East Cowes History and Heritage
This is the introduction to Sarah Burdett and Margaret Prior’s fascinating book on the history and development of East Cowes. It can be ordered direct from the East Cowes Heritage Centre www.eastcowesheritage.org
“What other town on the Island can boast of three castles, a royal palace, and innovations such as the world’s first amphibious plane, the first all-welded destroyer, the world’s largest metal flying boat, the first hovercraft, and the only British rocket that put a British satellite into space?
So much has happened here in the town and it has all depended on the people who have lived here or seen the possibilities that the town has had to offer.
The position at the mouth of the River Medina at a point where landing by boat was possible was the first attraction. Agricultural products could be exported from the town and wharves were built, especially after two castles were constructed to defend the mouth of the river.
The fact that our castle in East Cowes collapsed because it was built on clay was a minor set back – the town had started to grow.
Shipbuilding was carried out here. Timber was available locally, growing on these clay soils. From three-decked ships of the line to all-welded destroyers, the shipwrights learnt and developed all their associated crafts and skills here in the town.
The town continued as one pf the major Customs clearing points on the south coast of England. Merchants expanded their warehouses.
The position facing the Solent and above the prosperous port attracted the well-to-do in the late 1700s. Two pseudo castles were built, one of them by John Nash as his own home, and a prestigious housing scheme started. Then Her Majesty Queen Victoria bought Osborne House in 1845. For the next 50 years East Cowes was often the centre of the British Empire as politicians, ambassadors and royalty arrived in the town.
Motor cars arrived: the first Island speed trap was set up here in 1898 and the Island has never been the same since! Man took to the air and our boat manufacturers built planes for them from the early days. Rockets and hovercrafts were developed and built here because we had the skilled workforce to do it.
Whilst East Cowes is only a small place, originally within the much larger parish of Whippingham, much has happened here. Many think of the town as just a place where the car ferry arrives. This book hopes to shed a little more light on the history of East Cowes.”