The Parish of Freshwater was established in Saxon times. At this time parishes on the Island tended to be large and stretched from the north to south coasts. This ensured that each parish possessed a mixture of soil types that gave good agricultural land, woodland and downland.
The Saxon church was donated, with various tithes, by William Fitz Osbern, Lord of the island, to the Norman Abbey of Lyre at some time between 1066 and 1071 when he died. In 1414 all alien priories were suppressed and their property and titles taken over by the Crown. King Henry V bestowed them on the Charterhouse of Sheen in Surrey; a foundation set up by the King in September 1414 as “the Priory House of Jesus of Bethlehem”. The Charterhouse of Sheen then entrusted the Island affairs to farmers: local gentry, who were charged with the collection of rents, tithes and payments, owing to Sheen. In 1601, after the passing by Parliament of An Act for the Relief of the Poor, the responsibility of collecting the Poor Rate was given to the Churchwardens and up to four other substantial householders, elected annually in the parish. These were the first effective local taxes.
At the dissolution of the monasteries, Freshwater had been forfeited to the King and remained with the Crown until 1623, when James I gave it to John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. In turn he granted it to St. John’s College, Cambridge on 24th March 1623. The first rector of Freshwater to be presented by the College was Cardell Goodman, instituted in 1641. Before Goodman, George Warburton held the rectorship of Freshwater. In 1638, Warburton was active locally organising a petition on behalf of the parishioners and himself alleging the harshness of the Ship Money tax on them. Warburton himself was charged £6 5s 0d (£6.25) for his property in Easton, Freshwater. Ship Money tax, a source of great discontent in the pre-Civil War period, was finally abolished in 1641.
The system for collecting the Poor Rate, passed by Parliament in 1601, continued until 1771 when the Island was incorporated under a local Government Act which gave it greater power over its own poor law administration. The Act was administered by 24 directors elected by members of the corporation or guardians of the Poor of the Isle of Wight, who consisted of all landowners and leaseholders rated at £50 a year, heirs to property rated at £100, all rectors and vicars, occupiers of land or property rated at £100. Twelve additional guardians were selected from persons nominated by the parishioners of each parish, who held office for one year. A House of Industry was erected in Newport for the relief of the poor, this served all the Island parishes. It was a Workhouse, Hospital, Lunatic Asylum and School which could house up to 700 inmates. The buildings now form part of St Mary’s Hospital.
When the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 was introduced the Island fell outside most of its requirements because of its status as a Local Act Incorporation. However, in 1865, it finally adopted Union status under the Act. This Poor Law Union continued until 1930. At County level the Island was part of the administrative county of Hampshire until April 1890 when the Isle of Wight County Council came into being. The predecessor of the Isle of Wight Rural District Council was the Isle of Wight Rural Sanitary Authority which commenced around 1872. The Rural Sanitary Authority continued until it was succeeded by the Rural District Council in 1895. The Rural District Council disappeared in the Local Government changes that came into operation in 1974 when the South Wight Borough Council was formed. Finally the present Isle of Wight Council superseded the County Council and the South Wight Borough Council on the 1st April 1995.
The first meeting of the Parish Council was held on the 31st December 1894, this followed a public meeting held on the 4th December where the Councillors were elected. The members were: Thomas Cotton, H. Dowty, J. Gilbert, Dr A. Hollis, H. Lambert, John B. Tucker, B. Grist, W.T. Orchard, Hallam Lord Tennyson and A.H. Stack. Lord Tennyson was elected Chairman and Thomas Cotton became Vice Chairman. Mr H. S. Simpson was elected as Treasurer of the Capital and Counties Bank, Newport subject to giving the required bond to the Parish Council. A copy of this first set of minutes can be viewed by clicking here.
The railway came to Freshwater in 1888, the line ran through Yarmouth to Newport. After several bankruptcies the railway was eventually taken over by Southern Railway in 1923. Improvements were made to all aspects of the railway, including a through train from Ventnor to Freshwater, named the “Tourist”, which was apparently the only named Isle of Wight train. In 1947 the railway was nationalised and became part of British Railways. In 1952 it was proposed to close the line and after a public enquiry the closure was approved. The last train ran on the 20th September 1953. The bed of the railway now forms a very popular and scenic bridleway and cycle path between Freshwater and Yarmouth. The station building is still in place in Yarmouth and remnants of the station can be found in Freshwater.
In 1635 Robert Hooke was born in Freshwater, the son of John Hooke senior the curate at Freshwater church. Robert Hooke moved to London in 1648 and was educated at Westminster school before taking up a “poor scholars” place at Christ Church, Oxford. He is credited with the invention of the watch spring, the development of microscopes and most famously with the design of many London buildings, in collaboration with Sir Christopher Wren, following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Freshwater’s most famous early resident was Alfred, Lord Tennyson who moved to Farringford House, Bedbury Lane in 1853. Other poets and artists of the Victorian era were frequent visitors including the society photographer Julia Margaret Cameron who constructed Dimbola Lodge from two cottages close to Freshwater Bay. The house is now a museum, tearoom and centre for photographers managed by a charitable trust.
Today Freshwater is one of the largest parishes on the Isle of Wight with a population of almost 5,400. It has an infant school, a library, a sports centre with a gymnasium and swimming pool, a skatepark and a large recreation ground with a comprehensive range of play equipment. The medical centre in the middle of the village is modern and well equipped. Freshwater has some great benefits, clean fresh air, miles of footpaths and bridleways, many of them through Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), good beaches with safe bathing and facilities for most other sports from horse riding to para-gliding. Employment is provided for by agriculture, tourism and service industries; there is also a small number of manufacturing companies. Connections to the mainland for vehicles and foot passengers are by ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington, onward railway journeys can be made from Lymington pier.
John Hooke & Freshwater Parish – http://freespace.virgin.net/ric.martin/vectis/hookeweb/par.htm
The Life of Robert Hooke – http://freespace.virgin.net/ric.martin/vectis/hookeweb/roberthooke.htm
Isle of Wight Poor Law Union & Workhouse – http://users.ox.ac.uk/~peter/workhouse/IsleOfWight/IsleOfWight.html
The History of Poor Law Unions – http://users.ox.ac.uk/~peter/workhouse/unions.html
Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway – http://www.shalfiow.demon.co.uk/fyn/FYN.htm
Steve’s Historic Postcard Page – http://www.shalfiow.demon.co.uk/
Parish Council minutes
County Archivist, Isle of Wight Record Office