Ref Number: 0010
Ref Number: 0010
In 1539, Henry VIII had the castle erected as a deterrence against the French. Its old weapons were only fired in fury once, during the Civil War in 1642.”It was originally thought that the name Cowes arose from the two forts or ‘cow castles’ erected by Henry VIII near the mouth of the Medina River. In 1545, John Leland wrote, ‘The two Great Cows that in great thunder shout, This on the eastern coast and that on the western shore.’ Using stone from Quarr and Beaulieu abbeys, Henry’s Master Mason, Thomas Bertie, who also built Calshot, created a semi-circular gun platform at West Cowes that was controlled by a tiny, round, two-story tower with two single-story wings.
The platform, tower tops, and wings were all perforated for artillery. There were also bows and arrow chests in the inventory. Sir William D’Avenant, the Poet Laureate rumored to be Shakespeare’s progeny, was apprehended in the Channel in 1650, his route to Virginia. He was imprisoned at the Castle. Buck depicts the Castle prior to the significant changes in 1716, when most of the circular tower was removed. A new wall was erected roughly across the center of the existing tower, with a more residential, window-adorned face to the seaward. In the 18th century, more changes were made.
Latterly since 1858 the castle became the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron and Salvin made major changes and additions, including the Platform, a summer Ballroom, and the Western Tower. The Isle of Wight Observer was critical, believing that a local architect would have created a more appealing design. ‘Some have compared the front to a monastery and the back of the structure to a nobleman’s mews, while others have pronounced it, given its irregular look, to resemble a disciplinary institute,’ the reporter noted when the RYS burgee was hoisted on July 6, 1858. ‘One could imagine it had sprouted up out of the vapors of the cook’s stockpot – a beautiful olla podrida – a blend of everything,’ the Observer continues. In 1917, the Squadron purchased the Castle and grounds from the Crown.
There were more developments in the 1920s, but the major changes were made in 1964, when Prince Philip was Commodore. The Club was able to obtain stone for this project from the destruction of John Nash’s second East Cowes Castle. The ancient pine paneled gentlemen’s heads were converted into the Ladies Dining Room, and a ‘Festival of Britain’-style balcony was erected. Ove Arup replaced the corrugated iron platform roof with GRP since it needed frequent repair. In 1988, the Bird Cage connected the Platform to the Ladies Drawing Room. The Castle has lasted because it has smoothly adapted to new uses. The Pavilion on the Squadron lawn, was opened in 2000, is the most recent addition.
Now its William IV cannon, which once belonged to the Royal Adelaide, fire at five minute intervals to start the thousands of yachtsmen in their races.