Royal Yacht Squadron. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

Sensitive staff in Cowes' famous Royal Yacht Squadron claim there's a ghost in the basement kitchen. And a second up in the clubhouse room.
Photo image of Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes. Isle of Wight.
Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes. Isle of Wight.

Ghost in the Basement.

Some Cowes paranormalists wonder if the basement kitchen ghost dressed in old-fashioned costume is the spirit of brave Humphrey Turney, the former and long-deceased castle captain who fired the first shot in the civil war of the 1600s. Still fighting for the king.

However, those more familiar with historic period costume suggest the ghost in the kitchen is from an earlier period, which might explain why it is such a dangerous and frightening presence. Makes mischief with the cutlery and chef's knives; a nightmare for conscientious staff serving the VIPs upstairs who expect first-class delivery. Some say Turney should be more helpful to those of privilege, given his political allegiance.

An invisible agent of chaos in the kitchen is not good.

Most Haunted island

War fleets in the Solent

Among the world's greatest sailing venues, Cowes Royal Yacht Squadron stands on the site of an old gun fort built during the reign of Henry VIII to guard the southern coast from hostile invasion by marauding French and Spanish adventurers.

The island always was vulnerable to invading forces, successful ones include Roman, Saxon, Viking and Norman. Those of later times, although less permanent did real damage. In 1377 a huge war fleet arrived in the Solent, roamed the coast burning and looting seaports. Ships sailed unchallenged past Cowes into Newport and destroyed the town on their way to attack Carisbrooke Castle.

1541 a bigger force arrived and again sailed past Cowes to inflict more suffering upon residents in the Isle of Wight. 1554 the French returned with a vast invasion warfleet carrying enough men and weapons to invade England.

"Gun forts!" roared King Henry apoplectic with fury on seeing his beloved warship Mary Rose, roll over and sink to the Solent seabed; to the sound of shrieking laughter. Ships sailed past Cowes and deposited their troops of soldiers deep into the island, where they pillaged and ravaged in every way they could.

International Cowes

"Water under the bridge", most now say. Cowes Week welcomes French and Spanish sailors among the world's finest yachts-people, come to mingle with incoming tides of VIP merrymakers.

Unfortunately big events are complicated by the ghost in the basement kitchens. Meanwhile, a second ghost in the clubhouse room hovers and wafts among the guests. Those who glimpsed long enough describe a woman of upright bearing. Her effect upon the living seems less disruptive, but an air of gloom accompanies her passing. No one knows who she might be.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

Illustration of Cowes Castle from the west.
Cowes Castle from the west.

The Story of Cowes

14th century. Three ports of the island were La Riche (Ryde), Shamlord (Cowes), and Eremue (Yarmouth).

The first mention of Cowes is in a Commission, dated April 8 1512, to Admiral Sir Edward Haward, commander of the fleet against the King of France bound for Guienne, to resupply food, water and ammunition at "the Cowe, betwixt the Isle of Wight and England."

Leland, 16th century topographer mentions defences at West and East Cowes:

"...ther be two new castelles sette up and furnishid at the mouth of Newporte; that is the only haven in Wighte to be spoken of. That that is sette up on the este side of the havin is caullid the Est Cow; and that that is sette up at the west syde is caullid the West Cow, and is the bigger castelle of the two;"

The fortification at East Cowes was demolished early in the 18th century.

Illustration of Tudor gun forts in action; the fleet includes the warship Mary Rose.
Tudor gun forts in action; the fleet includes the warship Mary Rose.

Story of Cowes Castle

Cowes harbour offered services for shipping of all kinds. Even in the reign of Elizabeth I, Cowes was the chief port of the Island.

The original castle was probably the usual circular fort of the period, consisting of two stages or platforms for guns. The right and left of this tower were wing buildings armed with three guns apiece, while in front of it, towards the sea, was a barbican mounting six pieces of ordnance: in the main tower itself were eight cannon of different calibre. Source Stone's Architectural Antiquities.

Henry VIII appointed a captain, two soldiers, six gunners, and a porter. However it was no foreign force which defeated the castle's garrison crew. Early during the increasing hostilities of the mid 1600s between Parliament and King Charles, Parliament ordered a blockade of Portsmouth harbour, still loyal to the king. One of the blockading ships - the Lion - stnding off Cowes, fired at two island boats bound for Portsmouth.

Furious royalist Captain Turney ordered his gunners to blast the Lion. In response the Lion's captain Dick stormed ashore, arrested Cowes Castle's captain and seized the gun fort in the name of Parliament.

During the Commonwealth the castle was used as a prison, and one celebrity confined here, Sir William D’Avenant, godson of William Shakespeare. A poet, soldier and dramatist, he was captured on his way to the plantations of Virginia by Parliamentary warships, and brought prisoner to England. From Cowes Castle he dated his epic poem "Gondibert".

Some Squadron staff wonder if this frustrated poet is the kitchen ghost.

Remodelled in the 18th century; the main tower demolished or cut in half and a square-ended building tacked on to the north front. A few years later, wings to the east and west were added.

Image of base plan Cowes Castle, Isle of Wight, source Stone's Architectural Antiquities of the Isle of Wight
Base plan Cowes Castle, Isle of Wight, source Stone's Architectural Antiquities of the Isle of Wight

The Royal Yacht Squadron

For centuries since the construction of the gun fort Cowes played a vital part in the defence of this nation and Britain's seafaring fortunes; ship-building and sail-making brought great fame and prosperity to the island and even long after a vessel was launched, popping corks and good cheer continued.

Superior gun fortifications built further west and east provided greater protection from enemy ships entering the Solent. In 1855 Cowes castle was decommissioned as no practical use in defence. Commissioners of the Inland Revenue offered lease of the castle to the Marquis of Conyngham, who in turn offered it to the Royal Yacht Club. They raised money for a rebuild and refurbishment.

"This conversion practically destroyed every vestige of the ancient structure," said architectural historian Percy Stone, "except the semicircular platform towards the sea."

Upstairs Downstairs Ghosts

The structure may be missing, but a ghost from long ago remains. Its presence in the basement and period costume suggests someone from way back when the fort was built. Which may explain why the ghost is more hindrance than help during big VIP events.

Sensitive guests suspect their supernatural interloper upstairs in the clubhouse probably came later.

Thank you for your company on this short tour of Isle of Wight mysteries and haunting. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations in Cowes and other rogues and royals, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Book cover link to purchase Ghost Encounters Royals and Rogues.
Now available from Amazon in ebook or print.
Related links

Cowes Castle

Sir William D'Avenant

Royal Yacht Squadron