Monday, 19 May 2014

A Tour to the Isle Wight, 1796

The second of the two 18th century Isle of Wight travelogues I mentioned recently: Charles Tomkins' 1796 A Tour to the Isle of Wight.

As I said, it has much the same format as John Hassell's 1790 Tour of the Isle of Wight: an artist author takes a trip from London to the Island, and writes a two-volume illustrated travelogue. But Tomkins has a lot more pictures (80 views), a much great focus on architecture than Hassell (particularly churches), and he's a slightly better artist. But compared to Hassell, his style tends to the impersonal - very straight descriptions of places - and he also devotes large tracts of the book to quoting historical primary and secondary sources, such as the deed on conveyance for Newport grammar school, the Latin charter of Newport, and the entire costing sheet for the repairs of Carisbrooke Castle during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. I'm sure this may well be of value to researchers somewhere, but it makes a deal of the book highly skimmable. Nevertheless, once he gets on to personal description, it livens up. He started the tour with a boat trip around the south of the Wight, where he seems to have fun, although in rather macho company.
We stood round the Needles, and lay to in Scratchel's Bay, which is the western end of the island. Here part of our company landed on the rocks, to take the diversion of shooting at their feathered inhabitants, which, in the months of May, June, and July, it is said, are incredibly numerous. Whilst my fellow travellers were thus engaged, I rowed out to catch a sight of the Lighthouse ... When I had got out to a sufficient distance, I made a sketch of the West end of the Island.

Scratchel's Bay ... Here we made a hearty meal, and enlivened the dreary scene with mirth and a bottle. We could not help observing that this is a spot by no means favourable to the talents of our London sportsmen, who were much decieved as to distance on the water. The birds, indeed, seemed aware of this error, and remained quietly on the rocks after being repeatedly fired at.
 What jolly fun ...

For me, the pictures are by far the most interesting aspect of the book. Alongside the descriptions, these images track a few 'old friends' back a few decades before I've previously known them.

Click to enlarge any image.

"Allum Bay and the Needles"
"West end of the Isle of Wight"
"Blackgang Chine"
Entrance into Newport
Medina River
Medina River
Newport, from Fairlee
Part of the land excursion Tomkins calls the Western Tour, which leaves Newport westward, and particularly takes in the cliff scenery at Freshwater.

"Keep of Carisbrook Castle"
"Carisbrook Castle"
"Carisbrook Castle"
Yarmouth Castle
"Cave at Freshwater"
"Distant view of St. Catherine's"
"Freshwater Gate and Main Bench"
He then moves on to an Eastern Tour, taking in places such as Sandown, Ryde, Brading, and Culver Cliff. This book contains so far the only image I've found of the previously mentioned "Hermit's Hole" (see Swinburne, Culver climber), a clifftop ravine and cave which seems to have been lost to erosion perhaps some time in the early 20th century.

"Path to Hermit's Hole"
"Culver Cliffs"
Tomkins' Southern Tour takes in places such as Chale, Blackgang, the Undercliff and Ventnor. I particularly like the Undercliff views, which include the scary "Devil's Bridge" at Steephill, and a scene of pre-development Bonchurch showing Undermount Rock with "Hadfield's Lookout" still extant.

"Blackgang, looking to Sea"
"Chale Bay"
"St Catherine's"
"Knowles, looking West"
"Mirables, from Cripple Path"
"Steep Hill"
"Bonchurch Viillage"
"Luccombe Chine"
"Shanklin Chine"
A Tour to the Isle of Wight: Illustrated with Eighty Views, Drawn and Engraved in Aqua Tinta, Charles Tomkins, pub, G Kearsley, London, 1796 (Volume 1 Internet Archive atourtoislewigh00tomkgoog, Volume 2 Internet Archive atourtoislewigh01tomkgoog).

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