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Totland Reflections: The Creation of a Seaside Resort

Totland Bay Hotel and Pier 1930s

The Freshwater & Totland Archive Group is a self-funded voluntary group set up in 2010. Its aim is to establish an easily accessible archive to encourage public interest in our local history and provide a valuable community resource.

Its activities include giving talks, reminiscence walks and setting up displays.

Financial assistance from Freshwater Parish Council has enabled the group to establish a base in an old retail shop in Avenue Road, Freshwater.

In November last year, with financial assistance from Totland Parish Council, the group published its third book: ‘Totland Reflections – The creation of a seaside resort’. Sales have been excellent and comments such as ‘I’ve hardly been able to put it down’ and ‘thoroughly well researched’ have been really encouraging.

The name Totland was first recorded in the Royal Survey of 1608, ‘Tot’ being the Old English word for ‘lookout place’. Subjects covered include Alum Bay; Totland Pier; Lanes Inn; Totland shops (1880 to present day); Amateur Dramatics; regattas and carnivals, and many more within the 120 pages of text and wonderful images. Personal touches are included, taken from written and recorded memories of local characters. These give an insight into life as it was from the 1890s to 1980s.

Alum Bay Pier 1926

A few snippets about some of the chapters follow. The book starts by giving a summary of how the village and Parish of Totland evolved from a small rural farming community. It describes the development of the road network and various buildings that were erected up until the 20th century. Before the Victorian developers arrived, Totland was a subdivision of Freshwater, sparsely populated and known as Weston. By the late 1920s it had become a thriving community, particularly in the summer, when the Totland Bay Hotel, overlooking the Bay, was full to capacity. Guests could see the day-trippers arriving by paddle steamers at the pier and boarding coaches for their tour around the Island. The area became an increasingly popular resort for holiday makers with many hotels and boarding houses.

The first shop to be built in Totland opened in 1880. It was a grocery and post office on the corner of Madeira Road and the Broadway. In 1886 it became Jordan & Stanley, grocery and provisions merchant with several stores in Newport. The Broadway soon had an outstanding range of retail and commercial premises until the late 20th century, almost anything you’d ever need could be bought there.

As the population of Totland and number of visitors grew, the demand for leisure pursuits increased. There were numerous clubs and societies including the Needles Golf Club, which was founded in 1888 and flourished until the mid- 1950s. The Totland Bay Bowling Club was opened in 1908 and is still very active today. West Wight Games Club was created in 1913, later becoming West Wight Country Club, a popular venue for sports and dances. The first Regatta at Totland Bay was held in August 1885 and involved the whole community. The pier played an important part in the event and was decorated in brightly coloured flags and bunting. The classes of races included open sailing, yachts, rowing boats, swimming and a greasy pole competition.

Safety at sea prompted the need for a lifeboat and the first one, named The Dove, arrived at Totland in March 1869 and was housed in a boathouse at Widdick Chine. The crew were all local volunteers, some of whom had been smugglers and so were familiar with the sea conditions and dangerous rocky coast. Other lifeboats followed including Charles Luckombe and Robert Fleming. The lifeboat station closed in 1924 as the RNLI decided that the cover for the western end of the Solent would be better served by a motor lifeboat in Yarmouth Harbour.

The book is available at £20 from the group’s base at West Wight Heritage Centre, Avenue Road, Freshwater. The centre is open weekdays (not Tuesday) from 10.00am to 12 noon and also Wednesday from 1.00 to 3.00pm. Copies can also be posted at an additional cost of £3.50 first class, or £3 second class. Email westwightheritage@ or Tel 01983 759353 for further details.

– Janet Haire (Hon Sec Freshwater & Totland Archive Group based at the West Wight Heritage Centre)

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