Newtown in the fourteenth century. The ancient borough of Francheville. A thriving seaport. A bustling market place. Workable salterns, fruitful oyster beds. One of the finest natural harbours in the South of England. A town with a bright looking future. Ships of 500 tons burthen tied up at the crowded quay. The people, the houses, the names of the streets echoed the wealth and prosperity, Gold Street, Silver Street, Quay Street, Draper’s Alley.
What destroyed it all? What great upheaval took place and deprived Francheville of her rightful position as chief port and town of the Isle of Wight? Why did the grand title fade to be replaces by simple Newtown?
The French! Countless times during that black period of history now known as the Hundred Years War they descended on the Isle of Wight. Bembridge, St. Helens, Wolverton, Yarmouth, each was reduced to ashes by the Islanders’ powerful neighbours from across the channel. In 1377 it was the turn of Newtown. The great medieval borough ‘S. Comatis de Francheville de L’ile de Wyht’ writhed and burned under the sword of the French invader. Resistance proved futile. The inhabitants of Newtown were outnumbered. What’s more, if we can believe Island folk lore and legend, the defenders consisted of middle-aged men and ancients. There were no young people to defend the town.
No young people in Francheville? An entire generation missing? Why? What happened to the youth of Newtown? Let us look more closely at the legend.
Rats. During the early years of the fourteenth century, Newtown was plagued with them. Overlarge, vicious creatures they survived on the borough’s prosperity. No granary, shop or food store was safe. The rats were everywhere, nibbling and gnawing. Ruining food, spreading disease. Even consuming wine and alcohol.
Naturally enough the people of Newtown declared war on the vermin. Cats were bought into the town, scores and scores of them. But to no avail. The rats were too strong and clever. They attacked the very animals sent in to destroy them. Cats were cornered by overwhelming numbers and torn to pieces. Kittens were killed and eaten before they were big enough to defend themselves.
In desperation the mayor and corporation stated that they would give a £50 reward to anyone who would rid them of the rats. One man answered their summons. An eccentric looking stranger. The Pied Piper.
The Pied Piper. On the Isle of Wight! Was he I wonder the same man who featured in the German legend? Was he the same man who was supposed to have appeared in Hamlyn in 1284. It would be interesting to find out whether he had a German accent. But, alas, folk lore remains silent on this point.
Nevertheless, the rest of the story bears a striking resemblance to that which took place at Hamlyn. The stranger produced his pipe and proceeded to play. He walked slowly down to the quay. From all directions, rats followed him.
Upon reaching the water’s edge, he got into a boat and rowed into the Solent. The rats swam out after him, hundreds and hundreds of them. The tide went out and every single rodent perished on the mud flats.
Triumphantly, the Piper returned to the town hall. He asked the mayor and corporation for his £50. They shook their heads. £50 was a lot of money. They offered him £20.
As it was in Hamlyn, so it was in Newtown. The Piper picked up his pipe once more and an unearthly trill warbled through the air. He started to walk out of town, and the Newtown children scurried after him. Over the bridge they tripped and into the woods beyond. Neither children nor piper were seen again.
SADNESS AND MYSTERY
Thus it was that in 1377, when the French fell upon Newtown that there were no young men ready to meet them in combat. They had all disappeared with the Piper into the dark woods all those years before.
Today Newtown is humble. Huddled beside the lagoons and creeks. Hidden by the sinister woods. Existing only by the permission of Mother Nature.
Sadness and mystery still whisper through the unpolluted air. For the woods have not given up their centuries old secret. What happened to the children of Newtown we do not know. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the marshes or tangled undergrowth. In the lakes or muddy streams.Wootton & Fishbourne | Quarr & Binstead | Ryde | Seaview | Bembridge | Brading | Sandown | Shanklin | Godshill | Arreton Valley | Ventnor | St Lawrence and the Undercliff | St Catherine's Lighthouse's | Niton | Blackgang Chine | Blackgang and Chale | Brighstone and Shorwell | Mottistone to Compton
27 May 2010