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Carisbrooke (St. Mary)

CARISBROOKE (St. Mary), a parish, in the liberty of West Medina, Isle of Wight division of the county of Southampton, 1 mile (W. S. W.) from Newport; containing with the hamlet of Bowcombe, and part of that of Chillerton, 5613 inhabitants. This parish derives importance from its castle, situated on a commanding conical eminence occupying about twenty acres. Its foundation is very remote: some writers even ascribe its origin to the Romans, as a few of their coins have been discovered in the neighbourhood; but the style of its architecture, especially of the keep, clearly shows that it is principally a Norman erection. The whole was greatly improved in the time of Elizabeth, and surrounded by an extensive fortification, with five bastions and a deep moat, around which is a terrace-walk threequarters of a mile in circuit: these works were raised by the inhabitants, and those who did not labour were obliged to contribute pecuniary aid. The castle was attacked and taken by Stephen, in 1136, when Baldwin, Earl of Devonshire, had taken refuge here, after declaring in favour of the Empress Maud; and, in the reign of Richard II., it successfully resisted an attack of the French, who plundered the island. Carisbrooke Castle is, however, most remarkable as the place in which Charles I. was confined for thirteen months, previously to his being delivered up to the parliamentary tribunal, after having made one or two unsuccessful attempts to escape: his children were also subsequently imprisoned in it. This ancient fortress, a rectangular parallelogram including the keep, an irregular polygon, occupies about an acre and a half of ground; the keep is raised on an artificial mound, to which there is an ascent of 72 steps, and commands from its summit an extensive and beautiful prospect, embracing a great portion of the island, and parts of the New Forest and Portsdown hill opposite. Within the castle, which is considered as the residence of the governor, are the ruins of an ancient guard-house; and also the chapel of St. Nicholas, built in 1738, on the site of a more ancient one, and in which the mayor and high constables of Newport are sworn into office annually: the appointment of a chaplain, whose stipend is £24, is in the Governor of the isle.

The parish is partly bounded on the east by the river Medina, is nearly 20 miles in circumference, and altogether irregular in its outline, encompassing the town of Newport on three sides, and containing about one-fourth part of it; the surface is undulated, the scenery very picturesque, and the soil consists of chalk, marl, and clay. The village is pleasantly situated at the foot of the Castle Hill, on the banks of a rivulet on which are five corn-mills, and which falls into the Medina at Newport. It was of much more consequence formerly than it is at present, having been a market-town, and considered the capital of the island, until superseded by the town of Newport, on account of the more eligible situation of the latter, up to which the river Medina is navigable, and where the nearest wharf is situated. The living is a vicarage, with the livings of Newport and Northwood annexed, valued in the king's books at £23. 8. 1½.; net income, about £1000; patrons, the Provost and Scholars of Queen's College, Oxford; impropriators, several landowners. Opposite to the castle, on a rising ground, stands the church, an ancient structure with an embattled tower, to which was formerly annexed a monastery of Cistercian monks, founded by William Fitz-Osborn, marshal to the Conqueror, who captured the island at the same time that William conquered the kingdom; the remains of the monastery have been converted into a farmhouse, called the Priory. There is a small glebe, comprising, with the site of the vicarage house and garden, nearly 2 acres. A district church, dedicated to St. John, was erected in that part of the parish which adjoins the town of Newport, at an expense of £4000, by the Rev. Dr. Worsley, of Finchley, and endowed with £1000 by Major-Gen. Sir H. Worsley; it was consecrated in 1837, since which period a district has been assigned to it, comprising a population of about 2500. The church is a handsome edifice of stone, in the early English style, containing 830 sittings, of which 230 are free; the tower included in the original design, has not yet been added, for want of funds. The living is in the gift of the Rev. Richard Hollings. There are places of worship for Independents, Baptists, Wesleyans, &c.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.