The Isle of Wight Society

Isle of Wight Society and East Cowes Heritage



The Isle of Wight Society

The Society was formed in 1969 by concerned residents in response to poor planning decisions, unsympathetic architectural design and mediocre construction of new developments. One of the first activities was to fight the Government over proposals to site a nuclear power station on the Solent coastline. 


The Isle of Wight Society is an amenity and conservation organisation, registered with the Charity Commission, number 276986, and affiliated to the national organisation Civic Voice.

Our Constitution states that the Objects are: 

1. To stimulate public interest in the Isle of Wight.

2. To promote high standards of planning and architecture in or effecting the Isle of Wight.

3. To secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in the Isle of Wight.

The Society achieves the objectives by:

Writing articles for publications and a monthly column in the IOW County Press.

Holding an annual conservation award competition in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Submitting comments on building developments to the IOW Council Planning Department.

Supporting the East Cowes Heritage Centre and other organisations dealing with planning issues.



What makes this Island special?

The character of the Island is basically rural with enough undulations to provide vistas of the countryside, the surrounding sea and the busy sheltered water of the Solent. 

The mainstay of the Island is tourism and this is bolstered by marine and engineering industries, some agriculture, forestry and fishing. As a popular retirement destination the care of the elderly is also a factor in the economy.

The geology, from chalk cliffs to sheltered valleys, provides a variety of soils that support a wide selection of flora and fauna 

The people who have lived on the Island have left a rich heritage that supports the history of a developing community that has been industrious, involved with civil and international wars and produced some word leading engineering achievements. 

Nowhere else in Britain can boast of human history ranging from pre-Neolithic times through to the present day.



The Isle of Wight Society operates from the Heritage Centre in Clarence Road, East Cowes. The centre is run by volunteers. It is an archive and exhibition space for artifacts and records of the town and the Island. Entry is free but opening times vary. See here.


The shop is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 1pm.

The displays in the windows are updated frequently.


EAST COWES HERITAGE CENTRE has a range of cards, postcards, calendars and Christmas cards for sale. They depict East Cowes and other Island scenes.

They are now available to buy at the Heritage Centre



The 2024 conservation award competition is now accepting entries. If you would like to nominate your project please go to the Conservation Awards page to find instructions on how to enter.

PLEASE NOTE: Some details and criteria have changed from previous years. Please read the instructions for entry if you would like to enter this year.




The East Cowes Heritage Centre over the last year is collaborating with Dr Janet Owen in "Putting East Cowes on the map!"

The Earth Museum takes photographs of artefacts owned or suggested by various museums and places them on a map of the area.  Janet felt that East Cowes should be a trial place, and it has just gone live. 

If you could promote the link below amongst your friends it would be great.





Civic Voice – the national charity for the civic movement – is today calling for all political parties to make a firm manifesto commitment: “To give communities a meaningful voice at every stage of the planning system” and in doing so, “create an Accessible, Balanced and Collaborative Planning System, which ensures we move from talking to the ‘already engaged’ to having ‘everyone engaged’”.

The call was made as Civic Voice's Chair, Joan Humble launched our manifesto for the General Election 2019, emphasising an urgent need for a rebalancing of power within the planning system.

The manifesto is available at:

Speaking at the launch of the manifesto, Joan Humble, Chair of Civic Voice said: “Recent research undertaken by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland found that the public has a significant distrust of the planning process. Just 2% of the public trust developers and only 7% trust local authorities when it comes to planning for large-scale development. We can either ignore this research and carry on as we are and continue to face the same challenges in building the homes the nation needs, or we can accept that the system is not working for local people and do something about it.

Our call is simple. We are calling for an Accessible, Balanced and Collaborative Planning System to ensure everyone has a meaningful voice to shape where they live.

Humble added: “We need to move away from ‘consultations’ to ‘conversations’ and open the planning system up to ‘collaboration and participation’. If we give citizens a genuine meaningful voice in the planning process, we can increase confidence and trust in the decisions being taken. Whether right or wrong, people believe that the decisions impacting their local area are not made locally, but by outside interests, who, once the development has finished, move on. By calling for a meaningful right to participate at every stage of the planning system, we can change this. With the use of new planning technology, there is no reason why this cannot happen.”

Alongside calling for an “ABC Planning System” Civic Voice is also calling for the next Government to:

• Introduce a ‘pre-application community consultation stage’ and a ‘limited community right of appeal’ into the planning system.
• Strengthen Statements of Community Involvement (SCIs) so that the statements set out, in accessible Plain English, how the local authority and developers will be expected to meaningfully engage with local communities on planning.
• Introduce an ‘Office for Public Participation’ to oversee standards and consistency in public consultations. For major developments it would be an independent ‘honest broker’ to carry out the pre-application consultation with the local community, removing any perceived conflict of interest for the developer.
• Utilise planning technology in decision making so that we go from talking to the ‘already engaged’ to having ‘everyone engaged’ in shaping our towns, cities and villages.

Ian Harvey, Executive Director of Civic Voice, finished by saying: “We have a planning system that may not be completely broken, but it certainly needs re-balancing and fixing to work better for communities. Doing so will ensure we build a modern planning system with communities at the heart. With these changes, we believe we can build the homes that we need and ensure that everyone in England can say, ‘we care about where we live’.”

Civic Voice works to make the places where everyone lives more attractive, enjoyable and distinctive. We speak up for civic societies and local communities across England. Civic societies are the most numerous participants in the planning system. More information on Civic Voice’s manifesto campaign is available on our website here 


Ian Harvey, 07877096968 or  


The Norris Castle Estate is a national treasure.

What will be its future?

Where is Norris Castle ?  It is in East Cowes.  If you walk up the quiet, narrow, Millfield Avenue, at the end of the gravel section you come to a large closed gate to a very private estate. On the left is a grey stone building with a tall tower. This is the original gate house to the estate. Beyond it the  gravel road bends away through trees until it reaches a large stone mansion, Norris Castle. To the left, looking down the hill between the trees you see the waters of the Solent and the Hampshire coastline beyond.

A second approach is along the narrow, quiet, New Barn Road.  Again, at the end, you come across large metal closed gates with a lodge on the left. The gravel road beyond winds through fields until it reaches a large stone building.  This is the farm complex complete with a large walled garden. The road continues past the fort-like farmhouse, curves around a copse of trees and arrives at the other end of Norris Castle. In this case the term castle means a large residence decorated externally with architectural fortifications. The eastern end of the castle was the family accommodation. Part of this is a large, round section of the building, with three floors above ground level surmounted by a tower. To the right there is another view of the Solent.

Historic England have listed the Castle, the farm complex and the grounds as being of the greatest importance historically.  This makes the whole estate nationally valuable.

What makes it so unusual ? The estate was developed by the parliamentarian Lord Henry Seymour as his country retreat between 1798 and 1808. The farming industry had developed rapidly during the 1700s. The country was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars and needed food for the army. Lord Henry Seymour had Repton design the estate with recreational parkland around the castle but the rest he used as a model farm for raising cattle and growing cereals. Lord Seymour employed the nationally renowned James Wyatt to design the buildings for him. Wyatt used the topography of the land to create the maximum visual impact of the castle when seen from the Solent.  

While a number of people have owned the Norris estate very little has changed since the early 1800s. All the owners maintained the farm in some way while enjoying the castle and its position. This is an accolade to the skill of James Wyatt.  Lord Seymour used seaweed as well as farm manure to improve the soil of the estate.  Prior to World War Two the walled garden had examples of every fruit that was grown in Europe. The farm building is only one of two in the whole country to receive the highest listing from Historic England and is different in that the farm and walled garden are combined in one structure.

Why are Historic England and the local community concerned about the future of the estate?

It is a large estate with two large buildings to maintain.  This requires money.  During the latter part of the 1900s not enough investment was made to maintain the buildings properly.  In 2011 Historic England put the castle on its “At Risk” register.  In 2014 the owners put the estate on the market.  There were over twenty bids submitted.  The successful bidder was a developer who is proposing to convert castle into a bijou hotel.  

The Isle of Wight Society has been presenting Conservation Awards for the past forty five years and members are well aware of the problem of how to use old buildings in a manner that will ensure their future.  In general we support the idea of owner occupation but this requires sufficient family income.  Converting to a museum or other cultural centre is usually financially not viable.  Another alternative is some commercial use where there is sufficient profit to maintain the structure.  The idea of converting the Norris estate into a public amenity run commercially is attractive, especially as the estate has been out of public view except from the Solent where it provides a major landmark.  However there are two major difficulties.  One is that, like many public figures, including Queen Victoria who stayed at Norris as a young girl, they seek a quiet place to escape to and enjoy some peace.  As described above, the road access to the Norris Estate, is not conducive to the easy flow of traffic, especially that required for construction work.  Secondly the geology of the East Cowes peninsular is that of a gravel plateau overlaying clay. Some of the clay is Blue Slipper and liable to slippage as can be seen by the blockage of East Cowes Esplanade near Castle Point, adjacent to the Norris Estate.  There are signs that there is some slippage near the castle that requires the land to be drained to correct this.  This engineering work will be expensive.  All this is in addition to correcting the deterioration of the castle building.  

To develop the estate to support a hotel will be expensive.  For a normal hotel to be viable the minimum figure of sixty bedrooms is sometimes used as a guideline. There is concern that the accommodation cannot be divided up sympathetically to provide this. The developer is proposing that permission be given for sufficient “enabling development” (housing) to be built on the Norris estate to provide the capital required.  Many people who are considering the future of the estate feel that the building of houses on the estate will destroy the balance of a large residence supported by a farm. It will be additional housing in a community that over the last fifteen years has seen its population grow by about two thousand without any improvement in its infrastructure.  East Cowes has only one road from the south serving a peninsula with one of the two major ports at its northern extremity.  Then there is the problem of access to the Norris Estate.  The developer is proposing a new road through the adjoining Spring Hill estate, again over blue slipper clay.

This is a complex issue. Do nothing and the castle will eventually collapse.  Do we ignore the historic value of the Norris estate on this Island which has so much history and relies so much on the tourism industry?  Do we allow development that may not be completed, leaving a situation where nobody is satisfied with the result?  When a planning application is submitted it will be up to the case officer to make a recommendation to the councillors on the planning committee with enough conditions attached to ensure that the Island's wishes are met.  However, even the Island Council admits that under the present, almost impossibly difficult financial situation, their lack of powers of enforcement and fear of financial loss, if taken to appeal on refusal, may not leave them in a position to support our local heritage.

18th October: 

Historic England invited those organisations interested in the Norris Estate and its future to a workshop to discuss the matter.  Among those invited were: - The Isle of Wight Council, the national Gardens Trust, the Isle of Wight Gardens Trust, the national Georgian Group, the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), East Cowes Town Council and the Isle of Wight Society.  During the morning six excellent presentations were made giving the background to the present circumstances. In the afternoon the planning process was presented, highlighting the different levels of protection for historic buildings and the balance of benefit and harm a development might produce. The organisations then divided into groups and discussed various questions and produced comments. It was agreed by everyone that not enough of the public knew the true nature of the Norris Estate and that it is essential to educate both the public and the councillors and officers of the Island Council in this matter.  At the end of the meeting the county councillor for heritage, who made the opening comments saying that the meeting could provide guidance for the planners, agreed that the Norris Estate is a national treasure.


Executive Committee Vacancies available for the committee.  If you are interested in joining the committee, please contact David Burdett at




Isle of Wight Society Membership was due on 1st January, for those of you who are not life members , or have not renewed already in the last three months.  

We would be grateful if you could send cheques made out to “Isle of Wight Society” to East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road, East Cowes, Isle of Wight PO32 6HT, 

or make a BACS payment on line quoting your name as reference, the IWS sort code is 30-95-99 and the account number is 00331217.

Membership is £12 for single members, Joint Full £20; Seniors £10 and Joint Seniors £18

Meetings are held at East Cowes Heritage Centre on the fourth Tuesday of the month and all are welcome.  

There are vacancies on our Executive Committee at present as one member has just retired and another has family health problems, so if you are interested in joining us with a more hands on approach on planning issues, let me know.  

Looking forward to seeing you at some of our meetings or events, 

Kind Regards, David Burdett, Chairperson.



Come and join us

Isle of Wight Society
East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road
East Cowes, PO32 6EP

Tel: +44 (0) 1983 280310

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