Ye Kynges Towne – so-called because in 1280, King Edward I granted the town its first Charter, of Bradynge (Brading) – has a rich history weaving its way through the centuries.
The Roman Villa south of the town, as well as the numerous relics of the occupational period discovered hereabouts, indicate that this was a seaport of some note nearly 2,000 years ago.
Some authorities even maintain that the road past the vicarage to the old quay once formed part of the track from distant Cornwall, and was in use in prehistoric times for the shipping of tin.
In Mediaeval times, the town had a Mayor and Corporation, and returned two members to Parliament. In the days when much of the 700 acres of fertile meadowland, between this town on its limestone hillside and the open sea, was below the waters of the harbour, Brading undoubtedly ranked as an important Island port.
In 1835, these civic officers were assisted by two Justices two Constables, a Steward, deputy Steward and a Hayward.
The duty of the Bailiffs, who composed the working body of the Corporation, was to keep records, give orders to the Constables and to receive all revenues and make all payments due from the Corporation.
It received and paid fee farm rents, had the power to tax the inhabitants of the town and to exclude traders, except on the payment of a fine or rent. During this period, the Justices appeared to have no powers except for being in attendance at the meetings where the Bailiffs and Constables were elected. The Constables being the ones who managed the town lock-up and stocks.
After the Municipal corporation Act of 1883, Brading was practically stripped of all its ancient honours and privileges, resulting in the Corporation of Brading being dissolved.
As a result of this dissolution, nine prominent business people were elected in 1898 to administer the affairs of the Borough property and so the Town Trust came into being.
In 1902 the quaint old Maltings by the Bullring was pulled down and a new Town Hall erected on the site which was opened the following year by Lady Oglander. The Old Town Hall became a museum.
According to the diaries of Sir John Oglander, the Governor of the Isle of Wight would donate five guineas for the purchase of the bull to be baited; the meat was afterwards donated to the poor of the town.
The Mayor always attended this ceremony and Corporation in full regalia and a dog known as the Mayor’s Dog, would be decked with coloured ribbons and set on the bull after the proclamation had been made. No doubt a free and gory spectacle for the townsfolk.
Brading Harbour provides a reminder that until 1881, cargo-carrying ships navigated their way up to Brading harbour, where the traces of a quay are still visible. The oldest signs of organised use of the harbour is the site of the Roman Villa, half a mile to the south. It takes but little imagination to visualise the Roman triremes and quiremes, together with supply vessels, drawn up in the harbour quite close to the Villa.
Vespasian, later one of the ‘good’ Roman Emperors, was almost certainly responsible for the building of the Villa during or after his subjugation of Southern England as Brigadier in charge of the 2nd Legion Augusta, which swept through Southern England – and as far as Caerleon-on-Usk in South Wales. In the 1640s, King Charles I landed in this area. It is believed he visited the Bugle Inn, and he certainly stayed at Nunwell House the night before being taken to Carisbrooke Castle and then to London to be beheaded. Smuggling was very prevalent in the village because of the easy access to the sea. The upper rooms in The Bugle (said to have been built in 1314) and other houses in the High Street, provided good look-out points for smugglers to signal to ships and crews hovering around the harbour waiting to get rid of their ill-gotten gains, especially in the 18th century.
Brading Haven (now wrongly known as Bembridge Harbour) and the River Yar virtually isolated the most easterly part of the Island. In the 13th century William Russell, the Lord of the nearby manor of Yaverland, had to build a causeway to his house across the marshes. It is thought that this part of the Island was once entirely separate (Yar Island). Today the area between Sandown and Brading is still liable to flooding as a result of prolonged rain fall.
Brading reached the height of its prosperity as a market town and port in the reign of Elizabeth I, and declined during the reign of James I.
Probably the main reason for its decline was the development of what was then known as Newport Haven – the Cowes Estuary.
This was furnished with forts at East and West Cowes and was therefore more easily defended. Although attempts were made to fortify Brading Harbour the growth of Newport outstripped all attempts to keep Brading prosperous.
In 1620 Sir Bevis Thelwell, joined forces with Sir Hugh Myddleton, in an attempt to reclaim the land between Brading and the sea. By constructing an embankment of clay and stones they effectively drained more than 700 acres of the land, but unfortunately the soil quality proved unsuitable to grow anything but rape seed.
With Sir Bevis now busy with court life in London, Sir Hugh abandoned the project, leaving the management of the new land to a keeper, Andrew Ripley.
During the work a pile-driver and a horse and cart were swallowed up by the excavations, and presumably their remains still lie beneath the ground. The scheme to reclaim the land was said to have cost £420,000 and contributed to the bankruptcy and imprisonment of its backer, Jerez Balfour.
To be found in the churchyard is the old gun shed used to house the Parish Gun. The shed was restored in 1983 with funds provided by the local council and two late residents of the parish.
The Parish Gun bears the inscription:- ‘John & Robert Qwine’ brethren, made this Pease 1549, Breardynge, having been presented to the Late Sir Henry Oglander, bart’. The gun was used to defend the Island and was positioned on Culver Down as the Spanish Armada sailed past the Island in 1588. It also formed part of the defences against Napoleon.
“Ye Gunne” 5 – 6 feet in length and set on a wooden base, was last fired in 1832 on Brading Down, when the local inhabitants fired a salute at the passing of the Great Reform Bill. Unfortunately the gun did not approve, for it burst! In about 1950 the gun was stolen and then subsequently purchased from a London auction by a publican from Kent. It was returned and is now housed on the Oglander estate at Nunwell (The Town Trust hope to soon be in the position to be able to keep it in the Old Town Hall building).
We have no record of the date of the earliest Town Hall, but an entry in The Court Leet Book 1729 refers to the assessment of one shilling rate, and also a subscription towards building a new Town Hall, Market House and Prison. In 1730, an extra threepence was added to the rate for the Town Hall. This new building remained until 1876 when it was restored to its present state, and then contained the Free Town Library. Before the building of the first school in 1823, the children were taught in the Town Hall, and it was also used for the Mothers’ Meetings. Brading was formerly the testing place for weights and measures for all East Wight, and these standards are still kept in the upper building together with the town charter.
The Old Town Hall now a museum, housing among other relics and artefacts:- chattels and documents of the town, the two Constables Halberds two brass scales, six brass bell weights, two brass gauges, a nest of brass weights, two plated candlesticks, standard for ell and yard measures, charter or grant Edward VI of markets and fairs, Town Arms, ancient custom of the Town 1547, a Bible, old leases, a book of stamps, a law book, book for the jurisdiction of the leet, a mediaeval Charter allowing two fairs a year to be held, an Act of Parliament and the ancient seal of The Kynges Town of Brading.
At the far end of the churchyard lies the old animal pound, built up about 200 years ago to enclose straying animals that might damage growing crops. A fine had to be paid to reclaim the animal; anything between one shilling and five shillings was charged (5p to 25p). A very heavy cost to the owner – but a good deterrent for careless husbandry!