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Isle of Wight in the 17th Century

This is an edited version of a lecture given by Mr.Frank Morey the Newport Literary Society entitled “Isle of Wight in the 17th century”. It contains many interesting historical facts about the period.

Lecture given Wednesday 9th January 1923.

Many discoveries were made, and intuitions formed during the 17th century, which changed the lives of people. Among these, were formation of the Bank of England and the start of the East India Trading Company which opened up trade to the Far East, and eventually created the Indian Empire. It saw the start in 1661 of the Royal Society which is still going strong today, the society became a centre of excellence, allowing discussion and exchange of views and ideas many of which we take for granted these days.

The earliest work and ideas for the use of the microscope were published 1664, records of rainfall were first began in 1677. John Ray who has been called the father of natural history was carrying out his investigation during this time, and through his work other was able to extend his findings.

In 1652 it is reported that a coffee house opened in London, and a little late cocoa was introduced. Small quantities of tea were imported into the country in the early 17th century but it was treated with suspicion, and was not accepted as refreshing drink until around 1675, likewise sugar did not become widely used until the 17th century.

Tobacco was introduced at the end of the 16th century, but did achieve wide usage and become a “common” habit until the following century. At the time, there was great concern as to the consequence of using a custom adopted from the American Indians, many books were written condemning its use [as today]. James I described it as “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fumes thereof, nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”.

In the same period potatoes fetched 2s per pound, equivalent to a £1.00 in today’s money [1923],this is most likely due to the fact that they were not widely grown on the island. In 1613, it is reported that the average wage of a man servant was between £3 and £5 pounds per annum and a maid servant £2 to £3 per annum. Labourers were paid 4 shillings a week in summer and 3s 6d in winter, artisans [skilled tradesmen] 10d to 1 shilling a day.

Rates for men building Sandown Fort in 1632 per day were, 8d to 1shilling for unskilled labourers, and 1s 2p to 1s 6 pence per day for skilled artisans. A church was erected in West Cowes in 1657 and was without an endowment until 1671 when it received £5.00. Eight years later the bishop increased that endowment to £20.00 on the condition that the congregation should pay a minister of their choosing £40.00.

The breeding of sheep and the growing of wheat was an important industry on the island with both wool and wheat being exported to the mainland. A profitable trade for island merchants was the supply of provisions to ship anchored in the Solent, Sir John Oglander [1585-1655] wrote in 1620 “prizes and men of war at Cowes gave great rates for our commodities and exchanged other good ones with us, I have seen 300 ships at anchor”. A century later much rice was imported into to Cowes for onward distribution. There was not much shipbuilding in Cowes until the eighteen century.

Even in the 17th century there were periods of financial depression, a diarist writing in 1620 stated “there is a great scarcity of money within the kingdom, so that any man cannot depend upon any payment of money due to him and generally all the country is impoverished. Tradesmen complain they cannot get work to employ themselves, so many do work for meat and drink only”.

Picture of the Earl of Southampton
3rd Earl of Southampton 1573-1624

During 1606 the 3rd Earl of Southampton [1573-1624] who was at that time governor of the Isle of Wight had a list compiled of the freeholders on the island and these numbered 103. Many of the names on the list are still well known island names today such as, Arnold, Blake, Bull, Cheeke, Cole, Colenut, Dore, Godfrey, Harvy, Hayles, Holbrook, Jackman Knight, Knotte, Lacey, Leigh, Legge, Moore, Newman, Oglander, Rice, Salter, Urry and Wavell. The Earl appears to have been a popular governor and a book written in 1624 entitled “The teares of the Isle of Wight” bemoaned his death, and testified to the love and affection in which he was held.

Until 1615 there was no regular post between the island and London, post relied on a person who came to the island to buy rabbits taking the post back with him. In 1628 there was a bad epidemic of small pox on the island; this was brought back to the island by a Thomas Urry on his return from London.

The area between Newport and Yarmouth, including the present forested area appears to have been well wooded countryside in which deer were hunted up to about 1800. The Yarmouth road scarcely existed, and there was nothing but a rough windy road cross a uncultivated heath, with a total of 52 gates to open before arriving at Yarmouth. By the end of the 1800th century the area we know as Parkhurst Forrest which had originally extended from the west bank of the Medina to Newtown Creek appears to have been cleared, and the forest we know today, planted with new trees to supplying the navy. Originally the forest was used by commoners as an area for grazing their animals, Lord Culpeper who among other unpopular acts had enclosed a large portion of the forest in which people claimed pasturage and a petition so a petition was presented to Charles II complaining about the loss of their rights.

On August 2nd 1609 James I and his young son Prince Charles [aged 9] landed at Cowes and inspected a muster of soldiers at Honeyhill before going on to Carisbrooke and into the forest were they killed a “bocke”. In 1671 Charles II landed at Gurnard to visit Sir Robert Holmes at Yarmouth passing en-route through Parkhurst Forest.

At this time, each parish was expected to keep roads within its boundaries repaired with stones collected from fields within their village, but this not always achieved and roads in winter were almost impassable. To move around people either used horses or walked, carriages were almost unknown; Sir John Oglander said his coach was only the second on the island.

Picture of the Sir John Oglander 1585-1655
Sir John Oglander 1585-1655

In 1637 Sir John Oglander was the sheriff of Hampshire [one assumes that included the Isle of Wight] and one of his duties was to collect ship money from towns and villages this was as required by king. This was a most unpopular tax and it appears this duty brought him into conflict with others as can be seen from a letter written to Worsley of Appuldurcombe “not to fforce meeto distrayne your goodes for His Majesty’s ship money”.

The fort in Sandown Bay built in 1632 was to replace the one built in the reign of Henry VIII which had been undermine by the sea. Sir John who was supervising the construction tried to get the engineers to build farther inland but without success. This too was undermine by the sea and by the turn of the century had to be demolished, this proves that the island would be seriously affected if preventive measure were not taken even in.

Around 1637 there were a number of Scottish soldiers billeted on the island which Sir John Oglander described as “red shankes or Hoylanders, beinge as barbarous in nayture as theyre cloathes”and later he said “never entertain moor soldiers, espetiollie ye Scotchmen, and I maye truly say since ye Danes beinge here, theyre nevor wase a greator miserye happened unto us”.

At the same time inhabitants of Newport were complaining about the discomfort and loss they were suffering due to the Scottish soldiers being billeted upon them.

The town of Brading was sufficiently important to have its own representative in Parliament but it cost the inhabitants four pence a day, which they thought was too heavy a burden. Sir John Oglander said in Queen Elizabeth’s time the town was a handsome place where there were “many good liviers that might dispend £40 a yeare a peece, now not one”. Brading at that time was the most important town on the island due the ships calling at St. Helen which was the only port on the island. Sir John said that in 1622 the sea defences were raised in the port by “ignorant Dutchmen” who were brought from the Low Countries.

Picture of 2nd. Lord Culpeper 1635-1689
2nd. Lord Culpeper 1635-1689

Several of the manor houses on the island were built during the 17th century, one in 1620 was the picturesque Yaverland. In 1664 Lord Culpeper who at the time was governor of the island imprisoned Arthur Legg the mayor of Newport in Sandown Fort for speaking ill of Charles II. In his writings, Sir John speaks of a Emanuel Badd, a poor man’s son who became an apprentice shoemaker, married five times became a rich man and bought the priory of St. Helens together with other lands.

There were other people of note during this period, one was Thomas Hopson born in Bonchurch an orphan. He was found a job as an apprentice tailor by the local parish authorities; however this did not appeal to Thomas. On seeing a man of war nearby, he volunteered and was accepted. Soon the ship was in action and Thomas heard that the fighting would last until a white flag was shown by either ship. He climbed up into the rigging, and in the smoke and noise made his way across to the enemy’s ship and removed their flag. He returned to the deck of his own ship with the flag, the enemy were thrown into confusion by the loss of their flag and surrendered. Hopson was promoted, and continued an upwards career becoming an admiral in 1689. On his retirement from the navy he became the M.P. for Newtown.

In 1631 King Charles and his Lord Treasurer, Sir Richard Weston visited Portsmouth to inspect the naval ships anchored there. It is reported that Sir Richard came across to the island and was lavishly entertained by Sir John Oglander.

In 1584 Newport sent two MP’s to Westminster for the first time, almost a century later in 1656 the population of Newport was reported to be around 2500 people. Newtown sent a MP. to Westminster in 1585 and a commission reported that the village of Ryde had about 40 families totalling around 220 people.

The entrance to the Medina River was guarded at Cowes by a castle to the east as well as defences on the west shore a verse was written referring to them;-
“The two huge Cowes that bellow from the shore,
Shake east and west with their tremendous roar,
They guard fair Newport and lofty isle,
From fierce invaders and their cruel spoil”

Hassell when writing in 1790 he stated that travelling to mainland and back was not easy matter, the crossing from Portsmouth to the island took 7 hours winds permitting.

In the 17th century, the lighting of beacons on a high point was used as a means of warning adjacent area of danger. In times of trouble watchmen were posted by the beacons to light and warn other watch points [beacons] if the country was in danger. At the time of invasion by the Spanish Armada five men and six horses spent 12 days travelling to London and back bring money [£700 in coinage] given by Queen Elizabeth for the strengthen of the fortifications at Carisbrooke.

Every parish was expected to have its own gun for defence; these were either kept in the church or close by together with ammunition. In 1683 twenty of these guns were assembled at Carisbrooke Castle, in 1790 eighteen of thee guns were still in existence, today there are only two, one at Carisbrooke castle and the other at Nunwell House.

This presentation is one of a number of lectures given around that time.

Source: County Press, March 1923.

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:19

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