From Academic Kids

Template:GBdot Cowes is a seaport town on the Isle of Wight, an island due south of the major southern English port of Southampton. It is located on the west bank of the estuary of the River Medina facing the smaller town of East Cowes on the east Bank. The town is therefore sometimes referred to as West Cowes, especially where distinction is needed such as at the ferry termini. Leland's nineteenth century verses, described the towns poetically as "The two great Cowes that in loud thunder roar, This on the eastern, that the western shore". The two towns are linked by a chain ferry. The combined population was 19,919 in the 1991 census, a figure that is easily doubled during the regatta in early August (see below).

Cowes is now renowned for sailing, Cowes Castle being home to the world famous Royal Yacht Squadron, which ranks amongst the world's elite yacht clubs. The town gives its name to the world's oldest regular regatta, Cowes Week, which occurs in the first week of August. Later on in the summer, powerboat races are held.

East Cowes is home to Norris Castle, designed by John Nash, and Osborne House, the former summer residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Prince had a major influence on the building of St Mildred's Church in Whippingham, East Cowes, which features distinctive turrets imitating those found on a German castle. Both towns' architecture is heavily influenced by the distinctive style of ornate building which was popular in Prince Albert's time.


Transport Links

Cowes and East Cowes are key gateway towns for the Isle of Wight. Those travelling to Southampton are served by a high speed catamaran passenger ferry from "West" Cowes and a vehicle ferry from East Cowes. Visitors arriving at East Cowes find it hard not to notice the worlds largest Union Jack on the hangar doors of the building originally used by Saunders Roe and successive marine and aerospace manufacturing companies.


Missing image
Cowes from sea

Both Cowes and East Cowes derive their names from the time of Henry VIII, when fortifications called cowforts or cowes were built on the east and west banks to dispel a French invasion. In earlier centuries (when there two settlements were much smaller and known as East and West Shamblord; the East then being more significant settlement) the Isle of Wight had been a frequent target of attempted French invasions with some notable incursions. The west fort survives to this day, albeit without the original Tudor towers, as Cowes Castle but the east fort disappeared in the eighteenth century and should not be confused with East Cowes Castle built by John Nash (architect)

It is believed that the building of a small boat called Rat O'Wight on the banks of the river Medina for the use of Queen Elizabeth I sowed the seed for Cowes to grow into a world renowned sailing centre. Later, when George IV secured his own interest in sailing in the town with the holding of the first Cowes regatta and the establishment of the Royal Yacht Club (known later as the Royal Yacht Squadron), the roots had become secure for the town to become the world's yachting capital.

In Cowes the 18th century house of Westbourne was home to a collector of customs whose son, born there in 1795, lived to become the immortalised Dr Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School.

Northwood House was donated under trust to the town in 1929, the grounds becoming Northwood Park, was the home of the Ward family. William George Ward was a close friend of the poet Tennyson and in whose memory the poet wrote six lines which included these two:

Farewell, whose living like I shall not find,
My friend, the most unworldly of mankind.

During the reign of Queen Victoria who made her summer home at Osborne by acquiring and rebuilding Osborne House, East Cowes was the subject of planned estate of grand houses, groves and parks. The scheme, not finding the finances it needed was folded, but a few residences built in the early stages still survive to this day such as the former Albert Grove residences of Kent House and Powys House on York Avenue.

Local industry in both Cowes and East Cowes has always centred on the building and design of marine craft, including the early flying boats, and sailmaking. It is also noted as the place where the first hovercraft was tested. East Cowes was also once home to the manufacturer Saunders Roe, who built the flying boat The Saunders-Roe Princess.

Its industry and proximity to Southampton and the Royal Navy's home at Portsmouth made the Isle a frequent target of bombing during World War II.

To celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the Queen's coronation in 1977, the main hanger doors of what was then the British Hovercraft Corporation (a successor to Saunders Roe) were painted with the world's largest image of the Union Jack.

Famous Residents

Quotes and jokes

The name of the town has led to many jests and puns over the years. Here are some examples, which, perhaps it need not be said, are best read out loud to be fully appreciated.

  • "I used to introduce my act by saying things like "Hello, London", or wherever else I was performing. Then I got into terrible trouble when I played a Ladies' Night in Cowes..."
         - attributed to Bernard Manning
  • Q: What's brown and smelly and comes out of Cowes? A: The Isle of Wight

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