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Isle of Wight

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Isle of Wight
Flag of the Isle of Wight.svg
Flag of the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight Council Flag.svg
Isle of Wight Council flag
Motto of County Council: All this beauty is of God
The Isle of Wight in England
Status Ceremonial and non-metropolitan, unitary county
Region South East England
- Total
- Admin. area
Ranked 46th
384 km2 (148 sq mi)
384 km2 (148 sq mi)
Admin HQ Newport
ISO 3166-2 GB-IOW
ONS code 00MW
- Total (2011 est.)
- Density
- Admin. council
Ranked 46th
369 /km2 (960 /sq mi)
Arms of the Isle of Wight.svg
Isle of Wight Council
Members of Parliament
  • Andrew Turner (C)

The Isle of Wight pron.: / ˈ l ɵ v w t / is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 3–5 miles (5-7 km) off the coast of Hampshire, separated from Great Britain (referred to by its inhabitants as "the mainland") by a strait called the Solent. It has the distinction of being England's smallest county - but for only half of the time. It has been calculated that during high tide Wight's area is slightly less than that of Rutland, but not during low tide. The island has many resorts which have been holiday destinations since Victorian times.

Its rich history includes a brief status as an independent kingdom in the 15th century. Until 1995, like Jersey and Guernsey, the island had a Governor.

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, the island has a maritime and industrial tradition such as boat building, sail making, the manufacture of flying boats, the world's first hovercraft and the testing and development of Britain's space rockets. The Isle hosts annual festivals including the Isle of Wight International Jazz Festival, Bestival and the recently revived Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was the largest rock music event ever held. The island has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.

The Isle of Wight was part of Hampshire until 1890 when it became an independent administrative county. Until 1974 it continued to share the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire when it was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan ceremonial county which gives its own Lord Lieutenant and recognised as a postal county.

Its quickest access is from Southsea (Portsmouth) by hovercraft. Four main ferries shuttle across the Solent: the route from Southampton to Cowes is 10 miles (16 km), Portsmouth to Ryde 3 miles (7 km), Portsmouth to Fishbourne 7 miles (11 km), and Lymington to Yarmouth 3.5 miles (5.6 km).


Early history

The Isle of Wight is first mentioned in writing in Geography by Claudius Ptolemaeus.

The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the entire island was captured by the commander Vespasian, who later became emperor. The remains of at least 5 Roman villas have been found on the island, including one near Gurnard which is submerged.

At the end of the Roman Empire, the island of Vectis became a Jutish kingdom ruled by King Stuf and his successors until AD 661 when it was invaded by Wulfhere of Mercia and forcibly converted to Christianity at sword point. When he left for Mercia the islanders reverted to paganism.

In AD 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla of Wessex and can be considered to have become part of Wessex. In 686, at Caedwalla's insistence, it became the last part of England to convert to Christianity. Following Alfred the Great's (rg.871-899) making of the West Saxon kings the kings of all England, it then became part of England. The island became part of the shire of Hampshire and was divided into hundreds as was the norm. From this time the island suffered especially from Viking predations. Alfred the Great's navy defeated the Danes in 871 after they had "ravaged Devon and the Isle of Wight".

Middle Ages

Carisbrooke Castle in Carisbrooke

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 by the dying last Norman Lord, Lady Isabella de Fortibus, to Edward I in 1293.

In 1374, the Castilian fleet, led by Fernán Sánchez de Tovar, the 1st Lord of Belves, sacked and burned the island.

The Lordship thereafter became a royal appointment, with a brief interruption when Henry de Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick was in 1444 crowned King of the Isle of Wight, with King Henry VI assisting in person at the ceremony, placing the crown on his head. With no male heir, the regal title expired on the death of Henry de Beauchamp in 1446.

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

Civil War

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 imprisoned the king in Carisbrooke Castle. Charles had originally intended to flee to Jersey, but became lost in the New Forest and missed the boat.

Osborne House and its grounds are now open to the public

Seven Years War

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 were kept there so they could be moved at speed to any destination on the Southern English coast. The French called off their invasion following the Battle of Quiberon Bay. A later French invasion plan involved a landing on the Isle of Wight.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria made Osborne House on the Isle of Wight her summer home for many years and, as a result, it became a major holiday resort for fashionable Victorians including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Dickens (who wrote much of David Copperfield there) and members of European royalty.

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.

Modern history

During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to France the island also had a number of observation stations and transmitters, and was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to the Normandy landings.

The Needles battery was used as the site for testing and development of the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.

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 for being one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees reaching, by many estimates, 600,000. The festival was revived in 2002 in a different format and is now an annual event.

Physical geography and wildlife

Isle of Wight, seen from the International Space Station

The Isle of Wight is roughly diamond-shaped and covers an area of 380 km2. Slightly more than half of the island, mainly in the west, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The island has 258 km2 of farmland, 52 km2 of developed areas, and 57 miles of coastline. The landscape of the island is diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of "England in Miniature". 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—perhaps the most photographed place on the Isle of Wight. The south western quarter is commonly referred to as the Back of the Wight because it has a unique social and historical background. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down, at 241 metres (791 ft), which is a marilyn.

A view of the Needles and Alum Bay

The rest of the Island's landscape also has great diversity, with perhaps the most notable habitats being the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are scenic features and also very important for wildlife, and are internationally protected. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the Eastern Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at Bembridge Harbour at the eastern end of the island. There is another river in the west of the island called the Western Yar, flowing the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth.

The south coast of the island borders the English Channel. Without man's 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 basin of the Eastern Yar, east of Sandown. Yarmouth itself was effectively an island, only connected to the rest of the island by a regularly breached neck of land immediately east of the town.

The Isle of Wight is one of the few places in England where the red squirrel is flourishing, with a stable population ( Brownsea Island is another). Unlike most of England, no grey squirrels are to be found on the island, and there are rarely reported sightings of wild deer. Instead, rare and protected species such as the dormouse and many rare bats can be found. The Glanville Fritillary butterfly's distribution in the United Kingdom is largely restricted to the edges of the crumbling cliffs of the Isle of Wight.

A competition in 2002 named the Pyramidal Orchid as the Isle of Wight's county flower.

The island has one of the most important areas in Europe for dinosaur fossils. The eroding cliffs often reveal previously hidden remains particularly along the region known as the Back of the Wight.


Being one of the most southerly parts of the UK, the Isle of Wight has a milder sub-climate than most other areas, which makes it a popular holiday destination, particularly the resorts in the south east of the island. It also has a longer growing season than most other areas in the UK. The mean temperature is 13 degrees Celsius averaged over the whole year, and is 18 degrees in July and August. The microclimate of places such as Lower Ventnor is influenced by their sheltered position under the cliffs. The Isle of Wight is also sunnier than most parts of the U.K. and Western Europe, with typically 1800–2100 hours of sunshine a year, beating even areas of Northern Spain.

Climate data for Isle of Wight
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 9
Average low °C (°F) 3
Precipitation mm (inches) 89


Blackgang Chine circa 1910

The Isle of Wight is made up of a wide variety of different rock types ranging from Early Cretaceous times (around 127 million years ago) to the middle of the Palaeogene (around 30 million years ago). The northern half of island is mainly made up of Tertiary clays, with the southern half formed of Cretaceous rocks (the chalk that forms the central east-west downs, as well as Upper and Lower Greensands and Wealden strata).

All the rocks found on the island are sedimentary – made up of mineral grains from previously existing rocks. These are consolidated to form the rocks that can be seen on the island today, such as limestone, mudstone and sandstone. Rocks on the island are very rich in fossils and many of these can be seen exposed on the beaches as the cliffs erode.

Cretaceous rocks on the island, usually red, show that the climate was previously hot and dry. This provided suitable living conditions for dinosaurs. Dinosaur bones and footprints can be seen in and on the rocks exposed around the island's beaches, especially at Yaverland and Compton Bay. As a result, the isle has been nicknamed Dinosaur Island.

Along the northern coast of the island there is a rich source of fossilised shellfish, crocodiles, turtles and mammal bones. The youngest of these date back to around 30 million years ago.

The geological structure is dominated by a large monocline which causes the 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.

About 10,000 years ago, the great ice sheets of the last Ice Age melted and the sea level rose. Probably about 7,000 years ago, the Isle of Wight became separated from the mainland.


With a single Member of Parliament and 132,731 permanent residents in 2001, it is the most populous parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom (more than 50% above the average of English constituencies). Parliament have passed Section 11, Clause 6(1) of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 to alter this

The Clipper Ship " Flying Cloud" off the Needles, Isle of Wight, by James E. Buttersworth, 1859–60.

The Isle of Wight is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county. Since the abolition of its two borough councils in 1995 and the restructuring of the county council as the Isle of Wight Council, it has been a unitary county.

As a constituency of the House of Commons, it is traditionally a battleground between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The current Member of Parliament Andrew Turner is a Conservative, and his predecessor Dr Peter Brand was a Liberal Democrat.

The Isle of Wight Council election of 2009 was a victory for the Conservative Party, which took 24 of the council's 40 seats.

There have been small regionalist movements: the Vectis National Party and the Isle of Wight Party; but they have attracted little support in elections.

Main towns

Newport the main town & the high street
  • Newport, in the centre of the Island, is the county town of the Isle of Wight and the Island's main shopping area. Recent developments include a new bus station with retail complex and a new retail park on the outskirts. Located next to the River Medina, Newport Quay was a busy port until the mid 19th century, but has now been mainly converted into art galleries, flats and other meeting places.
  • Ryde, the island's largest town with a population of around 30,000, is in the north east of the island. It is a Victorian town with an 875 yards long pier and 3¾ miles of beaches, attracting many tourists. Every year there is a Ryde Carnival in two parts, spread over more than one day: one in the daytime, and one at night with many coloured lights. Ryde is also home to the ice hockey club Wightlink Raiders, who play in the third-tier English National Ice Hockey League.
  • Cowes is the location of the annual Cowes Week and an international sailing centre. It is also the home of the record-setting sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur.
  • East Cowes is famous for Osborne House, Norris Castle and as the home from 1929 to 1964 of Saunders-Roe, the historic aircraft, flying boat, rocket and hovercraft company.
  • Sandown is another popular seaside resort. It is home to the Isle of Wight Zoo, the Dinosaur Isle geological museum and one of the island's two 18-hole golf courses.
  • Shanklin, just south of Sandown, also attracts tourists, with its sandy beaches, Shanklin Chine and the old village.
  • Ventnor, built on the steep slopes of St Boniface Down on the south coast of the island, leads down to a picturesque bay that attracts many tourists. Recent developments include Ventnor Haven, a small harbour built around a Victorian-style bandstand.
Graveyard on the grounds of the church in the town of Brading, Isle of Wight

In addition there are smaller towns along the coasts, particularly on the eastern side of the island. There are also a number of smaller villages. Some of these (for example, Godshill) also attract many tourists.


Language and dialect

The accent of the Isle of Wight is similar to the traditional dialect of Hampshire, featuring the dropping of some consonants and an emphasis on longer vowels. It is similar to the West Country dialects heard in SW England, but less removed in sound from the Estuary English of the SE. As with many other traditional southern English regional dialects and accents, a strong island accent is not now commonly heard, and, as speakers tend to be older, this decline is likely to continue.

The island also has its own local and regional words. Some words, including grockle (visitor, tourist – hence grockle-can, tour coach) and nipper/nips (a younger male person), are still commonly used and are shared with neighbouring areas of the mainland. A few are unique to the island, for example overner (a mainlander who has settled on the island) and caulkhead (someone born on the island and born from long-established island stock). Other words are more obscure and now used mainly for comic emphasis, such as mallishag (meaning " caterpillar") and nammit ("no meat", from the lunch of bread and cheese farm workers ate). Some other words are gurt meaning "great"(as in size rather than quality - "Look at en, wi' es gurt 'at flappin' abate." Look at him, with his big hat flapping around), and gallybagger ("scarecrow").


There has been and still is some confusion between the identities of the Isle of Wight as a separate county and, as it once was, a part of the nearby county of Hampshire. At least one mainstream newspaper article as recently as 2008 refers to the "Isle of Wight in Hampshire". Prior to 1890, the Isle of Wight was normally regarded and was administered as a part of Hampshire. With the formation of the Isle of Wight County Council in 1890, the distinct identity became officially established: see also Politics of the Isle of Wight. In January 2009, the new Flag of the Isle of Wight, the first general flag for the county, was accepted by the Flag Institute. Denizens of the Isle of Wight are sometimes referred to as 'Vectensians', 'Vectians' or "caulkheads".



The Isle of Wight is well known for its cycling, with it reaching the top ten in Lonely Planet Best in Travel Guide (2010) for cycling locations. The Island is also host to events such as the Isle of Wight Randonnée and the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival, which are hosted annually. There are cycling clubs such as Vectis Roads Cycling Club, which hosts mainly time trials on the Island, also including an annual 3 Day Time Trial Festival on a bank holiday weekend in May. Vectis Roads Cycling Club is one of the oldest cycling clubs in the UK, with it forming in March, 1883 at Ryde Town Hall.


There are rowing clubs at Newport, Ryde and Shanklin.


Boats in the marina during Cowes Week

Cowes is a centre for sailing, playing host to several racing regattas. Cowes Week is the longest-running regular regatta in the world, with over 1,000 yachts and 8,500 competitors taking part in over 50 classes of yacht racing. In 1851 the first America's Cup race took place around the island. Other major sailing events hosted in Cowes include the Fastnet race, the Round the Island Race, the Admiral's Cup, and the Commodore's Cup.


The Isle of Wight Marathon is the United Kingdom's oldest continuously held marathon, having been run every year since 1957. The course starts in Ryde, passing through Newport, Shanklin and Sandown, before finishing back in Ryde. It is an undulating course with a total climb of 1,506 feet.


The Island is home to the Isle of Wight Islanders speedway team, who compete in the sport's third division, the National League. The club was founded in 1996, with a first-night attendance of 1,740.

Ice hockey

The Island is also home to the Wightlink Raiders, an ice hockey team based at Ryde Arena. They compete in the 1st Tier of the English National Ice Hockey League, the 3rd Division in the country. There is also an amateur team the Vectis Tigers of the 2nd Tier English National Ice Hockey League, and four youth teams including the Isle of Wight Wildcats, all based at Ryde Arena.


The Isle of Wight Hockey Club run three senior teams and a junior side, with the 1st XI competing in Hampshire's top division, just one below the regional leagues. The island also has a ladies team—the Vectis Ladies—which is a separate organisation from the IW Hockey Club. Ventnor Middle School on the Isle of Wight runs a successful hockey set-up, producing a number of players who have since gone on to play at high standards.


The now-disbanded Ryde Sports F.C. founded in 1888 and became one of the eight founder members of the Hampshire League in 1896. There are several other non-league clubs such as Newport (IW) F.C. There is an Isle of Wight Saturday Football League with three divisions, and a rugby union club, plus various other sporting teams. Beach football is particularly prevalent on the island and has several of the nation's premier clubs with almost all of the England Beach Soccer team made up from players from the island. Many of the stadiums are used when the island hosts the Island Games as it has done twice.


Newclose County Cricket Ground

The Isle of Wight is the 39th official county in English cricket, and the Isle of Wight Cricket Board organise an internal cricket league between various local clubs. Ventnor Cricket Club compete in the Southern Premier League, and have won the Second Division several times in recent years. There is a new County Ground near Newport, which held its first match on 6 September 2008. As of November 2010, the Isle of Wight Cricket Board have been in discussion with the Minor Counties Cricket Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board regarding proposals to enter a side in the Minor Counties tournaments. The island has recently produced some notable cricketers, such as Danny Briggs, who plays county cricket for Hampshire County Cricket Club and is a member of the England Lions. Hampshire have played a number of first-class matches on the island, at J Samuel White's Ground (originally built and owned by J. Samuel White Shipbuilders) and the Victoria Recreation Ground.

Island Games

The Isle of Wight competes in the biennial Island Games, which it hosted in 1993 and again in 2011 with events taking place across the island.


The Isle of Wight is home to the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival. The Isle of Wight is also the home of the band the Bees. Recently they have been having more national success and often perform at smaller concerts on the island. The band Trixie's Big Red Motorbike as well as Mark King of Level 42 also came from the Isle of Wight. Singer/Songwriter Gareth Icke also spent a lot of his adult life on the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight has also hosted a one day festival called 'Summer Madness'. It started in 2009 when Madness headlined it; in 2010 Paul Weller headlined. In January 2011 it was reported that the promoter of Summer Madness was insolvent.


A satellite photograph of the Isle of Wight and the Solent

This is a table of the trend in regional gross value added by the Isle of Wight economy at current basic prices by the Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of pounds.

Year Regional Gross Value added Agriculture Industry Services
1995 831 28 218 585
2000 1,202 27 375 800
2003 1,491 42 288 1,161

Industry and agriculture

The largest industry on the Isle of Wight is tourism, but the Island has a strong agricultural heritage, including sheep and dairy farming and the growing of arable crops. Traditional agricultural commodities are more difficult to market off the island because of transport costs, but island farmers have managed successfully to exploit some specialist markets. The high price of these products overcomes the transport costs. One of the most successful agricultural sectors at present is the growing of crops under cover, particularly salad crops, including tomatoes and cucumbers. The Isle of Wight has a longer growing season than much of the United Kingdom and this also favours such crops. Garlic has been successfully grown in Newchurch for many years, and is even exported to France. This 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. Lavender is also grown for its oil. The largest sector of agriculture has been dairying, but due to low milk prices, and strict UK legislation for UK milk producers, the dairy industry has declined. There were nearly one-hundred and fifty dairy producers of various sizes in the mid-eighties, but this has now dwindled down to just twenty-four. Due to modern farming practices, the Island has noted increased levels of pesticide poisoning in local farmers and other local residents living near crops and vineyards.

The making of sailcloth, boats and other connected maritime industry has long been associated with the island, although this has somewhat diminished in recent years. Cowes is still home to various small marine-related companies such as boat-builders.

Although they have reduced the extent of the plants and workforce, including the sale of the main site, GKN operates what was once the British Hovercraft Corporation a subsidiary of, and known latterly, when manufacturing focus changed, as Westland Aircraft. Prior to its purchase by Westland, it was the independent company known as Saunders-Roe. It remains one of the most notable historic firms, having produced many of the flying boats, and the world's first hovercraft.

The island's major manufacturing activity today is in composite materials, used by boat-builders and the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, which has a wind turbine blade factory and testing facilities in Newport and East Cowes.

Bembridge Airfield is the home of Britten-Norman, manufacturers of the Islander and Trislander aircraft. This is shortly to become the site of the European assembly line for Cirrus light aircraft. The Norman Aeroplane Company is a smaller aircraft manufacturing company operating in Sandown. There are have been three other aircraft manufacturers that built planes on the island.

In 2005, Northern Petroleum began exploratory drilling for oil, with its Sandhills-2 borehole at Porchfield but ceased operations in October that year, after failing to find significant reserves.


There are three breweries on the island. Goddards Brewery in Ryde opened in 1993. David Yates, who was head brewer of the Island Brewery, started brewing as Yates Brewery at the Inn at St Lawrence in 2000. The Island Brewery, located in Shalfleet, was formed in 1993 by Mick Kennel and Dave Coleman.

Ventnor Brewery, which closed in 2009, was the last incarnation of Burt's Brewery, which had been brewing on the island since the 1840s in Ventnor. Until the 1960s most pubs were owned by Mews Brewery sited in Newport near the old railway station, but it closed and the pubs taken over by Strong's and then by Whitbread. By some accounts Mews beer was apt to be rather cloudy and dark. They pioneered the use of cans in the 19th century for export to British India. The old brewery was derelict for many years but was then severely damaged in a spectacular fire.


Tourism and heritage

The heritage of the island is a major asset, which has for many years kept its economy going. Holidays focused on natural heritage, including both wildlife and geology, are becoming a growing alternative to the traditional British seaside holiday, which went into decline in the second half of the 20th century, due to the increased affordability of air travel to alternative destinations.

Compton Chine, looking east towards Blackgang

Tourism is still the largest industry on the island. In 1999, the 130,000 island residents were host to 2.7 million visitors. Of these, 1.5 million stayed overnight, and 1.2 million visits were day visits. Only 150,000 of these visitors were international visitors. Between 1993 and 2000, visits increased at a rate of 3% per year, on average.

At the turn of the 19th century the island had ten pleasure piers including two at Ryde and a "chain pier" at Seaview. The Victoria Pier in Cowes succeeded the earlier Royal Pier but was itself removed in 1960. The piers at Ryde, Seaview, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor originally served a coastal steamer service that operated from Southsea on the mainland. The piers at Seaview, Shanklin, Ventnor and Alum Bay were all destroyed by storms during the last century. Today only the railway pier at Ryde and the piers at Sandown, Totland Bay (currently closed to the public) and Yarmouth survive. Blackgang Chine is arguably the oldest theme park in the UK, and one of the oldest in the world.

As well as more traditional tourist attractions, the island is often host to walking holidays 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 the United Kingdom and an annual walking festival has attracted considerable interest. The 67 miles Isle of Wight Coastal Path follows the coastline as far as possible, deviating onto roads where the route is impassable closer to the sea.

A major contribution to the local economy comes from sailing and marine-related tourism.

Summer Camp at Camp Beaumont is an attraction at the old Bembridge School site.


One of the Wightlink FastCats which provide a high-speed ferry service between Portsmouth and Ryde
A Southern Vectis bus at Newport Bus Interchange

The Isle of Wight has a total of 489 miles of roadway. Major roads run between the main island towns, with smaller roads connecting villages. It is one of the few counties in the UK not to have a motorway, although there is a dual carriageway from Coppins Bridge in Newport towards the north of Newport near the island's hospital and prison.

A comprehensive bus network operated by Southern Vectis links most Island settlements, with Newport as the central hub.

The Island's location 5 miles off the mainland means that longer-distance transport is by boat. Car ferry and passenger services are run by Wightlink and Red Funnel as well as a hovercraft operated by Hovertravel. Fixed links, in the forms of tunnels or bridges, have been proposed.

The Island formerly had its own railway network of over 55 miles, but only one line remains in regular use. The Island Line is part of the United Kingdom's National Rail network, running a little under 9 miles from Ryde to Shanklin. The line was opened by the Isle of Wight Railway in 1864, and from 1996 to 2007 was run by the smallest train operating company on the network, Island Line Trains. It is notable for utilising ex-London Underground rolling stock. Branching off the Island Line at Smallbrook Junction is the heritage Isle of Wight Steam Railway, which runs for 5½ miles to the outskirts of Wootton.

There are currently two airfields for general aviation, Isle of Wight Airport at Sandown and Bembridge Airport.

The Island has over 200 miles of cycleways, much of which can be enjoyed by families off-road. Major Trails are

  • The Sunshine Trail, which incorporates Sandown, Shanklin, Godshill, and Wroxall in a 12 miles circular route
  • The Troll Trail' between Cowes and Sandown (13 miles, 90% off road)
  • The Round the Island Cycle Route, which circumnavigates the island on a reported 62 mile ride

A full list of routes are available here: Isle Cycle The site is constantly updated to add new routes.


All the island telephone exchanges are broadband-enabled, although some areas, such as Arreton, have no broadband access. Some urban areas such as Cowes and Newport are also covered by cable lines.


The geography of the island, and its location near the densely populated south of England, led to it hosting three prisons: Albany, Camp Hill and Parkhurst, all located outside Newport near the main road to Cowes. Albany and Parkhurst were among the few Category A prisons in the UK until they were downgraded in the 1990s. The downgrading of Parkhurst was precipitated by a major escape: three prisoners (two murderers and a blackmailer) made their way out of the prison on 3 January 1995 for four days of freedom before being recaptured. Parkhurst especially enjoyed notoriety as one of the toughest jails in the United Kingdom and housed many notable inmates, including the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, New Zealand drug lord Terry Clark and the Kray twins.

Camp Hill is located to the west of, and adjacent to, Albany and Parkhurst, on the very edge of Parkhurst Forest, having been converted first to a borstal and later to a Category C prison. It was built on the site of an army camp (both Albany and Parkhurst were barracks); there is a small estate of tree-lined roads with well-proportioned officers' quarters (of varying grandeur according to rank, but now privately owned) to the south and east. Camp Hill closed as a prison in March 2013.

The management of all three prisons was merged into a single administration, under the name of HMP Isle of Wight in April 2009, with Camp Hill closing in 2013.


There are sixty-nine Local Education Authority-maintained schools on the Isle of Wight, and two independent schools. As a rural community, many of these schools are small, with average numbers of pupils lower than in many urban areas. There are currently primary schools, middle schools and high schools. However, education reforms have led to plans for closures (for full details on these see Education reforms on the Isle of Wight). There is also the Isle of Wight College, which is located on the outskirts of Newport.

From September 2010, there is a transition period from the "3-tier system" of primary, middle and high schools. Some schools have now closed their doors, such as Chale C.E. Primary School. Other schools have become "federated", such as Brading C.E. Primary School and St Helen's Primary School. Christ the King College started as a "middle school" but is being converted into a high school so that eventually it will have a sixth form.

From September 2011, there will be 5 new schools, with an age range of 11 to 18 years, which will replace the existing high schools.

When the transition is complete, there will be fewer schools on the Isle of Wight.

Notable residents

Notable residents have included:

  • Raymond Allen, scriptwriter
  • Indie rock group the Bees are from the Isle of Wight.
  • E. Power Biggs, concert organist
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian portrait and creative photographer, lived at Dimbola Lodge, which is now a museum dedicated to her work.
  • Charles I of England was imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle
  • Irish Republican Thomas Clarke
  • Sir Christopher Cockerell, inventor of the hovercraft, lived in East Cowes while it was being developed by Saunders-Roe
  • Ray Cokes, MTV presenter and actor
  • Charles Dickens rented Winterbourne, in Bonchurch in the summer of 1849.
  • Dave Ellison, Creator/writer/producer of the award winning children's TV series Tales of the Riverbank
  • Cardell 'Scum' Goodman, late 17th century actor, murderer, highwayman and Jacobite conspirator, was the son of Robert Hooke's father's predecessor as vicar of Freshwater.
  • Marius Goring, actor, lived on the Island as a child - he was born in Newport
  • Bear Grylls, survival expert, motivational speaker and Chief Scout.
  • Sheila Hancock, actress
  • Thomas Harrison, Regicide of Charles I and Fifth Monarchist leader was imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle by Cromwell as were other Fifth Monarchy Men, John Rogers and Christopher Feake.
  • Peter de Heyno, defended the Carisbrooke Castle 1377 against French / Castilian troops
  • Robert Hooke, a 17th century natural philosopher and polymath
  • Geoffrey Hughes, English actor was its Deputy Lieutenant.
  • David Icke, TV presenter, author, conspiracy theorist
  • Jeremy Irons, actor
  • Phill Jupitus, comedian
  • Laura Michelle Kelly, Olivier Award-winner for her role as Mary Poppins in the world premiere of the Mary Poppins musical and film actress playing Lucy Barker in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd
  • Mimi Khalvati, Iranian poet was educated at Upper Chine School, near Shanklin
  • Stuart Hobday, singer with '60s band Mike Stuart Span and BBC Radio 2 producer
  • Mark King, lead singer and bassist for '80s/'90s pop-funk band Level 42.
  • Allan Lake, radio presenter
  • John Milne, geologist and mining engineer, credited with inventing the horizontal pendulum seismograph.
  • Anthony Minghella, Academy Award–winning film director, playwright and screenwriter
  • David Niven, Actor, Novelist.
  • Henry Sewell, first Prime Minister of New Zealand.
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne, Victorian poet, spent his boyhood at his parents home East Dene, in Bonchurch.
  • Alfred Tennyson, who was Poet Laureate to Queen Victoria, lived at Freshwater and became Baron Tennyson of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight.
  • Alan Titchmarsh, a British gardener, was High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight in 2008-09.
  • Guglielmo Marconi, inventor and Nobel Prize winner, lived in Marconi Cottage at St. Catherine's Lighthouse in late 1890. He transmitted the first wireless message across open water from Alum Bay in Totland in 1897.
  • Anneka Rice, TV personality
  • Kelly Sotherton, Olympic heptathlete
  • Ellen MacArthur, solo and long-distance yachtswoman.
  • Mick Poole, World Masters Champion, European Championships Silver Medalist, USA Masters Champion, 3 times British Open Champion, Great Britain TeaM Captain and GB national coach in wrestling.
  • Mark Fox, businessman and journalist.

Places of interest

AP Icon.svg Abbey/Priory/Cathedral
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Themepark uk icon.png Amusement/Theme Park
CL icon.svg Castle
Country Park Country Park
EH icon.svg English Heritage
Forestry commission logo.svg Forestry Commission
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House
Museum (free)
Museum (free/not free)
National Trust National Trust
Drama-icon.svg Theatre
Zoo icon.jpg Zoo
Classic Boat Museum
Blackgang Chine
Isle of Wight Bus Museum
  • Alum Bay
  • Appuldurcombe House English Heritage
  • Amazon World Zoo
  • Blackgang Chine Theme Park
  • Brading Roman Villa Museum
  • Carisbrooke Castle English Heritage Castle, where King Charles I was imprisoned
  • Classic Boat Museum, East Cowes Museum
  • Dimbola Lodge Museum, home of Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Dinosaur Isle Museum
  • Fort Victoria Country Park
  • Godshill village and model village
  • Isle of Wight Bus & Coach Museum Museum
  • Isle of Wight Steam Railway Heritage Railway
  • Isle of Wight Zoo, Yaverland zoo
  • Medina Theatre, home to the island's entertainment including music and performances.
  • The Needles National Trust, which is near "The Old Battery" museum and Old Look-out Tower tea-room
  • Osborne House English Heritage, where Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert had a country residence
  • Quarr Abbey abbey
  • Robin Hill Country Park
  • Botanic Gardens, Ventnor
  • Yarmouth Castle English Heritage Castle, associated with King Henry VIII

Overseas names

The Isle of Wight has given its names to many parts of former colonies, most notably Isle of Wight County in Virginia founded by settlers from the island in the 17th century. Its county seat is a town named Isle of Wight.

Other notable examples include:

  • Isle of Wight - an island off Maryland, USA
  • Dunnose Head, West Falkland
  • Ventnor, Cowes on Philip Island, Victoria, Australia
  • Carisbrook, Seaview, Victoria, Australia
  • Ryde, New South Wales, Australia
  • Shanklin, Sandown, New Hampshire, USA
  • Ventnor City, New Jersey, USA
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