Celebrating 200 years of Shanklin Chine
It is generally recognised as the Isle of Wight’s oldest tourist attraction, and this year Shanklin Chine is celebrating the 200th anniversary of being opened to the public.
Water has of course snaked its way into Shanklin from the downs above the town for thousands of years, with the stream even running across the road at Chine Hollow, near the Old Village.
It drops 15 metres as a spectacular waterfall at the head of Shanklin Chine, before moving on down through a series of cascades and waterfalls until it flows out onto Shanklin beach.
But it was not until 1817 that the Lady of Shanklin Manor granted permission for local longshoreman and smuggler William Colenutt to place a series of pathways and steps from the shoreline back up through the Chine to make it accessible to the public.
Now the current Lady of Shanklin Manor, Anne Springman, has orchestrated an Anniversary Exhibition to celebrate the 200-year landmark, which was recently opened by the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, Major General Martin White.
It was back in 1966, when her father died, that Anne discovered the estate she had inherited, including Shanklin Chine, was asset rich but income poor. The Chine itself had become little more than an overgrown shortcut from Shanklin Old Village to the beach.
She came to the Island only once a year in those days because of work commitments in London, and then using her shorthand and typing skills to help former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan write his memoirs.
She said: “It was not until 1979 that I felt we had to do something about the Chine, I took over the running and restoration. It was a terribly depressing situation when I started my voyage of discovery. It was like Sleeping Beauty which had been there hidden since the First World War. A lot of people in Shanklin were worried I was going to ruin it, but in fact I only uncovered what was already there.”
She and Geoff Hayles, manager of Shanklin Chine from 1974 to 1990, painstakingly began to bring the Chine back to life, setting the footprint for what it has become today. Anne recalls: “When we first started work, the whole area was covered in Japanese Knotweed, and it took us 30 years to get rid of it! To me, the Chine was a Sleeping Beauty, and Mr. Hayles was the Prince who awakened it. He once asked me if he could have a Flymo, because he was cutting all the banks with a pair of shears. The memorial to his work is all around us.
“He created paths, steps, bridges, shelters, the aviary and even the pay box at the bottom. The admission was 20p for adults, 15p for senior citizens and 10p for children, but the charges were not always implemented.
“We ran it between us with his wife helping during the winter, and of course the local branch of Age Concern in the pay boxes. I even swept the paths one season – but never again! In 1981 we formed the Friends of the Old Village Association. I was secretary because I was the only one who could type.”
The wooded, steep, sandstone cliffs of Shanklin Chine are the perfect habitat for a huge number of wild birds, ranging from the predatory kestrels and buzzards to small species, which feed on insects and grubs that are in abundance. Butterflies and dragonflies are prominent in the summer months, flitting among more that 150 species of wild plants, including original daffodils, and scores of different mosses, ferns and grasses that complement the constant sound of flowing water. Even eels have made the small pool below the second waterfall their home, probably for thousands of years. Once there were smugglers’ tunnels leading out of the Chine, but they have since been blocked up!
In the Victorian and Edwardian era, the Chine was a favourite visiting place for some of the country’s most famous artists, writers and poets, many of whom captured the splendour and beauty of the site in their works, including John Keats.
But Shanklin Chine has not just been a visitors’ attraction. During the Second World War its cliffs were used as an assault course by the 40 Royal Marine Commando, who trained there in preparation for the historic Dieppe Raid in 1942.
Their marauding caused considerable damage to the Chine, but not as bad as when the infamous ‘Great Storm’ struck the Island in 1987. Anne recalls: “I went down to the Chine with Mr and Mrs Hayles after the storm passed. The emergency lights were still working, but Shanklin Pier had gone. We had to use sandbags to divert the stream in the Chine because of the strong flow of water, and it poured with rain every day for a week. About 20 trees were blown down and it took seven men with chain saws to save the Chine. Fires were burning in there for a week to get rid of all the debris.”
A memorial to 40 Royal Commando now stands in the Chine, and a tea garden and shop were introduced in the late 1980s to help offset the cost of maintaining the attraction. The Chine and the memorial will be registered as a Conservation Trust and Charity to ensure its protection.
To mark the 200th anniversary, Anne and co-writer Robin McInnes have published a book highlighting the history, culture and environment of Shanklin Chine. In the book’s foreword, Anne writes: “Over the last 35 years the Chine has been unfolding its remarkable history, and I am sure there is still more to come. It has been an amazing experience, and one which still has the power of surprise.”
Pluto played vital role
Shanklin Chine still houses 65 yards of what looks to be little more than a rusty pipe. In fact it is part of Pluto – the historic Pipe Line Under The Ocean – an idea that was first put forward by Lord Mountbatten in 1942. The pipeline ran from the north of England down to Southampton, then under the Solent to Thorness Bay and across the Island to Shanklin. Then from two batteries of pumps in Shanklin and Sandown, fuel was pumped to Cherbourg in France, to keep the British Forces’ vehicles on the move at as key stage of the Second World War.
The first pipeline was laid in just 10 hours between the Island and Cherbourg, but was unfortunately fouled by the escort ship’s anchor. The first successful cable was laid and in commission on September 22nd, 1944, delivering 56,000 gallon daily.
But after more failures the pipelines between the Island and Cherbourg were abandoned in the October, because of the rapid Allied advance towards securing Second World War victory.