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The Recollections of Old John Green c1794 -1890

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Bonchurch Village 1812. To the left is Flagstaff Rock now known as 'Hadfields Lookout 'and the view is towards The Maples. Note also there is no cross on the 'Pulpit Rock' as this was added around 1820 bySir W Heathcote & Hon. and Rev. Arthur Percival, it was formerly known as Shakespeare Rock! (1)

If you haven't read these recollections, they are priceless as they cover island history during very interesting times of change including notes on fears of the French invasion.

The full script is here

Here are a few highlights relating to Bonchurch.


When Lady Frances Tollemache occupied Ventnor Farm now the

residence of Joseph Hadfield Esq., she had a beautiful “Normand" cow, that used to feed in a meadow where Ventnor church now stands. The cow brought forth three bull calves at on birth. William Cass, Lady Tollmache's cowman said he had never known such a birth before. There has been an increase of Bulls at Ventnor since, but not so many at a birth, nor yet of the "Normand" race.

St Boniface Down Hat Race

A gentleman wishing to try the agility of the Bonchurch heroes, gave a new hat to any one who could ascend to the top of St. Boniface Down and return again to the bottom quickest. An old fisherman who was called old Bob Mackett, never appeared to be in haste, except sometimes when he was out in his boat if he saw any boat or other craft that he thought suspicious, he would tear away for the shore to escape the press-gang. Though it was thought that Bob would never be hung for setting the “Thames" on fire, he had wit enough to win the hat. Notice being given when they were to assemble for the race, Bob having square toed shoes, prepared nails about inch-and-a-half long and drove them through the toes of his shoes, so that the nails went for an inch into the sward, and Bob went up the Down with a firm step, while the rest were all behind. He won the race with ease.

Ventnor, July 23 - 1890

A lady races on St Boniface Down

A large party of ladies and gentlemen from Newport came to see one of the ladies climb and descend the mountain of St Boniface. I believe it was a wager against time, but she performed it with ease, to the great surprise of all who saw her performance. I believe she performed it in twenty minutes.

Cows Slipping

Farmer Drudge had three cows at one time by slipping down the Down, on a hot summer's day, when the grass was short.

St Boniface used as a slide

Boys used to amuse the gentry by climbing up the Down and sliding down on short boards, and some time on the bone of a horses head. One boy was descending on foot and could not stop himself, and ran violently against a tent at the bottom of the hill, where a party was assembled to take refreshments.

The violence of the boy bursting through the cloth of the tent caused him to fall under their table, and they all started up in a great fright. The boy was not hurt.

Duke of Bedford occupied St Boniface House and Uppermount

His Grace the Duke of Bedford occupied St. Boniface House and Uppermount Cottage at Bonchurch, at 10 guineas per week each residence. These were fine times for many poor people, as the houses were cleared every night of the fragments of provisions.

Joseph Hadfield, Ventnor Farm 1847

Lady Frances Tollemache, sister of he Right Hon. Earl of Dysart

The house that is now (1847) occupied by Joseph Hadfield Esq., was called Ventnor Farm 20 and some years ago it was occupied by the late Lady Frances Tollemache, sister of he Right Hon. Earl of Dysart, and while her ladyship was gone from home the house was left in the care of servants, and as they were frying pancakes the fat in the pan caught fire, and the cook in a fright ran out of the door into the porch with the pan on fire and caught the thatch on fire. It was in the harvest and there was plenty of help and water handy, but they could not stop the fire till the after roof fell in. When her ladyship came home she scolded because the household goods were moved out of the house.

Bathing Machine

I was employed to assist by the person who had a bathing machine, and the first that ever was at Mill Bay, or anywhere between that and Ryde, so that I knew the originality of the bathing system before Mr Bull (who claims it) came to Ventnor to dwell. Mr James Morgan, a ladies boot and shoemaker, had the original bathing machine and employed me to assist, and we had some of the Bedford family bathing daily, when weather permitted. This was in 1813 and 1814.

The Right Honourable Earl of Stamford occupied the cottage at Steephill sometimes while the Right Honourable Earl of Dysart was at Helmingham Hall (his seat) in the county of Suffolk.

Great Landslips – Chale 1799 and Bonchurch 1819

The landslip at Chale Common, the part called Pitlands to eastward of Blackgang Chine, was seen by a gentleman while moving and sinking, and a cottage that stood on the land sank with it. This was in the severe winter of 1799, well known to many.

About twenty years afterwards a landslip happened at the eastern part of Bonchurch called East End. This began in the night. I knew a preventive man, who was on watch for smugglers near where the tremendous crash began. His name was Edward Quadling. He told me that it was like the most tremendous thunder he had ever heard. It kept moving for some time. I knew some young men so presumptuous as to walk on it the next day to see how the ground kept cracking and tearing the roots of trees asunder.

I passed through Bonchurch a few days after the landslip happened, and I saw on top of the hill, near the high road in a field where a horse had been tied to feed, a square place was sunk perpendicularly down so deep that if it had happened while the horse was feeding there, it would not have been hurt, except when struggling when being hoisted out. There was no crack or chasm in the square place, but it was all level at the bottom as it had been on the surface before it had sunk, and the manure that the horse left was in the same state as when it fell

Defences against the French in Bonchurch

Mrs Groves Hotel & General Don

I was in her tap-room on a day when General Don the Commander-in-Chief of the army in the Isle of Wight, came with a party of officers to inspect the places where there could be any defence made against the enemy. When they dismounted near the entrance of the tap-room, we who were there began to go out to give place for them; but the General ordered us to keep our seats, saying he would not come in if we left on his account. Mrs Groves made an apology, but the General said that he had meet with many worse accommodations than that shed was and he ordered a lunch for his party, and two gallons of beer for us. He asked for a guide to direct him to find some suitable places for the purpose (defence). An old man (James Saunders of Bonchurch), was his guide, and the General retuned highly gratified with his guide's information, saying Bonchurch outdone all the places he had ever seen before.

In concluding General Don's commanding, I must not omit his wisdom in proving the loyalty and valour of those under his command. He sent orders privately for the drums to beat to arms, as the enemy were advancing to invade the coast. All hands were in a great bustle, and prepared to face them, resolutely to protect (by God's help our favoured island). Some who had families affectionately gave the parting kisses, not knowing they should ever return to them any more. There were waggons prepared to convey women and children, and other helpless persons, out of the enemies reach.

Mr Bowdler of St Boniface House helped convey locals to safety.

I was desired by a kind gentleman (Mr Bowdler ), who then lived in St Boniface House, to get up into the waggon in order to be conveyed away, being helpless and unfit for action. I thanked him. I thought it would be time enough when the Frenchmen were in sight on the cliff below. The waggon remained unoccupied on the common near St. Lawrence Well. We did not see any Frenchmen, and the volunteers were dismissed in peaceable order.

After General Don left the Isle of Wight he was made Governor of Gibraltar.

French Privateers

Some years ago Her Majesty's ship called the Pembroke, quite a new ship, on her first voyage struck on the rocks at Bonchurch in a fog. She fired alarm guns, and much alarmed the people. An old fisherman, Robert Mackett, ran to get out of danger when he heard the report of the guns, and kept falling down to escape the shot. She lay there until some of her guns and stores were taken out of her, and afterwards got off. I did not hear what damage she received.

In the time of war people were sometimes alarmed when strange vessels approached our coast, thinking that they might be French Privateers. A lugger boat was seen off Shanklin approaching towards the shore. The people did not know what to think of her, and began to be in stir about the place, and an old woman called Mother Pope, who kept the public house, (late William's Hotel) on hearing people talking of the lugger, began to collect her plate, money, and other valuable articles, and carried it and hid it in the dunghill belonging to Shanklin Farm. After she had secured her property, and was going back, she heard the report of a gun, at which she called out, "Poor souls, they be at it." When the supposed privateer came to the shore it proved to be a man-of-wars long-boat sent on shore for water.

Admiral Hill living in Ryde, brother of Rev Archdeacon Hill in Shanklin

I recollect when the present Admiral Hill now living at Ryde, and brother to the Rev. Archdeacon Hill, now living at Shanklin, was promoted to Post Captain. He had been wounded in the shoulder by a musket shot in the engagement. I think it was in 1794 or 5. When he was promoted I made his first full uniform coat as Post Captains wore at that time. Captain Hill was living in Newport at that time, and I was journeyman to Mr John Bannister, tailor that I used to do his work, could not get any of his men to undertake it.

Mrs Mackett wanted to visit London

In former days (before steam was up) it was said that an old woman was living in a cottage in Bonchurch, whose name was Mackett, and hearing some talk about London being a very fine place, it was such a strange sound in her ears that she very much wished to go and see it, and even said "If they would not take her there to see it, she should never die happy." So thinking it a pity to deprive her of her happiness, though there was no general conveyance from place to place at the time, the thoughts of dying unhappy caused her friends to contrive the best means they could to give her satisfaction. They at last found means to carry her on the road till they had full view of Appuldurcombe House, which very much surprised her and she said, "La! She could not have thought London had been half so big." There is but one of this singular family of Macketts now living in Bonchurch (Robert Mackett). I think he must be near 70 years of age. Perhaps 'twas his great grandmother that is above mentioned. He is a bachelor, and his mother had four brothers bachelor, and two sisters single.

Colonel Hill, formerly of St. Boniface House and father of the Rev. Archdeacon Hill, shot himself.

He shot himself in Shanklin Church porch. He rode there on horseback. It was supposed that he put the muzzle of the pistol in his mouth, as the upper part of his head was blown to atoms, and the pistol was found lying by him, and the horse was seen standing hitched on near the church sometime before he was found.


See the Ventnor Section of

Jenkinson's Practical Guide to the Isle of Wight

Edward Stanford


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