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History of the Isle of Wight

Wherever you walk on the Island, you follow in the footsteps of ancient people. Their legacy to us can be seen in the monuments and archaeological remains which pepper the landscape, a landscape which they themselves helped create.

Roman Villa at Newport

The Romans named the Island "Vectis", meaning the place that rises up or divides. In their fine villas, the remains of which can be found at Newport and Brading, you can see the comforts and pleasures of a Roman way of life.

The fortifications of the Island provide a historic insight into the Island's strategic role. Carisbrooke Castle dates from Norman times and brings history alive to many thousands of visitors each year. Yarmouth Castle, the Needles Old Battery and Fort Victoria are of interest to the military historian as well as the casual visitor. Some manor grounds are historic landscapes in their own right, many containing walled gardens, fine plant collections and buildings of local and national significance.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert established a favourite residence at Osborne House in East Cowes. This royal stamp of approval brought many famous residents and visitors to visit and settle on the Island - Alfred Lord Tennyson (who bought Farringford House), Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Keats, Turner and Ruskin are just a few of the literary and artistic greats who were inspired by this "enchanted isle".

Dinosaur Farm Museum Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is one of Europe's finest sites for dinosaur remains. 120 million years ago there was no Isle of Wight, it was landlocked and part of a larger continent. In the muds and silts of ancient marshy environments, animals and plants were trapped and preserved as fossils. These can now be found in the cliffs and on the beaches around the Island's coast.

Giant casts of dinosaur footprints in stone are a famous feature at Hanover Point. Dinosaur fanatics will be fascinated by the exhibits on show at Dinosaur Isle, Sandown and the Dinosaur Farm along the Military Road.

The Island has also made great contributions to modern cultural history. The Isle of Wight Festivals have a legendary status, with those held between 1968 and 1970 being acknowledged as Europe's equivalent to Woodstock. In 1970 Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Free, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez and the Moody Blues, amongst others, played to over 600,000 people, the climax of a 5-day music extravaganza attracting an audience and artists from all over the world.

A more recent addition to the Island's cultural history is the Bestival, an award winning 3 day music festival set at Robin Hill - a beautiful leafy country park in the heart of the Isle of Wight. It was voted the 'Best Medium-to-Large Festival' for the 2005 and 2006 UK Festival Awards whilst also setting the world record for the Biggest Fancy Dress Parade (10,000 people dressed as Cowboys & Indians!). The Bestival continues to grow and add to the fine heritage of this cultural, historical and beautiful Island.

Isle of Wight residents past and present

The Island has attracted many famous visitors in search of inspiration, including John Keats, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Lewis Carroll, Longfellow, J.M.W. Turner, Alfred Lord Tennyson and J. B. Priestley.

Over the years, the Island has been a haven for artists, poets, the rich, the famous and the infamous. Here listed are a few that have put the Island on the map.

King Charles 1 (1647-1648) was held prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle prior to his execution in London.

Queen Victoria (1846-1901) first visited the Island as a princess in 1831, this was the beginning of a 70-year association with the Island. She and Prince Albert moved to the Island in 1864 and the Prince set about re-designing and re-building Osborne House. Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) was the youngest of Victoria and Albert's nine children. She married Prince Henry of Battenburg at Whippingham Church in 1885. In 1889, Prince Henry was made Governor of the Island. On his death in 1896, Princess Beatrice took over the position, which she retained until her own death in 1944.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1859-1875) the pioneering photographer, moved to the Island in 1859. She bought two cottages, which she converted into one calling it Dimbola, after the family's coffee plantation in Ceylon. This is now a museum and cafe called Dimbola Lodge.

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1898) moved to the Island in 1897 to promote his work on wireless telegraphy, establishing the first wireless station in the world at Alum Bay.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1913-1920) was a cadet at Osborne Burma Naval School from 1913 to 1919. His father, Louis of Battenburg, retired to Kent House in East Cowes where he lived until his death in 1921. Earl Mountbatten was Governor of the Island from 1965-1979.

David Niven (1919-1933), the famous actor and film star, lived at Rose Cottage, Bembridge.

Sir Christopher Cockerell (1959-1961) lived on the Island whilst he was developing the first prototype of the hovercraft at Cowes.

Dame Ellen McArthur had her first sailing holiday to the Island at the age of 8, and moved here permanently in the late 90's.

In the beginning...

  • 120 million years ago Dinosaurs roam the Isle of Wight
  • 6000-4000 BC Isle of Wight becomes separated from mainland
  • 3000 BC Evidence of human impact on environment
  • 3000 BC Longstone erected near Mottistone in New Stone Age
  • 1500 BC 240 Bronze Age burial mounds


  • AD 43 Island comes under Roman control; villas developed across "Vectis"
  • AD 530 Anglo Saxon chiefs Cerdic and Cymric take the island. It remains under the tribe of the Jutes
  • AD 686 Island people conquered byWest Saxons and forced to convert to Christianity
  • 700-800 Carisbrooke first fortified by the Saxons
  • AD 1000 (onwards) Danish raiders using the island as a base
  • AD 1066 King Harold expects the Normans to land on the Island
  • AD 1136 Carisbrooke Castle besieged during civil war
  • AD 1267 to 1293 Isle of Wight controlled by Countess Isabella
  • 14 century St Catherines Hill lighthouse constructed
  • AD 1365 Quarr Abbey defences include gunports, earliest in Britain
  • AD 1377, 1403, 1404 Island invaded by French armies


  • 1540s Forts built under Henry VIII at Yarmouth andWest Cowes
  • 1545 French landing on the Island; sinking of the Mary Rose
  • 1588 Spanish Armada passes the Island


  • 1600s Newport becomes a borough
  • 1623 Earliest record of ship building on the Island
  • 1647-1648 King Charles held incarcerated at Carisbrooke Castle


  • 1770s Appuldurcombe rebuilt as grand mansion
  • 1777-1778 French plan to invade the Island
  • 1790s First tourists arriving
  • 1790s Norris and East Cowes Castles built as homes
  • 1799 First guide book printed


  • 1800s Ryde popular with 'genteel' visitors
  • 1810 Development of Ryde as a town begins
  • 1814 Pier at Ryde opened
  • 1815 A Yacht Club formed at Cowes, the first in the world
  • 1820 The Yacht Club becomes the Royal Yacht Club
  • 1823 Steamboats serving route between Southampton and Cowes
  • 1825 First cup race organized by the Royal Yacht Club
  • 1830s Ventnor town develops
  • 1836 Wreck of the Clarendon
  • 1838 Experimental prison for boys opens at Parkhurst
  • 1840s Fort Albert and Fort Victoria built at western end of the Solent
  • 1845 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert holiday at Osborne, before building of new palace
  • 1845 Blackgang Chine opened
  • 1851 Sailing race around the island won by America (the first America's Cup Race)
  • 1853 Lord Tennyson takes a home in Farringford
  • 1854 Royal Yacht Squadron leases Cowes Castle
  • 1859 First Needles Lighthouse built
  • 1860 Lifeboats operating at Brook and Brighstone
  • 1861 Prince Albert dies
  • 1861 Rival ferry operators merge to form Red Funnel Steamers
  • 1862- 1866 Railways built between Cowes and Newport, and Ryde and Ventnor
  • 1863 River Yar bridge built
  • 1868 National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest founded in Ventnor
  • 1890 The Durbar Room built at Osborne
  • 1897 Marconi tests wireless telegraphy, radio, at Alum Bay


  • 1900 Cowes Week becomes important part of social calendar
  • 1901 Queen Victoria dies at Osborne
  • 1903 Osborne Naval College opened
  • 1914 Seaplanes being constructed on the Medina
  • 1920s/1930s Giant J Class yachts racing
  • 1925 First Fastnet race
  • 1938 First radar station built at Ventnor
  • 1942 Cowes base for much D-Day planning
  • 1957 First competition for the Admiral's Cup
  • 1959 Hovercraft constructed by Saunders Roe at East Cowes
  • 1968 - 1970 Isle of Wight pop concerts
  • 1978 Richard Noble starts work on Thrust 2 on the Island
  • 1994 Scheme for tunnel to connect Island and Portsmouth area
  • 1996 Islanders consulted on independence 33% in favour
  • 1996 Island issues its own Ecu tokens
  • 1997 Colourful Cone sculpture erected at Newport Hospital
  • 1998 Isle of Wight Council created
  • 1999 Richard Noble's Thrust SSC jet car wins first supersonic land speed record


  • 2000 Severe landslide near Blackgang closes coast road
  • 2001 Dinosaur Isle opens

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Southampton <> West Cowes, Isle of Wight

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Southampton <> East Cowes, Isle of Wight

Service is operating normally

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