In the 18th century the Chine was a rough walk for the intrepid but the few who struggled as far as the waterfall were deeply impressed by its beauty and grandeur. Reference is made to early efforts to ‘open the Chine up’ and there were certainly steps at the bottom that were used by excise officers on horseback.
Jane Austen writing in June 1813 said, “we hired a Sociable and drove round… Shanklin Chine, lovely.”
However, it was not until 1817, when a William Colenutt excavated the present path and opened it to the public, that the Chine began to attract increasing interest. It is not known what he charged but visitors were expected to contribute 6d (2.5p) in 1873. Amazingly, it remained at this figure until 1958.
Keats, too, found inspiration for some of his greatest poetry while staying at Shanklin in 1819… “The wondrous Chine here is a very great lion; I wish I had as many guineas as there have been spyglasses in it.”
The Chine was and remained for some time a favourite smugglers’ haunt and a tunnel led from the Chine Inn into the Old Village. In fact, smuggling was so prevalent that excise officers were based in the Old Village until the Watch House near the Chine was built in 1820.
The Chine was also a favourite subject for artists including Thomas Rowlandson and Samuel Howitt. The Island’s George Brannon, who rented a cottage on the estate, dedicated many of his engravings of the Chine to the owner, Mrs Walton White.
Victorian literary figures – among them, George Eliot, Macaulay, Dickens and Longfellow – were great admirers of the Chine. With the arrival of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Osborne, Shanklin became a fashionable watering place, much frequented by European Royalty. The Chine was ‘a must’ on every Victorian itinerary and contemporary descriptions abound in such phrases as “terrifically sublime” and “savagely grand”.
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