Newtown is a small hamlet in the West Wight.
Newtown is located on the large natural harbour on the Island's north-western coast, now mostly a Nature Reserve owned and managed by the National Trust.
The town was originally called Francheville (i.e., Freetown), and only later was it renamed Newtown. It probably was founded before the Norman Conquest. There is some indication that it was attacked by the Danes in 1001., it might have suffered from competition from Yarmouth, Newport and Southampton. In 1284 the village was somewhat reluctantly given to Edward 1st. Apparently there were some 60 families living in Newtown at the start of the 14th century.
By the mid 14th century, it was slowly starting to mature into a thriving commercial center. In 1344, it was assessed at twice the value of Newport. Its harbor was busy and reputed to be the safest on the island. There was a prosperous saltworks and Newtown was famous for its abundant oyster beds. There was an annual three day festival on the "eve, the day and the morrow of the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen", who was honored in the name of the local thirteenth-century chapel. Then the plague struck, and a French raid in 1377 destroyed much of the town as well as other Island settlements. It has never fully recovered from this blow.
By the middle of the 16th century it was a small settlement long eclipsed by the more easily defended town of Newport. A survey in 1559 noted that Newtown no longer had a market and it did not have a single good house still standing. Its harbor slowly became clogged with silt so that it was not accessible to larger vessels.
Elizabeth 1st breathed some life into the town in 1584 by awarding it two parliamentary seats. A town hall was built in the 17th century. However, these two parliamentary seats ultimately made it one of the most notorious of the rotten boroughs, common in the UK before reforms in the 19th century. By the time of the reforms that abolished the seats, a survey pointed out that Newtown had just fourteen houses and twenty-three voters. Much larger municipal areas with many more voters had less representation.
Newtown Town Hall was restored in 1813, and again in the 1930s. It is now open to the public.
The Newtown Arms Inn was closed in 1916. It was in an unusually shaped building locally referred to as "Noah's Ark."
Newtown has stayed small, but this has led to the preservation of the original medieval layout of the village, to the interests of historians, it can be seen from the air. There are also two square ponds by the boathouse which were dug as part of a salt industry that used to exist in Newtown.
There are stories of a pied piper who was hired to save Newtown from an excess of rats for 50 pounds He played his pipe and led the rats out into the Solent where they drowned. The townspeople refused to pay the agreed upon price, and gave the piper only 20 pounds. At this, the piper played his pipe and led the children of the village away. The village lost an entire generation, so it had no young people to defend the town when the French attacked in 1377, leading to its destruction.
There is a lovely nature reserve which is a valuablebreeding ground for endangered animals and nearby Corf Camp.