East Cowes, Isle of Wight
About East Cowes
On the east bank of the River Medina, directly opposite West Cowes is the town of East Cowes. The two are connected via a chain ferry (a steam driven floating bridge was introduced in 1859) shuttling both passengers and cars across the tidal river. East Cowes is the Island port for all vehicle traffic to and from Southampton and is a vital artery to the Island's economy.
History: First settled in 1303 the town was originally known as East Shamblord but was later renamed Estcowe (East Cowes) after one of two sandbanks in the Medina estuary that resembled Cows. The name was given to fortifications built during the reign of Henry VIII on the east bank to dispel a French invasion, referred to as cowforts or cowes. The fort was later destroyed and replaced by a castle designed in 1798 by John Nash with Gothic towers, turrets and intricate castellations. Nash died in 1835 and is buried in the tower of East Cowes Church which he also designed. East Cowes Castle was demolished during the 1960s, although in Sylvan Avenue you can see the remains of the ice house.
Local landmarks include Norris Castle, built in the late 18th century in the Norman style by James Wyatt and Osborne House, the summer retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Set in a beautiful location with views over The Solent, the house was built by Thomas Cubitt in 1845-48 and was gifted to the nation by Edward VII in 1904. It has stunning interiors and vast gardens offering visitors an intimate glimpse of royal life in Victorian times.
The town's industrial importance and closeness to Portsmouth and Southampton led to frequent bombings during the Second World War. The Polish destroyer Blyskawica, built in the town by J. Samuel gallantly helped defend the town in an air raid in May 1942.
Industry: East Cowes is famous for its ship building, particularly J.S. White's. The shipyard opened in 1881 and built destroyers, submarines and motor torpedo boats mainly for the Royal Navy. Although it closed in 1966 the yard was used by the British Hovercraft Corporation to build hovercraft until the early 1980's.
The town was also home to the aircraft manufacturer Saunders Roe, who built the Columbine factory in 1935. The Company built many sea planes including the magnificent 'Saunders-Roe Princess', as well as the Black Knight rocket and the Black Arrow satellite carrier rockets. GKN became the eventual owners and since the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 the hanger doors have been adorned with the world's largest Union Flag.
GKN is now the largest employer and efforts to regenerate East Cowes are starting to make headway with the opening of a Waitrose supermarket and plans for new waterfront housing, a new marina, environmental improvements and help for small businesses.
- Bluebird, Sir Malcolm Campbell's record breaking boat was built in East Cowes. In 1938 he increased the world water speed record to 130.94mph.
- HMS Cavalier, which for 20 years was the fastest ship in the Royal Navy, was built in East Cowes in 1944. One of her propellors forms a memorial on the Esplanade at East Cowes.
- In 1947, the world's first fighter flying boat, the SR-A1, was built. This was the world's first jet-powered flying boat, and is still the fastest ever of its kind. It flew at speeds of over Mach 0.8.
- In 1952, the world's largest ever flying boat, the Saunders-Roe Princess took to the skies, she was built at East Cowes.
- In 1954, the world's first hydrofoil, the Bras d'Or, was built at East Cowes, followed by the world's first hovercraft in 1959 - the SRN-1.
- The world's largest hovercraft, the SRN-4, was built in 1967. It carried 282 passengers and 37 cars at speeds up to 96mph.
- Black Arrow rockets (part of the Isle of Wight space programme), were built in East Cowes in 1966. In 1971 an East Cowes-built Black Arrow rocket put the Prospero satellite into orbit.
- The Thrust 2 car was developed in East Cowes. In 1983 it increased the land speed record to over 650mph. The record stood for 14 years until Thrust SSC broke the land sound barrier in 1997.
Things to do in East Cowes
- St Mildreds Church, Whippingham - Prince Albert influenced the architecture with distinctive turrets resembling a German Castle.
- Osborne House - the beloved summer retreat of Queen Victoria & Prince Albert
- Walks - The Boat Trail and the Isle of Wight Coastal Path run through the town. The long Promenade is also worth a stroll to see the yachts and ferries coming and going.
- Events - Don't miss the ORP Blyskawica 70th Anniversary Commemoration in Cowes from 4-7 May 2012.
Just a stone throw from Osborne House is our favourite place to stay in East Cowes, the Albert Cottage Hotel. On the banks of the river Medina is our favourite pub and eatery The Lifeboat. Our favourite grocery shop is Waitrose and if you need to berth a yacht East Cowes Marina is the perfect place.
The floating bridge connects foot passengers and cars/small vans with West Cowes. Southern Vectis operates regular bus services designed to connect with ferry arrivals/ departures. Service 5/25 operates to Newport and Service 4 operates to Wootton and Ryde. For a local taxi call Newport & Cowes Taxis on 01983 280644 or Jones Taxis on 01983 282822.
The A3021 is the main road to/from East Cowes, joining the A3054 Newport-Ryde road at the Racecourse roundabout. For Red Funnel ferry services to/from Southampton please see the timetable.
Map of East Cowes, Isle of Wight
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