Isle of Wight Historic Timeline

The Isle of Wight has a fascinating history from the Age of the Dinosaurs to the infamous pop festivals of the late 1960s. Discover more of the history of this truly unique Island below.

Prehistory refers to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it can refer to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing.

Dinosaurs reign supreme

Period: Pre-history

The Isle of Wight has long been renowned as one of Europe's finest sites for dinosaur remains. 125 million years ago there was no island, it was landlocked and part of a large 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.

The oldest rocks are the wealdon clays formed when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The yellow, brown and grey rocks exposed in the bays of Compton, Brook and Brighstone contain fossilised tress and dinosaur bones with several species identified as unique to the Isle of Wight.

Giant casts of dinosaur footprints in stone are a famous feature at Hanover Point. Today, geologists continue to examine the rocks to understand the complex processes which formed the present Isle of Wight.

Admission tickets to the Dinosaur Isle museum are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

Wight becomes an island

Period: Pre-history

For much of its geological history, recorded in rock formations up to 120 million years old, the Isle of Wight was part of a much greater landmass that was periodically submerged. During the Pleistocene epoch, from 2 million to 10,000 years ago, in cold periods the sea levels fell and the Island became part of mainland Britain which in turn was attached at times to the rest of Europe. In warmer phases the sea rose and the Island broke away.

The earliest human activity in Britain took place during the Pleistocene epoch. The oldest known Isle of Wight site is at Priory Bay, St Helens, where flint hand axes and other implements have been found. These have been dated to 425,000 - 300,000 years ago. During the entire Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) humans were hunter-gatherers who had a limited impact on the environment.

The Longstone erected at Mottistone

Period: Pre-history

The impressive standing stone on the high ground above Mottistone is the Island's oldest landmark relic of human activity. Dating from the New Stone Age (around 4,000 - 2,400 BC), it was part of a communal burial site called a long barrow.

The Longstone is a giant upright stone but has a smaller stone lying at its base. It has been suggested that the positioning focuses the light of the rising sun into the burial chamber where the spirits of the dead might be awakened by the sun's rays.

The Longstone is one of just three surviving field monuments from the Neolithic period on the Isle of Wight. The others are a mortuary enclosure, where the dead were left exposed until the bones had been picked clean before burial (on Tennyson Down), and a long barrow on Afton Down.

Bronze Age burial mounds

Period: Pre-history

Around 1900 BC the so called Beaker people arrived - named after their distinctive pottery. They called the Island Wiht (weight) meaning raised or what rises over the sea.

Hoards of Bronze Age (2,300 BC - 700 BC) implements and weapons, and also round barrow cemeteries, have been found throughout the Island. Although many no longer survive, over 300 round barrows have been recorded.

Round barrows are 'bowl,' 'bell' or 'disc,' according to their construction. Bowl barrows are simple mounds of earth or chalk that may have a surrounding ditch. Disc barrows have a small central mound on a wide platform surrounded by a ditch and an outer bank. Both disc and bell barrows are to be found on Brook Down. A round barrow on Newbarn Down, Calbourne, excavated in the 1970s, contained a 'Beaker Culture' bowl.

Roman Britain refers generally to the period of Roman rule over areas on the island of great Britain from AD 43 to 409 or 410. Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 55 BC as part of his Gallic Wars.

2nd Roman Legion captures Wight

Period: Roman

The Isle of Wight was part of the Romans conquest of Britain in AD 43 under the Emperor Claudius.

The Island was taken by the 2nd Legion under the command of Vespasian who was just 34. The most likely landing place was the large expanse of land-locked tidal water later known as Brading Haven (until its 19th century reclamation.) The Celtic population was not in a position to defend the Island against the highly disciplined 5,000-strong 2nd Legion and it is quite possible that Vespasian's 'conquest' was achieved without bloodshed.

Suetonius, Vespasian's biographer, refers to the Island as Vectem or Vecta. From this came the word Vectis, the name used for the Island throughout nearly 400 years of peaceful Roman occupation.

Morton villa started at Brading

Period: Roman

The Romans arrived on the site after AD 43, farming, fishing and tending animals for their meat, milk, hides and wool. They quarried their own stone and made roof tiles and window glass. They had piped water, bathing rooms and even under-floor heating.

Thought to have first been constructed in the mid-first century, the original small stone farm building at Brading had developed between AD270-300 into an imposing villa with stone and wooden buildings on three sides of a central courtyard or garden. It benefited from a wealth of food and materials including wild boar, sheep, barley and wheat. In the third century, the Villa was severely damaged by fire and subsequently – but slowly - went into decline, partly due to ongoing barbarian raids. The remains of this impressive farm with its mosaics still in their original position can still be seen today.

Admission tickets to Brading Roman Villa are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

Roman Villa built in Newport

Period: Roman

Discovered in 1926, excavations revealed extensive remains of a late Romano-British farmhouse built around AD 280. The villa has one of the finest bath suites in England, under floor heating and remnants of mosaic floors.

6-13th Century

The Dark Ages is a period of intellectual darkness and economic regression that occurred in Europe roughly from the 6th to 13th centuries, following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire after the end of Late Antiquity, and the rise of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century.

West Saxon Chiefs Cerdic & Cynric take Wight

Period: Dark Ages

In AD 350 the Island was taken by Cerdic and his son, Cynric, who are said to have slaughtered many Islanders in the Carisbrooke area in order to annex Wight to the sprawling kingdom of Wessex. These Pagan Anglo-Saxon settlers are thought to have been Jutes, a tribe known to have settled in Kent and southern Hampshire.

A late 5th and 6th century cemetery excavated in the 19th century on Bowcombe Down indicates that settlement there had begun before AD 530.

A Saxon cemetery from the first half of the 6th century has been excavated at Carisbrooke Castle. One of the three graves found was that of an important male, buried with drinking and table vessels, a gold-plated coin and a set of playing-pieces.

Four years after Cerdic's death, rule was divided between his two nephews Stuf and Wihtgar - Wihtgar died in AD 544 and was buried at Carisbrooke.

Wulfere conquers the Island

Period: Dark Ages

Wulfere, son of Penda, King of Mercia conquered the Isle of Wight in AD 661. He gave his name to several Island settlements known as Woolverton which means Wulfere's town. Wulfere laid waste to the Island, wresting it from the kingdom of Wessex and handed it to Aldewach, King of Sussex for political reasons.

In AD 686 King Caedwalla wrenched the Island back for Wessex, shortly after killing Aldewach in battle. Caedwalla had converted to Christianity and he was initially intent on murdering all the pagan inhabitants of the Isle of Wight. In the event he handed over just 300 of the Island's 1,200 families to the missionary bishop, Wilfrid of York, who organised their baptism at Brading.

First Danish attack on England fails

Period: Dark Ages

The Isle of Wight is the first recorded place for a Danish attack on England. It was successfully repelled in AD 787 and for most of the following century the Vikings ignored the Island while they raided the English mainland.

In AD 897, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, sent his new, fast galleys after six Danish ships attacking England's south coast. The Vikings were roundly defeated at a battle said to have taken place at Brading Haven. The present-day copse, north-west of Brading, and its well, share the name Bloodstone.

From AD 981 onwards the Danes used the Island as a convenient place for launching visits for 'burning and killing' which went on for over 100 years - the Islanders lived in constant fear. Cnut, son of Sweyn, King of the Danes, became King of all England, and visited the Isle of Wight in 1022 'with all his ships.'

AD476-1500

The Medieval period, lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Medieval period is subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle Ages.

1136 Carisbrooke Castle now a stone fortress

Period: Medieval

The triumph of William of Normandy over the English King Harold at Hastings in 1066 owed a lot to the military genius of his relative and senior commander at the battle, William FitzOsbern, Grand Seneschal of Normandy.

William the Conqueror made William FitzOsbern Lord of the Isle of Wight. It was a great gift and FitzOsbern governed the Island as a semi-independent feudal state. He replaced Saxon landowners with his own followers, introducing Norman families whose descendants would feature in Island affairs for centuries to come.

William FitzOsbern built a Norman campaign fort at Carisbrooke in a corner of the site of the Saxon burh. He ordered that the tithes and rents from six Island churches (Arreton, Freshwater, Godshill, Newchurch, Niton and Whippingham) should go to Lyre Abbey that he founded in 1045.

Admission tickets to Carisbrooke Castle are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online

1262 Isabella De Fortibus inherits Carisbrooke Castle

Period: Medieval

In 1262 Isabella de Fortibus inherited the lordship of Carisbrooke Castle on the death of her brother, Baldwin de Redvers. She was a widow aged twenty-five and said to be the richest woman in England.

Isabella made Carisbrooke the main residence of her far-flung estates and carried out many additions and improvements to the castle's private apartments. The hall range was extended, and she probably built the central part of the gatehouse. Today you can still see a window seat in the west curtain wall, while sections of her private chapel form part of the museum staircase. On her death in 1293, Carisbrooke passed to the king.

Admission tickets to Carisbrooke Castle are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1314 Pepper Pot lighthouse built on St. Catherine's Hill

Period: Medieval

St. Catherine's Oratory was built by Lord of Chale, Walter de Godeton as an act of penance for plundering wine from the wreck of St. Marie of Bayonne which foundered on the treacherous rocks of Atherfield Ledge. It is the only surviving medieval lighthouse in England.

The 4 story Pepper Pot shaped lighthouse is built from stone and is octagonal on the outside and four-sided on the inside. It was in active use from 1328 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries and had a priest as an oratory to tend to the light and pray for wrecked sailors. An adjacent replacement lighthouse known locally as the "salt cellar" was started in 1785 but was never completed as the site is too frequently shrouded in fog. For this reason the current lighthouse, constructed after the 1837 wreck of the Clarendon, was built much closer to sea level.

1377 French forces devastate Newtown

Period: Medieval

Newtown (sometimes called Francheville) was established in 1256 by Bishop Aymer of Winchester, beside a navigable creek in his manor of Swainston. The name Francheville indicated a 'free town' where land and tenements were held at a fixed rent and the people were mostly free of the usual obligations to perform services for the Lord of The Manor.

Streets were laid out in a grid and, for a time, Newtown was a significant port that rivalled those at Yarmouth and Newport. In 1285 it passed to the king, but in 1377 was destroyed by a French raid, never to recover. By the 18th century Newtown had become something of a 'lost town.'

1445 Henry de Beauchamp crowned King of the Wight

Period: Medieval

The Island's royal ownership was briefly interrupted during the 15th century when it is said Henry de Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, was crowned King of the Wight by Henry VI of England.

Henry de Beauchamp, 14th Earl and 1st Duke of Warwick (1425-46) was an English nobleman. A boyhood friend of Henry VI, he was festooned with titles.

The alleged crowning of Henry Beauchamp as King of the Wight was an act that confirmed his status as a favourite of the young English king. The Island's Lordship at the time was actually in the hands of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI's uncle, and it is thought very unlikely that Henry Beauchamp ever visited the Island.

1485-1603

The Tudor period is the period between 1485 and 1603 in England and Wales. It coincides with the rule of the Tudor dynasty in England whose first monarch was Henry VII (1457–1509). In terms of the entire century, Guy (1988) argues that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years.

1545 Last French invasion

Period: Tudors

During the Tudor and early Stuart periods there were recurrent threats from France and Spain and the Island was a potential base from which to attack the mainland.

From 1538, Henry VIII built coastal fortresses from Kent to Cornwall, with a cluster around the Solent. On the Island two small forts were built at Cowes using stone from Quarr Abbey and Sandham (Sandown). Yarmouth Castle, along with nearby Sharpnode Blockhouse, was constructed in 1545-47. This was the last and most sophisticated addition to Henry VIII's coastal defences; it was completed after his death in 1547, with the first new-style 'arrowhead' artillery bastion built in England.

The French had landed on the Isle of Wight's eastern coast in 1545, destroying a small fort at Seaview. They also came ashore at Bembridge, St Helens, Sandown, Shanklin and Bonchurch. Both sides lost large numbers of men but after just two days the Island forces secured a famous victory.

1582 Bubonic plague strikes Newport

Period: Tudors

Newport was founded in about 1180 by Richard de Redvers, the lord of Carisbrooke Castle. The town was at the head of the Medina estuary and was laid out largely to a grid pattern of streets. By the 17th century it was prosperous as a place of trade and in Georgian times was the commercial and social centre of the Island.

When the plague came, Newport had no burial ground. Church Litten cemetery dates back to 1583, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was entered through the stone
Park Gateway, also 1583, that still stands today. 'Litten' comes from a Saxon word meaning a cemetery.

1603-1714

The Stuart period of British history usually refers to the period between 1603 and 1714. This coincides with the rule of the House of Stuart, whose first monarch was James VI of Scotland. The period ended with the death of Queen Anne and the accession of George I from the House of Hanover. The Stuart period was plagued by internal and religious strife, and a large-scale civil war.

1648 King Charles I tries to escape from Carisbrooke Castle

Period: Stuarts

King Charles I arrived at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight in November 1647. He had placed himself under the protection of Colonel Robert Hammond, the Parliamentarian governor of the Isle of Wight. But rather than helping him to escape, Hammond became his gaoler.

At first the king was allowed considerable freedom and drove about the island in his coach. In March 1648 Charles made an embarrassing attempt to escape but got stuck between the bars of his bedroom window.

The king left Carisbrooke Castle in September 1648 and was taken to London. A number of radical MPs and army officers decided that he should be charged with high treason. He was tried, found guilty, and executed in Whitehall on 30 January 1649.

Admission tickets to Carisbrooke Castle are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1650 Princess Elizabeth dies at Carisbrooke

Period: Stuarts

Princess Elizabeth was a daughter of King Charles I. Like her father, she was imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle. She died there in 1650 at the age of 14 after developing a chill while playing bowls on the lawn just weeks after her arrival.

She is buried in the chancel of the church of St Thomas in St Thomas's Square, Newport, also known as the Minster. Her monument was commissioned by Queen Victoria when the church was rebuilt in 1854-6. The sculptor was Baron Marochetti and the effigy is white marble. The princess is depicted as a long robed figure,
asleep, with her head resting on a Bible.

Admission tickets to Carisbrooke Castle are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1660 Scientist Robert Hooke discovers Law of Elasticity

Period: Stuarts

After a long period of obscurity, Robert Hooke is now recognised as one of the most important scientists of his age. Born in a farmhouse (now demolished) on Hooke Hill, Freshwater in 1635, Hooke was a natural philosopher, architect and polymath interested in mechanics, gravitation, timekeeping, microscopes, palaeontology, astronomy and memory.

In 1660 he discovered the law of elasticity, known as Hooke's Law. Hooke was Surveyor of the City of London and, as chief assistant to the architect Christopher Wren, helped him rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. Hooke died in the capital in 1703.

The date stone from Hooke's birthplace was incorporated into the vestry wall of the thatched church of St Agnes, Freshwater Bay, and can be seen from the outside.

1714-1830

The Georgian era of British history takes its name from, and is normally defined as spanning the reigns of, the first four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain who were all named 'George': George I, George II, George III and George IV. The era covers the period from 1714 to 1830, with the sub-period of the Regency defined by the Regency of George IV as Prince of Wales during the illness of his father George III.

1700s Bembridge Windmill built

Period: Georgians

Bembridge Windmill is the only surviving windmill on the Island and was built in the early 1700s when Bembridge was almost an island in its own right, cut off from the rest of the Isle of Wight. When the artist JMW Turner visited in 1795 he began a watercolour of the windmill showing the sea lapping at the bottom of the hill on which the mill stands.

For two centuries the windmill provided a service for the local community and work for generations of millers. In the 1880s Bembridge’s isolation ended when Brading Haven was drained. The arrival of the railway brought cheap flour which meant from 1897 only cattle feed was produced until the mill last operated in 1913. By the following harvest the men had gone off to fight in the Great War and the mill never reopened.

Repairs were made in the 1930s, and then in the late 1950s local people paid for further restoration work before giving the mill to the National Trust in 1961.

Admission tickets are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1770s Capability Brown designs the grounds of Appuldurcombe House

Period: Georgians

There has been a house on the site of Appuldurcombe since 1300, but the present one was started in 1701. Now just a shell, it was once the grandest mansion on the Isle of Wight and is still an important example of English Baroque architecture.

Construction on a substantial scale was carried out under Sir Richard Worsley, the 7th baronet, after his return from the Grand Tour of Europe in 1772. In 1782 he left the country for five years and amassed a large collection of Greek antiquities and other works of art for his private museum at Appuldurcombe.

The ruined house is now under the care of English Heritage.

1814 Ryde Pier opens

Period: Georgians

Ryde's pier is the second-longest seaside pier in the country. Only Southend's is longer. The original wooden structure at Ryde opened in 1814. At 1,740 feet, it allowed vessels to berth even at low tide, when the sea retreats half-a-mile from the shore. It was extended in 1824, and reached its present length of nearly 1/2 mile by 1842.

Ryde Pier is really three piers in one. A second, parallel pier was built in 1864 to support a horse-drawn tramway. This ran from the pier head as far as the pier gates and then through the town to provide a connection for steamer passengers with Ryde's original rail terminus at St John's Road, a mile to the south.

1820 Start of the first Solent Packet services

Period: Georgians

The Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ran regular ferry services between Cowes and Southampton from 1820. The Company merged with its mainland rival in 1861 to form the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited or 'Red Funnel' for short. To this day, the Company's full name is the longest on the Companies House register.

1837-1901

The Victorian era of British history (and that of the British Empire) was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death, on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain.

1838 Work starts on St. Catherine's lighthouse

Period: Victorian

Situated at the most southerly tip of the Isle of Wight at Niton Undercliff, St Catherine's lighthouse was built in 1838-40. It was reduced in height in 1875 and then added to in 1932.

The white octagonal tower has 94 steps up to the lantern. It is 27 metres high. The main light, visible for up to 30 nautical miles in clear weather, is the third most powerful light operated by Trinity House. The main tower and the adjoining fog signal tower is known locally as 'The Cow and the Calf.'

1843 UK's first theme park opens at Blackgang Chine

Period: Victorian

Blackgang Chine was built by Alexander Dabell as a scenic and curiosity park on a spectacularly steep ravine, overlooking Chale Bay; an area famous for smuggling.

The theme park capitalised on the Victorian trend for healthy holidays by the sea and people travelled from far and wide to see the breathtaking views and walk down the Chine to the beach.

Alexander knew this alone would not hold the public's attention for long and began his acquisition of a series of fascinating attractions and additions to the Chine.

The very first, and perhaps the most bizarre, was the skeleton of a whale, which had been washed up on a nearby beach. He bought the creature, sold off the blubber, bleached the bones and then set about displaying it at the Chine for the morbid curiosity of all the visitors. Although the pathways to the sea have long since washed away, the skeleton still exists in the park as the oldest attraction.

Admission tickets to Blackgang Chine are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1845 Victoria and Albert buy Osborne House

Period: Victorian

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert purchased Osborne in October 1845 to escape the stresses of court life. After first visiting Osborne, England's longest-reigning monarch wrote: 'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot'. The original house was too small for their needs so a new house was built on the site in the style of the Italian Renaissance complete with two belvedere towers. Prince Albert designed the house himself in conjunction with builder Thomas Cubitt.

The royal family stayed at Osborne for lengthy periods each year. In the spring for Victoria's birthday in May; in July and August when they celebrated Albert's birthday; and just before Christmas. The domestic idyll at Osborne was sadly cut short in December 1861 when Prince Albert died. During her widowhood, Osborne House continued as one of Queen Victoria's favourite homes and fittingly she died there in January 1901.

Admission tickets are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1861 Needles Old Battery built

Period: Victorian

Built to guard the western end of the Solent from enemy ships, the Old Battery is a spectacularly sited cliff top fort overlooking The Needles Rocks. In 1885 a tunnel was dug towards the cliff face from the parade grounds and in 1887 an elevator down to the beach was completed. The original guns were replaced in 1893 by six 9-inch rifled muzzle loaders which took a team of 9 men to load and fire. These guns fired projectiles weighing 116 kg. Early searchlight experiments were conducted at the site between 1889 and 1892.

Admission tickets to The Needles Old Battery are available from the Ships Stores onboard or when making a ferry booking online.

1862 Cowes and Newport join the railway age

Period: Victorian

The first conventional steam railway line to open on the Island was from Cowes to Newport in 1862. The Cowes & Newport Railway Company began construction of the line in 1859 after an enabling Act of Parliament was passed earlier that year.

Shortly after this, the Isle of Wight Railway Company built its initial line from Ryde to Shanklin, opening in 1864. In the same year, horse-drawn trams began running along Ryde Pier, connecting steamer services to the town. The Company opened an extension of its main line to reach Ventnor in 1866 and in 1871; the Ryde tramway was extended to meet the railway line at Ryde St John's Road.

1864 Julia Margaret Cameron takes first photo's at Dimbola

Period: Victorian

Home and workplace of the internationally acclaimed Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

A pioneer of photography as a fine art, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was a woman ahead of her time, renowned for her portraits of 'famous men and fair women', many of which were created at Dimbola. The house became of focal point for a crowd of bohemian artists, writers and poets, such as Poet Laureate Alfred Lord
Tennyson, G.F. Watts and Lewis Carroll.

1897 Marconi experiments with radio waves

Period: Victorian

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) was born in Bologna, Italy, the second son of a wealthy Italian landowner and an Irish mother.

Marconi travelled to Britain in 1896 and filed his final specification for the world’s first patent for a system of telegraphy using waves, without wires. He carried out demonstrations on Salisbury Plain and also across the Bristol Channel.

The Isle of Wight was the scene of many early Marconi experiments. In 1897 he set up an aerial and installed apparatus in the grounds of the Royal Needles Hotel, Alum Bay, where he successfully communicated with two hired paddle steamers.

The Marconi Monument within The Needles Park marks the precise location where he undertook his pioneering work that led to radio and all the telecommunications we know today. 

Modern history can be further broken down into the early modern period and the late modern period after the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Contemporary history is the span of historic events that are immediately relevant to the present time. The modern era began approximately in the 16th Century.

1912 Benedictine Abbey completed at Quarr

Period: Modern

The Grade I listed monastic buildings and church were completed in 1912, constructed from Belgian brick in a style combining French, Byzantine and Moorish architectural elements. In the vicinity are a few remains of the original twelfth-century abbey.

Today, the abbey buildings are considered to be some of the most important twentieth-century religious structures in the UK; Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described them as "among the most daring and successful church buildings of the early 20th century in England". A community of fewer than a dozen monks maintain the monastery's regular life.

1928 Saunders-Roe established in East Cowes

Period: Modern

Saunders-Roe was a collaboration between boat builders S E Saunders and the aircraft manufacturers, A V Roe. In the 20th century the company was the Island's largest employer.

The first seaplane was built in East Cowes in 1913. Large numbers of seaplanes were made for use in the Second World War while giant flying boats were developed for commercial passenger use throughout the world. The Princess, the world's largest metal sea-plane, was constructed in 1952.

Saunders-Roe unveiled SR.N1 the world's first hovercraft in 1959 and later developed several larger designs which could carry passengers including SR.N2 which operated across the Solent.

1942 Polish destroyer Blyskawica defends Cowes

Period: Modern

The Blyskawica was the second of two Grom-class destroyers, built for the Polish Navy by J. Samuel White, in Cowes between 1935 and 1937. The ship was in port for a refit during the Second World War but contrary to Admiralty regulations she was still armed to the teeth.

On the night of the Cowes Blitz in 1942, the Blyskawica fired repeatedly at up to 160 Luftwaffe fighter bombers in two sorties until her guns were so hot they had to be doused with water. The ship also laid down a smokescreen hiding Cowes from sight. Although the town and the shipyard were badly damaged by the German bombers, it is recognised that without the Blyskawica’s defensive action, the destruction would have been far worse. 

1965 Secret rocket engine testing at High Down

Period: Modern

High above the sea on the south side of West High Down close to The Needles there are the remains of a top secret rocket engine testing site which was active between 1965 and 1971.

Saunders-Roe made the engines at East Cowes for the Black Knight and Black Arrow rockets that were actually launched into space in Woomera, Australia.

The site - like the British space programme soon afterwards - was abandoned in 1971. It is now a rather ghostly promenade to nowhere on the edge of the cliffs where information panels tell the story. Nearby the National Trust’s New Battery has an underground exhibition on the rocket testing programme. 

Legendary Isle of Wight Festivals

Period: Modern

The three infamous Isle of Wight pop festivals from 1968-70 brought the Isle of Wight international attention. The first, in August 1968 was a one day event held in a stubble field near Godshill where the ley lines met. It featured Arthur Brown, Fairport Convention and Jefferson Airplane and attracted 10,000 hippies. The following year, 100,000 came to see The Who, Joe Cocker, Free and Bob Dylan (watched by The Beatles) at Wootton.

Jimi Hendrix agreed to perform at the third festival in 1970 at Afton Farm in rural West Wight and other artists including The Who, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Free, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, The Moody Blues and ELP clamoured to join the bill.

Over 600,000 paid to attend the 5-day extravaganza which was billed as Britain's 'Woodstock'. However, many more arrived without tickets and proceeded to break down the perimeter fence and create havoc for police and security staff. With nearly 1 million rampaging hippies taking over the Island, the Isle of Wight Act was passed to control future large gatherings. Dimbola Museums & Galleries has an exhibition about the Isle of Wight Festivals.

After a 32 year absence, the festival returned in June 2002 and has been a magnet for festivalgoers evey year since.

Tickets are usually on sale between November and June and can be purchased onboard this ship, from ticket offices and online.