East Cowes is one of the quietest towns on the Isle of Wight. There are only three ways to get to East Cowes: the A3021, the Floating Bridge1 across the River Medina to West Cowes, known as Cowes, and the Car Ferry to Southampton.
The problem with East Cowes is that it has always lived in West Cowes shadow. West Cowes is the town which is called Cowes, as if it is the Cowes. West Cowes has Cowes Week, and is the home of International Sailing. West Cowes holds the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes International Power Boat race. West Cowes is much larger. East Cowes, typically, is also the only town on the Isle of Wight to never have had a railway station, or even line, near it.
Despite this, East Cowes remains an interesting, though sadly ignored, town, and has things to be proud of.
The first thing you see when you go to East Cowes when on the ferry is the front of the GKN Westland Aerospace hangar. On the front of which is painted the world's largest Union Flag. It was painted there originally in 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - and was retained by popular demand. It was in that hangar that many technical achievements were created.
East Cowes Castle
Originally, East Cowes was known as Shamblord, and in Edward III's time was one of three ports on the Island. For many years it was larger than West Cowes, but in 1540, when Henry VIII feared an invasion over his breaking-away from the Catholic Church in 1538, two Castles were built in the area, one in East Cowes, and a larger one at West Cowes. However, the East Cowes castle was abandoned by the end of the century, and no longer exists.
East and West Cowes were named after these castles, which were known as Cowes or Cowforts at the time. In 1575 a Customs House was built at East Cowes to monitor the port and to try and prevent the rife smuggling trade.
In the 1790s, two "castles" were built at East Cowes. One was confusingly called "East Cowes Castle", not to be confused with the original castle, but was more of a mansion than a castle. It was built by John Nash, the famous architect who designed Regent Street and Regent's Park. It no longer exists.
Norris Castle, though, still exists. Built in 1790, it is a romantic castle with square and round towers. Although it was designed as an imitation castle and not a real one, it is still impressive, especially with the enormous cellars below, and an impressive sea view.
Queen Victoria, despite having Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Brighton Pavilion to live in, was not content with any of them as suitable as a family home. So, in 1845 she bought the original Osborne House and an estate of 342 acres from Lady Isabella Blachford. This, though, was too small, and so Thomas Cubitt was contracted to build a new Osborne House on the site, to the design of Prince Albert. In June 1845 the foundation of the new Pavilion Wing was laid, and it was occupied in 1846. The Household Wing was completed in 1848, and work was started on demolishing the remainder of the old house, and building the Main Wing in its place. By 1851, it was completed, except for the Durbar Wing, which was finished in 1891.
Queen Victoria lived here as often as she could, and found that the Isle of Wight's view and weather was similar to the Bay of Naples in Italy. The house was three stories tall, with a 90 ft. Clock Tower and a 107 ft. Flag Tower. The state soon grew to be over 2,000 acres, and included a Summer House, Swiss Cottage, a museum and a mock fort. It was here at Osborne House that Queen Victoria died on January 22nd 1901.
East Cowes is also a town which has had many technical achievements. These include the Bluebird boat, which in 1938 increased the world waterspeed record to 130.94mph for Sir Malcolm Campbell. HMS Cavalier, for 20 years the fastest ship in the Royal Navy, was built in East Cowes. In 1947, the world's first fighter flying boat, the SR-A1, was the first jet-powered flying boat, and is still the fastest ever flying boat having flown at speeds over Mach 0.8. In 1952, the world's largest ever flying boat, the Saunders-Roe Princess flew having been built at East Cowes. In 1954 the world's first Hydrofoil, the Bras d'Or, was built at East Cowes, followed by the world's first hovercraft in 1959 - the SRN-1. The world's largest hovercraft, the SRN-4 was built in 1967, capable of carrying 282 passengers and 37 cars at speeds up to 96mph. Black Arrow rockets were built in East Cowes in 1966, and in 1971 an East Cowes built Black Arrow rocket put the Prospero satellite into orbit. Much of the work for the Thrust 2 car was done in East Cowes, before it was put together down the road in Wootton on the Island, and in 1983 it increased the Land Speed Record to over 650mph, which it held for fourteen years until Thrust SSC broke the land sound barrier in 1997.
So overall, despite the fact that East Cowes is a small and neglected town on the Isle of Wight, it has a lot to be proud of, and a unique history.Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900-1919Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920-1945Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1946-1960Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1960-2000