The Isle of Wight is an English island and county in the English Channel three miles from the south coast of Great Britain. It is situated south of the county of Hampshire and is separated from mainland England by the Solent. Popular since Victorian times as a holiday resort, the Isle of Wight is known for its natural beauty and for its world-famous sailing based in Cowes.
The Island has a rich history including its own brief status as a nominally independent kingdom in the fifteenth century. It was home to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria built her much loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. The Island's maritime and industrial history encompasses boat building, sail making, the manufacture of flying boats, the world's first hovercraft and the testing and development of British space rockets. It is home to the Isle of Wight International Jazz Festival, Bestival and the recently revived Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was one of the largest rock music events ever held. The island has some exceptional wildlife and is also one of the richest fossil locations for dinosaurs in Europe.
The island has in the past been part of Hampshire, however it became an independent administrative county (although still sharing the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire) in 1890. In 1974 it was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan and ceremonial county with its own Lord Lieutenant and the name was adopted as a postal county. The island is the smallest ceremonial county in England. With a single Member of Parliament and 132,731 permanent residents according to the 2001 census, it is also the most populated Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom.
The Isle of Wight is first mentioned in writing in Geography by Claudius Ptolemaeus.
At the end of the Roman Empire the island of Vectis became a Jutish kingdom ruled by King Stuf and his successors until AD 661 when it was invaded by Wulfhere of Mercia and forcibly converted to Christianity at sword point. When he left for Mercia the Islanders reverted to paganism.
In AD 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla of Wessex and can be considered to have become part of Wessex. Following the accession of West Saxon kings as kings of all England, it then became part of England. The island became part of the shire of Hampshire and was divided into hundreds as was the norm.
In 686, it became the last part of England to convert to Christianity.
The Island suffered especially from the Vikings. Alfred the Great's navy defeated the Danes in 871 after they had "ravaged Devon and the Isle of Wight".
The 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 by the dying last Norman Lord, Lady Isabella de Fortibus, 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 in 1444 crowned King of the Isle of Wight, with King Henry VI assisting in person at the ceremony, placing the crown on his head. With no male heir, the regal title expired on the death of Henry de Beauchamp.
Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its permanent base at Portsmouth, fortified the Island at Yarmouth, East & West Cowes and Sandown. Much later, 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 became a major holiday resort for fashionable Victorians including Alfred Lord Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Dickens and members of European royalty.
During her reign, in 1897, the world's first radio station was set up by Marconi, at the Needles battery, at the western tip of the Island.
During the Second World War the Island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to France the Island also had a number of observation stations and transmitters, and was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to the Normandy landings.
The Needles battery was used as the site for testing and development of the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.
The Isle of Wight Festival was a very large rock festival that took place near Afton Down, West Wight in 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 1970 show was notable both for being one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees reaching, by many estimates, 600,000. The Festival was revived in 2002 and is now an annual event.
Being one of the most southerly points in the UK, the Isle of Wight has a warmer climate than other areas which results in high levels of tourism, particularly along the south of the island. It also has a longer growing season than other areas in the UK.
The heritage of the Island is a major asset, which has for many years kept its economy going. Holidays focused on natural heritage, including both wildlife and geology, are becoming a growing alternative to the traditional seaside resort holiday. The latter has been in decline in the United Kingdom domestic market, due to the increased affordability of air travel to alternative destinations.
Tourism is still the largest industry on the Island. In 1999, the 130,000 Island residents were host to 2.7 million visitors. Of these, 1.5 million stayed overnight, and 1.2 million visits were day visits. Only 150,000 of these visitors were international visitors. Between 1993 and 2000, visits increased at a rate of 3% per year, on average.
At the turn of the nineteenth century the Island had ten pleasure piers including two at Ryde and a "chain pier" at Seaview. The Victoria Pier in Cowes succeeded the earlier Royal Pier but was itself removed in 1960. The piers at Ryde, Seaview, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor originally served a coastal steamer service that operated from Southsea on the mainland. The piers at Seaview, Shanklin, Ventnor and Alum Bay were all destroyed by storms during the last century. Today only the railway pier at Ryde and the piers at Sandown, Totland Bay (currently closed to the public) and Yarmouth survive. Blackgang Chine is arguably the oldest theme park in the UK, and one of the oldest in the world.
As well as more traditional tourist attractions, the Island is often host to walking holidays, or cycling holidays through the attractive scenery. Almost every town and village on the Island plays host to hotels, hostels and camping sites. Out of the peak summer season, the Island is still an important destination for coach tours from other parts of the United Kingdom and an annual walking festival has attracted considerable interest.
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/
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