HERE, we shine a spotlight on one of the Isle of Wight's "unsung heroes", Walter Sibbick.

He joined the County Press in 1902 as an office clerk, became editor in 1945, and retired in 1960.

During that time, and beyond, he also contributed his wonderful Vectensis column.

Under that penname, he contributed literally thousands of articles covering all aspects of rural life on the Island from A to Z.

Unimpressed by circumstances of birth, Vectensis was just as likely to include a generous obit of a hurdle-maker living in the woods as he was to cover the death of a member of the Island establishment.

His articles remain an undiscovered treasure trove of information about our Island and deserve a book of their own

Isle of Wight County Press: The Hunny Hill tollgate being demolished in the early 1960s.The Hunny Hill tollgate being demolished in the early 1960s. (Image: County Press)

In 1925, Vectensis/Sibbick writes: “A local fisherman, Mr F. Bastiani, informs me that crabs, if removed from their accustomed feeding place and dropped in the water many miles away, will quickly find their way back.

“On one occasion he caught crabs at Niton, marked them, and dropped them at Freshwater, and in a day or two caught them again at Niton.”

Is that right? Can any reader confirm the truth or otherwise of that story?

In 1940, some jokes lifted the wartime gloom: “Neighbour: How many controls are there on your new radio set?

“Owner: Well, let me see, there's my mother-in-law, my wife, and my daughter.

“Admiring a big gathering, a speaker said boldly: Gentlemen, I have been born an Englishman. I have lived an Englishman, and I hope I may die an Englishman.

“A Scotsman in the audience retorted: "Mon, hae ye no ambition?”

In 1952: “Overheard at Sandown Zoo: Daddy, If that lion got out and ate you, what number bus would I have to catch to get home?”

Sibbick was a prolific source of local history, such as this, in 1958: “Mr Edwin Holbrook, of Bethel Cottage, Porchfield, is 85 but has a very good memory.

Isle of Wight County Press: The globe on Cowes Parade the morning after the 1876 tornado.The globe on Cowes Parade the morning after the 1876 tornado. (Image: County Press)

“All the water mills around the town in 1870s were working.

“After harvest and gleaning in the fields I remember helping my mother carry the wheat to Town Gate Mill to be ground into flour.

“Mr. Ballard was a baker near the Trooper's Inn close by, and he used to send bread to Porchfield once a week in the miller’s wagon.

“At every entrance to Newport there were toll gates, with one at the top of Hunnyhill.

“The farmers strongly objected to paying toll and one day a farmer sent his carter with a load of corn for the mill and told his carter not to pay toll under any circumstances, and if the gate was closed against him he was to put a chain on it and rip it out of the way.

“The gate was closed so the carter hitched the horses on to it and smashed it to matchwood."

In his column in January 1958, Sibbick demolished a piece of Island folklore.

“Some of my readers were surprised to see in Saturday’s Daily Express, in an article dealing with redundancy in the Saunders-Roe factories, that Islanders are known as corkheads.

“The term calf has long been in common usage, but this is the first time I have encountered corkhead.”

Sibbick was an acknowledged expert in Island traditions and folklore.

If he had never heard the word corkhead prior to that date, then the word is nothing more than a 1950s invention.

A word search for corkhead, or caulkhead on the County Press archive website from 1884 to 1958, backs him up – the word is nowhere to be found.

In February 1958, Vectensis wrote: “My reference to the Cowes tornado last week has brought me a contemporary account of the storm in a cutting from The Graphic of October 7, 1876.

“The first indication of the calamity was the appearance of great numbers of birds flying about in alarm.

“Then at about 8.30am there came a violent, rushing wind, about 100 feet in width, which lasted only a few seconds but in that short time it accomplished an almost incredible amount of destruction.

“Houses were unroofed or blown down, trees torn up, and the air was thick with flying slates and branches.

“At Cowes, the railway station was wrecked and many carriages damaged.

“The Globe and Marine hotels were almost demolished and the whole town suffered very severely.

“The town appeared as if it had undergone a bombardment."

In 1961, Vectensis came face to face with the future.

"Last week I made my first close acquaintance with a combine-harvester when I watched Mr Scott Blake and his men cutting a field of barley at Blackwater.

“My mind went back to my boyhood when I was thrilled to lead the 'trace-hoss' while the sheaves were loaded on the wagon; or when the mowers, wielding their scythes with a regular swish, laid the cut corn in neat swathes, and at intervals stopped at the cry of "Whet!" to draw their whetstones and strike a sweet-ringing note as they sharpened their blades.

“Today's changes left me with a nostalgia for the more peaceful, more musical harvesting of yore."