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Cameo from Island History

This is an extract from a newspaper cutting of unknown origin entitled “Woodytown”

Situated on the Wootton River, the little town we now know as Wootton was appropriately named Wody-ton or WoodyTown by our distant ancestors. It really is woody from the mouth of the beautiful river at Fishhouse, now more aristocratically called Fishbourne, to the source, which is on the hills above Havenstreet. It has been a woody town for a thousand years, and with the exception of a few places where the enterprising builder has set his stucco seal, it is still, perhaps, the most woody of our island villages.

Wootton has fallen far behind in the race with its neighbour, Ryde, but it is much older than that beautiful town and older than the Domesday Book. As a community it traces its history back at least to the time when it was the property of the Queen of England. She was the Saxon Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor and sister of that Harold who rashly invoked the wrath of turbulent William of Normandy and changed the whole course of the history of the world. There have been few changes in the place for a thousand years. Perhaps the most important was the building of the bridge. Previous to that time navigation was possible at flood tide up through Firestone Copse to Haven Street. It was possible that the Romans knew the river well and had a landing place near Combley which they named Haven Street, or road to the haven or harbour. All roads were “streets” with the Romans, and such names as Haven Street, Rew Street, Chillerton Street and Play Street remain as strong presumptive evidence of Roman occupation. The discovery of a Roman villa on the side of the hill behind Combley Farm was a further proof that the Romans were occupiers of this district and no doubt used the river as a means of communication with the Solent.

From the earliest times of our recorded history Wootton appears to have been closely associated with the great family of de Insula ('of the island') which was later altered to the Norman French de L’Isle. Traces of the name remain in Wootton to this day. A branch of the family de L’Isle took the name of de Bosco ('of the wood'), or, as it may be translated, 'of the Woody Town'. Nicholas de Bosco was warden of the Island in 1307 at the time of the accession of Edward II, and was commanded to give possession of the Wight to the King's favourite, Piers Gaveston. It may be recorded that feeling ran so high among Island gentry against the appointment of this detested lord that the King revoked the appointment and the puppet was recalled.

Nicholas of Wootton met with a tragic end, the details of which are even now somewhat obscure. Worsley says that he was murdered by Robert Urry, who was tried and imprisoned at Rochester. Mr Percy Stone states that he was killed in a private quarrel by Robert Urry of East Standen. At any rate, Nicholas de Bosco was alive in 1312 under which date a notice appears in the Close Rolls to “Nicholas do Boys, constable of Caresbrok Castle, in the Isle of Wight, order to provision the castle without delay, and to cause it be safely guarded”. It is worthy to note how de Bosco is here translated into du Boys, the Norman French for “of the wood”.

From subsequent notices it would seem more than probable that the death of Nicholas, however caused, occurred soon after this order.In the disturbance, the origin of which is not stated, several individuals were concerned with Robert Urry and John Passelewe apparently being the principal ones. Three months after the date of this order there is a “Commission of oyer and terminer to John de Foxle and Roger de Wellesworthe touching the persons who killed Nicholas de Bosco at Caresbrok Castle in the Isle of Wight”. Three months after that it appears the prisoners were released on bail, but later they were again imprisoned by the Sheriff of Southampton on an order from the King.

Considerable search has been made to endeavour to find the account of the trial of Robert Urry but no mention of it can be found. The following extract from a Patent Roll dated three years after the death of Nicholas de Bosco, May 28 1315, suggests that Urry had been detained in prison until that date: “Commission to J. de Foxle, Roger de Wellesworthe and John Randolph to deliver the gaol, at Winchester of Robert Urry detained there for the death of Nicholas de Boys”. Robert Urry was of Butbridge apparently and not of East Standen, that later property not being acquired by the Urry family until about 1363 when Petro-nilla de Glamorgan, the owner of Standen, married Urry.

The church of St Edmonds at Wootton nestles away in a quiet corner and is generally overlooked by the sightseer. It is quite a historical little church however and, according to Sir John Oglander, was built by Walter De Insula in the reign of William Rufus as a private chapel. In the reign of Edward III both the church and the adjoining manor house are said to have been destroyed by fire, but it is more likely that the church was only damaged, the thickness of the walls saving it from complete destruction.

Wootton includes in its boundary the little river of King’s Quay, which meanders down to the Solent with little disturbance. Tradition popularly supposes that the name comes from the fact that King John found a refuge here, after retiring in dudgeon from signing Magna Charta, and spent his time among the “reivers and rovers” of the Isle of Wight. There is, however, little evidence to support this fanciful story which, like most traditions, dies hard.

Fishbourne, at the mouth of the river, has become up to date with the institution of the motor ferry between the Island and Portsmouth, but nothing can spoil the quiet beauty of the river between here and the bridge where the mill house, although not so very old, has already assumed an appearance of respectable antiquity. Ask the small boat owner which is the most “chummy” river on the Island coast and he will probably tell you “Wootton”.

Taking it all together our 'Woody Town' is one of which we Islanders are all very fond and proud.

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This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:23

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Wootton Walk leaflet

If you are visiting the Isle of Wight you may be interested in our Wootton Walks leaflets which include a large scale route map.

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