Freshwater, Isle of Wight


Freshwater Bay, December 2013
 Freshwater shown within the Isle of Wight
Population 5,369 (2011 census)[1]
Civil parishFreshwater
Unitary authorityIsle of Wight
Ceremonial countyIsle of Wight
RegionSouth East
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode district PO40 9
Dialling code 01983
Police Hampshire
Fire Isle of Wight
Ambulance Isle of Wight
EU Parliament South East England
UK ParliamentIsle of Wight
List of places
Isle of Wight

Coordinates: 50°40′57″N 1°31′30″W / 50.682566°N 1.524884°W / 50.682566; -1.524884

Freshwater is a large village and civil parish[2][3] at the western end of the Isle of Wight, England. Freshwater Bay is a small cove on the south coast of the Island which also gives its name to the nearby part of Freshwater.[4] Freshwater sits at the western end of the region known as the Back of the Wight or the West Wight which is a popular tourist area.[5]

Freshwater is close to steep chalk cliffs. It was the birthplace of physicist Robert Hooke and was the home of Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.


Freshwater is famous for its geology and coastal rock formations that have resulted from centuries worth of coastal erosion. The "Arch Rock" was a well-known local landmark[6] that collapsed on 25 October 1992.[7] The neighbouring "Stag Rock" is so named because supposedly a stag leaped to the rock from the cliff to escape during a hunt. Another huge slab fell off the cliff face in 1968, and is now known as the "Mermaid Rock".[8][9] Immediately behind Mermaid Rock lies a small Sea cave that cuts several metres into the new cliff.

Freshwater's beach is very popular. It is mostly sandy but it is also covered in chalk from the nearby cliffs, which is frequently gathered by tourists as souvenirs.

Freshwater features an excellent example of a surviving Victorian Beach hotel, The Albion. The Albion was built around the time Freshwater became popularised as a coastal resort, and is still popular today. However, the heavy storms which often lift rocks and other debris from the beach means that the building's exterior walls often have to be repainted, with cracks, chips and dents in the walls often being repaired too.

The hills above Freshwater are named after Tennyson. On the nearby Tennyson Down is a Cornish granite cross erected in 1897 in tribute to Tennyson, "by the people of Freshwater, and other friends in England and America." There is also a hill in the area called 'Hooke Hill', named for Robert Hooke.

All Saints' Church, Freshwater[10] is one of the oldest churches on the Isle of Wight, and was listed in the Domesday survey of 1086.[11][12][13] Mark Whatson is the pastor of All Saints, which is an Anglican church[14] in the Anglican Diocese of Portsmouth. A primary school associated with the church is nearby.[15] There is a marble memorial commemorating Tennyson in All Saints Church. Tennyson's wife Emily and other family members are buried in the church cemetery. The church is also the site of a memorial to Tennyson's son, Lionel Tennyson, who died of malaria in 1886.

Freshwater Bay, circa 1910. The large building in the foreground is The Albion, a Victorian hotel built in response to an influx in popularity
Dimbola Lodge (foreground, left), overlooking Freshwater Bay, 2006.

Dimbola Lodge, the home of Julia Margaret Cameron and now a photographic museum, is in the village of Freshwater Bay, which is part of Freshwater. There is also a tearoom and bookstore.

Tennyson's son, Hallam donated land for a new church in Freshwater Bay. Hallam's wife Audrey suggested that the church be named for St. Agnes. St. Agnes' Church, Freshwater was consecrated on 12 August 1908.[16] It is the only thatched church on the Isle of Wight.[17][18][19]

Freshwater was the site of the largest station on the Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway that operated from 20 July 1889 to 21 September 1953.[20][21] The station location is now occupied by a supermarket and garden centre.[22]

Freshwater is near the source of the Western Yar, a river whose estuary runs north to Yarmouth. Freshwater Marshes are a Site of Special Scientific Interest,[23][24] and a large part of the Marshes are also a Local Nature Reserve called Afton Marshes.[25][26]

At the western end of Freshwater Bay on a bluff are the remains of Fort Redoubt, also known as Fort Freshwater or Freshwater Redoubt, a Palmerston Fort. Fort Redoubt was built in 1855-1856 to protect Freshwater Bay, and was in use until the early 20th century. It was sold by the military in 1928. Presently, part of it is a private residence, and other portions are being developed as holiday flats. A doorway carved into the cliff below the fort was the main access to the building from the beach, although most of the iron stairway that formerly gave access has broken up due to the repeated actions of rust and the tide.

Although being sited near a cove, Freshwater often receives high waves as a result of Atlantic storms

Two unusual structures that have been described as ice houses, pottery kilns or crematoria are found on Moons Hill in Freshwater. Robert Walker was the first to excavate these features in the 1890s, and he thought they were evidence of a Phoenician settlement in Freshwater. Chemical analyses suggest that they were most likely lime kilns.[27]

Famous residents

The renowned scientist Robert Hooke (1635–1703) was born in Freshwater in 1635. His father John Hooke was the curate of All Saints Church in Freshwater. When Hooke's father died in 1648,[28] Hooke left Freshwater for London to be apprenticed to portrait painter Peter Lely. After that, he went to Westminster School and then Oxford.

George Morland, a famous painter, lived in Freshwater in a structure known as the "Cabin" around 1800.

British Poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson lived at nearby Farringford House (on the road between Freshwater and Alum Bay). Tennyson lived at Farringford from 1853 until the end of his life in 1892. Tennyson wrote of Farringford:

“Where, far from noise and smoke of town
I watch the twilight falling brown,
All round a careless-ordered garden,
Close to the ridge of a noble down.”

Tennyson rented Farringford in 1853, and then bought it in 1856.[29] He found that there were too many starstruck tourists who pestered him in Farringford, so he moved to "Aldworth", a stately home on a hill known as Blackdown between Lurgashall and Fernhurst, about 2 km south of Haslemere in West Sussex in 1869. However, he returned to Farringford to spend the winters.

Pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron lived in Freshwater at Dimbola Lodge from 1860 to 1875.

In 1960, Dekyi Tseri, mother of the current Dalai Lama, stayed at the guest house of Sir Basil Gould's widow Cecily in Freshwater for six weeks. Tseri, known to Tibetans as "Amala", meaning "The Great Mother", was recuperating after a throat operation to remove a benign polyp performed at St. Mary's Hospital in London.

Freshwater was also the birthplace of Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs FRS (11 February 1908 – 11 November 1999). An English explorer whose expeditionary team completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1958.


The Freshwater Village Association was created in November 2006. The Freshwater Village Association was formed by Freshwater residents who are concerned that Freshwater might lose its identity as a village.[30] The Freshwater Bay Residents Association was created on 2 July 1984, with the goal of expressing concern about the development of Freshwater Bay.[31]

Freshwater Lifeboat is an independent lifesaving organisation based in Freshwater Bay.[32] It operates the Freshwater Bay Lifeboat Station on the promenade along Freshwater Bay and two lifeboats from public donations and profits from shop sales, since it is not part of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.[33]

It hosts the Freshwater and Totland Carnival every year.

Freshwater is the headquarters of the Robert Hooke Society who have created a walking trail around he area called the "Hooke Trail" to visiit sites associatesd with him. They hold bi-monthly meetings at the Island Planetarium at Fort Victoria and a yearly Memorial Luncheon on 3 March on the date of his death and week-long celebrations of his birthday (18 July)


There is evidence of a Roman harbour at the end of the Western Yar. In 530 CE, the Island fell to a combined force of Saxons and Jutes. After the Norman Conquest, Lord of the island William Fitz Osbern gave the Saxon All Saints Church and its tithes to the Norman Abbey of Lyre sometime between 1066 and his death in 1071. In 1414 all alien priories were seized by the Crown. In 1623, when King James I gave Freshwater Parish to John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. Williams then granted Freshwater to St. John's College, Cambridge on 24 March 1623.[34][35]

The Freshwater Parish originally was composed of five farms, known as "tuns"; Norton, Sutton, Easton, Weston and Middleton. All of these place names still exist, except for Sutton, which is now called Freshwater Bay (previously Freshwater Gate). The first meeting of the Freshwater Parish Council was on 31 December 1894.[36]

Village attractions

There are several attractions within the immediate area:

  1. Farringford House, home of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.
  2. Dimbola Lodge, home of photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
  3. West Wight Sports Centre.
  4. Freshwater Bay Golf Course.
  5. Afton Down, the site of the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.
  6. The Needles Old Battery, a Victorian fort and post-Second World War rocket testing site.
  7. The Needles Lighthouse and chalk rocks.
  8. Compton Bay, where dinosaur footprints are visible at low tide.
  9. The Longstone, some four miles distant, the only megalithic monument on the Island.

Not all of these attractions are within the formal boundaries of the village.


Freshwater is linked to other parts of the Island by Southern Vectis buses on route 7 and route 12 serving Totland, Yarmouth and Newport as well as intermediate villages. In the Summer, open top bus "The Needles Tour" and tourist service "Island Coaster" serve Freshwater Bay.[37][38] Freshwater is on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path.


  1. "Civil Parish population 2011". Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  2. English Parishes & Welsh Communities N&C 2004
  3. Some sources describe Freshwater as a town , and since 1974 any civil parish has the right to declare itself as a town, but it does not appear on the List of towns in England.
  4. Freshwater Bay was previously known as Freshwater Gate (Local Area, Freshwater Bay Residents Association website)
  5. "Freshwater Isle of Wight". 2015-05-10. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  6. The Arch and Stag rocks 1903, Steve Shafleet, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 15 January 2007
  7. Page showing bookmark commemorating the fall of the Arch Rock, giving exact date
  8. Freshwater Isle of Wight, Steve Shafleet, showing the Mermaid Rock and Arch Rock and other images, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 15 January 2007
  9. Freshwater Gallery, Steve Shafleet, showing the Arch Rock, Freshwater Caves and other images, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 31 December 2005
  10. Freshwater Church and Causeway, Steve Shafleet, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 23 March 2007
  11. Freshwater, All Saints, Steve Noyes, Welcome to Steve Noyes' web page: Here you will find a load of my bellringing programs, compositions and so on.
  12. All Saints, Freshwater, ©1998-2008 UK Church Directory Ltd
  13. All Saints, Freshwater, photoset on Flickr, 30 Sep 2007.
  14. Church of England, Freshwater, All Saints and St Agnes, Official Isle of Wight website
  15. All Saints Church of England Primary School, Hampshire official website
  16. Freshwater Isle of Wight Page 2, Steve Shafleet, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 26 December 2006
  17. St Agnes Church, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, Norman Atkinson, Flickr website, 14 January 2008.
  18. West Wight, Official Isle of Wight Tourism, 2007
  19. St Agnes Church, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, Mark Collins and Alan Loze, Roughwood website, 2003
  20. Freshwater Station, Nick Catford, Disused Stations website, updated 20 March 2006
  21. The Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway, Steve Shafleet, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 24 August 2005
  22. Freshwater Station (then and now), Steve Shafleet, Isle of Wight Historic Postcards website, 24 August 2005
  23. "Freshwater Marshes citation" (PDF). Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  24. "Map of Freshwater Marshes". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  25. "Afton Marshes". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  26. "Map of Afton Marshes". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  27. What are the Moons Hill Structures?, Roger Hewitt, Isle of Wight History Center, December 2000
  28. Chronology of Robert Hooke, Robert Hooke page, hosted by Westminster School © 2000 - 2007 Webmaster
  29. The Home of Tennyson, Rebecca FitzGerald, Farringford: The Home of Tennyson official website
  30. About Us, Freshwater Village Association website
  31. About Us, Freshwater Bay Residents Association website
  32. Freshwater Lifeboat: Making Our Seas Safer official website
  33. Welcome to the Home Page of the Freshwater Bay Residents' Association, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom
  34. Parish History, Freshwater Parish Council official website
  35. Local History, Freshwater Bay Resident's Association official website
  36. Freshwater Parish official website
  37. "Southern Vectis - bus routes". 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  38. "Southern Vectis - The Needles Tour". 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
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