Fifteen members met on an unexpectedly pleasant sunny morning, after a run of overcast raw days.
Richard Smout led the group. We started by looking across to the old primary school, now the youth club, and touring the churchyard. Rusty-backed ferns were seen on the churchyard wall, close to a useful noticeboard which gave details of the plants to be found in the area. We admired the small gun house, and looked at a number of graves. These included the graves of Mary Warder (nee Toms) who brought Bible Christian Methodism to the Isle of Wight in 1823, settled in the town and was buried there in 1850. A little further on, in the same line of graves was the headstone for Jane Squibb .. Little Jane, the Young Cottager .. whose short life was immortalised by Rev Legh Richmond in “The Annals of the Poor” published in 1814. The stone itself was a later addition being erected in 1822, when Legh Richmond returned to the parish where he had been curate. We also looked at a set of graves near the churchyard cross. These included the tombs of a Shropshire ironmaster, of Joseph William Bazalgette (the father of the man with the same name whose engineering works had tackled “the Great Stink” transforming the sewage system of Victorian London), and a relative of Sir Robert Peel.
payment of a fee, and while we were there learnt about the goods that would have been taken to the quayside at the end of the lane, and the impact of successive attempts to drain Brading Haven, before the process was completed in the 1880s. We then looked at Rectory Mansion and compared what exists now with a Victorian image which showed that some of the gables and the conspicuous chimney stack are 20th century embellishments. We continued via the church porch. Here there were arches on three sides to allow a processional route around the building when the street frontage would have been obstructed with cottages. From there it was only a short distance down the slope to the Old Town Hall, with its lock-up, stocks and whipping post.
At this point the stroll picked up a certain amount of pace, and we went down Cross Street , past a terrace named in honour of Legh Richmond and into West Street, with an attractive set of cottages on the east side of the road. Near the Bull Ring was saw Summers Hall, (originally the church hall); the new town hall, built in 1902-3 and opened by Lady Oglander, as well as the bull-ring itself. Across the road, Cordwainers was the house lived in by the Warders. Their chapel, which no longer survives was nearby.
From here we moved into the Mall. There were a number of houses to admire at intervals along the route. We compared the brick frontages and the stone sides to two properties, Stoneham and Beech Grove. Other houses attracted interest including Hill House, the wooden boarding to Rosebank, and the porch at what is now the Beech Grove surgery. Climbing higher we reached the lane that goes up to the downs. Near the bottom of this is Little Jane’s Cottage. Postcards of the house in Victorian times were compared with the building as it is now. There have been some additions but the house from the outside is instantly recognisable. This was a place of pilgrimage for the sensitive Victorian visitor. Two million copies of the Annals of the Poor were sold in English alone. Victorian postcards almost always feature a venerable elderly inhabitant standing by the picket fence .. nothing was allowed to jar with the image that the visitor had in mind for Little Jane’s home.
Back on the Mall we had the chance to compare two late Victorian terraces, Linden Terrace and Woodbine Terrace. The former had narrow windows, arched doors and bow windows at the ground floor, whereas Woodbine Terrace relied on the impact of a line of decorative brickwork to make its mark. We continued on as far as the Congregational Chapel established in 1846, next to the site of the British School set up three years earlier. One of the school’s early teachers was a Mr Bully, who gives his name to Bullys Hill which leads up onto the downs. Before the chapel was reached we admired the whitewashed and castellated manse, and Mall Villa, which seems to have been originally built as the home for the teacher at the British School. From here there were excellent views across to Bembridge Down, Sandown and over the Brading Marshes area. By the Mall here we saw a range of early plants including common field speedwell and a fumitory, and we found a seven-spot ladybird, moving in the warmth.
We then retraced our steps back along the Mall, looked at the Methodist Chapel established in the 1860s as New Road was being developed, spoke of the arrival of the railways and the impact that this had on the town, and then walked back along the High Street, considering where the water’s edge might have come to before the construction of some of the early sea walls in the Tudor period. There were a number of inns to admire on this final stretch, as well as the town reading room. The latter appears clearly on the front of another Victorian image of the High Street which we were able to compare with what can be seen today. We ended up back at the church, still in the dry after two hours, and feeling fortunate that the weather had added to the pleasure of the visit.