Sunday, 22 February 2009

Some Isle of Wight Attractions

Amazon World

Amazon World Zoo Park combines an educational experience with the enjoyment of seeing some of the world's most beautiful, unusual and endangered creatures. Learn about conservation and the rainforests whilst observing crocodiles, lemurs, tropical birds and a whole lot more. Watery Lane, Nr. Arreton, Isle of Wight, PO36, 0LX. Tel 01983 867122, Email

Appuldurcombe House

Striking 18th century house with Owl & Falconry Centre, shop and holiday cottages. Stroll through Capability Brown's idyllic 11 acres of ornamental grounds. Appuldurcombe Farm, Wroxall, Isle of Wight, PO38 3EW. Tel 01983 852484, Email

Arreton Barns

Traditional working craft village with over a dozen craft shops offering the widest range of local produce on the Island. Gifts for all seasons, local farm produces, wines, beers, ciders and liquers. Main Road, Arreton, Isle of Wight, PO30 3AA. Tel 01983 528353, Email

Blackgang Chine

Every year hundreds of school parties from around the UK enjoy the many themed areas which comprise Blackgang Chine. Overlooking the South-West "Heritage Coast" of the Island, Blackgang Chine is an exciting mix of rides, cowboys and indians, goblins and fairies and nursery rhyme characters all set in large Victorian gardens. Chale, Nr. Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 2HN. Tel 01983 730052, Email

Brading - The Experience

Waxworks Museum with a number of exciting ongoing developments, including the World of Wheels, a discount factory outlet store and a gift shop. A3055, Brading, Isle of Wight, PO36 0DQ. Tel 01983 407286, Email

Butterfly World

See hundreds of butterlies from all around the world flying free in a natural environment and learn about their life-cycle and development. The exotic gardens are all attractively laid out. Staplers Road, Wootton, Isle of Wight, PO33 4RW. Tel 01983 883430, Email

Carisbrooke Castle and Carisbrooke Castle Museum

Over 800 years of history at the Castle at which Charles I was imprisoned. Visit and explore a fascinating mounment to the Island's history and take part in some of the many events that are available for all the family. Carisbrooke Castle Museum, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 1XY. Tel 01983 522107 (Castle) 01983 523112 (Museum), Email (Museum).

Coleman's Farm Park

See and interact with a wide range range of farm animals. Play area, café, tractor trailer rides - a great day of indoor and outdoor fun for the children and for their families. Coleman's Lane, Porchfield, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 4LX. Tel 01983 522831, Email

Dinosaur Isle

The UK's first purpose-built dinosaur museum and visitor attraction, displaying fossils and life-sized reconstructions of the dinosaurs which once roamed the Island. The Isle of Wight is recognised as the most important site for dinosaur remains in Europe. Culver Parade, Sandown, Isle of Wight, PO36 8QA. Tel 01983 404344, Email

Fort Victoria Country Park

The remains of Fort Victoria now play host to a Marine Aquarium, a Planetarium, a Sea Bed Archaeology Expedition and a Model Railway. An excellent educational resource. Fort Victoria, Nr. Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, PO41 0RR.

The Garlic Farm

Farm and shop producing and selling different varieties of garlic and garlic products, from relishes to beer. The Isle of Wight even exports garlic to France. This wonderful farm shop is well worth a visit. Mersley Farm, Newchurch, Isle of Wight, PO3 6 0NR. Tel 01983 865378, Email

Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary

Established in 1987 to provide a hope for distressed or endangered donkeys, the sanctuary is open to the public and stages a number of events. Sustained entirely by donations and fundraising, the IOW Donkey Sanctuary offers an adoption scheme. St. John's Road, Wroxall, Isle of Wight, PO38 3AA. Tel 01983 852693, Email

Isle of Wight Pearl

The largest range of genuine and costume pearl jewellery under one roof in the United Kingdom. Choose your own pearl - pick an oyster from IOW Pearl's tanks and open it. Gold and silver shop, cafe and spectacular cliff-top views. Military Road, Brighstone, Isle of Wight, PO30 4DD. Tel 01983 740352, Email

Isle of Wight Steam Railway

The largely volunteer-run Isle of Wight Steam Railway began operating trains in 1971 and captured the unique atmosphere of the 54 miles of railway once operated on the Island, most of which has since been closed. All are restored, formerly Island-based locomotives. The Railway Station, Havenstreet, Isle of Wight, PO33 4DS. Tel 01983 882204, Email

Isle of Wight Zoo

Home to the largest collection of tigers in the UK, IOW Zoo also plays host to lions, jaguars, leopards, lemurs, monkeys, snakes, lizards and spiders. An educational resource as well as a popular family attraction. Yaverland Seafront, Sandown, Isle of Wight, PO36 8QB. Tel 01983 403883, Email

Needles Park

Pay-as-you-go rides and attractions amid world famous views and multi-coloured sand cliffs. Witness glass blowing at Alum Bay Glass, play junior golf and enjoy a thrilling ride on the chairlift as well as a whole lot more. Alum Bay, Isle of Wight, PO39 0JD. Tel 0871 720 0022.

Osborne House

Queen Victoria's famed palace by the sea. Acres of grounds, play area, horse and carriage rides as well as breathtaking decor. A must-visit for anybody who is serious about our heritage. East Cowes, Isle of Wight, PO32 6JX.

Quarr Abbey

Home of Benedictine monks on the Island. Witness the monks celebrating Holy Mass and praying the psalms or even join them in silent prayer. Shop and café on site. Ryde, Isle of Wight, PO33 4ES. Tel 01983 884850, Email

Robin Hill Countryside Adventure Park

Set in 88 acres of beautiful countryside and woodland on the Arreton Downs, Robin Hill offers a range of attractions in scenic and relaxing surroundings. Toboggan Run, Time Machine, Squirrel Tower, Colossus swinging galleon, falconry and a whole lot more. Downend, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 2NU.

Seaview Wildlife Encounter

Formerly known as Flamingo Park, this popular attraction plays hosts to a diversity of birds and mammals. One of the largest tropical aviaries ever built in the United Kingdom, with Tropical House featuring amazing water displays. Oakhill Road, Seaview, Isle of Wight, PO34 5AP. Tel 01983 612261, Email

Shanklin Chine

Enjoy the tranquil setting of this historic gorge surrounded by woodland, rare plants and wildlife. With gift shop, tea rooms and nature trail, Shanklin Chine is conveniently located at the end of Shanklin Esplanade. Chine Hill, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, PO37 6BW. Tel 01983 866432, Email

Waltzing Waters

The world's most elaborate light, water and music production. Thousands of thrilling patterns of moving water synchronised with music. Gift shop, café and free parking. Brading Road, Ryde, Isle of Wight, PO33 1QS. Tel 01983 811333, Email

Saturday, 21 February 2009

From the Isle of Wight to Broadway!

by Angela Sherry

It wasn't until very recently that I decided to research a different branch of my mother's family, having concentrated on one particular branch for the last 20 years or so. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that a former Broadway star and I shared the same ancestor! James Meader, a builder, was very well known in Oakfield, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, during the period 1800-1857, and he and his wife Mary had a total of eleven children. I am a descendant of one of their daughters, Sarah Meader, and a lady by the name of Violet Halling Compton was a descendant of their son, John Meader. John Meader himself was quite a prominent and well known figure on the Isle of Wight, having submitted a successful tender for the building of Ryde Cemetery Lodge.

Violet Halling Compton (later known as Betty Compton) was born at 109 High Street, Sandown, Isle of Wight on 13 May 1904, the only child of Frederick William Compton and Florence Susannah Halling. In 1910, the Compton family moved from the Isle of Wight to the remote northwestern part of the Province of Saskatchewan, Canada, to join other members of the Halling clan who had gone before them to homestead Canadian land. From Saskatchewan, the family moved to Marquette, Manitoba, finally settling in Toronto where Betty started her theatrical career at the Royal Alexandria Theatre, subsequently moving to the Uptown Theatre where her roles included parts in "Pomander Walk," "Scandal," and "Cinderella" which was described as a Canadian offshoot of the venerable British institution of pantomime.

Apparently, Betty's parents did not approve of their daughter's choice of career and wanted her to become a nurse, causing Betty to take her father's car and drive to Montreal with a friend. Her father subsequently forgave her misdemeanour and allowed Betty to remain in Montreal where she secured employment at the Venetian Gardens, the equivalent of a night club. At some point, the lure of the bright lights necessitated a move to New York where the aspiring actress ultimately found stardom on Broadway after appearing as a member of the Ziegfeld Follies in a number of high class vaudeville roles, culminating in a prominent role in the original stage production of Funny Face (1927) alongside Fred and Adele Astaire, as well as Oh, Kay! in 1926. She also had a leading role in Fifty Million Frenchmen which was a musical comedy with music and lyrics written by Cole Porter. This production opened on 27 November 1929 at the Lyric Theatre, New York City.

The Isle of Wight's leading lady was married a total of four times. Her first marriage was to a man 11 years her senior, Toronto-based barrister Charles Stanley Rees Riches. They were married in Toronto on 19 October 1922 when Betty was just 18 years old. Charles Riches later cited desertion by Betty as grounds for divorce. Her second marriage was to Paramount Studios movie director Edward Duryea Dowling in February of 1931. This marriage ended in divorce the following month after Betty obtained a "quickie" divorce in Mexico on the grounds of cruelty. This marriage took place whilst Betty was in the throes of an affair with the man who was Mayor of New York at the time, James John Walker; although the world press always referred to Betty and Jimmy as "friends" when in fact they were a lot more than that. They were going through a rough patch when Betty decided to marry Edward Dowling. Mayor Walker was married to Janet Allen Walker at the time, and had been since 1911, but rumours were rife as to his numerous affairs and a penchant for showgirls, in particular.

Things really came to a head when an investigative committee led by Judge Samuel Seabury forced the mayor to testify and answer to charges of corruption within his administration. On 1 September 1932, Mayor James (Jimmy) Walker was forced to resign office when Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressured him into doing so. Eight days later he set sail onboard the Italian ship Conte Grande for Europe. Betty was waiting for him in Paris.

From her home in Miami, Florida, Janet Allen Walker finally sued for divorce, claiming that Jimmy had deserted her on 15 October 1928. Enough was enough. The granting of a divorce then left the way clear for Jimmy and Betty to wed. They were married on 19 April 1933 in Cannes, France. Their European exile lasted until 1935 when they returned to New York City, once they considered the danger of criminal prosecution appeared remote. Neither would, however, return to public life. Jimmy was President of Majestic Records for a while, as well as being employed as impartial chairman of the garment industry. Betty opened a flower shop on Madison Avenue. They adopted two children; one boy and one girl. Unfortunately, this marriage was not to be "third time lucky" for Betty. She filed for divorce in February of 1941, charging extreme cruelty against the former mayor.

Betty's final marriage was to civil engineer and West Point graduate, Theodore T. Knappen whom she met in South America. They married in May of 1942, and became the proud parents of a baby boy in early 1944. Sadly, Betty's happiness was to be short lived. She died of breast cancer in Doctor's Hospital, Manhattan in July of 1944, aged just 40. More than 350 people attended her funeral service in New York which was led by an official of the Church of Christ Scientist.

Former Mayor James John Walker died in November of 1946 aged 65 after suffering a clot on the brain. New York's 100th mayor was buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, New York. Betty's father, Frederick Compton, returned to the Isle of Wight in the 1920s. He died on the Island in 1943 and is buried in Ventnor Cemetery. Florence Halling Compton died in Miami in 1959 and was cremated.

In 1957, the actor Bob Hope starred in a movie entitled "Beau James" which was based on the book of the same name published in 1949 by the author Gene Fowler. The part of Betty Compton was played by the actress Vera Miles. Gene Fowler's book chronicled the life and times of Jimmy Walker, and his tenure as mayor. It tells the story of how Walker first set eyes on Betty when she was appearing in a musical showOh, Kay! at the Imperial Theatre in 1926.

This article is reproduced with acknowledgements to the Isle of Wight Family History Society.

Rookley Country Park in February - The Verdict

Having returned and spent 24 hours at home with my family, it seems appropriate to deliver a verdict on the experience that was five nights at Rookley Country Park in the February cold.

Since the recent changes of management each section of the operation now effectively seems to be the responsibility of a different manager, and so several people can take the credit for the service that the Park continues to provide. Responsibility for entertainment rests with Danni, who acts as compere, calls the bingo, organises karaoke and fun nights as well as - as she demonstrated to us on our last night - having a magnificent singing voice herself.

The bar staff are all friendly, helpful, sociable and - just as importantly - efficient, while Tim Oakley continues to manage the fishing lakes to their usual high standard.

The food we had was enjoyable and of a high-quality (I especially recommend the burger which is meaty and substantial and can be enjoyed either plain or with cheese or bacon). For the kids the spaghetti bolognese also does a turn (although it isn't listed on the menu I often ask for, and get, an adult portion).

There were few minus points. As previously mentioned the closing of the Midnight Bar to save on the wages of a member of staff sent the wrong message (during half-term week) about how far the Park's management was prepared to go to make life easier for its guests. And occupants of the small cluster of caravans beside the lake, where we were located, are forced to endure the sounds of industry emanating from the neighbouring trading estate from about 8.00am whether they like it or not. Anybody who can afford to pay a few more quid to stay in one of the Park's beautiful bungalows can be assured that they will be spared this dubious delight.

Other than that any negatives were really driven by the time of year and completely outside of the Park's control - sometimes it was very cold and the fishing was not at its best, and of course in February many of the tourist-facing shops and attractions are closed for the season.

Would we go back? We're checking our calendars for the Easter holidays already.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

From Rookley Country Park in February

For the first time since Isle of Wight Review was launched I am actually blogging from the Isle of Wight. To be precise, from Rookley Country Park where, like everywhere else in the UK at the moment, it is darned cold.

We arrived Sunday evening and shortly afterwards ventured to the Midnight Bar when an in-house karaoke was in full swing. However the room was half-empty and the bar itself closed, with customers having to make their purchases from the restaurant bar and walk them through.

On the Monday though the half-termers arrived in force, and the last two nights have seen us struggle to find a seat. However the winter bar arrangements remain in force, I'm told so as to save on the cost of an additional member of staff. I would guess that on other weeks this would be a prudent economy, but on this week in particular it is a bit of a pain, although the staff that are on are extremely pleasant and efficient.

Another discovery I have made is that Simon (Elvis to some), mine host the last time we stayed here (November 2008), has now moved on to pastures new. I sensed there was a story to be told about this, but as yet I don't know what it is.

Fishing on Monday was a bit of a damp squib with only two modest tench reporting present, but that's to be expected at the time of year. It's still a pleasure to be away on the Island in spite of the cold air and the closed shops.

More to follow when family time allows for it.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Where We've Stayed (Part Four) - Lower Hyde, Shanklin

The fourth park we were located to on the Isle of Wight was Lower Hyde, in Shanklin. Lower Hyde was at the time one of three (now four) holiday parks on the Island that was owned by Park Resorts.

Having only stayed the once at Lower Hyde, for three nights, my memory of the site does not afford great detail. I suppose the best way I could describe it would simply be to say that it is in many respects a smaller version of Thorness Bay. The entertainment, as I recall, was particularly good, although as immediately after our stay we moved on to Thorness Bay for another four nights we saw much of it again, as when Park Resorts brings acts to the Island they often "tour".

One big plus point for some would be that Lower Hyde, unlike Thorness Bay, is not in the middle of nowhere. For those visitors who don’t have their own transport, at Lower Hyde one is not stranded on site for the duration. The park is just a short walk to the charming old town of Shanklin, with its quaint thatched cottages, and a slightly longer but very downhill walk to the equally charming seafront (of course, it’s uphill on the way back!).

For those who like Shanklin, or shopping (there is Lidl and a Somerfield within yards of the site), Lower Hyde is well worth considering.