The Development of Ryde Seafront

The development of Ryde seafront and foreshore has been evolving ever since the small settlement of Lower Ryde became a communication point in medieval times. At some point, its proximity to Portsmouth encouraged the use of this small straggling village as the crossing point or 'passage' to and from the mainland.

The modern use of the word port must be ignored when describing Ryde. A port in pre-19th century terms was any place where people, animals or goods could be loaded. Given the small size of ships and the modest amount of goods to be transported, any inlet or sheltered beach could be used to fulfill the function of a port. While Portsmouth remained insignificant as a town and port, and while the Island could maintain a self-sufficiency, then there was little to stimulate a large sea-borne traffic between Ryde and Portsmouth. In addition, in medieval times, the crossing was also undertaken by mariners from Barnsley Creek or Harbour, which was a small harbour situated between modern Seaview and Springvale, a couple of miles to the east of Ryde. However, by the 16th century, this creek had silted up and was no longer navigable, thus adding to the importance of and dependence on Ryde. By Elizabeth I's reign, Ryde's increased significance is highlighted by the title taken for the manor court of Ashey, which from 1578 becomes 'The Manor of Ashey and Ryde'. Indeed, during the troubled and unsettled times of the Hundred Years War, Ryde was one of three permitted ports of entry and departure and a warden was appointed to supervise movements here. The fact that a fort was built in the 15th century to protect the passage at Ryde also points to an increased role for Ryde.

Sir Theobald Russell was appointed to re-organise the defences. He made the following regulations:- Only three ports on the Island to be recognised,--La Riche (Ryde), Shamblord (Cowes) and Eremue (Yarmouth). A Warden was appointed to each port to prevent people leaving and to prevent the export of grain. Only licensed boats to be allowed.

Below are a series of plans of the seafront of Ryde, based on contemporary maps, leases and geological surveys. The c. 1200 map is a conjectural interpretation of the available evidence.
Click on the thumbnail picture above the year, that you wish to view, to see a large version of the plan in the main frame.


The topography of the coastline at Ryde is very similar to most places along this north eastern shoreline. Slopes of various clays extend down to the shoreline, where they meet a beach consisting of mud, covered in some places by shifting sands and gravel. The clays over-lie various types of limestone and sandstone, and at certain points, these outcrop on the shore. A pronounced hill at Ryde slopes down to the north and east, where there was a marshy inlet formed by a stream now called the Monktonmead brook. At the foot of the northern slope, there was a pronounced bank running along an east-west line formed by present-day Castle Street and the bottom part of Church Lane [see map c. 1200 above]. This bank dropped down fairly steeply to a narrow strip of land fronting the foreshore. This plateau strip of land forms the area between Castle Street and the Esplanade and runs from bottom of St. Thomas's Street to the bottom of Dover Street. At Dover Street the edge of the dunes and saltmarsh of the Duver run tight up to the edge of the bank as it runs along the edge of East Street . It was on this shoreline strip that the settlement of Lower Ryde developed. Such was the height of the bank backing onto these dwellings that they were not visible to people looking down from Upper Ryde, the village lying at the top of the hill. It was this bank that dictated the shape of Lower Ryde and meant that it developed along the shoreline in a long snake-like shape, aligned north-west, south-east .

The eastern slope of this hill ran down to an area of rough marsh with sand dunes at its mouth. The Monktonmead brook ran through these dunes on a line slightly to the west of Cornwall Street and it originally formed the eastern boundary of the manor of Ashey and also formed the boundary between Newchurch and St. Helen's parish. The boundary stone can still be seen on the esplanade at Ryde. The stream must have become blocked by moving sand dunes and was diverted towards the west, where it flowed out across the beach roughly where the Ryde Castle stands today, and became known as "the Newmouth".

At some point before the 15th century, it would seem that a strip along the foreshore, stretching from George Street to the lower car park in St. Thomas's Street next to the Prince Consort, was reclaimed. It became known as the 'waste' and was planted with a row or rows of plashed hedging to help build up and fix the sand, such that it would afford some protection against the sea. It is clear from leases that the dwellings on the front at lower Ryde were situated right next to the "sea beach", which is usually given as the northern abuttal for these seafront properties.

Left: A detail from a map commissioned by Lord Burghley in 1585 of the East Solent area. Immediately off Ryde there are what appear to be timber structures in the sand. Groynes or part of a timber jetty are possible answers. Sandbanks and rocks are shown on the coast but these features are the only ones shown.
Right: A detail from a map commissioned by Lord Burghley of the Isle of Wight, c.1570. A deliberate line of black dots have been drawn in front of Ryde beach, possibly suggesting a line of protective piles or plashes. It is believed the map was drawn up to show the defences of the Solent area.

A small landing quay was built in the area where the Esplanade road turns off towards the pier. This quay is marked on a map by Captain Greenvile Collins of 1693, a detail of which is shown to the right. It was known as "Ride Key" or "Ride Wharf", often lending its name to the lower settlement on maps [see below], and later became known as the "East Key". The fort was built adjacent to this quay, providing the landing point with some protection. That the quay was probably a timber wharf, backed with sand, soil, stones and gravel is clear from the presentments in the manor court, where certain people are fined for removing stones etc. from the quay.

Left: 18th century maps showing Ryde. They show a number of jetties projecting perpendicularly from the shore. There were a number of different jetties, hards and quays built at various times.
Left: Harrison, 1788.
Middle: Taylor, 1759.
Right: Milne, 1791.

Worsley and Dillington, both one time Lords of the Manor of Ashey and Ryde, had their houses some way from Ryde and, being landed gentry, derived their income from land and farming. They had no reason to develop Ryde. But when Sir John Dillington sold the Manor of Ryde to Henry Player, a brewer, in 1705, then Lower Ryde found itself in the hands of a merchant, who had bought it for a deliberate reason. He intended to set up another brewing business here at Lower Ryde. He built himself a 'manor house', a brewhouse, a wharf, and storehouses, part of which was constructed on the recalimed land, where the Prince Consort and adjoining car park are situated today. The quay that Player built was known as the "West Key" to distinguish it from the public East Key. Later on, he divided up the rest of the waste between East Key and the Wharf into plots and let them on leases. This strip of land was situated between the sea on the north and the highway on the south and became in the 19th century a solid line of buildings on the north side of Pier Street. The East Key area remained 'waste' but immediately adjoining this on the west, Player allowed a public house to be constructed that became known as The Passage Hoy and later The Bugle. On the south side of this was The Black Dog public house, but this was Lord Edgcumbe's property.