Island Story by Peter White Capturing 200 years of change to life on this beautiful Island

A wonderful insight into how the Isle of Wight looked nearly 200 years ago, compared to how it is today, has been captured in a book published by an Island historian.


For more than 50 years retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ken Hicks collected engravings produced by the Island’s famous Brannon family in the 19th century. Some are previously unseen originals and others copies, but they all depict scenes and significant buildings from across the Island.


More recently, with the help of family members – including his granddaughter – friends and associates, he has matched the engravings with modern-day photographs of the same Island landmarks. He said: “Overall a lot of people helped me with the photographs to make this all possible.”



Now the collection of engravings and photographs have been placed alongside one another by the author in a limited edition book entitled ‘An Island Legacy’ — the Isle of Wight Through the Eyes of the Brannon Family, 1817-2017.


As you would expect, some parts of the Island have totally changed over two centuries, mainly due to the introduction of houses and other buildings, along with the likes of Brading Harbour, which was reclaimed from the sea in 1882. Other landscape scenes however, remain unchanged, almost as if they have been stored in a 200-year time capsule. Each engraving and photograph in the book is complemented by a fascinating short story about that particular scene. On several occasions during the book, Ken asks whether the landscape changes from the 200-year-old engraving to the modern-day photograph have enhanced the Island, or not!


Ken attended Nettlestone Primary School and Sandown Grammar School before embarking on  an exemplary Army career that saw him rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, before leaving the Military at the age of 43. While serving his country he toured the world, but always retained his passion for the Island, and particularly its history.


He said: “My love of history is a subsidiary result of my devotion to the Island. The reason I left the Army so early was because I wanted to come back here. I also had a very good history teacher at Sandown, and he instilled in me a love of history.”


Ken acquired his first prints of the Isle of Wight more than 50 years ago from a stall in Salisbury Market, while being stationed close-by during his Army career. He returned to the market several more times to add to his collection, and  also visited book fairs in London where he discovered further Island prints. As his search for Brannon’s amazing works continued, he even found a George Brannon print in India, as well as one in Toulouse, France. He said: “In fact, wherever I went in the world I looked for Isle of Wight prints, and many times I was fortunate enough to discover one.” (See over)


George Brannon produced 12 books of his engravings, including his best known publication, ’Vectis Scenery’  in 1821. It contained 28 of his distinctive views of the Island, printed from copper plates. Copper was later replaced by steel, giving his later engravings an even higher quality.  The Brannon family dynasty continued, with George’s sons Philip and Alfred also producing engravings which provided a marvellous historical perspective of the Island in the 19th century.


Ken, also President of the Isle of Wight Historical Association, spent two years compiling his book, and over the years has staged a number of exhibitions of engravings by the Brannon family. He hopes to hold another exhibition next year.


His Brannon collection comprises 177 by George, nine by Alfred, nine by Philip, one by Alfred and Philip combined, and four maps of the Island. Other gems include initial pencil and ink sketches George made before taking them home to painstakingly produce the engravings. The majority of the collection is now stored at the Isle of Wight College, while much of the equipment used by the Brannon family to make the engravings is kept at Carisbrooke Castle.


Ken’s book is limited to 1,000 copies, with a handful still available to buy, signed by him. The ‘gold-leafed’ publication was completely self-funded, and sales have already enabled him to make a £5,000 donation to Earl Mountbatten Hospice, as well as providing an initial £1,000 bursary to a Christ the King Sixth Form College student to help her with her studies at York University. There will be a bursary awarded for several more years.
*A few copies of ‘An Island Legacy’ (£45) can be purchased by calling Earl Mountbatten Hospice on (01983) 217300.
Philip Brannon’s 1840 view of Brading from Bembridge Windmill (above)  shows the Brannon family’s ability to place objects some distance from their true location to improve the view. Brading Harbour was reclaimed from the sea in 1882.
A paddle steamer heading towards Ryde Pier in 1831, with Union Street clearly shown beyond, while today you can see All Saints’ Church, completed in 1872, with the spire added in 1882.
The River Yar engraving of 1838, showing Yarmouth on the left, Norton on the right, and Afton Manor House in the distance. The exaggerated landscape, compared with the modern day picture, underlines George Brannon’s artistic licence.
Newport High Street in 1861 (above), engraved by Philip Brannon, while in 2016 there are several additions, including the Clock Tower, erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

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