Culture of the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight maintains a culture close to, but distinct from, that of the south of England due to its nature as an offshore island. With a high proportion of the present-day population being 'overners', with a few notable exceptions it has more often formed the backdrop for cultural events of wider significance, rather than Island-specific heritage.

The Island has inspired many creative works in history. 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 of the Isle of Wight occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria under whose patronage the island became a fashionable destination for the Victorian gentry.


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 cementing a connection to the Island.

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 in the Isle of Wight.[2]

The isle has been the setting for several novels, from Julian Barnes's utopian novel England, England, to a series of detective thrillers set on the Island, including The Fallen by Robert Rennick. The island also features heavily in John Wyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids and Simon Clark's sequel to it, The Night of the Triffids.

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

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

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


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


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

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

Language and dialect

The distinctive Isle of Wight accent is a somewhat stronger version of the traditional Hampshire dialect, featuring the dropping of some consonants and an emphasis on longer vowels. This is similar to the West Country drawl heard in south-western England, but less removed in sound from the Estuary English of the South East. The spread of the latter in general, together with continuing immigration, means the broader accent is more prevalent in the older population.

The island also has its own lexical style. Some words like grockel (visitor) and nipper/nips (addressing a younger person) are shared with neighbouring regions. Others are unique, for example mallishag (meaning caterpillar) and nammit (meaning food, usually lunch or snack) from "no meat", and "nutten" meaning "donkey". Many 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", but, even as it was written, many such terms were becoming archaic and preserved as curiosities. A more useful term for sovereigns was "yallerboys", which obviously fell out of use with the introduction of notes, but could as easily refer to the present one-pound coins.

The word "gurt" is usually given the meaning "great" but is used as an emphasiser.

To give an example of pronunciation, an outsider hearing the accent may hear the pronunciation of all right, Cowes, and tie is often awroi, Kays and toy. There is also a frequent penchant in informal speech to end a sentence or punctuate it with a rhetorical question that sounds like an impossible presumption on the listener's knowledge:

  • "I was browsing on the net, wasn't I?, when I came across a web site called Wikipedia".
  • "Please could I 'ave change for this five-pound?". "What would you like?". "I need five one pound coins, don't I?"

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 of dialogues such as 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.

Local media

The Isle of Wight was one of the first regions of the country to get a community television station with TV 12, an effort created in part by the Isle of Wight correspondent of the then BBC local new service. 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, the first not for profit community television station of its kind in the UK. This station went into receivership in 2007 and stopped transmitting.

Residents of the Island are very community minded, and it is an often quoted statistic that 92% of islanders read the local newspaper 'the Isle of Wight County Press' [1], that comes out once a week on 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 along with social citizen media such as Island Pulse is now also available over the internet.


The Isle of Wight was a founder member of the Island Games, and hosted the games in the mid nineties and again in 2011.

Two of the most famous and important sailing clubs in the United Kingdom can be found on the island coast, the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, and Brading Haven Yacht Club near Bembridge. the Island plays host to Cowes Week, an annual sailing regatta, and the Admiral's Cup and has on occasions hosted other high profile racing events.

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–present
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] 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,[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).

The Isle of Wight Festival

During the period 1968 to 1970 the Isle of Wight played host to a large music festival. The 1970 event was the largest ever music festival in the United Kingdom, and saw one of the last ever performances by Jimi Hendrix, and his last in the UK.

An attempt was made to restart the festival in 2001 under the branding 'Rock Island', and this first year could be considered a flop in terms of ticket sales. However the festival returned the next year, and over subsequent years grew into a successful event attracting acts such as The Who, Bryan Adams and David Bowie. Its extensive 2005 line-up included R.E.M., Travis, Snow Patrol and Feeder.

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.[10] 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,[11] a traditional side; Bloodstone Border Morris, who are a mixed-sex border style side, named after Bloodstone Copse on the Island;[12] 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
  5. ^ The Garlic Festival Ltd
  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. ^ Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book IV, Bede, Medieval Sourcebook.
  11. ^ []
  12. ^ []

External links