Island Hostelries – Prince of Wales Inn, High Street, Ryde
Meeting place years ago of many strange characters. Of smugglers and perhaps the Customs men. These days a pleasant little inn where many of the older army, navy and yachting personnel foregather, not to mention the anglers, the cricket and football clubs, plus the various other associations, British Legion, Burma Star, etc.
Edmund Burton in his book England’s Eden, said; “And of course, something must be said of Ryde’s smuggling traditions. for what more suitable locality than the Isle of Wight could be imagned for such an occupation”. I read an account in a Portsmouth newspaper concerning a hidden staircase in the Prince of Wales Inn, which very naturally tempted an investigation.
This hostelry stands in Ryde’s High Street, and one day I made a call there. The place was closed for business, but the landlord, armed with a big storm lantern, very kindly consented to show me the new discovery. We mounted flight after flight of narrow stairs until we reached the top floor, right under the roof. Here the landlord rolled away a rug and revealed a trap door set in the floorboards. Raising the trap, he led me down a narrow staircase, with his bobbing lantern light flashing over the dust and cobwebs of ages for this is one of the oldest houses in Ryde.
Some distance down we were pulled up by a thick worm-eaten barrier, beneath which it was plain to see the steps still continuing, but my companion knew nothing oof what lay beyond – nor apparently, did he possess the curiosity to find out.
It seems that a bank was being built in the High Street some years before the discovery of this staircase at the Prince of Wales and the excavators came upon a secret passage connecting two wells. In the interest of the bank’s safety this passage was stopped up. The stairs at the Inn might lead to some underground chamber or even to the shore itself by way of a subterranean boring but the whole thing is wrapped in mystery.
Such old relics are said to date from the time when Ryde was a village known as “La Rye” and a regular paradise for such folk who specialised in running cargoes without paying any duty on them. It is interesting to note that during Norman times Ryde was called ” La Riche” and a reference to Pennant’s book “Journey from London to the Isle of Wight reveals in 1801 Ryde was called “Ride”. Old records show that in 1859 the Prince of Wales Inn was kept by one James Knight and in 1878 by a James Porter. The County Seely Library at Newport have informed us that Ryde was known as “La Ryde” in 1283.
It appears that the Prince is an original timber building and the brick frontage covers this construction. The general construction of the building, ie. size of rooms, height of rooms, lack of cellar, type of roof tile etc. is very similar to the Rose and Crown, Newport. Now in the church next to the Rose and Crown can be seen a large framed photograph showing one Francis Russell presenting a rose to Charles I outside the Rose and Crown in the year 1646. Does this account for the name of the Newport Inn being the Rose and Crown?
How good it is to find a small old world inn away from the glare of the juke box or the crash of the one-armed bandit, where the at of intelligent conversation is exploited fully to the enjoyment of many.