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Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight
Status: Ceremonial & Unitary County
Region: South East England
- Total
- District
Ranked 46th
380 km²
Ranked 122nd
Admin HQ: Newport
ISO 3166-2: GB-IOW
ONS code: 00MW
- Total (2002 est.)
- Density
- District
Ranked 46th
355 / km²
Ranked 126th
Ethnicity: 98.7% White
150px 120px
(in detail)
(in detail)
Motto: All this beauty is of God
Isle of Wight Council
Executive: Liberal Democrat & Independents
MP: Andrew Turner

The Isle of Wight is an island off the south coast of England opposite Southampton. Colloquially, it is known as 'The Island' by its residents. Its population was 132,731 in the 2001 census (and 126,600 in 1991). The Island has a single MP (currently Andrew Turner), and is therefore the most populated Constituency in the UK.



The Isle of Wight is approximately diamond in shape and covers an area of 147 square miles (381 square km). Nearly half this area, mainly in the west of the Island, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The landscape of the Island is remarkably diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of "England in Miniature". The West Wight is predominently rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the famous chalk downland ridge, running across the whole Island and ending in The Needles stacks - perhaps the most photographed aspect of the Isle of Wight.

The rest of the Island landscape also has great diversity, with perhaps the most notable habitats being the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are spectacular features as well as being very important for wildlife, and are internationally protected. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the River Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at Bembridge Harbour on the eastern end of the Island. Confusingly, there is another entirely separate river at the western end also called the River Yar flowing the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. Where distinguishing the two becomes necessary, each may be referred to as the eastern or western Yar. The south coast of the island adjoins the English Channel.

Island wildlife is remarkable, being the only place in England where the red squirrel is flourishing, with a stable population. Unlike the rest of England, no grey squirrels are to be found on the Island, nor are there any wild deer, but instead rare and protected species such as the dormouse, and many rare bats can be found. The Glanville Fritillary butterfly, in Britain is restricted to the edges of the crumbling cliffs of the Isle of Wight.

The main form of access is either by boat or hovercraft from the mainland, regular ferry services being available from Lymington, Southampton and Portsmouth. The island is also served by airports for light aircraft at Bembridge and Sandown.

The island is the home of the smallest Train Operating Company in Britain's National Rail network, the Island Line, running some 8½ miles from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin down the eastern side of the island. The island also has a steam operated heritage railway, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, which connects with the Island Line at Smallbrook Junction.



The Isle of Wight the only unitary district of England with county status. As a constituency of the House of Commons it is traditionally a battleground between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The current MP, Andrew Turner is a Conservative, and his predecesor Dr Peter Brand was a Liberal Democrat.

As of 2004, the ruling group of the Isle of Wight Council is a partnership called 'Island First' composed of Liberal Democrats and independents.

Political History

The island's most ancient borough was Newtown on the large natural harbour on the island's north-western coast. A French raid in 1377, that destroyed much of the town as well as other Island settlements, sealed its permanent decline. By the middle of the sixteenth century it was a small settlement long eclipsed by the more easily defended town of Newport. Elizabeth I breathed some life into the town by awarding two parliamentary seats but this ultimately made it one of the most notorious of the Rotten Boroughs. By the time of the Great Reform Act that abolished the seats, it had just fourteen houses and twenty-three voters. The Act also disenfranchised the boroughs of Newport and Yarmouth and replaced the six lost seats with the first MP for the whole Isle of Wight.

Often thought of as part of Hampshire, the Isle of Wight was briefly included in that county when the first county councils were created in 1888. However, a "Home Rule" campaign led to a separate county council being established for the Isle of Wight in 1890, and it has remained separate ever since. Like inhabitants of many islands, Islanders are fiercely jealous of their real (or perceived) independence, and confusion over the Island's separate status is a perennial source of friction.

It was planned to merge the county back into Hampshire as a district in the 1974 local government reform, but a last minute change led to it retaining its county council. However, since there was no provision made in the Local Government Act 1972 for unitary authorities, the Island had to retain a two-tier structure, with a county council and two boroughs, Medina and South Wight.

The borough councils were merged with the county council on April 1, 1995, to form a single unitary authority, the Isle of Wight Council. The only significant present-day administrative link with Hampshire is the police service, which is joint between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

From the closing decades of the Twentieth century onwards, there has been considerable debate over whether or not a bridge or tunnel should connect the island with mainland England. The Isle of Wight Party campaigned from a positive position, although extensive public debate on the subject revealed a strong body of opinion against such a proposal. In 2002 the Isle of Wight Council debated the issue and made a policy statement against the proposal.

Autonomy and Political Recognition

A number of discussions about the status of the island have taken place over many years, with standpoints from the extreme of wanting full sovereignty for the Isle of Wight, to perhaps the opposite extreme of merging with Hampshire. The pro-independence lobby had a formal voice in the early 1970s with the Vectis National Party. Their main claim was that the sale of the island to the crown in 1293 was unconstitutional (see History of the Isle of Wight below). However, this movement now has little serious support. Since the 1990s the debate has largely taken the form of a campaign to have the Isle of Wight recognized as a distinct region by organizations such as the EU, due to its relative poverty within the south-east of England. One argument in favour of special treatment is that this poverty is not acknowledged by such organizations as it is distorted statistically by retired and wealthy (but less economically active) immigrants from the mainland.

History of the Isle of Wight

Full article: History of the Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight became an island at the end of the last Ice Age when the rising sea flooded the Solent, separating the island from the mainland. The island was part of Celtic Britain and known to the Romans as Vectis, captured by Vespasian in the Roman invasion. After the Roman era the Isle of Wight was settled by the Jutes, a Germanic tribe who may have been wiped out by the invading Saxons.

The Norman Conquest created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight . Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle were founded. The island did not come under full control of the crown until it was sold to Edward I in 1293.

During the English Civil War King Charles fled to the Isle of Wight believing he would receive sympathy from the governor Robert Hammond. Hammond was appalled, and incarcerated the king in Carisbrooke Castle. Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its permanent base at Portsmouth, fortified the island at Yarmouth, East & West Cowes and Sandown, sometimes re-using stone from dissolved monasteries as building material. Sir Richard Worsley, Captain of the Island at this time, successfully commanded the resistance to the last of the French attacks in 1545. Much later on after the Spanish Armada in 1588 the threat of Spanish attacks remained, and the outer fortifications of Carisbrooke Castle were built between 1597 and 1602.

Queen Victoria made the Isle of Wight her home for many years, and as a result it become a major holiday resort for members of European royalty, whose many houses could later claim descent from her through the widely flung marriages of her offspring. During her reign in 1897 the World's first radio station was set up by Marconi at the Needles battery at the western tip of the Island.

In 1904 a mysterious illness began to kill honeybee colonies on the island, and had nearly wiped out all hives by 1907 when the disease jumped to the mainland, and decimated beekeeping in the British Isles. Called the Isle of Wight Disease, the cause of the mystery ailment was not identified until 1921 when it was traced to the mite Acarapis woodi . The disease (now called Acarine Disease) frightened many other nations because of the importance of bees in pollination of many food plants. Laws against importation of honeybees were passed, but this merely delayed the eventual spread of the parasite to the rest of the world.

A large rock festival took place near Tennyson Down, West Wight in 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 1970 show was notable for being the last public performance by Jimi Hendrix before his death. The festival was revived in 2002 and is now an annual event - with other, smaller musical events of many different genres across the Island becoming associated with it.

Language and dialect

The distinctive Isle of Wight accent is a somewhat stronger version of the traditional Hampshire dialect, featuring the dropping of some consonants an emphasis on longer vowels similar to the West Country drawl heard in south-eastern England, but less removed in sound from the Estuary English of the South East. The spread of the latter in general, together with a growth in the Island population through immigration, means the broader accent is more prevalent in the older population. The island also has its own lexical style. Some words like Grockel (visitor) and Nipper/Nip's (addressing a younger person) have been borrowed from the slang of neighbouring regions. Others are unique such as mallishag meaning caterpillar and nammit meaning food.

To give an example of pronunciation, an outsider hearing the accent may hear the pronunciation of alright, Cowes, and tie is often awroi, Kays and toy. There is also a penchant in informal speech to frequently end a sentence or punctuate it with a rhetorical question that sounds like an impossible presumption on the listener's knowledge:

  • "I was browsing on the net, wasn't I?, when I came across a web site called Wikipedia".
  • "Please could I 'ave change for this five-pound?". question: "What would you like?". response "I need five one pound coins, don't I?"

The slower more pronounced speech means that, while the dropping of consonants or use of glottal stops is heard, it is not to the same extent of dialogues such as Censored page. Additionally consonants may be lengthened such as r in hovercraft; or unconsciously changed to emphasise a word such as the g in something being pronounced as a k.

Industry and Agriculture

The largest industry on the Isle of Wight is tourism, but the Island has a strong agricultural heritage, including sheep, dairy farming and arable crops. Traditional agricultural commodities are more difficult to market off the Island because of transport costs, but Island farmers have managed to successfully exploit some specialist markets. The high price of these products overcomes the transport costs. One of the most successful agricultural sectors at present is crops grown undercover, particularly salad crops including tomatoes and cucumbers. The Isle of Wight has a longer growing season than much of Britain, and this also favours such crops. Garlic has been successfully grown in Newchurch for many years, and is even exported to France. This has has led to the establishment of an annual Garlic Festival at Newchurch, which is one of the largest events of the Island's annual calendar. The favourable climate has led to the success of vineyards, including one of the oldest in the British Isles, at Adgestone near Sandown [1] .

The making of sailcloth, boats and other connected maritime industry has long been associated with the island, although somewhat diminished in recent years. GKN based at East Cowes (previously known over the years as Saunders-Roe, Westland Aircraft, and British Hovercraft Corporation ) remains one of the most notable historical firms; having produced many of the flying boats, and the world's first hovercraft. The major manufacturing activity today is in composite materials including a large manufacturer of wind turbine blades, Vesta's.

The Island (Bembridge) is the home of Britten-Norman, manufacturers of the world famous Islander and Trilander aircraft.

A major contribution to the local economy comes from the world-famous international sailing regatta, Cowes Week, which is held every August and attracts over a hundred thousand visitors to the island. Other major sailing events are held at Cowes, including the Admirals Cup held biennially in July and the Commodores' Cup in August.

Tourism and Heritage

The heritage of the Island is a major asset which has for many years kept its economy going. Holidays focussed on natural heritage, including both wildlife and geology, are becoming a growing alternative to the traditional seaside resort holiday. The latter has been in decline in the UK domestic market due due to the increased affordability of air travel to alternative destitinations.

Tourism is still the largest industry on the Island, with some tourist attractions and sites of interest being listed below. As well as more traditional tourist attractions, the island is often host to walking or cycling holidays through the attractive scenery. Almost every town and village on the Island plays host to hotels, hostels and camping sites. Out of the peak summer season, the Island is still an important destination for coach tours from other parts of Britain and an annual walking festival has attracted considerable interest.

National Trust National Trust
English Heritage English Heritage
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Country Park Country Park
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Museum (free)
Museums (free/not free)
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House

Transport and Communications

There are three ferry companies which operate routes between the mainland and the Island:

There are regular proposals for further routes, and during Cowes Week additional services have been known to operate.

A sign used to greet visitors to the Island disembarking from the car ferry at Fishbourne, stating 'Island roads are different, please drive carefully'. It is a joke amongst local residents that the reason Island roads are different is due to a lack of maintenance by the council. Nevertheless the lighter traffic, quieter roads and slower speeds are noticeable to the visitor and are one of the reasons the Island has remained attractive to tourists from the busier mainland.

The cost of ferry travel is high for those taking a car, but relatively low for those on foot. Like many island communities, island people have concerns about the cost of ferry travel, but at the same time it is clearly this very expense which, so far, has ensured that the distinct character of the island does not merge with the huge conurbation of south Hampshire. Higher ferry costs give the island quieter roads, restrict the size of vehicles, and ensure that only a minority of people regularly commute to work on the mainland, keeping the island as a distinct community. However the downside is that this transport barrier restricts economic growth and limits island residents' access to mainland services, such as education, healthcare, and leisure facilities.

The telephone exchange code for the Isle of Wight is 01983. As of October 2004, approximately 60% of Island exchanges were broadband enabled. In addition to the almost universal British Telecom coverage, some regions are covered by cable lines.


The island geography close to the densely populated south of England led to it gaining three prisons: Albany , Camphill and Parkhurst located outside Newport. Albany and Parkhurst were once among the few Category A prisons in the UK until they were downgraded in the nineteen-nineties. Parkhurst especially enjoyed notoriety as one of toughest jails in the British Isles and "hosted" many notable inmates, including the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and the Kray twins.


The Isle of Wight County Press [2] is the major local newspaper, which comes out once a week on Fridays. There is also a local radio station, Isle of Wight Radio [3] , broadcasting on 107 and 102 FM (also avaliable over the internet), and a regional television station which broadcasts from the Island, [4] .


The Isle of Wight has a school system which is seen in only a few other areas of the UK; for more information see the article Isle of Wight School System.

Principal Towns

For a full list of settlements see list of places on the Isle of Wight

  • Brading - Close to the ruins of a Roman villa.
  • Cowes - A famous yachting town, at the west bank of the River Medina's estuary.
  • East Cowes - Facing Cowes across the Medina esturary and home to Osborne House
  • Newport - The county seat and nominal capital
  • Ryde - The largest town possessing the second longest pier in the UK
  • Sandown - the Island's most popular beach resort
  • Shanklin - Seaside town and beach, with an old village with thatched buildings and a picturesque chine.
  • Ventnor - A Victorian seaside resort
  • Yarmouth - A small but historically significant harbour on the west coast

The island includes two of the largest villages in the South of England that exceed many towns in terms of both area and population. However, this is a much-disputed status with no practical significance (see Village):

Famous Connections

Famous resident and connections (past and present) include:

For a good all-round summary of the famous persons connected with the Island, with an emphasis on music and the Festivals, see Mike Plumbley's IOWRock website

The Isle of Wight in the Media

Literary references:

Musical reference:

Technology and Inventions

External links

  • A page about Island Line
  • Isle Of Wight County Press
  • The Island by local photographers
  • The Jutes in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight
  • Were the West Saxons guilty of ethnic cleansing?
  • Old Isle of Wight Postcards and Pictures
  • Hovercraft of the 1960/70's from the Isle of Wight area

Last updated: 02-03-2005 03:03:44
Last updated: 02-18-2005 14:14:22