Description from Kelly's Directory, 1886

The island lies off the south coast of Hampshire, within the jurisdiction of which it is included. The Solent sea, separating it from the mainland, varies from four to six miles across, while at one point, near Hurst Castle, it is more than a mile. The island is of a lozenge shape, 22.5 miles from east to west, 13 from north to south, about 60 in circumference and including 93,341 acres. On the north the land slopes to the margin of the sea, woods and meadows stretching to the water's edge; but on the southern shore is a precipitous barrier of cliffs, with here and there a stream falling through a ravine; occasionally the coast curves inward, and at either extremity is a bold rocky promontory. It's geological structure is interesting, as it includes several strata, from the tertiary to the wealden formation, and which in some places are closely compressed together. A high range of chalk hills, or downs, stretch from east to west, and a still higher range runs southward, terminating abruptly at the Undercliff, which enjoys a high reputation for its picturesque scenery and the mildness of the atmosphere: it consists of various shelves, from a quarter to half a mile in breadth and 6 miles in length, gradually sloping to the sea, caused by landslips from the chalk downs. St. Boniface Down, at Ventnor is the highest in the island, being about 900 feet in height: on Ashey Down, which is 420 feet above the sea, is a sea mark, built of stone by the Trinity Board in 1795. The Needles, at the western extremity, are isolated masses of rock, principally chalk and flint: the Needles lighthouse is on the highest point of this part of the island, and St. Catherine's Point, at the southern end, is another lighthouse. Near here is a rock worn by the action of the sea into the shape of the arch; the cliffs at this part rise to the height of 600 feet, and are frequented by numbers of aquatic birds.

The island is under the control of a governor, who is styled the Governor and Captain-General: it forms a magisterial division of Hampshire and contains the liberties or hundreds of East Medina, with 14 townships or parishes, and West Medina with 16: it is within the archdeaconry of the Isle of Wight and diocese of Winchester, and is divided into the rural deaneries of South-East, West and North-east Medina: as a parliamentary district it returns one knight of the shire; the borough of Newport returned two members, but was disenfranchised, by the "Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885".(Transcribed from Kelly's Directory of the Isle of Wight, 1886)


The Isle of Wight is approximately diamond in shape and covers an area of 147 square miles (381 square km). Nearly half this area, mainly in the west of the Island, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The landscape of the Island is remarkably diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of "England in Miniature". The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the River Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at Bembridge Harbour on the eastern end of the Island. Confusingly, there is another entirely separate river at the western end also called the River Yar flowing the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. Where distinguishing the two becomes necessary, each may be referred to as the eastern or western Yar. The south coast of the island adjoins the English Channel.

The West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the famous chalk downland ridge, running across the whole Island and ending in The Needles stacks - perhaps the most photographed aspect of the Isle of Wight. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down, at 241m/791ft.

The rest of the Island landscape also has great diversity, with perhaps the most notable habitats being the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are spectacular features as well as being very important for wildlife, and are internationally protected.


Much of the land now making up the Isle of Wight was deposited during the late Cretaceous, at times part of a large river valley complex which consisted of much of the current southern coast of England. The swamps and ponds of the region at that time made the island excellent for the preservation of fossils, and means that it is now one of the richest locations for finding dinosaurs in Europe.

The Isle of Wight became an island sometime after the end of the last Ice Age when post-glacial rebound caused the land level to sink, the Solent flooding and separating the island from the mainland.

Human history

The island was part of Celtic Britain and known to the Romans as Vectis, captured by Vespasian in the Roman invasion. After the Roman era the Isle of Wight was settled by the Jutes, a Germanic tribe, in the early stages of the Anglo-Saxon invasions. The latter's corruption of Vectis into Wiht (the Latin v was pronounced [w]) is the root of the island's name.

Memorial to Charles I at Carisbrooke CastleThe Norman Conquest created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight. Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle were founded. The island did not come under full control of the crown until it was sold to Edward I in 1293. The Lordship thereafter became a Royal appointment with a brief interruption when Henry de Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick was crowned King of the Isle of Wight, King Henry VI assisting in person at the ceremony, placing the crown on his head. He died in 1445, aged 22. With had no male heir, his regal title expired with him.

Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its permanent base at Portsmouth, fortified the island at Yarmouth, East & West Cowes and Sandown, sometimes re-using stone from dissolved monasteries as building material. Sir Richard Worsley, Captain of the Island at this time, successfully commanded the resistance to the last of the French attacks in 1545. Much later on after the Spanish Armada in 1588 the threat of Spanish attacks remained, and the outer fortifications of Carisbrooke Castle were built between 1597 and 1602. During the English Civil War King Charles fled to the Isle of Wight believing he would receive sympathy from the governor Robert Hammond. Hammond was appalled, and incarcerated the king in Carisbrooke Castle.

Queen Victoria made Osborne House on the Isle of Wight her summer home for many years, and as a result it become a major holiday resort for members of European royalty, whose many houses could later claim descent from her through the widely flung marriages of her offspring. Osborne House and its magnificent grounds are now open to the public.


The largest industry on the Isle of Wight is tourism, but the Island has a strong agricultural heritage, including sheep, dairy farming and arable crops. Traditional agricultural commodities are more difficult to market off the Island because of transport costs, but Island farmers have managed to successfully exploit some specialist markets. The high price of these products overcomes the transport costs. One of the most successful agricultural sectors at present is crops grown undercover, particularly salad crops including tomatoes and cucumbers. The Isle of Wight has a longer growing season than much of Britain, and this also favours such crops. Garlic has been successfully grown in Newchurch for many years, and is even exported to France. This has led to the establishment of an annual Garlic Festival at Newchurch, which is one of the largest events of the Island's annual calendar. The favourable climate has led to the success of vineyards, including one of the oldest in the British Isles, at Adgestone near Sandown. Lavender is also grown for its oil.

The making of sailcloth, boats and other connected maritime industry has long been associated with the island, although somewhat diminished in recent years. Although they have reduced the extent of the plants and workforce, including the sale of the main site, GKN operate what was once the British Hovercraft Corporation a subsidiary of, and latterly when manufacturing focus changed known as, Westland Aircraft. Prior to its purchase by Westland, it was the independent Saunders-Roe. It remains one of the most notable historical firms; having produced many of the flying boats, and the world's first hovercraft. The island's major manufacturing activity today is in composite materials including a large manufacturer of wind turbine blades, Vesta's.

The Island (Bembridge) was once the home of Britten-Norman, manufacturers of the world famous Islander and Trilander aircraft.

A major contribution to the local economy comes from the world-famous international sailing regatta, Cowes Week, which is held every August and attracts over a hundred thousand visitors to the island. Other major sailing events are held at Cowes, including the Admiral's Cup held biennially in July and the Commodores' Cup in August.

In 2005, Northern Petroleum began exploratory drilling for oil with its Sandhills-2 borehole at Porchfield, but ceased operations in October that year after failing to find significant reserves.