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Isle of Wight

Island and county of England

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Isle of Wight
An image of the Isle of Wight from the ISS[1]
Coat of arms
Motto(s): 
"All this beauty is of God"
Coordinates: 50°40′N 1°16′W / 50.667°N 1.267°W / 50.667; -1.267Coordinates: 50°40′N 1°16′W / 50.667°N 1.267°W / 50.667; -1.267
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Constituent countryEngland
RegionSouth East
Established1890
Preceded byHampshire
Time zoneUTC±00:00 (Greenwich Mean Time)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+01:00 (British Summer Time)
Member of ParliamentBob Seely
PoliceHampshire Constabulary
Ceremonial county
Lord LieutenantSusan Sheldon[2]
High SheriffMrs Caroline Peel[3] (2020/21)
Area384 km2 (148 sq mi)
 • Ranked46th of 48
Population (mid-2019 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
ExecutiveConservative
Admin HQNewport
Area380.2 km2 (146.8 sq mi)
 • Ranked103rd of 326
Population141,771
 • Ranked153rd of 326
Density372/km2 (960/sq mi)
ISO 3166-2GB-IOW
ONS code00MW
GSS codeE06000046
NUTSUKJ34
Websitewww.iow.gov.uk

The Isle of Wight (/wt/) is a ceremonial county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between two and five 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 Algernon Charles Swinburne and Alfred, Lord 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, 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, Wihtwara.[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 Fire and Rescue Service, 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.

Isle of Wight Intro articles: 30

Toponym

The oldest records that give a name for the Isle of Wight are from the Roman Empire: it was then called Vectis or Vecta in Latin, Iktis or Ouiktis in Greek. From the Anglo-Saxon period Latin Vecta, Old English Wiht and Old Welsh forms Gueid and Guith are recorded. In Domesday Book it is Wit; the modern Welsh name is Ynys Wyth (ynys = island). These are all variant forms of the same name, possibly Celtic in origin. It may mean "place of the division", because the island divides the two arms of the Solent.[9][10][11]

Overview of "Domesday Book" article

History

Palaeolithic Isle of Wight

During Pleistocene glacial periods, sea levels were lower and the present day Solent was part of the valley of the Solent River. The river flowed eastward from Dorset, following the course of the modern Solent strait, before travelling south and southwest towards the major Channel River system. At these times extensive gravel terraces associated with the Solent River and the forerunners of the island's modern rivers were deposited. During warmer interglacial periods silts, beach gravels, clays and muds of marine and estuarine origin were deposited as a result of higher sea levels, similar to those experienced today.

The earliest clear evidence of Lower Palaeolithic archaic human occupation on what is now the Isle of Wight is found close to Priory Bay. Here more than 300 acheulean handaxes have been recovered from the beach and cliff slopes, originating from a sequence of Pleistocene gravels dating approximately to MIS 11-MIS 9 (424,000–374,000 years ago).[12] Reworked and abraded artefacts found at the site may be considerably older however and closer to 500,000 years old. The identity of the hominids who produced these tools is unknown, but sites and fossils of the same age range in Europe are often attributed to Homo heidelbergensis or early populations of Neanderthals.

A Middle Palaeolithic Mousterian flint assemblage, consisting of 50 handaxes and debitage has been recovered from Great Pan Farm in the Medina Valley near Newport. Gravel sequences at the site have been dated to the MIS3 interstadial, during the last glacial period (c.50,000 years ago). These tools are associated with late Neanderthal occupation, and evidence of late Neanderthal presence is seen across Britain at this time.

No major evidence of Upper Palaeolithic activity exists on the Isle of Wight. This period is associated with the expansion and establishment of populations of Modern Human (Homo sapiens) hunter-gatherers in Europe, beginning c.45,000 years ago. Evidence of late Upper Palaeolithic activity has however been identified at nearby sites on the mainland, notably Hengistbury Head in Dorset, dating to just prior to onset of the Holocene and the end of the last glacial period.

Mesolithic Isle of Wight

A submerged escarpment 11m below sea level off Bouldnor Cliff on the island's northwest coastline is home to an internationally significant mesolithic archaeological site. The site has yielded evidence of seasonal occupation by mesolithic hunter-gatherers dating to c.6050 BC. Finds include flint tools, burnt flint, worked timbers, wooden platforms and pits. The worked wood shows evidence of the splitting of large planks from oak trunks, interpreted as being intended for use as dug-out canoes. DNA analysis of sediments at the site yielded wheat DNA, not found in Britain until the Neolithic 2000 years after the occupation at Bouldnor Cliff. It has been suggested this is evidence of wide-reaching trade in mesolithic Europe, however the contemporaneity of the wheat with the Mesolithic occupation has been contested. When hunter-gatherers used the site it was located on a river bank surrounded by wetland and woodland.[13] As sea levels rose throughout the Holocene the river valley slowly flooded, submerging the site.

Evidence of mesolithic occupation on the island is generally found along the river valleys, particularly along the north of the Island, and in the former catchment of the western Yar. Further key sites are found at Newtown Creek, Werrar and Wootton-Quarr.

Neolithic Isle of Wight

Neolithic occupation on the Isle of Wight is primarily attested to by flint tools and monuments. Unlike the previous mesolithic hunter-gatherer population Neolithic communities on the Isle of Wight were based on farming and linked to a migration of Neolithic populations from France and northwest Europe to Britain c.6000 years ago.

The Isle of Wight's most visible Neolithic site is the Longstone at Mottistone, the remains of an early Neolithic long-barrow originally constructed with two standing stones at the entrance. Only one stone remains standing today. A Neolithic mortuary enclosure has been identified on Tennyson Down near Freshwater.

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[14][15] for export, possibly on the Ferriby Boats. Anthony Snodgrass[16][17] 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. From the 7th century BC, during Iron Age Britain, the Late Iron Age, the Isle of Wight. like the rest of Great Britain, was occupied by the Celtic Britons, in the form of the Durotriges tribe – as attested by finds of their coins, for example, the South Wight Hoard,[18][19] and the Shalfleet Hoard.[20] The island was known as Ynys Weith in Brittonic Celtic.[21] South eastern Britain experienced significant immigration that is reflected in the genetic makeup of the current residents.[22] 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.[23][24]

Roman Isle of Wight

Julius Caesar reported that the Belgae took the Isle of Wight in about 85 BC,[25] and recognised the culture of this general region as "Belgic", but made no reference to Vectis.[26] 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.[27] First-century exports were principally hides, slaves, hunting dogs, grain, cattle, silver, gold, and iron.[26]

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 gradually set about conquering the region.[28] Bede's (731) Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum[29] identifies three separate groups of invaders: of these (the others being the Angles and Saxons from modern Germany), the Jutes from what is today Denmark settled the Isle of Wight and Kent, conquering Ynys Weith from the Brittonic Celts in approximately 530 AD.[21] From then onwards, there are indications that the island had wide trading links, with a port at Bouldnor,[30][31][32] evidence of Bronze Age tin trading,[15] and finds of Late Iron Age coins.[33]

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 King Cædwalla of Wessex who tried to replace the inhabitants with his own followers. Though in 686 Arwald was defeated and the island became the last part of English lands to be converted to Christianity, Cædwalla was unsuccessful in driving the Jutes from the island.[34][35][36] Wight was then added to Wessex and became part of England under King Alfred the Great, included within the shire of Hampshire.

It suffered especially from Viking raids,[37] and was often used as a winter base by Viking raiders when they were unable to reach Normandy.[38] Later, both Earl Tostig and his brother Harold Godwinson (who became King Harold II) held manors on the island.[39][40]

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[41] 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,[42] and in 1377 by French raiders who burned several towns, including Newtown, 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.[43]

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.[44]

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.[45]

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.[46]

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.[47]

Queen Victoria's bathing machine, preserved at Queen Victoria's Beach east of Osborne House[48]

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[49] 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. [50] Her machine had a changing room and a WC with plumbing. The refurbished machine is now displayed at the beach.[51][52]

On 14 January 1878, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated an early version of the telephone to the queen,[53] 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".[54] She later asked to buy the equipment that was used, but Bell offered to make "a set of telephones" specifically for her.[55][56]

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.[57][58] A 168 feet (51 m) 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.[59] In 1898 the first paid wireless telegram (called a "Marconigram") was sent from this station, and the island was for some time[60] the home of the National Wireless Museum, near Ryde.[61]

Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, at the age of 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.[62]

The Needles Battery was used to develop and test the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, which were subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.[63]

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.[64] The festival was revived in 2002 in a different format, and is now an annual event.[65]

On 26 October 2020 an oil tanker the Nave Andromeda, suspected to have been hijacked by Nigerian stowaways, was stormed south east of the island by the Special Boat Service. Seven people believed to be Nigerians seeking UK asylum were handed over to Hampshire Police.[66]

Isle of Wight History articles: 107

Geography

The Isle of Wight is situated between the Solent and the English Channel, is roughly rhomboid in shape, and covers an area of 150 sq mi (380 km2). Slightly more than half, mainly in the west, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The island has 100 sq mi (258 km2) of farmland, 20 sq mi (52 km2) of developed areas, and 57 miles (92 km) of coastline. Its landscapes are diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description as "England in miniature". In June 2019 the whole island was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, recognising the sustainable relationships between its residents and the local environment.[67]

West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the chalk downland ridge, running across the whole island and ending in the Needles stacks. The southwestern quarter is commonly referred to as the Back of the Wight, and has a unique character. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down in the south east, which at 791 feet (241 m) is a marilyn.[68] The most notable habitats on the rest of the island are probably the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are scenic features, important for wildlife, and internationally protected.

The island has three principal rivers. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, the Eastern Yar flows roughly northeast to Bembridge Harbour, and the Western Yar flows the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. Without human intervention the sea might well have split the island into three: at the west end where a bank of pebbles separates Freshwater Bay from the marshy backwaters of the Western Yar east of Freshwater, and at the east end where a thin strip of land separates Sandown Bay from the marshy Eastern Yar basin.

The Undercliff between St Catherine's Point and Bonchurch is the largest area of landslip morphology in western Europe.

The north coast is unusual in having four high tides each day, with a double high tide every twelve and a half hours. This arises because the western Solent is narrower than the eastern; the initial tide of water flowing from the west starts to ebb before the stronger flow around the south of the island returns through the eastern Solent to create a second high water.[61]

Isle of Wight Geography articles: 17

Geology

The Isle of Wight is made up of a variety of rock types dating from early Cretaceous (around 127 million years ago) to the middle of the Palaeogene (around 30 million years ago). The geological structure is dominated by a large monocline which causes a marked change in age of strata from the northern younger Tertiary beds to the older Cretaceous beds of the south. This gives rise to a dip of almost 90 degrees in the chalk beds, seen best at the Needles.

The northern half of the island is mainly composed of clays, with the southern half formed of the chalk of the central east–west downs, as well as Upper and Lower Greensands and Wealden strata.[69] These strata continue west from the island across the Solent into Dorset, forming the basin of Poole Harbour (Tertiary) and the Isle of Purbeck (Cretaceous) respectively. The chalky ridges of Wight and Purbeck were a single formation before they were breached by waters from the River Frome during the last ice age, forming the Solent and turning Wight into an island. The Needles, along with Old Harry Rocks on Purbeck, represent the edges of this breach.

All the rocks found on the island are sedimentary, such as limestones, mudstones and sandstones. They are rich in fossils; many can be seen exposed on beaches as the cliffs erode. Lignitic coal is present in small quantities within seams, and can be seen on the cliffs and shore at Whitecliff Bay. Fossilised molluscs have been found there, and also on the northern coast along with fossilised crocodiles, turtles and mammal bones; the youngest date back to around 30 million years ago.

The island is one of the most important areas in Europe for dinosaur fossils. The eroding cliffs often reveal previously hidden remains, particularly along the Back of the Wight.[70] Dinosaur bones and fossilised footprints can be seen in and on the rocks exposed around the island's beaches, especially at Yaverland and Compton Bay, from the strata of the Wessex Formation. As a result, the island has been nicknamed "Dinosaur Island" and Dinosaur Isle was established in 2001.

The area was affected by sea level changes during the repeated Quaternary glaciations. The island probably became separated from the mainland about 125,000 years ago, during the Ipswichian interglacial.[71]

Isle of Wight Geology articles: 36

Climate

Like the rest of the UK, the island has an oceanic climate, but is somewhat milder and sunnier, which makes it a holiday destination. It also has a longer growing season. Lower Ventnor and the neighbouring Undercliff have a particular microclimate, because of their sheltered position south of the downs. The island enjoys 1,800–2,100 hours of sunshine a year.[72] Some years have almost no snow in winter, and only a few days of hard frost.[73] The island is in Hardiness zone 9.[74]

Climate data for Shanklin
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 8.1
(46.6)
7.9
(46.2)
10.0
(50.0)
12.3
(54.1)
15.6
(60.1)
18.2
(64.8)
20.4
(68.7)
20.5
(68.9)
18.3
(64.9)
15.0
(59.0)
11.3
(52.3)
8.8
(47.8)
13.9
(56.9)
Average low °C (°F) 3.5
(38.3)
2.9
(37.2)
4.3
(39.7)
5.4
(41.7)
8.4
(47.1)
11.1
(52.0)
13.4
(56.1)
13.5
(56.3)
11.8
(53.2)
9.5
(49.1)
6.2
(43.2)
4.0
(39.2)
7.8
(46.1)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 90.8
(3.57)
65.5
(2.58)
66.0
(2.60)
53.4
(2.10)
52.1
(2.05)
46.3
(1.82)
47.1
(1.85)
54.6
(2.15)
70.5
(2.78)
115.0
(4.53)
108.6
(4.28)
101.0
(3.98)
870.9
(34.29)
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0) 13.1 9.8 10.4 9.1 8.2 7.6 6.9 7.4 8.9 12.7 12.7 12.9 119.7
Mean monthly sunshine hours 68.2 89.8 132.9 201.4 241.1 247.7 262.3 240.9 173.1 122.3 82.6 60.7 1,923
Source: Met Office Climate Averages, Shanklin, 1981–2010

Isle of Wight Climate articles: 7

Wildlife

The Isle of Wight is one of the few places in England where the red squirrel is still flourishing; no grey squirrels are to be found.[75] There are occasional sightings of wild deer, and there is a colony of wild goats on Ventnor's downs.[76][77][78][79] Protected species such as the dormouse and rare bats can be found. The Glanville fritillary butterfly's distribution in the United Kingdom is largely restricted to the edges of the island's crumbling cliffs.[80]

A competition in 2002 named the pyramidal orchid as the Isle of Wight's county flower.[81]

Isle of Wight Wildlife articles: 7