Chine | Lift | Pier
A gorgeous gorge, a charmingly charismatic chasm, Shanklin Chine boasts of being the Isle of Wight's oldest tourist attraction. In 2017 it celebrates being open to the paying public since 1817, when a series of steps were first cut into the rock to make the area accessible. However, its untamed natural beauty has attracted artists and poets for far longer than that.
Shanklin Chine is located between the charming thatched cottages of Shanklin Old Village and emerges on the southern end of the esplanade next to the beach-front thatched pub the Fisherman's Cottage. The chine's clifftops are bordered by Tower Cottage Gardens to the north and Rylstone Gardens to the south. Yet these picturesque locations cannot compare to the beauty and wonder of the chine itself.
There are three entrances to the chine. The top entrance is down from The Crab Inn at the Old Village, near Rylstone Gardens. The middle entrance is just below the Chine Inn and accessible from the Esplanade while the bottom entrance is next to the Fisherman's Cottage on the seashore.
A chine is a deep, narrow ravine formed by water slicing through a soft sandstone cliff as it leads to the sea. Shanklin Chine has been gradually formed over the last 10,000 years and, since the erosion of Blackgang Chine's chine, is now the largest on the Isle of Wight1. Although the stream starts near the top of the downs and is visible outside Shanklin Chine's boundary as it trickles across the ford at Chine Hollow, it is inside the chine that the beauty of the area is appreciated as the water drops in the first, 15m-deep waterfall. Shanklin Chine's narrow, plant-rich landscape is all but cut off from the rest of the Island, dropping 105ft (32m) down to sea level in a quarter of a mile. The chine contains two waterfalls and a number of picturesque, winding paths that criss-cross the meandering river over iron, wooden and stone bridges that take the visitor on a journey of discovery.
Shanklin Chine is part of the historic lordship of Shanklin Manor, which is listed in the Domesday Book (1086). In fact 'Shanklin' is named after the waterfall in the chine, as the name 'Shanklin' is derived from the Saxon scenc hlinc, meaning 'drinking cup in the rising ground'.
In most of the 18th Century it was expected that wealthy young gentlemen would take part in the Grand Tour of Europe, but the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars prevented this. In the late 18th Century it instead became popular to explore the hidden corners of the British Isles, with the Isle of Wight proving particularly attractive. Artists and writers especially were drawn to the Island and a new literary genre, the guidebook, became increasingly popular.
Yet in addition to the wealthy tourist, the chine like others on the Island was frequently used by smugglers. Smuggling was an important part of the local economy and had the added benefit of being a way the locals could show contempt for mainland rule. Shanklin Chine offered a safe beach free from hazardous underwater rocks, and a secure path up the cliff to the Island's interior that was hidden from view by dense brushwood and trees. In fact, smuggling was so rife in the chine that in 1820, in order to combat it, a Watch House was built nearby.
With France officially blockaded during the Napoleonic War and high taxes charged on any goods officially imported into England, smuggling was the only affordable way for common people to get basic goods. For example, the tax on tea until 1784 was 119%, and over three times as much tea was smuggled rather than bought legitimately. Things didn't improve following peace in Europe. In 1815 the Corn Laws kept the price of grain in Britain artificially high as extortionate tariffs were added to any corn imported from the continent, to the benefit of England's landowners but the detriment of the poorer population. If you could not afford to eat, then you would be incarcerated in a workhouse. It was not until the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846 and the introduction of free trade that smuggling and buying smuggled goods stopped being considered a normal part of everyday life. Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote about smuggling in 1724 with the words:
smuggling and rogueing; which I may say, is the reigning commerce of all this part of the English coast, from the mouth of The Thames to the Land's End in Cornwall.
On the Isle of Wight Reverend Collingwood Fenwick, the rector of Brook (1833-56) said:
The people engaged in smuggling or benefiting by it do not feel it a moral offence and make no secret of their success when the danger is over.
As late as 1860 poet Sydney Dobell wrote of the nearby village of Niton, but his comments can apply to the whole Isle of Wight:
The whole population here are smugglers. Everyone has an ostensible occupation, but nobody gets his money by it, or cares to work in it. Here are fishermen who never fish, but always have pockets full of money, and farmers whose farming consists in ploughing the deep2 by night, and whose daily time is spent standing like herons on lookout posts.
Shanklin Chine has been officially open to the public since 1817, when the Lady of the Manor of Shanklin Mrs Mary Walton White3 gave William Colenutt, a local longshoreman and smuggler, permission to cut a series of paths and steps from the shore through the gorge to Shanklin's Old Village above. Colenutt also built the thatched Fisherman's Cottage, now a pub, located at the bottom of the chine. In the mid-19th Century it housed hot brine baths; sea water was piped to a copper boiler, heated and then fed to the baths, which was considered beneficial to health. One of the brine baths survives despite being removed from the Fisherman's Cottage in 1970, and is Grade II Listed. Although no longer used for bathing, it is still visible, overgrowth depending, beside the stream near the lower entrance. Bathing machines were also available for those wishing to take the sea water. At the time there were only two lodgings houses in the area, but that soon changed as more visitors flocked here.
The Honeymoon Cottage was rented out, with couples on their honeymoon particularly frequent guests, and it was also used as Shanklin's first schoolroom. It was replaced by the current Chine Lodge in 1855 and is today used as a tearoom, shop and heritage centre, as well as being the middle entrance to the chine. In 1892 the top entrance kiosk was built.
In 1833 the young Princess Victoria visited Shanklin Chine, and she is known to have eaten some prawns in the Fisherman's Cottage. She enjoyed her stay on the Island so much that 12 years later she bought Osborne Manor in East Cowes and after demolishing the building, transformed it into an Italianate palace, Osborne House. From that moment on it became fashionable for the nobility and royal heads of Europe to visit the Isle of Wight for themselves, and Shanklin was one of the main areas.
Additionally, in 1853 Alfred Lord Tennyson lived at Farringford on the Isle of Wight, which inspired artists and poets to flock to the area. This included pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and her close friend Marie Spartali, who was both a model and pre-Raphaelite artist. Spartali's family owned Rylstone Manor, now Rylstone Gardens, which borders Shanklin Chine.
The chine remained popular with tourists up until the outbreak of the Second World War. Among the many visitors were Charles Darwin, who was staying below the chine at Norfolk House on Shanklin Esplanade when he started writing Origin of Species in 1858, returning to stay at Shanklin in 1862 when he was writing The Fertilisation of Orchids.
War! Commando Pluto
During the Second World War the Isle of Wight was very much the expected front line in the event of a German invasion. An anti-invasion barrier was built at Shanklin's seafront and the pier was sectioned. This involved large sections of the pier being removed to prevent it being used as a landing stage. The defences reached Shanklin Chine too, with the Home Guard having a pillbox to defend the beach with located below the Chine Inn. Yet the chine soon found itself having a role in going on the offensive.
In 1942 40 Royal Marine Commando was stationed in Shanklin's Upper Chine School, and this battalion used Shanklin Chine as their training ground. Here they practised assaulting cliff-top defences and ascending against armed enemy positions in order to prepare for raids against the rugged rocks that comprise the French coastline. On 19 August, 1942, these commandos took part in the Dieppe Raid and their preparation at the chine paid off, as they successfully completed their mission and destroyed the German battery at Varengeville, outside Dieppe. Unfortunately this was the only part of the main assault to succeed as overall the raid on Dieppe failed; 3,363 of the 4,961 Canadians sent to Dieppe died, as did 247 British Commandos, with 2,200 British and Canadian troops being captured. The complete failure was analysed in minute detail and the hard-learnt lessons were remembered. Lord Louis Mountbatten4, who had planned the disastrous Dieppe Raid, later said that 'for every soldier who died at Dieppe, ten were saved on D-Day'.
One of the lessons learnt was the importance of armoured support; infantry could not attack a well-defended coastline alone. Yet vehicles need fuel; all petrol stations and fuel depots would be destroyed by the Germans to prevent their falling into Allied hands and any oil tankers leading to the invasion zone would be easy targets. Mountbatten proposed constructing a secret fuel pipeline from England to France, based on submarine telephone cable. This was Operation PLUTO – Pipe Line Under The Ocean.
A network of pipes and pumping stations were built from the tanker ports on the Mersey and Bristol Channel down under the Solent (pipe code-named SOLO) to a vast 620,000-gallon tank at Shanklin (code-named TOTO). From this tank the oil was fed down two different lines to the two pumping stations located at Sandown Bay; one at Shanklin and one in Sandown. The line to Shanklin passed down through Shanklin Chine to a pump battery located in the remains of the bombed Royal Spa Hotel on Shanklin Esplanade, using the ruins as camouflage. From there the pipeline continued along the sectioned Shanklin Pier where, after D-Day, HMS Latimer laid the pipeline 70 miles across the Channel to Nacquerville near Cherbourg in ten hours using a specially-designed device called the Conundrum as it was a cone-ended drum. A second pipeline from Sandown Granite Fort was laid, with the pumping mechanism located in Brown's golf pavilion, where it remains today. By September 1944, 56,000 gallons of fuel were being pumped to France each day. PLUTO pumped 172 million gallons of fuel to Allies before VE Day signified the end of the war in Europe. Churchill later said:
Operation PLUTO was a remarkable feat of British engineering, distinguished in its originality, pursued with tenacity, and crowned by complete success. This creative energy helped to win the war.
In a surprisingly environmentally-friendly tidy-up after the war, 22,000 tons of the 23,000 tons of lead used in the pipeline cable were recovered for peacetime use, although 65 yards of PLUTO pipe can still be seen in its original place in the chine. A sample of the pipe is also on display in the chine's heritage centre, where a room is dedicated to PLUTO and the chine's wartime role, which includes a highly informative video about the pipeline. All flexible oil pipes used today can trace their origins back to the PLUTO pipeline.
Post-war and Today
The natural beauty of Shanklin Chine ensured it resumed its place as a popular tourist destination, although healing and hiding the scars of war took time and expense. Visitors returned in 1946.
After the war, the 40 Royal Marine Commando 1942-1946 Association was formed, holding reunions for all who had served during those years. In 1984 a memorial to commemorate the Dieppe Raid had been built in the chine and in 1985 the Association unanimously agreed that their next reunion should take place in the area. All their remaining reunions took place on the Island until the final reunion in 2012, when it was decided to stand down the Association. Shanklin Chine's Heritage Centre was chosen to be the Association Standard's final resting place. A war memorial stands just outside the middle entrance to the chine.
Shanklin Chine has continued to allow its unrivalled natural beauty to be its main feature, meaning it has seen little change since its opening. However, in 2010 when the Coastal Visitor's Centre was closed at Ventnor, a small Coastal Display opened at Shanklin Chine to explain the story of the Island's coastline.
Perhaps the biggest change has been to the Honeymoon Cottage, now called the Chine Lodge. This has expanded beyond being a mere tearoom to become a heritage centre, with a room featuring the PLUTO display. In the early 1990s an exhibition room was constructed. Despite its small size, since 1994 it has featured an annually-changing exhibition that has involved an incredible amount of highly-detailed research and preparation. For example, when preparing the 2013 exhibition on the artist JMW Turner, Professor Robin McInnes was able to ascertain a previously unidentified drawing by Turner as being of Shanklin Chine and confirmed that a drawing that had been assumed to be of Totland Bay was actually of the Undercliff. The 2014 exhibition of William Danniell RA's Voyage Around Great Britain (1814-1825) led to the first ever exhibition of two previously unpublished works by Danniell.
The chine today is now managed by a charitable trust and in 2017 celebrated its bicentenary. A recent addition that enhances the chine's natural beauty is the lumière; visitors are now not only able to visit the chine by day but, after the installation of 5½ miles of cable, 200 breath-taking colourful lights illuminate the chine and its waterfalls to magical effect at night.
Regrettably there is very restricted access for mobility-impaired guests due to the steep steps and narrow paths through the natural gorge.
Shanklin Chine's natural beauty and unique habitat has led to its designation as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. Over 150 species of wild plants, and in addition more than 50 mosses and liverworts grow in the chine5. One particularly noticeable feature of Shanklin Chine is how the flora changes as you descend down. The top of the chine is dominated by liverworts as the air is moisture-laden with spray from the waterfalls. Visitors then descend through a layer of mosses and ferns and then down to the horsetails which thrive on sunlight. The more open parts of the chine, with trees and bushes clinging to the sides and the stream feeding a wide variety of plants, create the perfect natural habitat for a wide variety of butterflies, moths and other insects, birds and mammals. These include red squirrels, which are often regarded as unofficial Isle of Wight mascots.
The chine's beauty has over the centuries inspired many. Artists who have been inspired to paint or draw the Isle of Wight include Thomas Rowlandson, the most famous Georgian artist, in 1784 and 1791, along with his brother-in-law Samuel Howitt and friend Henry Wigstead. The 20-year-old JMW Turner first came in 17956, Richard Bankes Harraden around 1802, and William Daniell RA in 1823 as part of his Voyage Round Great Britain.
Paintings of Shanklin Chine were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy. For example, in 1797 Charles Pugh exhibited View of Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight (RA 433) with Paul Sandby Munn exhibiting two paintings of the chine, and T Taylor exhibited A View Near Shanklin (RA 42). Other views of the chine exhibited at the Royal Academy included John Glover's The Chine Inn in 1827 and A View of Shanklin Chine by A Payne in 1833. The chine would become popular with pre-Raphaelite artists including John Brett. In addition, guidebooks and other publications regularly included extremely fine illustrations of the chine, and in 1894 Royal Mail allowed the sending of postcards, creating a new outlet for paintings and photographs of the chine.
Exhibitions and publications at Shanklin Chine are available to allow visitors to see these fine works, as well as many, many more.
Shanklin Old Village at the head of the chine is a range of ornate thatched cottages around the Crab Inn, with other nearby delights including Vernon Cottage built by Edward Vernon Utterson in cottage orné style, with Williams Lodging House, now the Hollier's Hotel, added in 1824 and Daish's Hotel in 1833. Unlike the rest of Shanklin which quickly grew in urban sprawl, Lord of the Manor Francis White Popham only allowed single or semi-detached villas to be built on his land, which preserved the character of the old village. Almost every building in Shanklin Old Village is Listed.
Shanklin became popular for its mineral baths with the natural mineral-rich spring water piped to the Royal Spa Hotel on the seafront, one of the most poshest hotels on the Island and popular with visiting royalty. It boasted 'four brass baths for the ferruginous water and two deep marble baths'. In 1872 Dr G Harvey Betts wrote Shanklin as a Health Resort, in which it was stated that Shanklin's spring water could cure many ills, which increased its popularity as a fashionable spa resort. This said:
A spot possessing such natural beauties, with its invigorating climate and peculiar advantages for sea bathing, was not likely to remain neglected by the health and pleasure-seeking public.
Indeed it wasn't. In 1864 Shanklin was still a quiet village when the railway arrived, but the town expanded rapidly in size. The Esplanade was built in 1880, replacing the earlier, less elegant, sea wall. Shanklin Pier was built in 1891 and in 1892 a lift was built to carry visitors from the cliff top promenade to the Esplanade7. In 1916 the chine's neighbouring Rylstone estate was purchased from the Spartali Estate to create Rylstone Gardens. In 1933 Tower Cottage Gardens was bought by Shanklin Council to be used as tea gardens. Tower Cottage itself was bombed during the War and demolished in 1951.
Shanklin Esplanade at the bottom of the chine continues to be the epitome of a seaside town, despite the tragic loss of Shanklin Pier in the Great Storm of 1987. As well as the fine sandy beach there is a fun fair and an arcade, housed in a former Royal Navy seaplane hangar built during the Great War and moved to its present spot in the 1920s. This includes a soft play centre and numerous crazy golf courses. As the water from the cliffs has a high iron content it is often reddish in hue, which is used to good effect in the crazy golf courses, symbolising blood for the pirates and lava for the dinosaur-themed holes.
The situation of the chine, at a small distance from the village of Shanklin, is exceedingly romantic, overgrown with shrubs and bushes, and displays a most beautiful and picturesque scene; the path down to the sea is very steep.
- Sir Richard Worsley, History of the Isle of Wight, 1781
The village of Shanklin affords every gratification a liberal mind can wish for. Few places can boast of greater happiness. Its inhabitants are like one large family; ill nature is not known among them. Obliging in the extreme, they appear to be the happiest when their visitors are best pleased... The chine has four turns before it reaches the waterfall, all of which bear a proportionable degree of that sublime awfulness8 that such a scene naturally inspires. When we had reached its extremist limits, the fall exhibited more grandeur, and cleared itself of the precipice with greater boldness and majesty than we had ever seen before.
- John Hassell, Tour of the Isle of Wight, 1790
We came to the sharp precipitous point at its great opening. Its perpendicular height is not much less than 100 yards. Each side of it regularly declines to the narrow confinement of a little brook below, and every part is closely lined with bushes, briars and a few dwarf trees.
- Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, A Picture of the Isle of Wight, Delineated Upon the Spot, 1793
The southern side [of the Island] abounds in bold wild rocks, precipitous projections, ravines, fearful chasms and other features of the opposing and even of the sublime... Of the famed beauties of the Island, amid the attractions that draw the visitor of taste, and form the subject of pleasing recollection, Shanklin Chine ranks deservedly in the highest class... Of the chine we cannot fail to be charmed with the rich clothing of its nearly perpendicular, or boldly sloping sides, where the many fine trees and shrubs ...shoot up in beautiful luxuriance.
- William B Cooke, A New Picture of the Isle of Wight, 1808.
- Jane Austen, 1813
Shanklin is a most beautiful place – sloping wood and meadow ground reaches round the chine, which is a cleft between the cliffs of the depth of nearly 300 feet at least. This cleft is filled with trees and bushes in the narrow parts... The wondrous chine here is a very great lion. I wish I had as many guineas as there have been spyglasses in it.
- John Keats, 1819. He is believed to have been inspired by Shanklin Chine when he wrote Endymion
The chine is the most extensive and beautifully romantic chasm of any on the Island... owing to a small stream whose source is in the higher part of the valley, which, meandering under the shade of luxuriant ashes and elms, and gradually deepening its channel 'til it arrives at the head of the chine where it precipitates itself over the sandrock cliff in an unbroken cascade of about 30 feet. The chasm from here takes a serpentine course for at least a quarter of a mile increasing in its dimensions 'til it reaches the seashore, where it is in perpendicular height 280 feet and about 100 yards wide at the top. The two sides of this romantic scene presents a singular contrast, one being an almost perpendicular cliff of mouldering, dark coloured sandrock with scarcely any vegetation to relieve its gloomy tint, while the other is as richly clothed with trees and under wood.
- George Brannon, Vectis Scenery, 1824
Picnics of tremendous success on Shanklin Down
- Charles Dickens, 1858. Part of chapter X of Our Mutual Friend (1865) is set on Shanklin's sands.
We spent a glorious hour in the chine.
- Mary Ann Evans aka 'George Eliot', 1859
Shanklin is a delightful place. The sea is brilliantly coloured and all is calm, bathing delightful, horses and boats to be obtained, walks wild and beautiful, sketches charming... poetic Downs, the lovely chine, fine cliffs, everything (except odious Fashionables).
- Gerard Manly Hopkins, poet and Jesuit priest in 1863
O traveller stay thy wearied feet,
Drink from this fountain pure and sweet
It flows for rich and poor the same.
Then go thy way, remembering still,
Along the road below the hill
The cup of water offered in His name.
- 'Inscription on the Shanklin Fountain' by Henry W Longfellow, written at The Crab Inn, adjacent to Shanklin Chine