Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight
An image of the Isle of Wight from the ISS[1]
Flag of the Isle of Wight
Motto: "All this beauty is of God"
The Isle of Wight in England
Coordinates: 50°40′N 1°16′W / 50°40′N 1°16′W / 50.667; -1.267England
RegionSouth East
Preceded byHampshire
Ceremonial county
Lord LieutenantSusan Sheldon[2]
High SheriffGeoffrey Underwood[3] (2019/20)
Area384 km2 (148 sq mi)
 • Ranked46th of 48
Population (mid-2018 est.)141,538
 • Ranked46th of 48
Density372/km2 (960/sq mi)
Ethnicity97.3% White, 1.1% Asian, 0.2% Black, 0.1% Other, 1.2% Mixed[4]
Unitary authority
CouncilIsle of Wight Council
Admin HQNewport
Area380.2 km2 (146.8 sq mi)
 • Ranked103rd of 326
 • Ranked153rd of 326
Density372/km2 (960/sq mi)
ISO 3166-2GB-IOW
ONS code00MW
GSS codeE06000046
Member of ParliamentBob Seely
PoliceHampshire Constabulary
Time zoneGreenwich Mean Time (UTC)
 • Summer (DST)British Summer Time (UTC+1)

The Isle of Wight (t/) is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between 2 and 5 miles off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines. The island is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The island has been home to the poets Swinburne and Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. It has a maritime and industrial tradition including boat-building, sail-making, the manufacture of flying boats, the hovercraft, and Britain's space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, which in 1970 was the largest rock music event ever held.[5] It has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.

The isle was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and was earlier a kingdom in its own right.[6] In common with the Crown dependencies, the British Crown was then represented on the island by the Governor of the Isle of Wight[n 1] until 1995. The island has played an important part in the defence of the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, and been near the front-line of conflicts through the ages, including the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain. Rural for most of its history, its Victorian fashionability and the growing affordability of holidays led to significant urban development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically part of Hampshire, the island became a separate administrative county in 1890. It continued to share the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire until 1974, when it was made its own ceremonial county. Apart from a shared police force, and the island's Anglican churches belonging to the Diocese of Portsmouth (originally Winchester), there is now no administrative link with Hampshire; although a combined local authority with Portsmouth and Southampton was considered,[7] this is now unlikely to proceed.[8]

The quickest public transport link to the mainland is the hovercraft from Ryde to Southsea; three vehicle ferry and two catamaran services cross the Solent to Southampton, Lymington and Portsmouth.


Neolithic Isle of Wight

During the last Ice Age, sea levels were lower and the Solent was part of a river flowing southeast from current day Poole Harbour towards mid-Channel of Doggerland. The Bouldner Cliff archaeological site is 1 km long, 8000 year old wooden platform at the neolithic river bank, and now submerged 12 m below sea level.[9] As sea levels rose, the river valley became flooded, and the chalk ridgeline west of the Needles breached to form the island.[10] The Isle of Wight is first mentioned in writing in Geography by Ptolemy.

Bronze and Iron Age Isle of Wight

Bronze Age Britain had large reserves of tin in the areas of Cornwall and Devon and tin is necessary to smelt bronze. At that time the sea level was much lower and carts of tin were brought across the Solent at low tide[11][12] for export, possibly on the Ferriby Boats. Anthony Snodgrass[13][14] suggests that a shortage of tin, as a part of the Bronze Age Collapse and trade disruptions in the Mediterranean around 1300 BC, forced metalworkers to seek an alternative to bronze. During Iron Age Britain, the Late Iron Age, the Isle of Wight would appear to have been occupied by the Celtic tribe, the Durotriges – as attested by finds of their coins, for example, the South Wight Hoard,[15][16] and the Shalfleet Hoard.[17] South eastern Britain experienced significant immigration that is reflected in the genetic makeup of the current residents.[18] As the Iron Age began the value of tin likely dropped sharply and this likely greatly changed the economy of the Isle of Wight. Trade however continued as evidenced by the remarkable local abundance of European Iron Age coins.[19][20]

Roman Isle of Wight

Julius Caesar reported that the Belgae took the Isle of Wight in about 85 BC,[21] and recognised the culture of this general region as "Belgic", but made no reference to Vectis.[22] The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the island was captured by the commander Vespasian. The Romans built no towns on the island, but the remains of at least seven Roman villas have been found, indicating the prosperity of local agriculture.[23] First-century exports were principally hides, slaves, hunting dogs, grain, cattle, silver, gold, and iron.[22] Ferriby boats and later Blackfriars ships likely were important to the local economy.[citation needed]

Early Medieval period

Starting in AD 449 (according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicles) the 5th and 6th centuries saw groups of Germanic speaking peoples from Northern Europe crossing the English Channel and setting up home.[24] Bede's (731) Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum[25] identifies three separate groups of invaders: of these, the Jutes from Denmark settled the Isle of Wight and Kent. From then onwards, there are indications that the island had wide trading links, with a port at Bouldnor,[26][27][28] evidence of Bronze Age tin trading,[12] and finds of Late Iron Age coins.[29]

During the Dark Ages the island was settled by Jutes as the pagan kingdom of Wihtwara under King Arwald. In 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla, who tried to replace the inhabitants with his own followers. In 686 Arwald was defeated and the island became the last part of English lands to be converted to Christianity,[30][31][32] added to Wessex and then becoming part of England under King Alfred the Great, included within the shire of Hampshire.

It suffered especially from Viking raids,[33] and was often used as a winter base by Viking raiders when they were unable to reach Normandy.[34] Later, both Earl Tostig and his brother Harold Godwinson (who became King Harold II) held manors on the island.[35][36]

High Medieval period

The Norman Conquest of 1066 created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight; the island was given by William the Conqueror to his kinsman William FitzOsbern. Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle were then founded. Allegiance was sworn to FitzOsbern rather than the king; the Lordship was subsequently granted to the de Redvers family by Henry I, after his succession in 1100.

For nearly 200 years the island was a semi-independent feudal fiefdom, with the de Redvers family ruling from Carisbrooke. The final private owner was the Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who, on her deathbed in 1293, was persuaded to sell it to Edward I. Thereafter the island was under control of the English Crown[37] and its Lordship a royal appointment.

Late Medieval period

The island continued to be attacked from the continent: it was raided in 1374 by the fleet of Castile,[38] and in 1377 by French raiders who burned several towns, including Newtown,[clarification needed] and laid siege to Carisbrooke Castle before they were defeated.

Early modern period

Under Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its Portsmouth base, the island was fortified at Yarmouth, Cowes, East Cowes, and Sandown.

The French invasion on 21 July 1545 (famous for the sinking of the Mary Rose on the 19th) was repulsed by local militia.[39]

During the English Civil War, King Charles fled to the Isle of Wight, believing he would receive sympathy from the governor Robert Hammond, but Hammond imprisoned the king in Carisbrooke Castle.[40]

Osborne House and its grounds are now open to the public.
Eugene Manet on the Isle of Wight, 1875 painting by Berthe Morisot

During the Seven Years' War, the island was used as a staging post for British troops departing on expeditions against the French coast, such as the Raid on Rochefort. During 1759, with a planned French invasion imminent, a large force of soldiers was stationed there. The French called off their invasion following the Battle of Quiberon Bay.[41]

Modern history

In the 1860s, what remains in real terms the most expensive ever government spending project saw fortifications built on the island and in the Solent, as well as elsewhere along the south coast, including the Palmerston Forts, The Needles Batteries and Fort Victoria, because of fears about possible French invasion.[42]

The future Queen Victoria spent childhood holidays on the island and became fond of it. When queen she made Osborne House her winter home, and so the island became a fashionable holiday resort, including for Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Charles Dickens (who wrote much of David Copperfield there), as well as the French painter Berthe Morisot and members of European royalty.[43]

Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine

Until the queen's example, the island had been rural, with most people employed in farming, fishing or boat-building. The boom in tourism, spurred by growing wealth and leisure time, and by Victoria's presence, led to significant urban development of the island's coastal resorts. As one report summarizes, "The Queen’s regular presence on the island helped put the Isle of Wight 'on the map' as a Victorian holiday and wellness destination ... and her former residence Osborne House is now one of the most visited attractions on the island [44] While on the island, the queen used a bathing machine that could be wheeled into the water on Osborne Beach; inside the small wooden hut she could undress and then bathe, without being visible to others. [45] Her machine had a changing room and a WC with plumbing. The refurbished machine is now displayed at the beach.[46][47]

On 14 January 1878, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated an early version of the telephone to the queen,[48] placing calls to Cowes, Southampton and London. These were the first publicly-witnessed long distance telephone calls in the UK. The queen tried the device and considered the process to be "quite extraordinary" although the sound was "rather faint".[49] She later asked to buy the equipment that was used, but Bell offered to make "a set of telephones" specifically for her.[50][51]

The world's first radio station was set up by Marconi in 1897, during her reign, at the Needles Battery, at the western tip of the island.[52][53] A 168 foot high mast was erected near the Royal Needles Hotel, as part of an experiment of communicating with ships at sea. That location is now the site of the Marconi Monument.[54] In 1898 the first paid wireless telegram (called a "Marconigram") was sent from this station, and the island was for some time[55] the home of the National Wireless Museum, near Ryde.[56]

Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, aged 81.

During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to German-occupied France, the island hosted observation stations and transmitters, as well as the RAF radar station at Ventnor. It was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to Europe after the Normandy landings.[57]

The Needles Battery was used to develop and test the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, which were subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.[58]

Statue of Jimi Hendrix outside Dimbola Lodge

The Isle of Wight Festival was a very large rock festival that took place near Afton Down, West Wight in 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 1970 show was notable both as one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees, reaching by some estimates 600,000.[59] The festival was revived in 2002 in a different format, and is now an annual event.[60]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Eiland Wight
Ænglisc: Wiht (īeg)
العربية: وايت (جزيرة)
asturianu: Islla de Wight
azərbaycanca: Vayt adası
Bân-lâm-gú: Wight
беларуская: Уайт (востраў)
български: Уайт
brezhoneg: Enez Wight
català: Illa de Wight
čeština: Wight
Cymraeg: Ynys Wyth
Deutsch: Isle of Wight
dolnoserbski: Isle of Wight
eesti: Wight
Ελληνικά: Νήσος Γουάιτ
español: Isla de Wight
Esperanto: Isle of Wight
euskara: Wight
føroyskt: Isle of Wight
français: Île de Wight
Gaeilge: Inis Iocht
hornjoserbsce: Wight
Bahasa Indonesia: Pulau Wight
interlingua: Insula de Wight
íslenska: Wighteyja
italiano: Isola di Wight
Kiswahili: Kisiwa cha Wight
Latina: Vecta
latviešu: Vaita
Lëtzebuergesch: Insel Wight
lietuvių: Vaito sala
magyar: Wight-sziget
Bahasa Melayu: Pulau Wight
Mirandés: Ilha de Wight
Nederlands: Wight
日本語: ワイト島
Nordfriisk: Eilun Wight
norsk nynorsk: Isle of Wight
Nouormand: Wique
ភាសាខ្មែរ: កោះវ៉ាយធ៍
polski: Wight
português: Ilha de Wight
română: Insula Wight
русский: Уайт (остров)
sicilianu: Ìsula di Wight
Simple English: Isle of Wight
slovenčina: Wight
српски / srpski: Острво Вајт
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Isle of Wight
suomi: Wightsaari
svenska: Isle of Wight
Tagalog: Pulo ng Wight
Türkçe: Wight Adası
Tiếng Việt: Đảo Wight
Volapük: Isle of Wight
West-Vlams: Eiland Wight
粵語: 威特島
中文: 怀特岛郡