Travelling Back In Time

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A Victorian horse-drawn stage coach, that trundled around the roads and tracks of the Island more than 130 years ago, will be on show at the Isle of Wight Bus and Coach Museum from April.

The coach, built in Newport in 1880, spent most of its working life in Ryde, before it was mothballed in 1913, just before the First World War. Since then it has appeared only a handful on times, but last September, English Heritage, who were bequeathed the coach, agreed to hand it over to the museum.

Nick Collis (pictured below), whose great grandfather Albert Vanner had the coach built, and whose grandfather Thomas often drove it, explained the history of the vehicle. He said: “It was an excursion coach, drawn by four horses, that carried 16 people, with the ladies sitting inside, and the gents on the top.

“By 1880 the railways had already started, so it was used by people who preferred the fresh air as they made their way around the Island, rather than be stuck in a railway compartment. And of course the railway didn’t go everywhere, so coaches were used as taxis to transport from the stations to places like Carisbrooke Castle.

“The coach would also take people from Ryde around the Island. It often went to Ventnor or Yarmouth, with stop-over points, taking many tourists who came over from the mainland. It came off the road just before the First World War, because all the horses were commandeered by the army. After the war, everyone came back with mechanical knowledge, and that spelt the end of the horse-drawn coach.”

The coach, named Civility, was put into storage in a lock-up garage in Union Lane, Ryde in 1914, and was finally pulled back out in 1928. It was then put away again in Newport Street, Ryde, and was found in 1951 when a builder needed the garage for extra space. During that time it appeared just once, in 1935 at Ryde Carnival.

It was later moved to another garage in Ryde where it stayed until 1985, when it was made over to Nick’s second cousin Audrey Russell, who lived at Stenbury Manor, near Whitwell. It remained with her until she died in 2014, and left virtually everything to English Heritage. Her estate, including the coach, was valued at £5million!

Nick recalls: “The coach did come out once more, in 1996 at the Isle of Wight Agricultural Show for three days. But Audrey Russell wouldn’t even allow it to be dusted down in case it caused further damage. She insisted it was taken to the show from Stenbury Manor each day, and she sat with it all the time it was there.”

English Heritage then gifted the coach, and all the horse tack, to the Isle of Wight Bus and Coach Museum last September, for its final resting place. Naturally it was fallen into disrepair over the years, and will be a big job to restore it.

Nick added: “It will be a long-term project, but we don’t know yet what to do because we don’t want it to look like a coach that was built only yesterday. But it will allow people to have a peek into the past, and significantly it is back in Ryde where it was originally based.”

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