Wight, Isle of

Wight, Isle of (wĪt) [key], island and county (1991 pop. 126,600), 147 sq mi (381 sq km), S England, across the Solent and Spithead channels from Hampshire. The administrative center is Newport. The island is 23 mi (37 km) long from the eastern Foreland to the Needles (detached chalk formations at the western extremity) and 13 mi (21 km) wide. The Medina, which almost bisects the island, and the East Yar and the West Yar are the chief rivers. Numerous small streams on the southern coast have cut a series of picturesque gullies in the soft rock. The climate is mild, and the scenery, as a result of the contrasting geological strata, is varied. Quaint villages, such as Ventnor, and a beautiful coast line make the island a popular resort. Cowes is an important port.

The island was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 43 and probably settled later by the Jutes. It was annexed to the kingdom of Wessex in 661 and Christianized c.700. The Isle of Wight was the headquarters of the Danes at the end of the 10th cent. William I bestowed the lordship of the island upon William Fitz-Osbern. In 1293 it returned permanently to the crown. At Carisbrooke Castle, now in ruins, King Charles I was imprisoned (1647–48). In 1890 the island was established as a separate administrative county; administratively, it became a unitary authority in 1995. Queen Victoria's seaside home, Osborne House, is near the famous yachting center at Cowes. Parkhurst, a major British maximun security prison, is on the island.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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