by J W Roberts
Drawings by R Norton
NEARLY ALL the old Island books, when describing the village of Arreton, refer to what is still its least attractive feature, its long street of straggling cottages, traditionally associated with agriculture. To many, this is all they know of the parish unless they either look down upon it from the Downs or turn from the main Newport/Sandown road and discover for themselves a corner of old England, complete with one of our oldest churches, a fine old vicarage, a lovely Jacobean manor house, a picturesque pond sheltered by willows and a very remarkable tithe barn. The interest in this rural scene is deepened when its antiquity is revealed; when we find that Arreton, known then as Eaderingtune is mentioned in the private will of Alfred the Great. In the Domesday Survey, two hundred years later, in 1086, Arreton is again a royal manor and descriptions are also given of the other estates in this fertile valley such as Haseley, Merston, Perreton and Hale. It is however, Arreton's four hundred years' association with Quarr Abbey which helped to establish its importance in Island history.
The links between Arreton and Quarr were first forged when Baldwin de Redvers,the Lord of the Island and then owner 'of Arreton Manor, endowed his new abbey with lands where Cistercian monks could successfully farm and build.
There is ample documentary evidence to show that at Arreton and Haseley they were well in control. The Steward came over twice a year to hold Court, accepting the hospitality that the tenants gave to him and his men and keeping a close watch on the condition of the buildings. There are good grounds for supporting the view held by the present owner Mr L H Slade, FRSA, that the east wing of Arreton Manor, which contains stone steps recently uncovered, could have been a mediaeval house used on occasion by the monks. With the church at Arreton, Quarr Abbey was also to have close associations for several centuries. The church was one of those given after the Norman Conquest to the Abbey of Lira in Normandy, but these alien monks were not unwilling to surrender to Quarr the glebe land they held in Arreton, and for 40 shillings the advowson and rectorial tithes. From the end of the 13th century therefore, architectural changes in Arreton Church must have been the work of masons under Quarr's guiding hand. The chancel was gracefully remodelled, the south chapel added and the beautiful arcade of Purbeck marble stone pillars inserted between them. The lancet windows in the west wall, now almost ob- scured by the tower, were 13th century, while the tower itself and its massive buttresses formed a striking addition to Arreton Church between the 14th and 15th centuries. The large square-headed windows in the south wall, and the porch with stone ribs to the roof, would have been one of the last additions to the church before Henry VIII's dissolution of all the monasteries which included Quarr.
To visit the manor house today and to talk to the present owner is an opportunity to enjoy again the beauty of this house so essentially Jacobean in character, and to recall the history of the manor in more recent years. Mr Slade told us how he came to open up the house to the public at Whitsun 1961 and of the success that his venture has had. 'I had links with the Island from the age of six and was a collector of antiques from early days with a particular liking for the Tudor period.' Retiring from business in the Midlands he decided to purchase the manor house which had then been empty for two years, and at considerable expense to bring in Tudor and Jacobean furniture, portraits and other works of art which blend well with the 17th century panelling to be seen in so many of the rooms.
In this way he has been able to re-kindle in himself and in thousands of visitors an interest in Arreton, and by his researches show what must have been happening here after the monks lost all their lands in the reign of Henry VIII.
For nearly a century the Crown con- tinued what the monks had begun; Arreton was leased to members of the wealthy Leigh family who originated from Wiltshire in the early 16th century. An Island survey of 1559 records that Queen Elizabeth I 'had the Manor of Arreton in the tenure of Bernaby Leigh and was rented at 0 16s Od.' Mr Slade considers that part of the house is Elizabethan, and this has blended well with what was done by the Bennett family who purchased the estate when it was sold to pay the debts of Charles I to the City of London. The south side of the house, as seen in our illustration, is generally believed to have been the work of Sir Levinus Bennett and it is a fine example of Jacobean style; its central hall with port bearing the date 1639, its projecting wings, its mullioned windows, distinctive gables and attractive chimneys. Within the house, one sees in the dining room over the mantlepiece, the coat of arms of the Bennett family. In this room is the finest panelling, delicately modelled with vine pattern motifs; there are also here the figures of the god Mars and the river goddess symbolising plenty. In the hall is an Elizabethan table and in the Long Room above, a display of documents relating to the manor. In the west bedroom is a fine old four-poster bed.
When the Bennetts sold their Island properties in 1668 to Lord Colepepper, there began for Arreton over two hundred years of 'absentee landlords' which did nothing to improve the condition of the property. Colepepper, who was a most unpopular governor of the Island, passed on much of his wealth to his grandson Lord Fairfax-This included large tracts of land in Virginia, Leeds Castle in Kent and his manors in the Wight. The Martins and then the Wykeham-Martins who inherited these lands were more closely associated with Kent than with the Island and,during the 18th and 19th centuries, Arreton owed more to two related families who leased and farmed the lands in this fertile valley. The first of these were the Roaches who held the lease from 1737 until 1882 and whose close involvement in farming is seen in an old letter in the Archives Office in New- port. Writing from Arreton in 1882, Frederick Roache, himself over 80, tells a relative that 'our grandfather was the first man who sent fat lambs to London from the Island and he drove them there, which took a full week'; apparently they were obliged to obtain a certificate to permit them to take lambs from the Isle of Wight to England.
The Cawley-Ways were another distin- guished family who, related to the Roaches, farmed at Arreton well into the present century, purchasing the manor from Mr C P Wykham Martin in 1918 and selling it in 1936 to another well-known Island farmer, Mr C B Yates. Mr Slade purchased the house but not the farm from the latter. Though the link with agriculture seems to have ended, Mr Slade has among his many exhibits contained in a small barn, Victorian machinery and tools including ploughs, a stone crusher, a winnower for corn and a butter churn, to mention just a few.
Arreton is still one of the largest parishes, and in the valley, farming and horticulture still contribute much to the economy of the Island. Its old manor houses are there to remind us of its past. There is no Island village with more of these small Tudor and Jacobean homes than Arreton, but it is around its church that one can recapture most effectively the romance of olden days. It was perhaps here on the southern side of the Down that the Jutish settlers of the VII th century 'built a little timber church by the pond with the spring', their small community known as Eaderingtune 'the farm or village of Eadhere's people'.
There may well have been built a home for the Lord of the Manor before 1066 and Arreton Church is usually considered to be the Island's oldest church because of the 'long and short work' of the round-headed doorway on the western wall of the nave and other evidence of Saxon masonry. Here indeed in this quiet little corner of Arreton we can trace back history through more than a thousand years.