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The village of Bembridge lies in the south-east corner of the island, a quiet, restful place amid much natural beauty, the sea, a harbour, and the downs. It has a school founded in our own time by Mr Howard Whitehouse and most deservedly famous already, built on the cliffs a mile or tw o from the village. Its handsome buildings are spread over extensive grounds, and the chapel is remarkably beautiful, with an impressive tower which is an island landmark.
Mr Whitehouse, founder and first warden of Bembridge, has infused into the atmosphere of the school the spirit of two of the noblest men of his time. He knew John Ruskin and has preserved for the nation his home on Lake Coniston. He knew Dr Nansen and sent out his boys to Oslo to pay homage to him. They made a model six feet square illustrating Nansen's journey Farthest North. Round the margins were models of the Fram and of many of the accessories Nansen took with him.
As for John Ruskin, the founder has built up an association from which the school cannot escape, for in the grounds are the Ruskin Galleries, housed in a building of great beauty, and containing a unique collection of pictures, 300 of them original drawings by Ruskin in water colour, pen, and pencil. It is the most important collection of his drawings in existence, and includes many of the original plates for his books. The collection also includes works by artists associated with Ruskin, among them Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Walter Crane, T. M. Rooke, and Arthur Severn.
Near Bembridge School is the great Culver cliff, a natural sanctuary for wild sea birds, and notable in literary history, for our poet Swinburne knew it and loved it, and as a boy climbed its precipitous slopes.
Bembridge Windmill is a stone tower mill with a wooden cap. It was built about 1700, and was in use until 1913. Now the last windmill left in the Island, it was given in 1961 to the National Trust. It is open every day in the summer.
The small Brading Harbour is said to come into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with the description of one of Alfred's naval battles. Danish pirate ships were constantly appearing off the coast, and it was to deal with these that Alfred turned shipbuilder. His ships were twice as long as the Danish; some had 60 oars, some more. What may have been the first British naval battle is described with much detail in the Chronicle under the year AD 896. The pirate fleet had been plundering along the South Coast, and had taken refuge in some land-locked harbour of the Isle of Wight. Alfred's new ships besieged the Danes. At low water the opposing crews fought on the sands; but before the battle could be decided the tide turned, and the sands which had witnessed the fight were covered with the incoming waters. One by one the boats righted themselves and were once more afloat; but the Danish boats, being smaller, were able to get out of the harbour first. Two of them were wrecked before they passed the cliffs of Beachy Head, and the crews were captured and brought before the King at Winchester. It is sad to read that Alfred ordered them to be hanged, an unusual decision, for he was truly merciful.
Here come all the best and most beautiful yachts afloat to strive against each other. It is the home of the most famous yacht club in the world, the Royal Yacht Squadron. It is a delightful picture as we approach it from the sea, with the houses coming almost to the water's edge. The sound of 22 little cannon starts the races and welcomes the visitors; they are the only ornament on the curved platform in West Cowes where the Royal Yacht Squadron building stands.