, when one passes, en route, the model farm of the Prince Consort, a portion of the Osborne estate and via the Ferry to West Cowes. Only a favoured few of Her Majesty's loyal subjects are permitted to walk through the grounds, and permission to do this should be obtained from Mr. Blake. The House is not open to the public, but in rare cases a special permit is given on application to Sir Henry Ponsonby.
How civilised! "Mr Blake" was the land agent for Osborne House (his daughter Dorothy is reasonably well-known for her recollections of family gatherings at Osborne toward the end of Queen Victoria's life).  Sir Henry Ponsonby was Queen Victoria's Private Secretary. No doubt there were very few permits granted - 'Arry and 'Arriet would have got short shritft - but an example of the kind of people who could get one is mentioned in John Morgan Richards' Almost Fairyland, personal notes concerning the Isle of Wight:
"The Parkers expressed a wish to go over Osborne House, which was not possible until the Queen had left the island for Scotland. Mrs. Richards then wrote to the Queen and received per return from her secretary, General Sir Henry Ponsonby, the requested letter of permit. We drove to East Cowes with our letter and had a very delightful day, being shown everything of interest in Osborne House and grounds." - page 62

Richards was a very affluent ex-pat American businessman living at Steephill Castle, near Ventnor. “The Parkers” were his guests, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Parker (minister of the City Temple, London) and his wife. To them that hath shall be given ...
There is quite a little shrubbery of trees planted at various times by distinguished visitors to Her Majesty. I particularly noticed one set by Dr. Norman Macleod, January 4, 1866; another marked Alexandra, November 9, 1862; and a third which was placed there by Dean Stanley, in 1877, at the request of the Queen and in memory of Lady Augusta Stanley. The old man who is in charge of this portion of the grounds and of the Swiss Cottage, was formerly the servant of that universally-respected lady, and was, after her death, taken into the Queen's service.
            Considerable interest is naturally felt in the Swiss Cottage, which was fitted up by Her Majesty and Prince Albert for the purpose of teaching the young princesses various domestic arts, but particularly cooking. The flower-beds of the royal children (now doubtless objects of pleasure and amusement to a second and even a third generation), are laid out in little plots, and stocked with all kinds of flowers, fruits and vegetables. The tool-house, where the garden implements are neatly hung (each with its distinguishing label bearing the name of the owner), was constructed by the Prince of Wales when a boy, and near at hand can be seen the barracks and drawbridge, with tiny cannon, which were built by the Queen's orders in October, 1860, for the Duke of Connaught, who even at that early age had developed military tastes.
            Her Majesty's partiality for her Scotch retainers is much remarked upon by those residing in the island, who are, nevertheless, loyal to a degree. As an instance of this, I heard an amusing anecdote. Two tourists were viewing Whippingham Church one day, when the Queen drove up to place a wreath on the grave of one of her servants. The caretaker, anxious to ensure Her Majesty as much privacy as possible, dexterously turned the key in the lock. Suspecting the cause, however, they made so much noise that she was compelled to let them out, when, with more curiosity than tact, they made for the grave. Surprised at this proceeding, the Queen enquired the nationality of the strangers. “Scotch, if it pleases your Majesty,” was the prompt reply of the woman; for, in relating the circumstance after, she said, “I did not know how to account for their rudeness, and I thought, if I said they were Scotch, I should be sure to be right.”

Whippingham Church - see
            This church was designed by Prince Albert, and was the scene of Princess Beatrice's marriage. It was formerly regularly attended by the Royal family, for whom one transept is reserved, the other being used by the household. Here the seats are covered with royal blue velvet, and on the walls above are memorials to Prince Albert, Princess Alice, and two grandchildren of the Queen.
More about this rather weird church and its surroundings here - "I shot Prince Albert ..."On the Medina.
            East and West Cowes are divided by the Ferry, within a stone's throw of which is the Royal Landing Stage, as spic-and-span as green and white paint can make it; and close by it was Mrs. Langtry's handsome new yacht, the White Ladye. The sparkling brilliance of the Solent, dotted with all sorts of craft, can be best enjoyed by those who do not possess sea legs from the Green, at West Cowes, which is one of the most delightful spots to lounge in. Without any of the drawbacks of a cruise, you can contentedly watch the large steamers making for Southampton, and become acquainted, at a convenient distance, with the various yachts in the harbour. As a watering-place it has enjoyed considerable popularity since the establishment of the Royal Yacht Club in 1812, and the foundation of a Club House in 1815. The season lasts from May to October; but at the time of the Regatta, which takes place in August, Cowes is crammed to its utmost capacity. The castle was purchased by the club in 1856, and was refitted and repaired at considerable expense. Beyond the castle and extending along the shore is Prince's Green, which was presented to the town by G. R. Stephenson, Esq., in 1864. By following the Marine Parade, you come to a district known locally as Egypt, where there are many pleasantly situated houses and well-gardened villas. By crossing the Medina, East Cowes Park is reached. A Seamen's Home is just completed, and Slatwoods, where Dr. Arnold was born, is an object of interest. Cowes, doubtless, has many attractions for individuals of an amphibious nature, but personally l prefer well kept towns, like Ventnor or Ryde, or rural villages, like Shanklin or Carisbrooke, to such places as West Cowes and Newport, whose streets were evidently laid out when Town Councils had limited rights and vague ideas of construction, and Local Boards were absolutely unknown.

Tennyson's Bridge, Freshwater
            The drive from Newport to Yarmouth and Freshwater is easily accomplished, or the tourist may, if he pleases, make use of the railway. Coach travelling in the island, however, is so convenient and agreeable, that most avail themselves of that means of transit. Yarmouth, in former days, was more remarkable for smuggling than anything else, and many of the older houses still possess trapdoors, secret passages and sliding panels, which tell their own story. There is excellent bathing and a good pier, and it also enjoys a regular service of steamers, besides having an equable and rather warm climate. Freshwater, I discovered, comprises the whole of that district which lies to the west of the river Yar, and includes the old village of Freshwater, School Green, Pound Green, Norten Green, Freshwater Bay, Alum Bay, Totland Bay and Colwell Bay. In the immediate neighbourhood of Freshwater Bay is Faringford House, the lovely home of the late Poet Laureate.
            “Have you ever heard of Master Tennyson?” said our coachman, especially addressing himself to me. I hesitated a moment, and the old proverb tells us “he who hesitates is lost.” It was so in my case. With a sublime contempt for my ignorance, and with the evident desire to refresh my memory, he added testily:
            “He used to make portray” (with a strong accent on the tray), “and the Queen made him a Lord before he died.”
            I modestly intimated that at some remote period of my existence I believed I had heard his name.
            When, with a scathing look at me and another flourish of his whip, he pointed across the road and said:
            “That were his house."
            I hear that funds are being raised with a view to erecting a memorial to the poet, and that it is proposed to expend five hundred pounds, either upon a stone tower to substitute the present wooden beacon on Freshwater Down, or to erect a granite monolith, in the form of an Iona cross, at Faringdon Lane. There are already, in exposed positions, two similar pillars of stone (in remembrance of a couple of island worthies), which are neither useful nor ornamental to any living creature. Would not such a sum be employed for a much better purpose if it formed an endowment for one of the prominent Isle of Wight charities, for instance: The Seamen's Home at East Cowes, the Hospital for Consumption at Ventnor, or for extending Mrs. Harvey's Home of Rest at Shanklin?
            In Freshwater Bay is a curious formation known as the Arched Rock, which is one of two isolated masses of chalk separated from the cliff by natural causes; and at the extreme west of the island, at one point of Alum Bay, stand the Needles, with a very necessary lighthouse as a warning to mariners. The chief interest in Alum Bay, however, is derived from the geological structure of its cliffs, where the junction of the chalk with the eocene formation is admirably shown. When there have been heavy rains, the colours of the various beds are heightened, and the aspect of the bay, always beautiful, is rendered still more striking.
And it still is. See our recent visit - Alum Bay (5h April 2015).
In this brief epitome of the various points of interest in the Isle of Wight, I have endeavoured to confine myself to towns and routes offering the greatest attractions to tourists, and all of which have been visited, without undue fatigue, in the course of a tour of a fortnight's duration. For I feel assured that there are many like myself who are unable to devote prolonged periods to holiday making and who desire, especially on a first visit, to economise strength and money and to see as much as possible in a given time. If, by the few hints I have offered here, I am enabled to make such a visit more agreeable to even a few persons, I shall consider myself amply recompensed.

The Ludgate Monthly
published at 53, Fleet Street, London, E.C.
ISLE OF WIGHT, The ... illustrated from Photographs
March 1894, page 502 in bound Vol VI compilation (Nov 1893 - Apr 1894)

The Arched Rock, Freshwater

- Ray

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