(Re)Discovering Written Down Legends and Tales of the Isle of Wight

One of the things I’d been hoping to do last year was learn a few Island folklore tales for telling at Island Storytellers sessions. The Thing put paid to those events, of course, but as a sort of new year resolultion, I’ve started digging.

There are a few well worn island tales that appear in pretty much every “tales of the Wight” collection, however it’s themed (smugglers, ghosts, legends, folklore, wrecks, etc) and I guess tales that people still tell within families, so to not just rehash every other story, I figure I need a new way in to some of them.

So I’ve started trying to work up a pattern that takes a place, a time, either a bit of law or a bit of lore, and one or more events as a basis for “researching” a story, from which I can generate:

a) the simple telling, which in many cases may appear on the surface to be a rehash of all the other tellings of the same story;

b) a deeper layer that colours each bit of the story for me and provides more hooks for how to remember it.

Using the place is important because it means I can start to anchor things in a memory palace based on the island. Using the data also provides an opportunity to hook things in the memory palace in temporal layer that allows stories in the same time period to colour and link to each other, as well as stories in the same place to colour the place over time. At some point, I daresay characters may also become pieces in the memory palace.

As far as digging around the stories goes, I’ve started looking for primary and old-secondary resources. Primary in the form of original statutes, places and photos (I intend to visit each location as I pull the pieces together to help situate the story properly), court reports (if I can find them!) etc. And old-secondary sources in the form of old books that tell the now familiar, perhaps even then familiar, tales but from the different historical context of the time of writing.

So for example, there’s a wealth of old tourist guides to the Island, going back a couple of hundred years or so, including the following, which can all be found via the Internet Archive or Google Books:

  • The Isle of Wight: its towns, antiquities, and objects of interest, 1915?
  • Legends and Lays of the Wight, Percy Stone, 1912
  • The Undercliff Of The Isle Of Wight Past And Present, Whitehead, John L. 1911
  • Isle of Wight, Moncrieff, A. R. Hope & Cooper, A. Heaton, 1908
  • Steephill Castle, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, the residence of John Morgan Richards, Esq.; a handbook and a history, Marsh, John, 1907
  • A Driving Tour in the Isle of Wight: With Various Legends and Anecdotes, Hubert Garle, 1905
  • The Isle of Wight, George Clinch, 1904 (2nd edition 1921)
  • The New Forest and the Isle of Wight, Cornish, C. J., 1903
  • A pictorial and descriptive guide to the Isle of Wight, Ward, Lock and Company, ltd, 1900
  • The Isle of Wight, Ralph Darlington 1898
  • Letters, archaeological and historical relating to the Isle of Wight, Edward Boucher James, 1896
  • Fenwick’s new and original, poetical, historical, & descriptive guide to the Isle of Wight, George Fenwick, 1885
  • A visit to the Isle of Wight by two wights, Bridge, John, 1884
  • Jenkinson’s practical guide to the Isle of Wight, Henry Irwin Jenkinson, 1876
  • Briddon’s Illustrated Handbook to the Isle of Wight, G. Harvey Betts, 1875
  • Nelson’s Handbook to the Isle of Wight: Its History, Topography, and Antiquities, William Henry Davenport Adams, 1873
  • The tourist’s picturesque guide to the Isle of Wight, George Shaw, 1873
  • Mason’s new handy guide to the Isle of Wight, James Mason, 1872
  • Black’s Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight, 1871
  • The Isle of Wight, James Redding Ware, 1871
  • Methodism in the Isle of Wight: its origin and progress down to the present times, Dyson, John B 1865
  • The Isle of Wight, a guide, Edmund Venables Rock, 1860
  • The pleasure visitor’s companion in making the tour of the Isle of Wight, pointing out the best plan for seeing in the shortest time every remarkable object, Brannon, 1857
  • Barber’s picturesque guide to the Isle of Wight, Thomas Barber, 1850
  • Bonchurch, Shanklin & the Undercliff, and their vicinities, Cooke, William B., 1849
  • Glimpses of nature, and objects of interest described during a visit to the Isle of Wight, Loudon, Jane, 1848
  • Owen Gladdon’s wanderings in the Isle of Wight, Old Humphrey, 1846
  • A topographical and historical guide to the Isle of Wight, W.C.F.G. Sheridan, 1840
  • Vectis scenery : being a series of original and select views, exhibiting picturesque beauties of the Isle of Wight, with ample descriptive and explanatory letter-press, Brannon, George, 1840
  • The Isle of Wight: its past and present condition, and future prospects, Robert Mudie 1840
  • The Isle of Wight Tourist, and Companion at Cowes, Philo Vectis, 1830
  • Tales and Legends of the Isle Of Wight, Abraham Elder, 1839
  • The beauties of the Isle of Wight, 1826
  • A historical and picturesque guide to the Isle of Wight, John Bullar, 1825
  • A companion to the Isle of Wight; comprising the history of the island, and the description of its local scenery, as well as all objects of curiosity, Albin, John, 1823
  • The delineator; or, A description of the Isle of Wight, James Clarke, 1822
  • A journey from London to the Isle of Wight, Pennant, Thomas, 1801
  • A Tour to the Isle of Wight (two volumes), Charles Tomkins, 1796
  • The history of the Isle of Wight; military, ecclesiastical, civil, & natural: to which is added a view of its agriculture, Warner, Richard, 1795
  • Tour of the Isle of Wight (two volumes), Hassell, John 1790
  • The History of the Isle of Wight, Richard Worsley, 1781 ? 1785

Many of the above recount the same old, same old stories; but from a quick skim, there is often a slightly different emphasis or bit of colourful interpretation.

But the tours also include occasional new stories, and illustrations and fragments of primary material or commentary, and/or references to the same (which will hopefully give me new ratholes to chase down:-).

Many of them also appear to have a fondness for anecdotes about the weather, architecture, landscape, and people encountered, so I’m hopeful of finding some new to me stories in there too…

…such as why there was an Act of James I posted in the entrance to Godshill Church “which enacts that every female who unfortunately intrudes on the parish a second illegitimate child shall be liable to imprisonment and
hard labour in Bridewell for six months”…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...