Queen Victoria’s Island
Queen Victoria visited the island on various occasions before becoming queen. As a young girl she stayed at Norris Castle in East Cowes in 1831, when she was 12, and again in 1933, aged 14, with her mother.
Mother and daughter visited attractions of the day around the island, including the Sand Rock Spring Hotel in Niton to take the reputed health-giving waters from the nearby chalybeate spring. Later it was renamed the Royal Sandrock Hotel for her visit, but it sadly burned down in the 1980s. The Buddle Inn Is close to the site of this former hotel.
The Isle of Wight became a fashionable location to visit from the 1830s, as people escaped the smoggy cities to ‘take the air’ in seaside resorts, which became known as ‘spas’. Ventnor, on the south of the island, was one of these towns and Victoria visited here to take tea at one of the best hotels – now named the Royal Hotel in her honour. She also visited the pretty thatched (Royal) Essex Inn in Godshill, which is now Wood’s Kitchen.
Victoria returned to the island with her husband and in 1845 the couple fell in love with Osborne, the estate adjacent to Norris, purchasing it and employing Thomas Cubbitt to build them a fine Italiante palace looking down to Osborne Bay below. Prince Albert especially loved Osborne, likening the view from the house to the sea to that of the Bay of Naples.
Osborne became the royal family’s summer residence until the death of Prince Albert in 1851, after which Victoria lived more often on the island, splitting her time between Balmoral and the Osborne. Her extended family often came to stay, including her son Bertie, later to become Edward VII, her nephew the Kaiser, and the Russian royal family.
With Victoria came her entire court and many of the famous names of the day who decided to follow in her footsteps and visit or take a home on the island. Her poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, made his home at Farringford in Freshwater in 1853, until his death in 1892, and his poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ is thought to be inspired by his crossing the Solent to the island, which was a much more perilous undertaking in his day.
Following Tennyson were a number of his eminent friends, and the island became a focus of intellectual and artistic activity. Pioneer photographer Julia Margaret Cameron took Dimbola, a house in Freshwater Bay and photographed many of these great artists, writers and thinkers, such as the inventor Sir John Herschel, painter George Frederick Watts, poet Henry Taylor, writers Charles Darwin and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and even Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.
Queen Victoria died at Osborne in January 1901, and hers and Albert’s rooms at the palace were sealed for 50 years, although are now open to the public.