Some Considerations about the Past of Infra Pontem.


The area, containing Yaverland and Bembridge, was for much of its history an island, cut off from the Wight mainland by an encircling arm of sea at high tide and a muddy gulf at low tide. Hence its former name, "Bembridge Island". A wide area of sea flowed up between Bembridge and St. Helens, past Brading and Yaverland and then joined up with another branch of sea that entered through a gap between Yaverland and Sandown, where the boating lake is situated today. Another branch, the modern River Yar, struck off west towards Alverstone, past Adgestone. The low-lying, haven that bordered the north and east of Sandown became known as "Sandown Level", once it had developed into a more marsh-like state.

There were several other much smaller inlets along the northern coast of the Island, which in time became marshy creeks and then were finally reclaimed. They were similar in appearance to Wootton Creek or King's Quay, but today are either rough pasture or are built upon.

1 = Mill Copse.
2 = Thorley Creek.
3 = Thorness.
4 = Gurnard.
5 = Ryde (Monktonmead)
6 = Spring Vale
7 = Barnsley Creek.

This large haven effectively cut Bembridge Isle off from the rest of the Island. It was only accessible by boat or at a later date, via a rudimentary causeway from Sandham to Yaverland, but then only at low tide. Even in 1665, there were still only three routes into Bembridge Isle, so poignantly emphasized in a petition from the inhabitants of Yaverland, requesting that Lady Richards not be allowed home to Yaverland Manor, since they feared she had become contaminated with the plague in Newport.


The Cowdray engraving, showing the French attack on the Island in 1545. The waters of the haven can be seen to extend right from St.Helen's (on the left) through to Sandown (on the right), effectively cutting off Bembridge as an island. Yarbridge can be seen in the centre, defended by a small battery. With its wet moats, Sandown fort looks as if it is an Island and is situated on the end of a large spit, today bounded by Fort Street and the Esplanade.
Source:The Cowdray Engraving, James Basire. 1778. Engraving is a copy of a contemporary original painting, burnt in a fire at Cowdray House.

In addition, there is some evidence, although slender, that a ford may have existed across the channel that ran through the former entrance to Brading Haven. An Inquisition held in 1324 by John de la Hoese and John de Insula lists all the sites of beacons on the Isle of Wight. These beacons were part of an early-warning system and were set up across the Island, mainly on the high points of the Downs. There is one beacon listed near St. Helen's at a place called "Yarneforde". Kokeritz correlates the 1324 beacon sites with a list of "watches and wardes that ar now kept in our Island Sept. 20, 1638". He associates Yarneforde with a 1638 site, described as "At St. Hellen's Poynt". Kokeritz has a number of derivations for the word "Yarneforde" but each one relies on the last element being 'ford'. Kokeritz is inclined towards a placename meaning "gravelly ford" and locates it "at the narrow mouth of Brading Harbour".

This ford, if it did exist, can be located over the bar at the entrance channel, where it curves round opposite St. Helen's seamark. This bar was quite prominent, until the end of the 19th century, when it was blasted in order to lower it by 2 feet to facilitate the passage of deeper draught vessels entering the harbour. Du Boulay makes specific mention that this bar could still be crossed but that, because of its rocky nature, the crossing was uncomfortable. The rocks that made up this bar were a continuation of the ledges of Bembridge Limestone that form the shore from Nodes Point down to St. Helen's Duver and that then gently slope downwards under the sands that extend out from the Bembridge side.

"At low water a somewhat precarious track led along the sands and across the channel near what was always known as "Old Anthony's Boom," thence up near old St. Helen's Church, but this was not suitable for anything except a strong carrier's cart.(p.129)
As soon as the Embankment was really safe, a road way and footpath was made along its top, and the railway from Brading was pushed on, the Quay and the Gas Works at St. Helens constructed, and many thousands of tons of sand, shingle and rocks dredged from the Channel and deposited over the embankment on to the reclaimed land where they may still be seen just beyond the cultivated gardens. The rocks on the Bar were blasted and removed, thus deepening the water over it by two feet.(p. 176)
The ebb tide moreover, ran out so swiftly towards the Bar that no boat could stem it if wishing to enter from the sea, and as the rocky Bar was some two feet higher than it is now, it offered more obstruction to vessels of deep draught.(p. 186)

Bembridge: Past and Present. E. Du Boulay. (The Observer Press, Ryde. 1911)
For early inhabitants, this meant Bembridge Isle formed a small, but defensible island that could only be approached by boat, thereby giving the defenders plenty of time to prepare.

The discovery recently of a large ring ditch, associated with a substantial earth rampart at Yaverland has confirmed that Iron Age people were using the site for defence. However, the site is on a prominent hill above Yarbridge, and not on top of Culver Down, a far higher hill, and, what on first view, seems a preferrable site. The defenders presumably sited their position there so that it commanded the narrowest crossing point of the haven and also so that they had a clear field of vision all the way from Sandown through to St. Helens.

Further significance is raised by the discovery a number of Roman finds, including metal objects, pottery and possible Roman structures, pointing to Roman inhabitation. A quarter of a mile away, in Centurions copse, "Roman pottery and tiles" were found in 1840 [Ordnance Survey 6" 1909]. This may have a connection with the stone foundations and walls that were uncovered during an archaeological excavation there in the 1950's. However, what is certain is that the name "Centurion's Copse" is not derived from any Roman source but is a corruption of the name St. Urian's, a former chapel that belonged to a settlement that was sited where the wood is today. There is conjecture that a Roman villa existed near the hill defence, possibly connected with an inlet that used to run down from "the great sluice" southerly towards Yaverland Manor, ending roughly where the road from Culver down meets the main Bembridge Road.

During the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, the Island suffered from the various incursions of the Danes, who, being ship-based, attacked quickly and effectively round the coasts. They particularly favoured islands, not only for raids, but also for use as winter bases. Although no evidence is available for their presence on Bembridge Isle, the area answers perfectly the sort of geographical conditions that the Danes favoured. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles mention the choice by the Danes of the Isle of Wight as a base on several occasions and careful observation should be kept in the Yaverland/Longlands area for such evidence.


Placenames and the Domesday Book
Place-name evidence points to late Saxon clearing and settlement of the land on Bembridge Isle. The Domesday Book provides a clear picture not only of land settlement and use on the Isle of Wight in the mid 11th century, but also of the preceding century. However, it must be remembered that it was, first and foremost, an instrument of taxation and therefore it is only a record of taxable property. However, it can be used to look at late Saxon England and in Bembridge Isle, five distinct settlements are listed: Orham, Hardley, Ulwartone and two entries for Yaverland. These place names are derived from Old English elements: 'hamm' , meaning 'river meadow'; 'leah', meaning glade,clearing or wood; 'tun' meaning farm or village; and 'land'. However, the population was very small, numbering about 40 male adults, giving a population figure of about 200 people. Meadow is mentioned only once and was situated down by the haven. Only one instance of woodland is recorded and is qualified as "without pannage". This can be interpreted as evidence that either most of the woodland had been cut down, pointing to a landscape similar to today's, or there was still a good amount of woodland remaining on Bembridge Isle, but classified as waste and therefore not eligible for taxation.

However, there remains the interesting fact of two separate entries for Yaverland. One belonged to the King and the other to William Son of Azor. These were definitely two separate and distinct holdings. The Yaverland belonging to Willaim Son of Azor possessed a mill which suggests this holding bordered the haven. It is viable that this mill was situated on the Yaverland inlet and may possibly have been a tide-mill, using the inlet as its tidal pond. In the absence of any stream, this mill's only source of power was tidal, bearing in mind the haven had not been reclaimed at this point. This then indicates that William's holding may have been the successor of the Iron Age (and Roman?) settlement based near the defensive ring ditch and bank. It is also significant that most other manors not owned by the King were inhabited by bordars or smallholders, whereas the inhabitants of the manors belonging to the king were described as villagers. If this points to a higher status, then the King's Yaverland is most likely coincident with Yaverland Manor and the present village.

Until the early fourteenth century, there is very little evidence available to make any statements about Bembridge Isle. However, a Feudal Aid of 1316 [L.T.R. Misc. Rolls. Bdle. 2. No. 7.] shows that the area had been divided into four manors: Wolverton, La Wode (Wood), Middleton or Milton, and Yaverland. Wolverton was a settlement in the area of Centurion's Copse; Middleton refers to a farmstead in the middle of the peninsula, therefore Bembridge farm; and La Wode refers to a settlement in the north part, probably near Bembridge Point or near the village pub. The name La Wode suggests this settlement was connected with a clearing in the wood that covered the north part of the island. In trying to link these 14th century manors with the Domesday settlements, the Wolverton (Ulwartone) and Yaverland references are obvious. Orham meaning 'river meadows by the shore' fits more with the flat marshy land round Bembridge farm, while Hardley meaning a clearing on hard soil has more affinity with La Wode. Indeed, in a lease of 1376/77, there are references to "Hardelee upon La Tyne" (OG/9/11), locating it in the north part of the peninsula, close to a farmstead formerly called Stone or Swain's Farm. The field names listed in a conveyance of 1400/01 again locates Hardley firmly in the very north part of Bembridge.


Fishery Rights
The Lords mentioned in the Feudal Aid were Robert de Glamorgan (Wolverton), Peter d'Evercy (La Wode), John de Weston (Middleton), and the heir of William Russell (Yaverland). The first three Lords had been involved in a dispute concerning a fishery, connected with their lands. This shows that an organised fishery had been established by that time in the area with definite extents and rights and that the ownership of Brading Haven was in the gift of the Lords of Wolverton, La Wode and Middleton.
An Instrument of Accord concerning the Right of Fishery in Brading Haven. 6 Edw. II.

Next Monday after the feast of St. Hilaire in the year of the reign of King Edward son of King Edward, sixth [regnal year], this covenant is made between 'Sire Jean de Weston' the father knight of the one part, and 'Peres Devercy' knight, 'Johan the son 'Sire Robert de Glamorgan of the other part. This is to know that ...in the court of our Lord the king between the before-said 'Johan de Weston demandant'[plaintiff], and the before-said 'Sire Robert & Peres defendants', of those of the before-said 'Sire Robert & Peres defendants' disturbed & cleanly removed the said 'Sire Johan de Weston' from his fishery between 'le Groyne' of the white cliff and 'le Groyne de St. Elene' in the Isle of Wight; from his part of the benefit of the sea and of selling, giving, taking and carrying away, as affirmed in the third part of the three lordships, this is to know the third ... of the fishery, or the third part of two thirds or of one, if it be more, and the third part of the moiety of the 'chaunce de mer',...

Indeed, in the 18th century, the Worsley family, who had bought up all the manors except Yaverland, owned the rights to the fishery, whose annual value was 2. This also highlights that James I was outside his rights in claiming the Haven as his to grant in the 17th century. Worsley, as well as other landowners, complained but were over-ruled, possibly suggesting another minor reason why certain people on the Island were ill-disposed towards the Crown during the Civil War. The Worsley's right to the Haven was subsequently confirmed by the courts in the 17th century after a number of actions brought by Sir Bevis Thelwell against them concerning the reclamation of the haven.


The Russells of Yaverland and Yarbridge.
In the early fourteenth century, two significant events occurred. Firstly, Yaverland, having been part of the parish of Brading, became a separate parish in its own right. A private chapel had been built by the de Aula family c. 1150, next to their manor house at Yaverland, to serve their tenants and themselves, so avoiding the tedious and uncomfortable journey across to Brading church. This chapel now became the parish church.

The second significant event concerned the subsequent owners of Yaverland Manor, the Russell family. During the time of Edward I, Sir William Russell, Lord of Yaverland and Warden of the Isle of Wight, built a causeway across the narrowest part of the haven at Yarbridge. Until this time, Bembridge Isle had depended on a ferry for communications or a low-tide walk from Sandown. The haven was fairly shallow from Yarbridge to Sandown and Russell was able to construct a raised embankment from the Yaverland side with a bridge to let through the Yar River close to the Brading side. This bridge and causeway shortened the journey distance and time through to his manor house as well as reducing the discomfort that a trip via Morton causeway and Sandown entailed. Besides, this causeway could be used at any state of the tide, while Sandown route could only be attempted at low tide. Oglander mentions that he also reclaimed some of the haven southwards from Yarbridge towards Sandown, effectively separating the tide on the Sandown side from that of the Brading side. It is from this time that the name 'Binbridge' or 'infra pontem' appears in records and often the area is referred to as "Binbridge Isle".


Wolverton and its Destruction
Wolverton along with Middleton were the main manorial units in Bembridge Isle during the medieval age. Middleton became Bembridge Farm and the area around Peacock Hill. However, little remains of the original Wolverton except for earthwork and ditch features, now covered by a wood. Even the name has been lost and replaced by Centurion's Copse. However, over the years, finds, consisting of building materials and pottery, have been discovered on the site.

On a 1909 Ordnance Survey map, there is a cross marking the site of some artefact finds with the caption "Roman tiles and pottery, 1840". This refers to artefacts found in 1840 in Centurion's Copse and thought to be Roman. Possibly, the name "Centurion's Copse" suggested such, but a later archaeologist, who worked on the site in 1954, saw the finds and maintained they were medieval.

The 1954 archaeological excavation took place in much the same place and revealed a large manorial establishment with medieval habitation levels consisting of stone walls, slate, flint and pottery. The pottery was identified as 12th/13th century. It was intrepreted as the site of a manor house and the features in the wood were taken to be a medieval settlement or 'town'. In 1884, there was an excavation which revealed masonry, domestic utensils and a key, described as "wholly mediaeval". A conjectural picture of the manor house can be made as a stone building with a slate roof.

Old stone masonry revealed underneath the roots of a fallen tree in Centurions Copse. The stone was Bembridge Limestone and several blocks had smoothed, curved edges, showing they had been acquired from a beach source. Also found in amongst the stone blocks were pieces of slate and oyster shells.
In the copse, there are embankments and ditches still extant and these banks form its northern, western and eastern sides, possibly suggesting an enclosure boundary. A sunken lane runs westwards from the main Bembridge road at Longlands down to Centurion's Copse and curves round the south edge of the wood. This is the old road to Bembridge. It still has its gravel surface, consisting of some large flint cobbles as well as flint gravel, all compacted down to form a durable and still extant surface. This road struck off south-westerly to join the main Bembridge road at grid reference 620865.

And so it would seem that a large stone building, possibly a manor house, with an associated medieval settlement, did exist on the Centurion's Copse site and that this settlement was called Wolverton. By the 17th century, this had all but disappeared. However, a small settlement called Wolverton Farm, or simply "Wolverton" was established on higher ground to the north east at grid reference 62658695. This continued in existence in one form or another until the early 20th century, when that too disappeared.

Like Newport and Newtown, Wolverton was built on a low plateau on the edge of tidal water. Wolverton fits almost exactly onto a 'contour bulge' between the 5 metre and 10 metre contour lines, on the eastern edge of Brading Haven and was situated between two inlets of water: one to the south-west, the other to the north east.

A supply of water was derived from two springs. One was situated in the present day woods and was apparantly steined in stone. The other issues out by the side of the lane leading towards Wolverton from the east. The water then flows as a stream called White Oaks stream down the side of the lane past the eastern end of Wolverton.

Wolverton never constituted a town as we know it today. Although often referred to as a 'town' however, it was a large settlement, more akin to a large hamlet today. There is also the likelihood that it possessed some sort of rudimentary quay, situated in the north-east inlet.

At some point, probably after the French attacks, the settlement of Wolverton was moved to higher ground to the north-east. Leases and maps from the 18th and 19th centuries show that Wolverton was situated very close to the western end of the runway of the present Bembridge airport. It was the construction of the latter that finally wiped Wolverton from the map.

Worsley mentions the existence of three chapels in Bembridge Isle during medieval times, each associated with the manors of Wolverton, La Wode and Middleton. A chapel, known as St. Urian's Chapel, is known to have been associated with Wolverton and was mentioned by both Oglander and Worsley. This chapel is shown on the 1909 map as "St. Urian's" and is marked with a cross in an outlying triangular piece of copse with the words "supposed site of" in brackets. It was a manorial chapel, connected to the manor house at Wolverton and for the personal use of the lord and his tenants. However, this too has disappeared and remains an intriguing mystery.

The legend of the French destruction of the "town" of Wolverton and the hermit of Culver has been passed down to us as an explanation for the disappearance of Wolverton in the 14th century. But this legend, however much it has been embellished, holds a kernel of truth.

From the start of the thirteenth century, a new threat from France emerged. Money was spent on the defence of the Island; a beacon warning system was established, or possibly re-established; and arrays of knights, bowmen and men-at-arms were regularly ordered. Absentee landholders were also ordered back to the Island and this call occurs increasingly often in the forteenth century. Much of the Hundred Years War was characterised , not by set battles such as Agincourt or Crecy, but by quick, local coastal raids by both the English and the French. The French directed these raids mainly on the south coast from Dover through to Cornwall but the central section bore the brunt.

In March 1338, the French plundered and burnt Portsmouth. In October, the French, with Genoese and Catalan allies, attacked, pillaged and burnt Southampton. The Island was an obvious target and a French attack was expected. The authorities were becoming alarmed that absenteeism was becoming a more serious problem and was threatening the strength of the military establishment of the Island.

In August 1340, the French, supported by Spaniards, attacked the Isle of Wight. It is claimed that they landed at St. Helen's, where they were driven off by Theobald Russell, although he was killed in the fight. The French then moved on to Devon, where they burned Teignmouth. The sacking of Wolverton is said to occurred in 1340 and so must have been simultaneous with the attack on St. Helen's, since there were no other attacks on the Island in 1340. This would therefore suggest a two-pronged attack on both sides of Brading Haven. After this attack, there were recriminations between the custodians of the Island, responsible for overall defence, and the bishop of Winchester. The former claimed that the clergy had not played their part in defending the Island and consequently they had lost Theobald Russell.

In 1372, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight were attacked again. In 1377, the French, with Castilian ships, launched several months of concerted attacks. From June until August, Rottingdean and Lewes were taken, and Plymouth, Dartmouth, Portsmouth and Folkestone were sacked. Then from August until September, the Isle of Wight was occupied: Newport, Newtown and Yarmouth were burnt down and sacked. Newtown was so successfully destroyed that it never recovered and remained a very small village. Although Poole was burned, Carisbrooke was beseiged but held out successfully, while both Winchelsea and Southampton were unsuccessfully attacked. These were not the last raids on the Island, but they were enough to discourage re-settlement of both Newtown and Wolverton, while Yarmouth and Newport both remained nearly deserted for several years.


The Beacon System
By at least 1324, but probably much earlier, a beacon system had been established to cover the whole Island. This acted as an early warning system and consisted of beacon fires at various high points and main headlands of the Island. The beacon itself was constructed from a stout pole with an iron fire basket, either mounted on the top or hanging from a beam, fixed to the top, whilst a ladder was lent against the pole to allow access to the fire basket for fuel. These beacons, especially where sited on headlands, also served as a sea-mark, being highly visible from the sea and were therefore often marked on maps of the Island.
An enlarged image of a beacon from Speed's 1611 map.

A section from Boazio's 1591 map showing the beacon on Bembridge Down.
In 1324, an inquisition into the defences of the Island provided a survey of the beacons and listed a beacon on Bembridge Down: "...in hundredo de Estmedine est unus ignis infra pontem super Puttokesdone, et debet ibidem vigilia fieri per quatuor homines de nocte, et per duos homines per diem." This beacon system continued until the 18th century although only activated during times of tension or war. In 1638, in a list of the "Watches and Wardes that ar now kept in our Island, Sept. 20 1638", Capt. Basket is given as responsible for "On Binbridge Down, a ward, one man, and a watch 2 men".

The actual proceedure for the firing of the beacons was outlined in a set of instructions drawn up for the Island militia in 1651. On the approach of a large fleet, it orders the centoner[officer in charge of the militia in a local area] to give notice to the Captain of the Island and to fire the beacons. It also gives full instructions concerning the organisation and conduct of the watch, while one section concerns the beacon itself.
"Item, every centoner to choose the most sufficient man in his companie lying convenient for yt to be his searcher, or to cause the old searcher, beinge not able himself, to finde a sufficient man. And especially care is to be taken, both in havinge the beacons well searched, warded, and watched, and a sufficient quantitie of wode to lay by them if occasion serve."
The penalty for 'setting off' a beacon with no cause could be severe, because of the disruption and fear it would cause. For a beacon on fire could only mean one thing and whether genuine or accidental, the alarm caused by a beacon could have far-ranging results.
"The fear of this alarum was so great that one Way, a servant of Knight's of Bembridge, without my consent set my beacon on fire, for which I sent him to the Castle prison. (...)

Old William Scott of Bembridge, aged 89 years, having been some 5 years bedridden, upon the alarum got out of bed and walked 3 miles. Fear maketh a man to forget both age and sickness."

Indeed this incident caused such a furore that it caused the Governor of the Island, the Earl of Southampton, to send a strongly-worded letter to Oglander ordering him to lock up the perpetrator as an example to others.

Regular reminders were sent from the Island's Governor in London to his Lieutenants on the Island, instructing them to make sure the beacons were ready.

"I have likewise orders that you should call your beacons to be kept in continual repair and watched and if you cause those to seawards to be watched it will not be amiss", wrote Lord Portland to Sir John Oglander in the 1630's (OG/85/15). The importance of the alertness of the watch at the beacons was of the utmost importance. Indeed, special officers, the "searchers", were appointed to ride around each beacon to check that the watch were awake and ready, and a whole system of supervision was issued to ensure the vital and proper management of the beacon and watch system. That the Bembridge watch were well-trained can be judged from an incident in 1587, when, during a storm, they apprehended five "sea-devils".

The beacon system was kept in use until the end of the 18th century when the new system of semaphore was introduced. Today, there are still lanes, fields and even houses that carry the memory of this beacon watch system in their names.


The French Attack of 1545
In 1545, Bembridge Isle witnessed the onslaught of the French once again, when French naval and military forces attempted to secure Portsmouth and its harbour. Although the Mary Rose was lost, the inconclusive result of the naval skirmishes and English reluctance to venture beyond the safe confines of Spithead led the French to land forces at several places in the east of the Island in an attempt to provoke Henry VIII into a full naval action.

Three attacks were initiated at Seaview, Sandown and Bonchurch. At Seaview, a small fort was destroyed and the manor house and neighbouring dwellings at Nettlestone were burnt. At Sandown, the attack was repulsed. However, many of the troops, stuck on ships that were anchored from Whitecliff Bay round to Under Tyne, became restless and , of their own accord, landed in the Whitecliff Bay area. They ascended Bembridge Down, on the summit of which they were attacked by English militia, and were then chased in disorder down to Whitecliff Bay.

Having been reinforced by more soldiers from the ships, the French counter-attacked the English, pushing them back over Bembridge Down as far as Yarbridge. Here the bridge was cut, preventing any further advance by the French, for the haven then extended to Yarbridge, while beyond this to Sandown was a mixture of marshland and saltmarsh. The French burnt properties in Yaverland and the Bembridge area and it is this scene that is portrayed in the detail of the Cowdrey engraving shown at the start of this page. The French troops were soon ordered to return to their ships by a top-ranking French officer, Seigneur de Tais. The French fleet subsequently withdrew, sailing east along the Sussex coast. The Bembridge area was to suffer no more attacks, although insecurity in the 19th century led to the building of fortifications on Bembridge Down and at Yaverland.

Sir John Oglander's account:

"Afterwards they[the French] landed again in Bindbridge, where Seigneur de Tais commanded-in-chief. They marched up as high as the top of Binbridge Down before they were by us set on. We, lying in ambush on the other side, fell on them both with foot and some horse that we had mustered up among the carts, killed many, took prisoners, and drove the rest down as far as their ships, killing them all the way; but then the Admiral, having notice of it, commanded all ashore to their succour, and our King also sent word to us that we should retreat in order, seeking to draw all their strength ashore far from their ships, hoping for a favourable opportunity to bring our fleet in the interim to surprise theirs. Whereupon we retreated and skirmished with them as far as Yarbridge, and gave them leave to burn all Bindbridge and Yaverland, but the wind being still calm and not serving for our fleet we beat them back again to their ships."
Martin du Bellay's account:
[Martin du Bellay was a French military commander, who took part in the attack of 1545.]
"The other fighting men, meanwhile, were on board the ships awaiting the admiral's orders to disembark, and seeing the countryside ablaze and the seaboard undefended, landed unobserved and without leave in a spot at a distance from their commander so as not to be prevented by him. These, landing without guide or commander, scattered themselves over the country at will and with no plan of campaign, and having in sight of the enemy gained the top of a range of hills traversing the breadth of the Island, were assailed by horse and foot so briskly that some were killed and others captured and the rest driven in disorder to the foot of the hill close to the shore, where thanks to our army and a hedge and ditch they came across they rallied and made a stand against the coming of their comrades who were in the ships, many of whom, anxious for their fellows, hastily manned their boats and went to their assistance. This gave the men ashore such courage that they regained the hill, put the enemy to flight, and forced them to retreat inland to a stream which they crossed by a bridge, cutting it behind them for fear of our pursuit, and there they made a stand awaiting reinforcement. This having come to the knowledge of the Admiral, he concluded they, being without officers, were only stragglers and so would receive no ill-treatment. He therefore bade the Seigneur de Tais to go in person and conduct their retirement, which he did."

Mills
Due to the lack of any substantial stream within Bembridge Isle, there have never been any stream-based water mills in the area, which does explain the need for the windmill established at Knowles Farm around 1700.

However, there is evidence for the possible existence of a number of tide mills in the region. The low-lying marsh grounds around the edge of Brading Haven were suitable for enclosing with a bank to form a tidal pond, the waters of which could be harnessed to turn the waterwheel of a mill.

Mills in the Bembridge Isle area:

1. Yarbridge
The earliest mention of this mill is in a feet of fines in 1563: two water mills were part of the Manor of Yaverland that was held in trust for German Richards by William Grymston. In 1568, an Inquisition held at the death of German Richards recorded he owned "1/3 part of a mill called Yarbridge Mills in Brading and Yaverland" [P.R.O. C.142 148/27]. This mill was also mentioned in the Brading Borough Court Books as "Yarbridge Mill" in connection with rights of way. It is said to be "under the cliff", a reference to the steep sides of the land that descend to Yarbridge near the present day Anglers Tavern. An inquiry into the bounds of Brading Haven, taken in the year 1622, also mentions this mill. Both Henry Scott and Richard Spencer, both of Bembridge, confirmed that "the said haven doth extend itself in length from a place called Cowledge to a mill called Yarbridge, ..." [P.R.O. E 178/4511]. In the same survey, William Scott of Bembridge mentioned "Sterkmarsh alias mill Marsh near Yarbridge mill, ...", while Henry Scott of Bembridge remembered that, before the making of Richards's wall from Brading to the Great Sluice, it was possible "with his bote to carry oysters up to Yarbridge Mill".

There are two likely sites for this mill. One is on the south side of the present Yarbridge where there is a pond-like feature tucked in close to the railway line. The River Yar does not flow through it for it is positioned on a bend in the river and is a distinct body of water with access to and from the Yar.

However, on the north side of Yarbridge, again tucked in close to the railway line, there is a triangular area of rough, marshy ground, bordered on its river side with a bank. The tithe map shows that there used to be a watercourse, branching off from the Yar and running along the west side of this piece of ground, where the railway line is today. Possibly this triangular embanked ground is the vestige of and old tidal pond.

2. Yaverland
A mill at Yaverland is mentioned in the Domesday book in the section detailing the lands of William son of Azor. The survey records that at "Evreland", there is "molin de XII solid." [a mill at 12 shillings]. There are no streams at Yaverland, which leads one to the possibility that this mill refers to a tide mill situated at the north end of the inlet that used to run down from Richards's Great Sluice towards Yaverland Manor.

3. Brading
The only reference for this mill is contained in Sir John Oglander's Common-place Books where, in describing Middleton's reclamation of Brading Haven and the resulting costs, he states "afterwardes in bwyldinge ye barne and dwellinge howse, and water mill, with ye ditchinge and quickesettinge, and makinge all ye partitions itt coolde not have coste lesse then 200 moore; ..." It has been suggested that the site of this mill was beside Richards's Great Sluice at the southern end of his embankment. However, given the lack of references to this mill, it may well have been on the seaward side of Richards's seawall and have ceased to exist when the sea engulfed the haven again in 1630.

4. St. Helens
This tide mill was a much later mill dating to the early 19th century. The mill ponds and their associated walls are still extant. The mill house is now a private house. More information on this mill can be found in "The Mills of the Isle of Wight" by J.K. Major.

5. Wademill
Wademill is first mentioned in a Court Baron, held for the Manor of Whitefield in 1575, in which it is stated that Roger Sarvel held by copy, amongst other property, Wade Myll Close on the east side of Clyffe Close in Brading [OG/13/6 & OG/31/28]. Sir John Oglander also mentions this close when describing a dispute between the lords of Yaverland and his tenant of Cliff Close concerning a fence next to the Haven.[OG/90/4]. In the Brading Borough Court Books, there are regular orders for various landowners to keep clear the watercourse or "town ditch" from "Broadstone" [near the present day mini-roundabout on the Ryde side of Brading] down to "Wade Mill". This mill also possessed a quay of its own by the late 16th century, for in 1576, John Prescott was ordered to ensure access "sufficient for the boats unto the quay at Wade Mill".

The above-mentioned inquiry into the bounds of Brading Haven, taken in the year 1622, also confirms the existence of this mill. Wade Mill is still being mentioned in the Brading Court books in 1684 and also in 1715 when it is referred to as "Wade Field Mill".

6. Bembridge A windmill was built at Knowles Farm in around 1700 and still exists today. This mill is too well known and there is sufficient literature to warrant any mention. [For more information, see booklet produced by the National Trust and "The Mills of the Isle of Wight" by J.K. Major]


Stone Quarrying
Over the centuries, the geology of the Bembridge area has provided employment in stone quarrying, as this area was an important source of building stone. In fact, there is strong evidence to identify Bembridge and St. Helen's as more significant than Binstead in the supply of stone, certainly from 1200 onwards.

In the north-east part of the Island, the geological strata have developed from the almost vertical orientation of the downs to a more horizontal plane. This means that, along the north coast, the various layers are near horizontal, although with a slight dip. It is at the north-eastern shore of the Island that the Bembridge Limestone layer emerges in an outcrop of some considerable extent. Indeed it stretches from St. Helen's round to Whitecliff in large ledges of rock, which provide a source of easily accessible stone. Indeed Bembridge Ledge is mainly made up of this rock and can be seen in its horizontal layer at low tide, where it often resembles a stone wall that has collapsed on its side. Due to the bedding, typical of limestone, the Bembridge stone splits along these bedding planes to form chunks that are very similar to dressed masonry and are very convenient for building purposes.

It was the ease of access with a boat that made this area popular as a source of stone and quarries existed at both St. Helen's and Bembridge, for many centuries, until the advent of industrially-produced brick in the 19th century. Indeed, such is the abundance of stone in this area that it was the beach quarries of Bembridge and St. Helen's that are more often referred to in documents than those at Binstead. When the demand for stone required transportation over some distance, then it was usually the Bembridge and St. Helen's quarries that were chosen. For example, in 1641, Col. George Goring, then governor of Portsmouth, wrote to Sir John Oglander asking if the King usually paid for stone taken below the high water mark at St. Helen's opposite the grounds of Sir William Hopkins, the owner of the Priory, since he required a quantity for the repairing of the defences of Portsmouth.

Stone could be obtained anywhere from Tyne Ledge round to Whitecliff Bay. A beach quarry existed at Tyne in the 17th century, when John Crouch and Frances, his wife, "remised, released and for ever quitt claimed" their title to this quarry over to Sir Robert Worsley (OG/49/4). From this document, the quarry can be fairly accurately located close to Colonel's Hard near Tyne Hall. The Worsley family also made regular use of the stone provided by this area. They owned large parts of the Undercliff and seemed to prefer to use the Upper Greensand from that area for any fine masonry work that they undertook, such as Appuldercombe House. However, for more prosaic purposes, they resorted to the Bembridge Limestone located on the Bembridge estates. The most likely source was the Whitecliff Bay area since there is mention of "Rubble Stone from Binbridge Clifts" in their accounts. Some idea of costs can be ascertained from these account books where regular references to stone can be found.

1760 Mr Willm Clarke to Sir Thos Worsley (JER/WA/33/18)
1760 Febry 29Reced of James Speed for Soilage of 28 Loads of Stones 0-12-0
1762 March 21Reced for Soilage of Rubble Stone from Binbridge Clifts being 766 Tuns at 3d per Tun 9-11-6
1762 Jun 4Reced of Mr Dennett for Ruble Stone taken from Binbridge1-4-9
1762 Sep 18To Money reced of far Cole for Stones sold from Binbridge10-4-0

The High Street and Buildings in Bembridge Isle
With such a small, scattered agricultural population, there was very little need for shops in the Bembridge area until the growth of a consuming population with diposable income in the 1820's onwards. Prior to this households managed to live off the agricultural products of their holdings and, what they were unable to produce for themselves could be obtained at Brading market. The demand mechanism that would stimulate the establishing of shops in areas of higher population did not exist in Bembridge until the arrival of wealthy families and their servants. This self-sufficiency is well illustrated in the inventories of the 17th and 18th centuries for the Bembridge area, where most food and drink requirements were produced by the farmer or husbandman himself. For example, Edward Curtis, who lived at 'Upper Curtis's House', now part of the grounds of Bembridge Lodge, made his own beer, cheese, butter and salted his own meat. Most people on Bembridge Isle were dependent on farming to some degree; even fishermen possessed a smallholding and spent a significant part of their time working on the land. Due to the inadequacy of one occupation in providing a living, a number of people divided their working time between two or sometimes three jobs.

The present High Street contained only six buildings by the mid 18th century: Chessels; Curtis's Lower House;two buildings that went by the name "Late Shorts", and Stones with one adjacent building.Chessels, Curtis Lower House and Stones were dwelling houses belonging to farm smallholdings that comprised from about 5 to 12 fields and woods. The present pub, whose former name was The Commercial, was a part of a property called "Late Shorts" and became a public house in the 18th century, although it may have had unofficial use as such before that date. The fields extended right up to the roadway on both sides of the High Street, which was lined with hedges. Stones stood on the corner where the war memorial is today, while a more modern house called The Moorings has taken the place of Chessels. Curtis's Lower House was situated in front of Wallsend farmhouse, but nearer to the road.
(Right) Map of Bembridge, 1774. Part of Survey of Worsley's Estates. [JER/WA/33/49].
Move cursor over map for modern day locations.


(by kind permission of Martin Woodward.)
Using old photographs of the Bembridge area and a survey of Yaverland in May 1773 [CRO/M/83/1] , which gave details of the construction of buildings, the materials used in these dwellings can be fairly accurately arrived at. They were built from local stone with thatch roofs, and generally contained three rooms downstairs with an average of one to two hearths. In the 19th century, many roofs were recovered in slate and additions occurred in brick. Stone was a readily available building material, accessible from St. Helens or from the beach and cliffs from Tyne around to Whitecliff Bay.

Several of these small 18th century stone houses still exist in the Bembridge area as well as several stone farms with associated farm buildings. Two types of house are evident: the house of the larger farms, such as Knowles Farm, were three-bay lobby-entry farmhouses, like Eddington and Nettlestone 'manor' houses, belonging to the more prosperous 'yeoman' class, while the 'husbandman' lived in smaller stone cottages one one or two-bays, such as 'Wigmore' at the west end of Lane End Road, or 'Merryweather Cottage' in Hillway.


Population and Occupations.
Until the 19th century, Bembridge Isle was sparsely populated and settlement consisted mainly of isolated farmsteads, although small hamlets, such as Yaverland, did exist. This miniscule population is borne out in the few statistics available.

YearBembridgeYaverland
1086* (Domesday)20 [100][Wolverton, Hardley, Orham.]20 [100]
1665* (Hearth Tax)37 [185]10 [50]
185185578 (36 males; 42 females)
1871862
* = Figures for these years represent head of household. Figure in red gives a conjectural total population figure based on a multiplier of 5.

Due to the sparsity of records, identifying the occupations of the inhabitants is difficult, but the wills at Hampshire Record Office can be used. It will not give an exact picture or even show the full extent of poor families, but it will give a good idea of how people earned their livelihoods.

From the wills it is clear that most of the inhabitants were involved in either small scale agriculture or fishing. Apart from a few tradesmen and craftsman, most Bembridge people were involved in agricultural or maritime activities, and often both. In fact, almost 75% of the population were involved in farming, but this must be used with caution, since many wills did not mention the occupation of the deceased, and this could represent a bias towards land-based livelihoods.

Occupations mentioned in Bembridge wills 1564 - 1750.
OccupationNumber
Husbandman30
Yeoman13
Fisherman8
Mariner3
Shepherd2
Tanner1
Farmer1
Tailor1

Smuggling was another activity in which Bembridge people were naturally involved but due to its very secretive nature, the full extent of smuggling has never been revealed. That the inhabitants had the means is clear - there were a good number of fishermen and mariners living in Bembridge. No doubt, many of the farmers and husbandmen also provided small sums of money, amounting to a share, in these ventures. However, much of the evidence is unfortunately hearsay and anecdotal.


The 19th century Discovery of Bembridge Isle.
Early 19th century guide books to the Isle of Wight rarely mention the Bembridge area and tend to skirt over it. They do mention Yaverland briefly but generally this whole area is ignored, partly because there was nothing spectacular or 'picturesque'; partly because of the difficult access to it; and partly because there was very little in Bembridge Isle to visit. Consequently, the late 18th and early 19th century guide books mention the views of Bembridge from St. Helens but never describe an itinerary through to it. The usual tourist coach route ran from Ryde through Brading to Sandown and on to the 'wild' Undercliff area. This meant that the Bembridge peninsula remained cut off from the rest of the Island until well into the 19th century. The settlement patterns and way of life also possessed a similar insularity, having changed very little since Domesday.

However, by 1832, when Sheridan wrote his book, the area was beginning to come to the attention of writers: "...the situation of the village is very beautiful", he writes. Having found nothing to mention about Bembridge in his 1820 guidebook, Bullar has about four pages in his 1840 edition and mentions that a new "horse and carriage boat" had been established alongside the existing passenger ferry. This meant that visitors did not have to limit their tour to the Ryde to Sandown route; they could now discover Bembridge Peninsula much more readily. "Thus the traveller will gain eight miles of new road, hitherto scarcely visited, by an increase of distance of three miles only". [Bullar, 1840]

Bembridge Isle's fate had been sealed. Soon visitors who wanted holiday homes in secluded but picturesque areas would be buying up land and building their seaside homes in Bembridge. This in turn demanded the necessary ancillary services to cater for their needs, and the new housing for the artisans and tradesmen that provided these services. Like several areas on the Isle of Wight, the old almost feudal lifestyle of old Bembridge began to rapidly fade away the day the first wealthy 'tourist' visitor decided to build a holiday home in the area.

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