William Thomas Rickard VC and Arethusa Cottage

Arethusa Cottage is a private house on the edge of Pig Leg Lane. It is an unusual name for a house that commemorates a very celebrated occupant. Quartermaster William Thomas Rickard VC retired to Ryde in about 1870 and named his house after HMS Arethusa, a ship on which he served during the Crimean War.

Rickard won the Victoria Cross “for gallantry in the face of the enemy” after he took part in a raid described at the time as “one of the most hazardous deeds recorded in Naval Annals“.

On 11 October 1855 in the Sea of Azov, Crimea, Quartermaster Rickard went with Lieutenant
John Commerell of HMS Weser and seaman George Milestone to destroy large quantities of forage on the shore of the Sivash. After a difficult and dangerous journey to the Crimean shore of the Putrid Sea they reached their objective—a magazine of corn—and managed to ignite the stacks, but the guards were alerted and immediately opened fire and gave chase. The pursuit was so hot that Milestone, through fatigued, fell into the mud and could not extricate himself. Rickard, however, although he was himself exhausted, went back and assisted him. The three men finally reached their ship and later the look-outs reported that the fodder store had burned to the ground. (Taken from an account by the Historic Ryde Society)

After retiring from the navy, Rickard joined the Coastguard Service as boatman, Chief Boatman and latterly as Chief Officer of Coast Guards, retiring in about 1870. In retirement Rickard was boatman to the Ryde Rowing Club and he and his family lived at Arethusa Cottage. He had four sons and two daughters. He died on 21 February 1905 and is buried in Ryde cemetery.

Rickard is one of two people buried in Ryde Cemetery who have been awarded the Victoria Cross. His VC is on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.

The stolen ducks, 1889

This is an extract from the Isle of Wight County Press, August 31, 1889. It tells a tale that sheds a little light on the life of the Rickard family at Arethusa Cottage.

George William Bessant, 20, Sun-place, labourer, was charged with stealing four ducks and a rabbit of the value of 17s. 6d., the property of Wm. Rickard, V.C., Weeks, retired chief officer of coastguards.

Cissie Rickard, daughter of the prosecutor, said she lived with her parents at a cottage at Weeks, near the, hospital. They kept a number of fowls, ducks, and rabbits. The ducks were kept in the pigstye in the garden, the rabbits in a hutch at the bottom of the garden. On Friday night the police showed her two ducks which looked like two they had missed. Four ducks were missed altogether, two old and two young ones. Those produced were young ones. Cross-examined she could not swear to the ducks. She had not seen prisoner near the house.

Robert Jas. Rickard, son of the prosecutor, said that on Tuesday he searched the place for the ducks and rabbit, but could not find them. The hedge was broken where someone had got in. He could not swear to the ducks produced, but he was most positive that they were two of the missing birds.—Cross-examined: Believed the ducks were young ones. Had not seen prisoner near the house; he was away at work all day.

P S. Holloway said that on Tuesday he went to William Picknell, sen., Hill Street. On going into the sitting room he saw the prisoner sitting down in the back room picking one of the ducks, the other one lying by his side partly picked. Witness took the duck prisoner had in his lap into his hand, and asked how he came by it. He said he bought them, but he did not know from whom. On Wednesday, after the remand, on returning from the police-court, prosecutor was walking by witness’s side, with the prisoner. The latter said “Don’t you think you’ll have a hard job to swear to those ducks, Mr. Rickard? Have you got any mark on them?” Prosecutor did not answer.

Cross-examined: Prisoner did not say he bought the ducks of a man at the Oak corner. Prisoner now said he was standing at the top of St. John’s-road, on Tuesday, when a man came up to him and asked if he knew where he could sell two ducks. He told him he wanted 2s. for them, but he gave him 1s. 6d. Mr. Picknell did not buy them, but he let him pick them there that he might take them down to a shop and sell them. He did not know that any ducks were stolen till the sergeant came to him. Prisoner, who had been convicted of theft at Aldershot, had a certificate of discharge with ignominy from the Army as incorrigible and worthless, and had been in trouble at this court in 1886 for an assault on the police, and in 1888 for obscene language, was sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment.

The Isolation Hospital

The Notification of Infectious Diseases Act was passed in 1889 and in 1893 the Isolation Hospital Act. Both hospitals and local authorities had for a long time recognised the need for wards or separate institutions for infectious diseases and these had been provided both at Newport Infirmary and Ryde Hospital and a separate nursing staff had been appointed for these wards.

Smallpox was a serious disease that used to kill many people. Because it was so infectious, patients were taken away to a special hospital for treatment. In Ryde, the Smallpox Hospital was in Weeks, but as the town grew, it was decided to build a hospital further away. In 1885 Ryde Borough Council purchased land for an Isolation Hospital, about one acre off Rosemary Lane and there the new hospital was set up on a brick foundation. An additional strip of land was leased in 1911. The hospital came to have two buildings, the wooden one with two four-bedded wards and later a brick building for an ambulance and for disinfection equipment.

Ryde Isolation Hospital dealt with cases of scarlet fever, measles, and typhus as well as smallpox. Patients from Cowes and Newport were treated here as well, after a serious smallpox outbreak in 1919. The hospital was closed in 1934 and demolished, but you can still see garden plants and trees in the area where it once stood.

Based on A History of the Isle Of Wight Hospitals by E. F. Laidlaw

Early history of the site and its surrounds

Swanmore Meadows (now called Pig Leg Lane) sits on a river valley terrace which was used as an agricultural landscape in the Bronze Age (c. 4300 to c.2700 years ago) with nearby farmstead settlements and a ceremonial and burial landscape of cemeteries on higher ground visible from the settlement. The existence of part of this rare prehistoric landscape adjacent to the highly developed 19th Century townscape of Ryde provides the potential to help us to understand the way in which our ancestors co-existed within the natural environment of the river valley.

Swanmore Meadows was in use as a Medieval (1066 to 1485 AD) agricultural landscape and would have been used as fields associated with the nearby farmstead settlements, with a now deserted Medieval Village 500m to the east and the site of a Medieval mill only c 50m to the east. It is possible that some of the surviving field boundaries in the Swanmore Meadows site may be of Medieval (or earlier) date and they are a direct link back to the local Medieval people who would have lived in and farmed the landscape 1000 years ago.

The farmstead at Little Swanmore is thought to date back to at least the 16th Century and may be even earlier. The surviving fields at Swanmore Meadows were part of the Tudor landscape farmed by the people who lived at and worked for this historic farmstead.

The buried archaeological remains which survive at Swanmore Meadows shows how the previously unchanged prehistoric and Medieval agricultural river valley of Monkton Mead Brook was transformed by the industrial and civic processes of the 18th and 19th Centuries as the town of Ryde grew from a tiny fishing settlement to a fashionable seaside resort after Queen Victoria built her retreat at Osborne House on the Island.

Two of the Medieval fields at Swanmore were used for clay extraction including the Smallbrook Brickfields shown on 19th Century maps and it is likely that below ground features survive which can help understand the technology and industry of brickmaking for the growth and development of this part of Ryde. The 19th Century Infectious Diseases Hospital was in operation between 1885 and 1934 and may have been constructed of bricks made from the clay extracted at the brickfield sites above. More research into its operation and activities as well as excavation of the site could reveal more evidence about the building and those people who made use of it.

 Surviving upstanding earthworks are present beyond the southern boundary of the site and, together with the lack of development and disturbance of the site; their survival suggests that earthworks from all periods of the landscapes use over the last 4000 years may survive within Swanmore Meadows.