After following intrepid travellers to far-flung places, in the last in our series of travel posts we look at those who stayed closer to home.
The south coast’s scenery and climate have attracted a range of visitors over the years – especially those in search of a picturesque view, a health cure or even a combination of the two.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Isle of Wight became a magnet for artists keen to record its picturesque scenery, despite the fact that William Gilpin, the main proponent of the picturesque as an aesthetic ideal, found the Island sadly lacking in this this quality.
Gilpin wrote that whilst there were elements of the picturesque in the shipwrecks and in the sea-fowl which darkened the air, the Isle of Wight was really “a large garden or rather a field, which in every part has been disfigured by the spade, the coulter and the harrow”, the coastal views being “much less beautiful than we had expected to find them”. Naturally, there was some consternation at this description locally and in the Hampshire Repository’s review of his book in 1799, Gilpin’s views were strongly rebuffed, the reviewer going as far as to retrace his footsteps and provide an alternative opinion on the scenery.
Others who visited the Isle of Wight were more impressed with what they saw. John Hassell, a London based artist who illustrated his Tour of the Isle of Wight (1790) with aquatints of his drawings (many with unusual colour washes), wrote of Carisbrooke Castle “it affords a fund of delight to the traveller whose mind is susceptible to the transports which picturesque scenes excite”.
A few years later Charles Tomkins recorded both the architecture and the picturesque views of the Island in his Tour to the Isle of Wight (1796), describing how Blackgang Chine “strikes the mind with horror at its dark and sable aspect” .
In 1784 and again in 1791 the artist and satirist Thomas Rowlandson toured the Island and taking a different approach, made sketches of the various incidents that made up the journey. The sketches were lost for many years, reappearing at the end of the nineteenth century when they were reproduced in an article in The Graphic (Summer 1891), by Joseph Grego, who added his own commentary on the journey.
Many of the Isle of Wight visitors travelled via Southampton, which offered tourists excursions to the gothic ruins of Netley Abbey as well as a mineral spring and sea-water bathing to restore their health. Royal patronage had made Southampton a fashionable resort in the later years of the eighteenth century, the Hampshire Chronicle printing a weekly list of arrivals during the summer season. Southampton’s reputation as a spa waned during the early part of the nineteenth century, as its commercial importance grew, but other resorts developed to cater for the ‘health tourists’ of the day.
Favoured by their sheltered locations and warm temperatures, both Ventnor on the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth (then part of Hampshire) developed as resorts largely thanks to their promotion in prominent publications. In the second edition of The Influence of Climate in the Prevention and Cure of Chronic Diseases (1830), Sir James Clark wrote of his surprise that the Isle of Wight’s Undercliff had been so long overlooked, given its scenery, dry air and a climate which allowed myrtle and geraniums, to flourish even in the colder months. He recommended it as a location superior to any other on the south coast for invalids with pulmonary disease.
Some years later Bournemouth was mentioned very favourably (especially in comparison with Ventnor) in A.B. Granvilles’s The Spas of England and Principal Sea-Bathing Places (1841) “no situation that I have had occasion to examine along the whole southern coast, possesses so many capabilities of being made the first invalid sea-watering place in England”.
Both resorts developed ‘Sanditon style’ in areas previously sparsely populated. At Ventnor, development was piecemeal, resulting in buildings of varying styles. In A few Remarks about Ventnor… (1877), William Spindler, a German industrial chemist who retired to the Isle of Wight, wrote “We have hotels, churches, shops, cottages and villas in every conceivable style and every outrageous shape” adding that an assembly room, pleasure garden and more planting for shade would be beneficial.
In contrast, Granville thought Bournemouth safe from speculative ‘ brick and mortar contractors’ as fewer landowners were involved in its development. He saw it as having commodious and well-arranged dwellings amongst the pine trees, suitable for invalids “of that class who happen to be wealthy”, with hotels and boarding houses catering for a superior class of visitor.
Ventnor and Bournemouth succeeded in their ambitions to attract wealthy visitors seeking the benefits of a mild climate and sea air, but eventually both resorts had to balance catering for this market with the needs of new tourists holidaying purely for pleasure and amusement.As the holidays are behind us and we return to the normal routine, we hope you have enjoyed the travellers’ tales from Special Collections.