Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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Looking Back – How Ryde used to be

Hotels on the Esplanade
Hotels on the Esplanade

This article published by the Isle of Wight County Press in November 1934 took a look back at how Ryde used to be.


The picture of what one’s native town was like half a century ago has grown somewhat indistinct with the lapse of years. Ryde has not altered greatly in its essential features since 1884. Fifty years ago Ryde used to be very proud of its beautiful roads, metalled with clean yellow gravel from St George’s Down, but it must be confessed that tarred roads, if not quite so nice to look at, are infinitely cleaner when wet weather comes.
Some of the old landmarks are gone. Half a century ago toll gates were in use, and to take a vehicle into or out of the town one had to pay toll at a gate in Brading road, just before reaching Whitefield Woods, and at Binstead, near the brook. There was a windmill at Aldermoor, Upton, and previous to that one in Queen’s-road, but the latter had long been pulled down, even fifty years ago.

What is now called Ratcliffe-avenue was a rather sticky morass called Cricket-field lane, which gives the local cricket club a respectable antiquity. Football had not then attained any popularity excepting the Rugby game, which was more or less experimentally played in a field near Pell-lane. Quoits was then very popular amongst the men of Ryde, and they had pitches in a field where Benett-street is now. The lane leading to Dame Anthony’s common was chiefly noted for containing the residence of Sir Richard Sutton, the owner of the world-famous Genesta, which sailed across the Atlantic to try conclusions with the Yankees for the America’s Cup. Dame Anthony’s Common was almost covered with undergrowth, and there was no road to Havenstreet as there is now. Instead of a road there was a long stretch of land called Long Common, which brought one out at Coppid Hall Farm.

The social life of the borough at that period was very much the same as that of other towns in 1884.Ryde then had its own police force, and they were fairly lenient fellows. At 11 o’clock at night, especially on Saturdays, the upper part of the town was rather disorderly, and fights were quite common at the Oak Corner, the name then given to the top of St John’s-road.

Rivalry between the youth of Ryde and those of the surrounding villages was acute, and there were periodical excursions into the enemy territory of Haylands, Binstead, and Seaview, and many a cracked crown was afterwards displayed.

There was a pound in Upton-road, then called Pound-shute, at the corner of Pellhurst-road, and this district was generally called Play-street. At the top of High-street was the old tub well, which gave its name to Well-street, and a few dilapidated cottages, which were scarcely ornamental. These were pulled down when the Primitive Methodist Church was built. Oakfield was a very unsettled colony, and it was hardly safe to be abroad there at night. It was the home of the Italian organ-grinders and even less desirable characters. As Oakfield was then in the county the Ryde police did not go beyond the bridge at St John’s-road Railway-station, and the lot of the solitary constable at Oakfield was very unenviable. Where St John’s Wood road is now was an open space, traversed by the lonely Butler’s-road, and here periodically a festival was held known as “Canady Fair”, which had a very doubtful reputation.

The Ryde Esplanade had not long been reclaimed from the sea, and the Esplanade Gardens and Canoe Lake were built on the reclaimed land. The construction of the tunnel for the railway from Ryde Pier to St John’s-road had not long been completed, and the Pier tram was still drawn by horse power. The electrification of the affair in 1885 was considered a great feat in the electrical world. The Esplanade Gardens were rather bare and cheerless, or would be considered so at the present day, and only a small bandstand relieved the monotony. The Canoe Lake, too, was a rather dreary waste of water, and was mainly used by model yachting enthusiasts.

Garfield-road, named after an assassinated President of the United States, was made in 1886 from the grounds of St Peter’s, an academy for young ladies. The house was named Garfield House, and is now used as the headquarters of the Young Women’s Christian Association. It formerly had a carriage drive both from High-street and West-street, and the grounds were quite secluded, the woodland being part of a much larger copse known as Goldsworth Grove.

Fifty years ago most of the men were still living and active who had fought for and obtained Ryde’s independence as a borough, its water supply and improved foreshore. Mr Francis Newman, the surveyor whose clever brain had organised most of this work, was still in office, and among the public men then living were Mr Thomas Dashwood, the first mayor of Ryde, Mr James Dashwood, Mr Charles Colenutt, Mr Henry Knight, Mr Edward Thurlow, Mr Edward Marvin, Mr Samuel Fowler, and Mr Isaac Barton. One of the most remarkable men who saw the advance of Ryde in the ‘eighties was Mr Benjamin Barrow, a typical Victorian surgeon, who might have adorned the pages of Thackeray. Quick-tempered, autocratic, and domineering, he was at the same time generous, kind-hearted, and a tremendous worker. It is difficult to estimate what Ryde owed to Mr Barrow, who was nine times its mayor.

Probably the years between 1884 and the end of the century were some of the happiest Ryde has ever known. In 1887 the town joined enthusiastically in the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s jubilee. Ryde had a special interest in the affair, for the drive from Osborne to Ryde was one of the aged Queen’s favourite tours. Indeed, Queen’s-road, one of the town’s prettiest thorough-fares, bears its name because it was invariably the Queen’s route into the town.

In 1892 there came to reside in Ryde a gentleman who was destined to have a great influence on its life in the person of Mr Michael Maybrick, who had just retired from a great career as an opera singer, but was carrying on his even greater work as a composer, by which he was better known to the musical public under the name of Stephen Adams. For the first eight years of his residence at Haylands Mr Maybrick lived a quiet life at Lynthorpe, where he composed many of his later successes, such as “Thora” and “The veteran’s song,” and it was not until 1900 that he was induce to take a public office.

In the meantime the town had been steadily developing. The Pier Company built a large pavilion on the pier in 1895, and the town was becoming gradually more popular among the type of visitor for which it now caters so well. In 1897 the great Diamond Jubilee review at Spithead attracted an enormous number of people to the town. The year 1899 saw the outbreak of the war in South Africa, and it is still a vivid recollection to many how well the Yeomanry and Volunteers played their part in it, the farewells to them on Ryde Pier, and later on their safe return on the s s Mongolian, and the enthusiastic reception given to Captain Jack Seely and his troops on the same pier.

In 1901 came the death at Osborne of the great Queen Victoria, one of whose last public acts had been to drive to Ryde in July, 1899, to open the children’s ward which had been built at the County Hospital to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.

By the unanimous wish of the inhabitants, Mr Michael Maybrick was elected mayor in November, 1900, and served for two years. The period witnessed many important events, notably the opening of the Western Esplanade, giving the outlet to the sea which had long been desired at the bottom of Union-street. Mr Maybrick was again mayor for three years from 1908 to 1910, and during that period the ceremonies in connection with the Proclamation of King George V fell to his lot, as had the Proclamation of King Edward VII during his previous mayoralty. Mr Maybrick’s death came as a great blow to the hosts of friends who had known that very courteous gentleman.

The Ryde of to-day (1934) has developed wonderfully from the Ryde of fifty years ago. With the enlarged boundaries Ryde’s Corporation have taken over a greater responsibility. The Pier, the gateway to the town, has been wisely acquired by the governing authority, and the approach thereto has been magnificently improved by the demolition of the Pier Hotel and the provision of a suitable approach to Union-street, that “beautiful street on the hill” as it has been aptly designated. The Town-hall, of which Ryde was so proud, has been disastrously damaged by fire, but is rising again, like the Phoenix, even more handsome, from its ashes. The future of the town may be left with confidence in the hands of the Ryde people, many of them the descendants of the men who laid the foundations of the beautiful town which graces our delightful Island to-day.
Author:  F S GARRETT

(This next snippet is also 50 years ago)

A handsome mayoral chain, subscribed for by the inhabitants of Ryde, was presented to the Mayor of the borough (Mr R Colenutt) by Sir Richard Webster, M P. Later in the year Mr George Garnett presented a handsome mace to the Corporation.

(typed by Diana Wood)