Isle of Wight Hidden Heroes

Tom Sopwith 1888-1989

Tom Sopwith and wife

Thomas Octave Murdoch – T.O.M. – Sopwith was first and foremost an engineer throughout his long life.

Born in January 1888 he lived to be 101, dying at his home near Romsey in January 1989.

As a young man before the First World War his primary interest was in aircraft and flying and he became famous at a comparatively young age with his pioneering activities in these fields both in England and in America.

His first flight was in 1910, and within a month he had earned his pilot’s licence, No. 31. He began manufacturing aircraft and was involved with Sammy Saunders in 1913 in the building in East Cowes of the Bat Boat, the first really successful seaplane.

Finest fighting aircraft of WWI
His new company, Sopwith Aviation, produced further well-known designs and in 1914 his Sopwith ‘Tabloid’ won the second Schneider Trophy race at Monaco.

During the First World War, perhaps his company’s two most famous designs were the Sopwith Pup and the Sopwith Camel, the latter probably the finest fighting aircraft of the WWI and, arguably, of all time.

Although a post-war slump in the aircraft market took a toll on his company, he managed to give it a highly successful new direction and name along with his chief test pilot, Harry Hawker.

Love of sailing and powerboat racing
Sailing had been one of Sopwith’s interests since boyhood and, starting in dinghies, by 1909 he was co-owner of a dilapidated 166 ton schooner, Neva.

He was also addicted to powerboat racing, in those early days so much an important sporting activity with its associated development in both engine design and manufacture. So many names that would become famous as car manufacturers began by building powerboats, Wolsey, Daimler, Mercedes, Napier.

In 1912 he won the prestigious British International Trophy in Maple Leaf IV, built by Sammy Saunders, and repeated that win two years later with a world record time of 48 knots.

In the decade after the War he also owned a series of ever larger diesel yachts, culminating in the ‘30’s in the magnificent Philante.

He was regarded as the best British 12m helmsman and was Class champion in 1928, 1929 and 1930 with his 12m Mouette, built for him by Camper and Nicholson, whereupon he was elected a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

America’s Cup
Tom became absorbed in the challenges by Sir Thomas Lipton for the America’s Cup, and on the death of Lipton in 1931, he bought Lipton’s J-class yacht, Shamrock V.

For two years he raced her around the Solent, being unusual as an owner in that he steered his own vessel, instead of merely relying on a professional skipper.

The birth of Endeavour
In 1933 he commissioned Charles Nicholson to design and build in Gosport a new J-class yacht, Endeavour, in order to challenge the Americans for the series in 1934.

This series was one that was so hotly contested that it nearly returned the America’s Cup back to Great Britain.

Endeavour, racing against Harry Vanderbilt’s Rainbow, was widely considered to be the faster of the two. However, several controversial events during racing robbed Sopwith of victory, and he went home a disappointed man, vowing never to challenge again.

Crushing defeat for Endeavour II
He did try again, in 1937, but this time his new boat, Endeavour II, came up against the American defender, Ranger, generally agreed to be the fastest J ever built, and this time defeat was crushing.

Thereafter the heavy demands of aircraft manufacture during the Second World War put a end to Sopwith’s maritime activity, his final racing yacht being the 12m Tomahawk in 1939.

Ellen Cantelo, Elizabeth Thompson and Sarah James


In 1866 the Women’s Suffrage Petition was presented to Parliament and included three signatories from the Isle of Wight: Ellen Cantelo, Elizabeth Thompson and Sarah James.

Signatures were gathered across the UK and Ireland via family circles and friendship networks. Ellen, Elizabeth and Sarah must have been politically engaged and aware of the latest developments and campaigns for women’s suffrage.

Ellen lived at 69 High Street, Sarah in St James Street and Elizabeth in Carisbrooke. Ellen was a well-known artist and she and her sister Elizabeth came from a Chartist family – a working class movement for political reform in the 19th century. Little is known about the third signatory Sarah although it seems likely she knew the sisters, perhaps as a member of the extended family or a close friend.

Ellen, Elizabeth and Sarah were living in a time when women’s lives were controlled by men. First their fathers and then their husbands controlled their property, children and many other aspects of their lives. The radical politics of these women and their family would have been far from the norm in the small Island communities they lived in. These three women were at the forefront of the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Including original research conducted by Hannah Griffiths, Sundni Heritage

Professor John Milne 1850-1913

John Milne

Professor John Milne FRS was the founder of the science of seismology, the study of earthquakes.

The first half of his professional life was spent in Japan, and the second half on the Isle of Wight, where he established the world’s first seismographic station at Shide Hill House, near Newport.

A developing interest in science
Milne was born in 1850 in Liverpool, and after attending school obtained a place in 1867 at King’s College London, gaining certificates in a wide range of subjects. With a developing interest in science, he attended the Royal School of Mines, and in 1873 obtained employment reporting on the mineral resources of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 1875, Milne became Professor of Geology and Mining at the newly formed Imperial College of Engineering, Tokyo.

Travelling overland to take up his new post, he immersed himself upon his arrival in a wide range of topics including mineralogy, volcanology, mining engineering, chemistry and archaeology.

Co-founder of the Seismological Society of Japan
Following the devastating Yokohama earthquake of 1880, he took up a special interest in earthquakes, and helped found the Seismological Society of Japan.

Milne published many papers and several books on seismology, and with colleagues developed the first seismograph capable of recording major earthquakes occurring in any part of the world.

His pioneering work was recognised through many honours, including an honorary Fellowship of King’s College London, Fellowship of the Royal Society, the Lyell Medal of the Geological Society, and conferment by the Emperor of Japan of the Order of the Rising Sun.

Seismological observatory in Shide
In 1895, Milne returned to England with his Japanese wife, Toné. They set up home at Shide Hill House, where he established a seismological observatory, from which others followed.

Milne developed his seismometers further and promoted a world-wide network to record earthquakes.

Data from around the world
Participating observatories submitted their data to him, which he published from 1899 to 1912.

His observatory became a popular destination for visiting scientists and dignitaries from around the world.

Buried in Barton
John Milne died on 31 July 1913, and was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Barton. He was a man of great energy and enthusiasm, an expert geologist and mining engineer, an explorer, and a keen naturalist.

Other interests included golf, music, literature and photography. An important group of his photographs and papers are today in the care of Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

Percy Goddard Stone FSA, FRIBA, 1856-1934

Percy Stone

Percy Stone lived and worked here for over 50 years. He was responsible for repair and restoration works to Carisbrooke Castle, and many churches and historic buildings across the Island, as well as the creation of a number of memorials.

As a historian of the Isle of Wight, its ancient buildings, as well as its dialect, he produced varied publications on these subjects.

Followed father into architectural profession
Born in London in 1856, Percy Stone was the son of Mary and Coutts Stone, an Architect. He was educated at Rugby School, and then followed his father into the architectural profession.

His association with the Island dates back to his early teens. For some years he was a regular visitor, and in the 1880s moved from Goring-on-Thames, to make it his home and the scene of his life’s work. When he first moved to the Island he lived in Shanklin, and later moved to Merstone.

He studied the Island’s historic buildings
Making careful studies of historic buildings and churches across the Island, Stone was responsible for the repair of many of them, including the gatehouse at Carisbrooke Castle, which was then used to house the museum.

He later pushed for the more ambitious restoration of the chapel of St Nicholas at the Castle. He was also involved with excavations within the Castle, and wrote about its history.

Percy designed many war memorials, and also the memorial in Newport to Queen Victoria, as well as new churches at Wootton (St Mark’s) and Cowes (St Faith’s).

His part in unearthing Newport Roman Villa
As a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and secretary of the Island for them, he often engaged their support for Island projects.

He was involved in the unearthing of the Newport Roman Villa.

Published author
A number of books on architecture, history of the Island, and its dialect, were published by Stone. A key work being “The Architectural Antiquities of the Isle of Wight”, published in two volumes in 1891, with detailed illustrations. In the same year this was published, he also worked on architectural investigations at Quarr Abbey.

Stone wrote a prologue to the IW Historical Pageant produced at Carisbrooke Castle in 1907.

A member of the Architectural Committee which assisted in the compilation of the Victoria Country History of England published in 1912, he contributed to five volumes of that work which deal with the history of Hampshire and the Island.

Wrote under a pseudonym
“Legends and Lays of the Isle of Wight” was published in 1912, a volume mostly in dialect rhyme. He also wrote columns for County Press in dialect under the name “Granfer Izak”.

The redecoration of the Chapel of St Nicholas at Carisbrooke Castle, as the Isle of Wight County War Memorial, occupied him from 1919 up to 1929 when the Chapel was re-dedicated.

Died unexpectedly
In 1934, at the age of 78, Stone unexpectedly collapsed and died in his garden, his wife finding him when calling him in for lunch.

His funeral was held at Arreton Church, where he had worshipped for many years, and the interment followed at Shanklin Cemetery.

FSA: Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries
FRIBA: Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects

Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996)

Jacquetta Hawkes

Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996) combined the rigours of scholarly research with the imagination of a poet and a writer. She investigated the Island’s past and campaigned to preserve its special landscape for the future.

Jacquetta was a celebrated archaeologist, writer and campaigner who in the 1950s lived at Brook Hill House on the Isle of Wight with her husband the writer JB Priestley.

Important archaeological discovery
Jacquetta was archaeological adviser to the 1951 Festival of Britain and her most famous book ‘A Land’ was published the same year. While living on the Island she and Jack Jones (County Archaeologist and Curator of Carisbrooke Castle Museum) excavated the site of the Longstone at Mottistone discovering the monument was in fact the remains of an entrance to a Neolithic long barrow.

CND founder
Jacquetta and Priestley were among a small group who were instrumental in founding the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

In 1958 she organised a major public meeting in Sandown Pavilion to promote the campaign on the Isle of Wight, which coincided with the local, successful campaign against a proposed nuclear power station at Newtown.

She was also involved in other controversial campaigns including the reform of the law on homosexuality and family planning.

Lawrence Holofcener 1926-2017

Lawrence Holofcener

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, Lawrence Holofcener served in the United States Air Force towards the end of the Second World War.

He met Jerry Bock at the University of Wisconsin, with whom he wrote songs and Broadway scores. As an actor he performed on Broadway with Carol Channing and Ginger Rogers and appeared in films.

Hugely talented
Became better known in his later years as the self-taught sculptor. His first exhibition was in 1979.

Lawrence was responsible for ‘Allies’, a life-size bronze of Winston Churchill chatting with Franklin D. Roosevelt on a park bench (Bond Street, London).

He also undertook a major series of sculptures celebrating the contributions made by 20th Century Icons, including Einstein, Kennedy, Mandela, Mother Teresa and Anne Frank.

Inspirational character
Lawrence Holofcener inspired many people whilst he lived on the Isle of Wight and had an infectious passion for life.

The poet, lyricist, playwright, novelist, actor and director sadly passed away on 4th March 2017, just a week after celebrating his 91st birthday.

Image: © With kind permission of Growing Bolder – taken when Lawrence was 85.

Rev. Charles Paterson

Rev Charles Paterson

The Rev. Charles Paterson was Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cowes and Hon. Chaplain to the Royal Yacht Squadron. In addition to these duties, he was Hon. Chaplain to the Missions to Seamen, in charge of their very active branch in Cowes.

On 30th July 1936 he conducted the dedication service for a new launch for the Mission, the Nai Louis, a boat donated by a lady who lived in a house overlooking Wootton Creek.

Mrs Leonowens’ late husband, Louis, after whom the boat was named, was the son of Anna Leonowens, one-time governess to the children of the King of Siam, and immortalised in the musical The King and I. (Nai being Siamese for ‘Master’).

A variety of talents
Charles Paterson lived in the Vicarage on Cowes Esplanade, opposite his Church, and was a keen photographer and a gifted amateur painter. Remarkably he also kept a log of the work that might otherwise have gone largely unnoticed.

When the Second World War began, there came to anchor in Cowes Roads a vastly increased number of ships of all sizes, awaiting orders, waiting to be assigned to convoys before setting out on the dangerous sea routes patrolled by enemy submarines.

The County Press of February 1946 reported that, for security reasons, a veil of secrecy was drawn over the activities of the Mission throughout the war, but several times a week, promptly at 9.30, Charles Paterson would go aboard the Nai Louis which had been brought round from its moorings in Wootton by her skipper, Capt. William Brooker of Ryde, and, with a third crew member, they would set out in all weathers to visit three, four, five ships a day.

Visiting all
If it was sometimes too rough or too foggy for the Vicar to board the ships safely, Capt. Booker would steer up the River Medina to visit the many ships and boats sheltering there.

They also paid regular visits to the Trinity House lightships at Calshot, and the Warner, which was off station, having had been brought inside the submarine barriers in Spithead.

Meticulous record-keeping
They took with them all manner of comforts for the ships’ captains and crews, books, magazines, warm clothing, cigarettes. Charles Paterson kept a list of the donors of all these welcome supplies and although a number of names were of local people, many addresses were on the mainland.

He also took photographs, almost certainly against wartime regulations, and painted small portraits of many of the ships he visited.

Link to the outside world
Charles Paterson, very much no longer a young man, had to climb up steep ships’ ladders, often icy and always wet, in order to deliver these gifts and to take back ashore everything the crew needed help with, mostly letters to post and telegrams to send to relatives, cards, messages and often farewells for family and friends.

None of the crew were able to get ashore themselves, so this small 35 ft. launch and its complement of elderly men was often their only contact with home and the wider world.

Many letters were received expressing the gratitude of the crews for the work of Rev. Paterson and his friends, who heroically kept this service to seamen afloat throughout six long years of War.

James Dore 1854-1925

Dore glass plate of the beach at Seaview.

James Dore was born in Sandown in 1854 and was educated at the local church-schools. He was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, a watchmaker and jeweller, taking over the business in 1874.

Dore was a County Councillor for Sandown for over 20 years. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1910.

He was an original member of the town’s Fire Brigade, joining in 1879 and rising to the position of Chief Officer.

Practising photography to a high standard
Dore ran his jewellery business at 27, High Street, Sandown. He built up the shop’s photographic department, practising the art to a high standard.

He exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society and took a medal and diploma for his lantern slides at the World’s Fair, Chicago in 1893.

His photographs are a vivid record of Island life at the turn of the twentieth century.

Blanche Coules Thornycroft 1873-1951

blanche thornycroft featured image

This Hidden Hero were nominated and submitted by the Classic Boat Museum

Born in Hammersmith on 23rd December 1873, Blanche was the daughter of Sir John I Thornycroft, founder of the Thornycroft ship building and engineering business

Surrounded by a family of exceptionally talented sculptors and engineers, her active involvement with the family Ship Building business from an early age is perhaps not surprising.

Blanche had a reputation as an outstanding mathematician, but Engineering as a subject was not available to women in this era and she was largely self-taught.

It was not until 1908 that Alice Perry was the first woman in Europe to achieve an engineering degree.

“The Lilypond”
Thornycroft’s first model ship test tank, from 1884, still exists at the former family home in Bembridge. It was disguised, presumably for aesthetic reasons, by incorporation into an extensive decorative water system known as “The Lilypond”.

The building in the background of the photo houses the winding gear and instrumentation. Test details were recorded in an accurate, scientific manner, but significant work was involved to relate this to the design of full-size craft.

Involved before 20th century
It is not known exactly when Blanche became part of the family business, but her earliest notebooks in the Thornycroft archive date from before the start of the 20th century.

Models were towed along the tank by means of wires and fine cord. A descending weight applied constant force to the winding drum. The winding gear incorporates a smoked disk on to which a stylus recorded force and speed data.

The success of this limited facility is self evident.

Indoor test tank
The “Lily Pond” facility remained in use until 1909, when the larger indoor test tank was built in Bembridge on the site of the former Steyne Woods Battery.

This 1909 facility was built under the control of Blanche and Sir John. It is one of the first buildings ever built by pouring concrete over steel.

The largest ever model-tested was of a 6000 ton tanker.

Miss England III
The fastest boat ever model-tested in the Tank, was the 4000hp Miss England III, which achieved a World Record speed of nearly 120 mph on Loch Lomond in 1932.

A picture of this craft, which hung in the Thornycroft Board Room, is now in the Classic Boat Museum.

The facility was not only used for testing Thornycroft scale model boats.

During WW1 in particular, other things which utilised Blanche’s mathematical and engineering skills, involved moorings for explosive mines and a unique high-speed propeller, which could jump over cables.

Royal Institute of Naval Architects
Blanche became the first lady-member to be admitted to The Royal Institute of Naval Architects in 1917.

Blanche ran the Thornycroft model Test Tank facilities right up to the start of WW2, with a wide of models being tested.

She never married and lived in Bembridge until her death in 1951.

Rev. Edgar Greenshield 1877-1938

Rev Greenshield in Inuit costume - featured image 960x450

This Hidden Hero were nominated and submitted by Carisbrooke Castle Museum

Edgar William Tyler Greenshield was born in 1877, the son of a Newport draper. As a young man he was inspired to devote his life to missionary work and between 1901 and 1913 made five extensive journeys to the Arctic.

He was a contemporary of Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton and became a popular public speaker as interest in exploration in the polar regions grew.

Educated at Portland House Academy, Edgar regularly went to St Johns church, Newport with his family. The Rev. Henry Lewis, who was vicar from 1892 to 1896, had spent many years as a missionary in India and spoke of it often.

It was after hearing a sermon from Lewis that Edgar determined to devote his life to mission work.

First mission in 1901
At 20 Edgar joined the Church Missionary Society College where he learnt medical and technical skills as well as theology. In 1901 he set sail on his first mission to the Canadian Arctic where he endured violent snowstorms, freezing temperatures and long hours of darkness.

He wrote “There is not much in one’s general surroundings to cheer or help or lift one up. The depth of winter, the short dull days, the long dark nights, all tend to depress…”

Learning the Inuit language
Edgar spent two years on Blacklead Island, learning to speak the Inuit language and putting his medical and practical skills to good use, caring for the sick and building the first hospital in the Arctic Circle – a one-roomed wooden hut at the mission.

He was held in great affection by the locals and they named him “ilataaqauq.”

Iceberg disaster
He undertook several missions to the region over the coming years, but in 1909 disaster struck when his ship, the Dutch schooner Jantina Agatha, hit an iceberg and began to sink 30 miles from land.

The captain gave the order to abandon ship and Edgar, the captain, a German explorer and the seven members of the Dutch crew escaped in rowboats. They also recovered the stores of the German explorer, who was on his way to study arctic bird life.

Survival down to Edgar
They rowed for many days in extreme conditions until they eventually arrived at the mission. For months they battled against the threat of starvation trying to make the rations they had salvaged, intended to last one man for a year, stretch for ten of them.

It was Edgar’s quick thinking, resourcefulness and determination that ensured the crew survived for eleven months before their rescue. When they were eventually rescued almost a year later the Dutch crew were adamant that their survival was entirely down to Edgar.

Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau
The Queen of the Netherlands was so moved by the tale she made Edgar a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau and granted him an allowance of 200 guilders to be spent on goods for the Inuit people in honour of the “kindness displayed by them towards our shipwrecked mariners”.

He returned to England a hero and celebrity, and due to the growing interest in the polar regions and exploration he found himself much in demand as a public speaker.

Lecture tours
Edgar embarked on many lecture tours on behalf of the Church Missionary Society and was widely popular and successful as a speaker, always championing the Inuit people.

He also lectured on the Isle of Wight and once spoke to a crowd of 200 people in the Leigh Richmond Hall. However it was in December 1906 that he made his most memorable appearance on the Island.

Dressed in Inuit clothes Edgar showed stuffed animals and birds of the region to an audience at Newport and played a “bloodcurdling” phonograph of a bear-hunt with Inuit calls and war cries that thrilled his audience.

Inuit doll for Mollie
One local Isle of Wight girl received a surprise keepsake from the Inuit people of Blacklead Island through Edgar Greenshield.

On one of his trips Edgar took with him a doll from a 14 year old Mollie Alderslade of Newport to give to an Inuit girl. Almost two years later Edgar returned with a handmade doll in local garb for Miss Alderslade from her unknown friend.

The head was made from driftwood, the suit from caribou skin and the doll’s hair was taken from a musk ox. It was used for many years in a local Newport school to teach geography and can now be seen at Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

Final trip to the Arctic
Edgar visited the Arctic for a fifth and final time from 1911–1913, and made use of his medical skills as sickness swept through the community.

After this Edgar wanted to return to the Arctic but chose instead to look after his parents, the ship that he would have travelled on was lost with all hands.

For the rest of his life he undertook missionary work with sailors and fishermen in Ireland, the Shetlands, India and finally Teesside where he died in 1938. The epitaph on his grave stone read “A friend of the Eskimo”.