England's Eden

Extracts from a book about the Isle of Wight by Edmund Burton probably published about 1950 which contains some interesting information about Calbourne and Swainston..


Some miles nearer Newport lies Calbourne, which signifies “ The Cold Stream.” It is a pretty village possessing an early English church which contains some interesting brasses, among which is one to Daniel Evance, a ”precher,” dated 1652, with a curious rhyming epitaph ending in an anagram on his name—” I Can Deal Even.”

In this church also there is a unique brass with a strange history. Part of the south aisle of the original edifice was occupied by a large tomb supported by four columns of Purbeck marble and bearing a fine brass effigy of a knight in armour of the time of Edward III. (end of 1377), with a dragon under his feet and his hands folded as if in prayer upon his mailed breast.

 This tomb was destroyed about 1816, twenty years before the repairs of the church took place. The brass effigy was then placed against the wall and the marble laid down in the belfry as a flooring.

 The columns were inserted in the windows of the mortuary chapel, but a canopy in ornamental brass-work, which once surmounted the head of the knight, has entirely disappeared.

It seems that an inscription and date were cut on the slab of Purbeck marble in which this brass was set and which covered an altar tomb close to the south transept, hut not a fragment of this slab is to be found.

The above information was supplied to me by Laura, Lady Simeon, and on my last visit to Calbourne I paid particular attention to this interesting memorial, which represents William Miontacute, son of fourteenth century Earl of Salisbury—the family who were the ancient possessors of Calbourne.

He met with a tragic death during a jousting bout with his father, when the latter’s lance blinded him, and so grieved was the unhappy parent that he devoted himself to building an altar tomb with a brass of his son, in the church of every district where he owned property. The date here given is A.D. 1379.

Maxwell Gray (Miss M. A. Tuttiett) who was the daughter of a Newport doctor, used Calbourne as a background for her famous novel, “The Silence of Dean Mait­land “; whilst many say that Arreton was the scene of another book of hers, almost as well known—” The Reproach of Annesley.”

Westover Estate, the gates of which are just opposite the church, is the residence of the Moulton-Barrett family—the same family who form the pivot of the well-known stage play and film, “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.”

The grounds are very extensive, and at one spot is an ice-house, 30 feet deep, into which snow was at one time shovelled in winter to provide ice for the summer.

Along an old wall is a beautiful wistaria growth, while the kitchen garden is very large and included, when I visited it, parallel trenches of French and German strawberries, which strike one as being rather appropriate though perhaps somewhat grimly reminiscent.

There are also some particularly fine elms on this estate, and an old bowling green which may well have been in existence when Sir Francis Drake played his famous game with Sir John Hawkins on Plymouth Hoe.

Then there is “The Children’s Garden,” in which are many flowers such as we loved when we were very young—those sentimental blossoms upon which we used to tack favourite pet-names which no botanist on earth would recognize!

These grounds contain a great variety of trees, among which is a very fine fig tree; together with a truly remarkable cedar; and there is a very tall tree near the house which used to be occupied by the white owls, but later the little owls took up their abode there.

Colonel Moulton-Barrett told me that he often watched these birds from his win­dow, as they waited in ambush for some unsuspecting sparrow or other small fry, and would then swoop down from the tree, wantonly killing their prey but never eating it. The carcasses would be left for beetles or other voracious insects to devour, all of which seems to suggest that the little owl is the “ Hun “ of the feathered world.

Westover Estate also possesses some fine peacocks, whose stately step and spreading fan-like tails of such lovely colouring lend the finishing touch to a really beautiful picture with the old mansion for a background.

The house itself was formerly Elizabethan, but the present building is Georgian, and it contains many things of interest. One is a copy of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s fam­ous painting—” Pinkie “—so well executed that it would be difficult to distinguish it from the actual masterpiece.

The original of this picture was Miss Barrett, who became aunt of Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poet, and has the distinction of carrying the highest price ever paid for a picture by Lawrence.

Colonel Moulton-Barrett’s father owned the original, which was sold to Sir Joseph Duveen, but it was afterwards disposed of at Christie’s to a rich American for £5,000, and it is still probably somewhere in the U.S.A.

There is another painting of Mrs. Browning when a girl, and also several excellent water colours by the Colonel’s father, who was plainly an artist of no mean prowess. These are mainly landscape and seascape views, and each bears the touch of an expert.

Just outside the gates is Calbourne’s famous “Winkle Street.” There is a little bridge close by, beneath which gushes a crystal-clear stream from the lake in Westover grounds, and this babbles along in front of a row of the prettiest cottages imaginable.

But if you imagine that winkles can be gathered here, you will be quite wrong, the quaint-sounding name merely being derived from an Anglo-Saxon one which has nothing whatever to do with shellfish. No: there are no winkles at” Winkle Street,” and neither is Wroxall all rocks.

A little farther along the road towards the railway station there is a cottage bearing a plaque or tablet, with the inscription :—

“Mr. William H. Long, Author of the I.W. Dialect Dictionary, and other works; Editor of the Oglander Memoirs; was born in this house, October 6th, 1839”.


I remember spending a considerable time touring this fine old house, when I saw the Edward I. alms window, where broken victuals were thrown out to the poor. This was in the wall of the old chapel, but the original entrance to the building had been bricked up. There was, however, another opening through which it was possible to view a most interesting thing—a newer oak roof  which had at some time been added, and this roof was an absolute replica of the former one which existed there.

Worthy of attention, also, were some stone mitres carved in the walls down in the cellars which, though whitewashed over, were still plainly to be seen.

All these cellars, a regular labyrinth, helped to keep the dwellinghouse very dry. In fact, they were up to the time of the catastrophe used as store-rooms, while the scullery, larder and coalhouse were in the old chapel itself.

Yet, despite all these changes which modern life makes imperative, these ancient relics had lost none of their dignity and I could not help feeling impressed and wonder­ing at everything I saw, as I wandered from room to room—wondering at their history, and at the slow but sure way in which the hand of Time works its changes and gives posterity something upon which to ponder.

On my former visit I was conducted over the mansion by Laura, Lady Simeon, and she went to a great deal of trouble to supply me with such information as I needed. I shall always remember her gratefully not only for this but also for the obvious interest she displayed in these “Island Impressions” of mine.

Until the thirteenth century Swainston was the episcopal palace of one of the Bishops of ­Winchester, and in the reign of Edward I another bishop—John de Pontiserra—was ap­pointed against the King’s wishes. He was finally fined heavily and his property confiscated. In fact, Swainston has several times been forfeited to the Crown for one reason or another.

  Lady Simeon gave me the following information, which I consider so interesting that it is printed here just as she wrote it. It will be noted that it contains a kind of family tree, showing how the seat has descended through the ages to the present owners, after the Barrington family.

 “Swainston was given by Egbert (A.D. 826) to the Monastery of St. Swithin, at Winchester, and was used as a summer palace until King Edward I., in 1286 (twentieth year of his reign), disgusted with the Pope for introducing John de Pontiserra into the Bishopric against his wishes, vexed the Bishop in many ways and deprived him of this Manor. The Bishop, to purchase the peaceable enjoyment of the other lands belonging to his See, relinquished the Manor of Swainston and paid a fine of £2,000 to the King. The Bishop was allowed to retain Calbourne, Brixton and Binstead. In 1285 Edward I. himself came to Swainston, attended by his Chancellor and others, and the Burgesses of Francheville (Newtown) obtained from him a confirmation of their charter, which had been granted by Aymer, Bishop of Winchester, in 1256; and the confirmation of that charter was sealed at Swainston by the King on 5th November, 1285. The Manor of Swainston has come down to the present owner as follows :—


  Bishops of Winchester.


  The Crown, Edward I.


  Montacute, Earl of Salisbury.


  Neville, Earl of Warwick.


  George, Duke of Clarence.


  Duke of Clarence’s eldest daughter, Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. Then to her grand-daughter .


  Winifred, daughter of Henry Lord Montacute, who married for the second time Sir Thomas Barrington and had one son,  Sir Francis Barrington. (All the same family).

During the Civil War between Charles I. and his Parliament, the Barrington family definitely sided against the King. In fact, Sir John Barrington was nominated as one of Charles’s judges, though he did not approve of certain things and refused to attend the sittings.

And Sir Thomas Barrington melted down a large amount of plate to provide a troop of horse for Cromwell : so it can be taken for granted that Swainston was certainly one Island residence in which King Charles did not stay at any time!

Tennyson's Tree below which he wrote at Swainston

In the fine grounds surrounding the house is a cedar tree intimately connected with the poet Tennyson, who was a frequent visitor here. He wrote some of” Maud” in the gardens, afterwards completing the poem at Farringford; and he also wrote those other verses of his—” In the Garden at Swainston “—on this spot, which is self-evident.

Now—alas !—Swainston has suffered as so many other fine places have suffered. When I last saw it little more than the outer walls seemed to be standing, with the roof open to the skies; yet the vandals who did this deed could not destroy tradition, and because of its great importance to the history of the Isle of Wight this book could not have been considered complete without the inclusion of a chapter about the Island’s oldest dwelling of its kind.

Note: Swainston was subsequently rebuilt, it initially became a school and a hotel, but now appears to be in private use.

Calbourne Page

15 June 2010