Jefferies and Carisbrooke Castle, the Isle of Wight

Carisbrooke Castle

                                Carisbrooke Castle

The archaeologist Hodder M. Westropp comments that Britain has ‘several instances of … earth-ramparts’ which provide ‘evidence of the custom of that primitive period’, and cites the ‘most interesting’ example as Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Jefferies probably visited the Isle of Wight in 1874 when he stayed at Ventnor. Matthews and Trietel have suggested that this may have been his honeymoon destination after his marriage in July.

Although there is no definitive evidence that Jefferies visited Carisbrooke Castle — his earliest known literary notebook being 1876 — the castle’s position at the centre of the island and part of the capital town made it one of the best-known tourist attractions, and he probably would have visited it with his wife during their trip in 1874. However, an earlier reference to Carisbrooke Castle in ‘History of Swindon’ (1867–8) suggests that he might have visited the island in the late 1860s. The reference to Carisbrooke occurs in relation to Snap village in Wiltshire, ‘where there is a deep well, with a wheel made to revolve by a pony’. He adds a footnote — ‘Cf the well at Carisbrooke Castle’ — which refers to the extant well at the castle rotated by the plodding action of a donkey. The absence of a reference for this footnote, and the use of ‘Cf’, meaning ‘confer’, suggests that he may be alluding to his own knowledge of the Castle, rather than having taken the information from a secondary source. Furthermore, a visit to the Isle of Wight — particularly well-known for its wealth and diversity of archaeological sites — would fit into the chronology of his interests at this time. His research for his histories, published in the North Wilts Herald, reached its climax during the late 1860s and early 1870s in ‘History of Swindon’, ‘History of Malmesbury’, ‘History of Cirencester’, and A Memoir of the Goddards (1873). These texts featured tens of historical and archaeological sites, including castles, priories, stone circles, caves, monoliths, and churches, and the Isle of Wight would have been of particular interest to Jefferies.

Jefferies’s notebook entry concerning his visit of 1874 reads: ‘the intense love and beauty of nature — every grain of sand — I can see the grains at Ventnor now ’74 and the fragments of pebbles joy in each. But not in this the answer to the soul. A double feeling’. The Isle of Wight was a retreat not only for those seeking health remedies, but for writers, artists and aristocracy. Queen Victoria had a residence at Osborne House, and Ventnor itself was frequented by royalty from other countries who came to support the charitable body in charge of the Royal National Hospital for Consumption, built half a mile outside of Ventnor in 1869. The hospital had an illustrious patronage and ran fundraising events, including a biennial festival, supported by royalty, peerage, and local celebrities.
Full article: Rebecca Welshman. 2012. “Imagining Archaeology: Nature and Landscape in the work of Richard Jefferies (Part Two).” Richard Jefferies Society Journal 25: 14-30.

Image of Carisbrooke: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/carisbrooke-castle/

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