The Isle of Wight Society

July 2022

Oh, I do like to be beside the seasideā€¦.

How lucky we are to live on an Island, especially in these days of Global Warming.  Even if increased sea levels will reduce the amount of land we have to live on, at least we have the cooling effect of the sea water.  Our sea temperature around the Island is an average of 5 degrees Celsius in the winter and 19 degrees in the summer.

Queen Victoria enjoyed her bathing machine at Osborne, although the first time she found that putting her head under the water was not a very pleasant experience.  Her machine was allowed to run down into the water on stone rails, controlled by a winch. 

Bathing Machine at Osborne.

Always one to seek novel solutions, Prince Albert had a metal floating swimming bath constructed in which the Royal Children could learn to swim in Osborne Bay.

College Cadets Bathing at Osborne Bay

The bathing machine rails were later used to excellent effect by the Naval Cadets of the Osborne Royal Naval College for swimming and diving practice.  The College was home to lads from the age of 13 for their two year initial training to become Officers in the Royal Navy, before they went on to Britannia College, Dartmouth.  King Edward VIII and King George VI were amongst the Cadets attending the college.  Being able to swim was a useful skill. Already by the time this photograph was taken in 1908 the stone rails had become damaged by the sea.

The seaside holiday became attractive to middle and upper class Victorians, who saw the rapid development of Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor with the coming of the railways.  Ryde with its sands and proximity to Portsmouth and the Naval Base had attracted an even earlier popularity as a seaside resort, with its first pier in 1814.   

Piers were extended at seaside resorts to allow for pleasure steamers to call with passengers, and for day trips at sea.  Cowes, Yarmouth, Totland, Seaview, Bembridge and Alum Bay were other Island towns which built piers, and all allowed for promenades out over the sea, with views looking back to land.  The Bank Holiday Act of 1871 allowed the working classes to also enjoy the pleasures of a day trip.

Until 1939, all our piers had been popular.  With the coming of war, several on the tourist side of the Island had a section removed as a defence precaution.  After the war, popularity of the pier and excursions were slow to revive, partly as many paddle steamers had been taken up for wartime naval duties and never returned to their previous haunts.  

Time, storms and the cost of repair took their toll on our Island piers.  In 1950 the chain suspension pier at Seaview was the first to be Listed as a structure of special interest, but just after Christmas the same year a severe storm destroyed the beautiful pier.  Shanklin pier was damaged beyond repair in the 1987 storm.

Climate will always have an effect on our Island, one way or another!

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Isle of Wight Society
East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road
East Cowes, PO32 6EP

Tel: +44 (0) 1983 280310

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