Tuesday, June 10, 2008



One of my ‘must do’s for my time in Wight was, as in Jersey, to check out the encyclopaedic facts and figures on those of my Victorian Vocalists who were born, lived and/or died on the Island. Last year, I made a tentative stab at a cemetery or two, with limited success, but I did establish that such records as existed would be found not locally but in the island’s Record Office … in Newport. Red Fred was going to have to brave the streets of ‘the big city’. As it turned out, the ‘big city’ was a doddle compared to getting there. Road works having closed our usual route, we were obliged to take ‘Beacon Alley’ to access the main road. Beacon Alley is a Wightish road (?) which actually admits to be single lane. Single lane, that is, to be shared by cars going both ways. Which doesn’t stop trucks using it. You have to glue yourself to the downhill bank while uphill traffic squeezes through. Which we did. I really think that, after that, I deserved to negotiate almost successfully the hazards of the Newport one-way system (choose your lane and hope for the best!) and to find a large empty parking space just a few yards from my goal!
After a sticky start in the Records Office, I managed to find every fact that I was after (and one was in Latin: my ancient M.A. (Hons) at last came in handy!), and so I turned my attentions to Greg’s forebears, the Jupe family of Gunville, Carisbrooke. There, too, success smiled. Jupes flowed from all corners, and I even came upon a partial family tree made by a modern day owner of the name.

In view of all this success (and of the fact that there were, in the end, no Wightish VicVoc graves for me to visit), I decided that my next mission had better be to Gunville. Perhaps a 19th century cottage might have survived at 34 Gunville Lane, the ancient seat of the prolific Jupe family.
So Fred had to earn his living a second day in a row.
It was a very pleasant drive from Hermitage Court Farm to Chale Green, then, on a new piece of road (for us), up to Billingham and the crazy village of Chillerton. It’s rightly named. Chillerton is a bunch of houses ribboned along a stretch of typical Wightsized road. You know, just big enough for two car-widths if you breathe in. So what do the locals do? Why they park along one side. Preferably on corners. So ‘Chillerton main street’ is no better than Beacon Alley. Worse, in fact, because where you can snuggle up to a bank you can’t to a vehicle!

Escaping Chillerton, we wended on to Whitcombe Cross and to a splendid Victorian pile designated Carisbrooke Priory. And a carpark. This being walking distance from Carisbrooke Castle and Gunville, I tied Fred up to a rail in the park, and tentatively poked my nose through first the Priory gates, and then its front door. The Priory was built in the early 1860s to house a coven of nuns, but the order proved not to be of the durable kind, and 15 years ago the property was sold to a Christian group which now runs the place as a Quiet House, a day centre where Christian societies can meet, and where folk can just come to relax (and take soup) in peaceful and lovely surroundings.
One of the ladies in charge gave me a guided tour. The whole place just reeked of calm and kindness and good things. I’m not a Christian, and I’m not into donating to charities, but this place and its people just touched my heart, and when I left I dropped into the donations box the largest amount of money I’ve ever donated to anything in my life.

Carisbrooke Castle is a nice castle and, having been lived in until only a few decades ago, is not just a series of old stones. One can see the room where Charles I was held until his execution. And the bowling green where he is said to have entertained himself until. Also the window he is supposed to have tried to escape from (although the bowling green looks really easy to get away from). One can see the rooms where the Princess Beatrice lived and, at the other end of time, the splendid Isabella de Fortibus. There is a recently restored chapel, plus a small and friendly museum whose displays are angled very firmly towards the under 12s … and therein lay the rub. I think most of the under 12s of the Island were there this morning. You don’t get to muse on Carisbrooke Castle. You need earplugs. And when I dared the steep climb to the top of the keep, my unsteady steps were dogged by juvenile rockets flying up and down the vertiginous stairs. I got there, glanced woefully over the panorama, took a photo (see below) of Carisbrooke and Gunville, but as soon as I saw ten metres of childfree space on the stairs, I hurried down. And out. The Priory is much more my scene. And, after Mont Orgeuil, truthfully, other castles just seem tame.

From the castle, I scrambled down a muddy path to the brook and to what I assume is the oldest part of Carisbrooke, I passed by St Mary’s Church, where the odd Jupe had been christened or buried, also the ex-Primitive Methodist church where ditto (the family changed denomination frequently), and out to Gunville Road. Gunville Road (formerly Gunville Lane, but now a sizeable thoroughfare) nowadays has, alas, no early C19th features. I suspect the agricultural labourer’s cottages of that era were not built to last. Now, its mostly red-brick railwayclerk semis or ‘villas’, with the odd more recent ‘Summerville stone’ bungalow. Alas, no 34 was one of those.

Still, I’d been there. And I posted Greg the partial family tree I’d dug up at the Records Office from Carisbrooke Post Office (which is part of the co-op). Gunville doesn’t have one.

So, maybe this was not one of my more romantic or picturesque excursions, but it was interesting enough. And what I shall retain from the day is, of course, the Priory and the good, kind, Christian people therein.

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