Culture of the Isle of Wight

As an island, the Isle of Wight maintains a culture close to, but distinct from, that of the south of England. A high proportion of the population are now 'overners' rather than locally born, and so with a few notable exceptions it has more often formed the backdrop for cultural events of wider rather than island-specific significance.

The Island has inspired many creative works. Local people often seek to defend their real or perceived culture, and local politics is often dictated by a desire to preserve the traditions and habits of the Island.

The first creative flowering occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria, under whose patronage the island became a fashionable destination for the gentry.

Literature and other media

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was made Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater on the Isle of Wight by Queen Victoria in 1884.

The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne grew up at Bonchurch, and said in a letter that he had climbed Culver Cliff at 17.[1] He is buried at Bonchurch.

The author Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett) was born in Newport, and a number of her novels, including the best-known, The Silence of Dean Maitland, are set on the island.[2]

The isle has been the setting for several novels, including Julian Barnes's utopian novel England, England, and detective thrillers such as The Fallen by Robert Rennick. It also features in John Wyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids and Simon Clark's sequel The Night of the Triffids.

The Iranian-born poet Mimi Khalvati was educated at Upper Chine School in Shanklin; many of her poems are about the island, especially in the book "The Chine".

Sandown-based author Edward Upward sets part of his book "In the Thirties" on the Isle of Wight.

The 1973 film That'll Be the Day, starring David Essex, Rosemary Leach and Ringo Starr, was filmed on the island, at Sandown High School, Shanklin beach and Wroxall.

The 2005 film Fragile was filmed almost entirely on the Isle of Wight, with the exception of a few exterior shots. Prominent locations featured in the film include Ryde's Union Street, the Military Road at Compton Bay, Ryde Pier and Red Funnel's Red Osprey car ferry.


The "Isle of Wight School" of Romantic painters specialised in views of the South West Coast; prominent were George Morland and J.M.W. Turner.


Julia Margaret Cameron was a prominent early photographer, who has a museum dedicated to her at Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater. She specialised in portraits of the celebrities who visited her neighbour Lord Tennyson.

Beken of Cowes, established in 1888 by pharmacist Alfred Edward Beken, pioneered yachting photography and is a leading British marine photography company.[3]

Language and dialect

The Isle of Wight accent is a somewhat weaker version of the traditional South West dialect, featuring the dropping of some consonants and emphasis on the longer vowels. The spread of estuary English and received 'BBC' pronunciation, together with continuing immigration to the island, means the broader accent is now commonly heard only from the older population. The slower, more pronounced, speech means that while the dropping of consonants or use of glottal stops is heard, it is not to the same extent as in Cockney. Additionally, consonants may be lengthened, such as r in hovercraft, or changed to emphasise a word such as the g in something being pronounced as a k.

The island also has a few surviving dialect words. Some, such as grockel (visitor/tourist) and nipper/nips (referring to a younger person) are shared with neighbouring regions. Others are unique: mallishag (meaning caterpillar), nammit (meaning food, usually lunch or snack) from "no meat", and "nutten" meaning "donkey". The word "gurt" is usually given the meaning "great" but is used as an emphasiser. Such terms are contained in a pamphlet aimed at tourists, which is an excerpt from W.H.Long's 19th century "An Isle of Wight Dictionary"; even as this was being written, many such terms were becoming archaic.

Local media

The island was one of the first British regions to get a community television station, with TV 12. In October 2002 the Restricted Service Licence (RSL) for the Isle of Wight (Rowridge transmitter) was awarded to a new not-for-profit local television station, Solent TV, which was the first not-for-profit community television station in the UK. It went into receivership in 2007.

Residents of the Island tend to be community minded, and it is an oft-quoted statistic that 92% of islanders read the local newspaper 'the Isle of Wight County Press' [1], which is published most Fridays.[4] In the early nineties a local radio station, Isle of Wight Radio [2], commenced broadcasting on 1242 medium wave, later moving to 107 and 102 FM. This is now also available via the internet, along with social media such as Island Pulse.

Major events

Many events take place each year across the island, all designed to appeal to different groups of people. Many of these take place in the summer, and so attract many tourists visiting the island. A few notable examples include:

Event Description Running dates
Isle of Wight Festival A music festival which takes place annually at Seaclose Park in Newport. After three early festivals featuring such acts as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and The Who, the festival was discontinued in 1970; but was revived in a modern format in 2002. 1968–1970;
Bestival A music festival held in the late summer, at a country park, Robin Hill. The event is considered much more alternative and diverse, which appeals to families. Many people attending wear fancy dress. A few notable acts include The Scissor Sisters and The Pet Shop Boys. 2004–2016
Isle of Wight Garlic Festival An annually held fundraising event organised until 2006 by the Newchurch Parish Sports & Community Association and since then by the Garlic Festival Ltd.[5] Held on the outskirts of Newchurch near Apse Heath, it has over 250 stallholders selling many locally produced foods such as garlic beer, garlic seafood and garlic ice cream. Music performances take place and the event also has a large central arena for other activities. 1985–present
Cowes Week Cowes Week is the longest running regular regatta in the world,[6] and takes place on the Solent. 1826–present
White Air White Air was an extreme sports festival held in Yaverland, on the eastern side of the island, near Sandown.[7] The event was in 2009 held in Brighton, due to difficulties between the organisers and the Isle of Wight Council.[8] 1996–2008
Isle of Wight Walking Festival The Isle of Wight Walking Festival is the UK's largest annual walking festival which takes place annually on the Isle of Wight each May. 1998–present


Marmotinto is the art of creating pictures using coloured sand or marble dust. It was first popularised in England at a dinner party given by George III who was taken with a display arranged under glass at his dinner table by a Bavarian named Benjamin Zobel (Memmingen, Germany, 21 September 1762 - London, England, 24 October 1830),[9] a friend of George Morland, a painter prominent in the "Isle of Wight School" . It became popular in Victorian times as the tourist industry began and Alum Bay and Totland were briefly developed as a tourist destination for steamers. There are fine examples at Osborne House.

Although marmotinto with marble and other coloured dust was known in Italy and elsewhere on the continent, marmotinto with coloured sand is an art form possibly unique to the Isle of Wight, due to the availability of the raw materials and to the inherent limitations of the art form.


The Bees (UK band) are a local band who have recently met with some national success.

The band Level 42 are from Gurnard.

The Island has a full symphony orchestra, and well as several brass bands, swing and jazz groups.

Singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock lived on the island in the late 20th century, and occasionally refers to local geography or uses Wight-specific terms in his lyrics (the song "Let's Go Thundering" refers to "sliding down a mossy chine", for example).


Local skateboarding team 'Wight Trash' and its associated retail brand was launched with the help of Inbiz and a Prince's Trust loan in April 2004.[10] They have featured in skateboarding videos and events.

Views of the Island

The Isle of Wight has traditionally seen as a place for retirees and holiday makers. The Beatles song When I'm Sixty-Four mentions 'every summer we could rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight'.

This non-threatening image is also used to comic effect by the Monty Python team in their 1976 sketch Mr Neutron:

Commander: OK. We'll bomb Neutron out. Get me Moscow! Peking! and Shanklin, Isle of Wight!
Cut to stock film of B52s on a bombing raid.
Voice Over: And so the Great Powers and the people of Shanklin, Isle of Wight, drew their net in ever-tightening circles around the most dangerous threat to peace the world has ever faced. They bombed Cairo, Bangkok, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Harrow, Hammersmith, Stepney, Wandsworth and Enfield... But always it was the wrong place.

Today the island maintains this image, while also being seen nationally as a destination for the 'sea and sandcastles' style of family holiday. In an episode of the TV panel game QI, Alan Davies described the Isle of Wight as still stuck in the 1950s.


The Isle of Wight has an active branch of the Pagan Federation (many of whom style themselves as "Druids" and of inmates in Parkhurst Prison, paganism makes up the third most popular religion (according to the Isle of Wight County Press.

The Isle of Wight was the last area of English paganism until 686CE when, according to Bede, Cædwalla of Wessex conquered the island, killing its inhabitants and installing Christians in their place.[11] A "sheela-na-gig" is preserved in the gateway to Holy Cross Church in Binstead.

Historically several women were alleged to be witches (such as the nineteenth-century Bembridge woman Molly Downer), although not apparently persecuted. This seems to have been a psychiatric matter rather than religious.

Morris Dancing

The Isle of Wight has many Morris sides, the newest being a mixed-sex side - Guith Morris (Guith being the name of the Island pre Roman/Saxon times); The Men of Wight,[12] a traditional side; Bloodstone Border Morris, who are a mixed-sex border style side, named after Bloodstone Copse on the Island;[13] The Wight Bells, an all women group established over 10 years; The Oyster Girls, who dance wearing clogs; Mr Baker's Dozen, a traditional English side; The Island Cloggies, an all female group.


  1. ^ page 21, Swinburne: the portrait of a poet, Philip Henderson, Taylor & Francis, 1974
  2. ^ The World's Greatest Books, Volume V., Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton,
  3. ^ The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy, Robert McKenna, McGraw-Hill, 2003, ISBN 978-0-07-141950-5.
  4. ^ IWCP Advertising ratecard, January 2012 Archived 24 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ The Garlic Festival Ltd Archived 19 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Cowes Week
  7. ^ White Air will go to mainland
  8. ^ Isle of Wight County Press - Cuts and Compromise for Extreme Sports Festival Accessed on 06/06/08
  9. ^ Dictionary of artists
  10. ^ Findon, Ross (12/04/2009). "Wight Trash is so Valuable Now". Isle of Wight County Press Online. Retrieved 2 January 2010. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book IV, Bede, Medieval Sourcebook.
  12. ^
  13. ^

External links

Benjamin Zobel

Benjamin Zobel (21 September 1762 Memmingen, Germany - 24 October 1830 London, UK) was a German-British painter, who developed the technique of sandpainting, also called marmotinto. Examples of these sandpaintings exist in the Memmingen city museum archives in Germany and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Benjamin Zobel was born in Memmingen, Germany, at Weinmarkt 7, the family home and pastry business. His father Johann Georg Zobel was a master pastry-chef. Benjamin learned this craft from him, becoming a master pastry-chef at the age of 20. He left Germany soon thereafter, spent two years in Amsterdam, and then moved to London. His career in London began as a master pastry-chef at the court of German-speaking King George III. Not only was Benjamin a gifted pastry chef, but he had also become an artist. Benjamin was asked to create table decorations (tray-painting or table-decking), using colored sugars on silver platters at the center of banquet tables at the royal court. These table decorations were popular at the time and involved creating various figures such as flowers, animals, or fruit. At the end of the meal, the colored sugars would be swept away. King George III suggested making longer lasting pictures and Benjamin Zobel developed a technique using colored sand fixed to wood or pasteboard using glue. Many of Benjamin Zobel's sandpaintings feature animals and country scenes similar to those seen in the paintings of his friend, George Morland, a painter prominent in the "Isle of Wight School.” The Isle of Wight is well known for being a source of colored sands (Culture of the Isle of Wight).

Benjamin Zobel's son George James Jenkins Zobel (2 December 1811 London, UK - 18 June 1881 Surrey, UK) and great-great-uncle Elias Zobel (2 November 1677 Memmingen, Germany - 20 April 1718 Prague, Czech Republic) were also noted artists.

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