East Cowes is a town and civil parish to the north of the Isle of Wight on the east bank of the river Medina next to it's neighbour on the west bank, Cowes.
The name Estcowe (East Cowes) originally comes from one of two sandbanks each side of the river estuary, so called after a supposed likeness to cows. The name was subsequently transferred to fortifications built during the reign of Henry VIII on the east bank to dispel a French invasion, referred to as cowforts or cowes, which subsequently gave the name to the town. They replaced the earlier name of Shamblord.
The settlement of Shamblord at East Cowes was first recorded in 1303. It grew as East Shamblord and became a much more significant settlement as the Isle of Wight was the target of frequent French invasions.
During the reign of Queen Victoria who bought Osborne House, East Cowes was the subject of a planned estate of grand houses, groves and parks. The scheme only folded when the necessary finances could not be found. A few of the early residences included Powys House and East Cowes Castle. For the next 50 years, East Cowes was often the centre of the British Empire as politicians, ambassadors and royalty arrived in the town.
With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the character of the town changed again to that of a working town proudly building for the sea. There were seven major shipyards with names such as J.S. White's, Groves, and Guttridge and S.E. Saunders, East Cowes became the leader in new ideas and productions of technical excellence. Saunders Roe were taken over by British Hovercraft Cooperation and in turn by GKN Westland aerospace, the major employee.
The list of technical achievements for East Cowes would include Bluebird, for Sir Malcolm Campbell and the world waterspeed record; HMS Cavalier, for twenty years the fastest ship in the Royal Navy (the propeller is sited on the seafront); the first hovercraft; the Princess, the largest flying boat in the world; Black Knight rockets; the first hydrofoil; work on Thrust 2 for the land speed record - the list could go on. The men and women of East Cowes are proud of their heritage and of their achievements.
During World War II East Cowes became the target of bombing due to it's industry and proximity to Southampton and Portsmouth. The shipyard of J Samuel White was badly damaged in an air attack in early May 1942. When rebuilt innovative ship construction methods had been introduced. During the air raid the local defences were supported by the Polish destroyer 'Blyskawica'. The crew's courage was honoured by a local commemoration in 2002 on the 60th anniversary of the attack.
To celebrate the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1977, the main hangar doors of what was the British Hovercraft Corporation were painted with the world's largest image of the Union Flag.
East Cowes is linked to Cowes by a floating bridge and to the mainland by Red Funnel vehicle ferry service. It is a town which has had three castles, a royal Palace and innovations such as the world's first amphibious plane, the first all-welded destroyer, the world's largest metal flying boat, the first hovercraft and the only British rocket that put British satellite into space. Wharves were built so that agricultural products could be exported and the town continued as one of the major customs clearing points on the south coast of England.
Now in the 21st century, East Cowes is undergoing yet more change with a regeneration programme leading to substantial house building and increase in the number of residents. A new health centre and dental clinic have recently been built and other plans include the harbour improvements, changes to the marshalling areas for the ferry with the provision of much needed parking spaces and proposed developments along the waterfront.
East Cowes is a small town, but much has happened here. Many think of it as just the place where the car ferry arrives but it is much more than that.