Cowes Heritage has published not one, but two books, to coincide with their current three-week ‘Back in Time’ exhibition in the town, featuring the history of shops and pubs in Cowes, Gurnard and Northwood.
The first to be launched was ‘King Ward and his Huge Isle of Wight Estate’. This book, compiled by George Chastney, is the fascinating story of Northwood House and the Ward family, who not only built this imposing property but also in the 19th century owned 20,000 acres of the Isle of Wight, stretching from Cowes to Alum Bay.
As well as creating a grand park for Northwood House, extending all the way to what became Baring Road, the family’s involvement in Cowes included the building of Fountain Quay and the adjoining Fountain Hotel, and the gift of land for Northwood Recreation Ground and the beginning of Northwood Cemetery. Another member of the Ward family was not
only a first class cricketer, but used his wealth to save Lord’s Cricket Ground from a housing development.
At a time when Roman Catholics were viewed with some suspicion by many people, the book recounts how the highly academic Dr William George Ward defied convention and became a strong adherent to Rome – a factor that led to Catholic institutions benefiting from subsequent sales of many tenanted Ward properties on the Island.
The book relates how Northwood House in the early 1900s became for a few years a convent for nuns from France, and in the 1st World War a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital for soldiers.
As well as descriptions and photographs of the ornate public rooms, the book also comes right up to date by explaining how the house and its park are now run by a trust, totally separate from any local authority.
The second book, ‘The Pubs of Cowes, Gurnard and Northwood’, went on sale this week. It is compiled by David Jones, who has been assembling the information and many photographs over the last seven years or so. His interest in pubs began when while manager of Hurst’s shop in Cowes High Street he discovered it had once been the site of the Carnbrea Castle pub.
The town and district once had a remarkably high number of pubs, inns, taverns, hotels and beer houses. Identified in the book are no fewer than 135 premises that operated at one time or another.
Early licensed premises include the Plume of Feathers where on the 13th November 1647 king Charles I stayed overnight on his way to imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle. Apparently he slept in an old bed of carved oak, and in gilt letters over the headboard was the biblical text ‘Remember Thy End’ which, not surprisingly, he took as a bad omen.
Also recalled was how upset was the landlord of the Fountain Hotel, Tom Jones, when he discovered some locals parading an effigy of him though the High Street, before setting fire to it on a bonfire at the bottom of Terminus Rd.
Then there was the case of the mynah bird which during a darts sevens match against an unbeatable visiting team suddenly recited Humpty f***ing Dumpty and other nursery rhymes with expletives inserted to add colour. The ensuing uproar and laughter was too much for the visitors who went on to lose. At the refreshment break they walked out. Not only was the mynah’s pub subsequently banned from the competition, but the bird died in an arson attack.
Both books cost £10, and are available at Newport’s County Press Shop and Waterstones, as well as at the exhibition which is open daily (10 am – 4 pm) at the Regatta Centre, Bath Road, until 13 November. All profits from the two books go to Cowes Heritage, a voluntary organisation which records and promotes the history of the town and the two nearby village.