Explore Elizabethan Newport and historic events beyond


The capital of the Isle of Wight, Newport, in Tudor times, was very different from Newport today.

There were usually three main commercial spaces (see map, main image). The church was in the center of St. Thomas Square, surrounded by the grain market. To the north were the fish and meat shambles (or slaughterhouses), to the south were the retail stores.

Each trade had its own strict rules and regulations, including how much they could charge for their goods. Trading was also prohibited without proper permission from bailiffs.

To the northeast of the church was the Cheese Cross, which was an area designated for the dairy trade. This formed the area descending to the quay.

Today, the Farmer’s Market continues the market tradition in downtown Newport.

In the center of this area was the Town Hall, which contained the Audit House and nearby was a building where the Court of Knighten was held.

The Court of Knighten was unique on the Isle of Wight and heard the calls of the knights. He had no jury and was required by the island’s landowners to decide the cases, which by the 17th century mostly concerned debt and trespass.

However, the Governor of the Isle of Wight in Norman times had considerable power within the court of Knighten, as the islanders were subject to his rule before that of the king, and he could decide what justice was served. By the 17th century, this power had been greatly reduced.

Place St James held the animal market. This had a bullring and a stake, a necessity for butchers in Tudor times, as they were forbidden to kill a bull that had not been baited first.

The beast market area was also used as a punishment area. A witch was burned at the stake here in Elizabethan times. Edward Denys’ father had accused her of bewitching his sister. Newport’s accounts also detail the payout of a stake on which to put the traitor’s head!

In St James’s Square now stands a memorial to Queen Victoria, which was erected in 1901.

Isle of Wight County Press: A drawing of the cattle market when it stood in St James's Square.  Image courtesy of Joanne Thornton.A drawing of the cattle market when it stood in St James’s Square. Image courtesy of Joanne Thornton.

The fair was a hugely popular event, looked forward to all year round by island residents and held in Newport each year on Whitsun for three days.

During the fair, a special tribunal was in session called the Tribunal of the Powder of Pie. This dealt with all questions concerning traders and contracts concluded during the fair.

This was held in the courtyard of the pavilion, located to the west of St. Thomas’s Church.

This was eventually turned into an inn called Newport Arms in the 19th century.

A gloved hand was displayed outside the pavilion courtyard, this signified that a fair was taking place, so the rules on drunkenness and disorderly behavior were relaxed during this time.

Isle of Wight County Press: The gloved hand used on Saint James's Day at Yarmouth.  Newport would have had a similar hand.  Photo: IWCP Archives.The gloved hand used on Saint James’s Day in Yarmouth. Newport would have had a similar hand. Photo: IWCP Archives.

In Yarmouth, on St. James’s Day, a gloved hand is always placed outside Town Hall, continuing the tradition.

There was a gentlemen’s club in Newport, which was established in 1710 and frequented by many notable gentlemen of the island. It was abolished in 1810. The club was located in the old assembly halls, then known as the Sun Inn.

Members met monthly on the Tuesday before or the night of the full moon. No doubt to allow them to find their way back!

Isle of Wight County Press: The statue that once stood outside the Blue School.  Photo by Joanne Thornton.The statue that once stood outside the blue school. Photo by Joanne Thornton.

In Crocker Street there was The Blue School, established in 1761, as a school to educate poor girls so that they could obtain service jobs. The girls were to go into service for a year after finishing school to put their skills into practice and benefit the island community.

The uniform was a blue dress, white apron, cap and black boots. The girls received the uniform when they started with a Bible and a prayer book.

The statue that now stands above the entrance is a replica, the original is in the Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

Do you like Joanne Thornton’s articles? Have you seen this one?

Do you enjoy reading stories about the Isle of Wight in times gone by? Click here to visit our Retrospective section.

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Patrick F. Williams