Wreckers – sailors beware…

Well now hasn’t it been an interesting week as we all look out to see – the sea – and the wrecked ship! Yes, I have been having a grand view of the recent wrecked cargo ship in the Solent as I stayed in the Isle of Wight. As we travelled around the harbours on the coast nearest to the mainland and the Solent waters all we saw were people with binoculars and cameras trying to get the best view of the very large cargo ship, that in this case, had been deliberately wrecked on the sandbanks in the channel.

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This deliberate wrecking, is of course, quite usual for the Isle of Wight, which retains quite a name for deliberate wrecking of ships – especially in the area where our hotel was – Bembridge, because of the reef and the sand bars that prevail. Get a nice bit of fog and a poor mariner will look for land – oh yes, he can see some lights – kind people helping him – or not, as he grounds his ship on the sand bars – ‘Didn’t you know they were there Sir? And just where were your maps?’

The area of Bembridge has some interesting history as it demonstrates that what we see now is not what we could have seen not that long ago and that the tides of fortune can change (pun intended).

Prior to land reclamation the area of Bembridge and Yaverland was almost an island unto itself, separated from the remainder of the Isle of Wight by Brading Haven. Brading being a very large natural wet land and harbour from the River Yar. It was a very small tidal and rudimentary causeway that kept the ‘island’ part of the mainland such that it was often called Bembridge or Binbridge Isle – at high tide it was in fact cut off by the tidal waters of the Brading Haven with the causeway being man made it seems at some late date although there may have been a ford across the river which permitted access. This meant that Bembridge was also very defendable even in the Iron Age and later by the Romans. Later this proved of great value as the Isle of Wight was attacked by the Danes in the 9th 10th and 11th centuries. The all tides causeway, which effectively linked the isle to the mainland permanently was not made until the 14th century.

The Saxons settled on the isle and cleared much of the land – 5 areas in the Domesday Book – Orham (hamm meaning river meadow and Or by the shore); Hardley (leah meaning glade, clearing on hard soil); Ulwartone (tun being farm or village; and Yaverland had 2 settlements (land also village). In total there were only about 200 people living in the area. The two Yaverland settlements were interesting as one was owned by the King and the other seems to have been a tidal mill.

During the 14th century there was also a new threat to Bembridge and the Isle of Wight – the (dastardly) French. They actually attacked the IoW in 1340 and were driven off, but they went onto Devon and burned Teignmouth (I live in a Teignmouth road..). the French attacked again in 1372 and 1377, and again in 1545 – yes we do have long memories don’t we?

Bembridge grew slowly until in 1871 there were 862 people living in the area, mostly involved in agriculture and fishing (and obviously some had been involved in smuggling and wrecking too but we have little records of exactly who did this obviously…).

Typical 18th century house of the area: typical house

Bembridge remained well isolated from the main island until very late in the 19th century and is not mentioned in guide books until 1830/1840.

And thus new visitors started to come to the area and we find that Sir Paul Waterlow built a house in 1905 called Ledge House which was sold to the Rt Hon. Richard Farrer, Baron Herschell in 1919. For non-English readers I will translate this title: the Right Honourable – is an honorific style of address for certain important personages – eg the Right Honourable Prime Minister. In this case it is the Right Honourable Baron Herschell. The title is given last – there are not 4 names here – but Baron Herschell whose first name is Richard and last name is Farrer.

A Baron is a title and is the lowest within the English aristocracy. However, this particular Baron was also Equerry (a personal attendant) to King George V and Queen Mary and Lord-in-Waiting (government whip in the House of Lords). Richard Farrell was also private secretary to the Earl of Aberdeen when the Earl was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. He was a member of the Royal Navy’s code breaking section ( now that is interesting) in the 1st WW and married a Lady from Shetland – hence the name Rognvald for their son, which is Icelandic or Nordic in origin and means ‘power of judgement’. It is also the original name from which ‘Renaud’, ‘Reginald’ and ‘Ronald’ are derived.

Now interestingly Farrer Herschell was the 1st Baron Herschell (19837-1899) and was a Liberal politician and Lord Chancellor. Richard Farrer was the 2nd Baron Herschell (1878-1929). But the title no longer exists as the 3rd Baron Rognvald Richard Farrer died in 2008 without a male heir.

It is known that Queen Mary stayed in Ledge House for Cowes week (yachting of course).

It was sold by the Farrers in 1935 to become a hotel – the Bembridge Coast Hotel. Which during 1939/40 was taken over by the Admiralty who built HMS Blazer – a land based warship of brick and concrete there with gun emplacements to protect the eastern approach to the Solent and of course the harbours of Portsmouth and Southampton.

By 1965 it had changed hands and was bought by Warners Holidays for an adults only (please, it just means no children!), holiday complex. And the scenery from out of its windows is amazing!

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