When I was aged about seven, my granddad Charlie told me stories of the Isle of Wight. My favourite was the one about how, when he was about my age, he and a pal used to creep into the grounds of Queen Victoria’s house and watch her being wheeled around the gardens in her bath chair. This wasn’t at Osborne House, he told me, but at another house she owned – a secret one.
Granddad Charlie knew how to tell a good story, and I’ve never forgotten this and his other tales of the island: about a tragic young princess who died aged 14 and whose grave was forgotten for 143 years, and of life below stairs at Appuldurcombe House.
My family lived on the Isle of Wight, mainly at Wroxall, from at least 1770, so it has been a real pleasure to dig into the stories I was told as a child, and to discover other fascinating, little known aspects of island history. The result is my latest book, Secret Isle of Wight, available from Amberley.
The Wight has been a place of remarkable ingenuity and industry: home to a string of brilliant firsts and inventions. Marconi created the world’s first radio station here, ushering in the age of instant global communications. Yet much island innovation has been overlooked, or forgotten, by the wider world.
Islanders have never been afraid to think big, as was shown in 1969 when Ray Foulk, the 23-year-old owner of a small island print works, managed to persuade Bob Dylan to play the Isle of Wight festival rather than Woodstock.
There are also little-known stories about famous island residents. The architect John Nash’s role in shaping the face of modern London – designing Buckingham Palace, the Marble Arch and Regents Park – is very familiar, but his work on the island, and the story of the two remarkable gothic homes he built here, is almost completely overlooked.