The history of Alexandra House, Birmingham Road, Cowes

This iconic Cowes building is Alexandra House, 19 Birmingham Road. Until quite recently it has been empty and boarded up. Still empty, this is how it now looks with the stonework cleaned and new railings.

The building was originally built as a Wesleyan Methodist church in 1831. As the congregation grew quickly, a year later in 1832, the church was enlarged with side galleries and a new organ, and in 1849, a large vestry was added. Sunday school was held in a large hall at the rear of the building.

In 1901 a new Wesleyan church was built almost opposite this building, the Victoria Wesleyan Church (see older drawing on Instagram) and this church (Alexandra House) was sold privately. At first it became offices for Samuel Saunders, a boat builder who moved from Goring on Thames. By 1911 he had moved the business and his family to east Cowes. Saunders designed and built what may have been he first amphibious flying boat and built over 150 boats including 30 lifeboats for the RNLI, as well as building the speedboat ‘Miss England’ which was driven by Henry Seagrave in the world motorboat championships. Shortly after Saunders moved to Alexandra House, a, ‘daring robbery of jewellery occurred at Alexandra House’. Diamond bracelets, brooches, necklaces, pearls and ruby jewellery valuing £2,000 were stollen. It must have been a significant theft of the time as it was reported in newspapers nationwide.

After Saunder’s departure, the building became Alexandra Hall, and up until WWII was used by Cowes Amateur Operatic and Dramatics Society which held operatic shows, recitals, concerts, horticultural shows, dances and professional boxing.

From 1940 it was used by GS Whites and Ratseys boat builders principally for lofting.

In 1985 Thomas Wilks of The Rover Car Company purchased the property and converted it into a dwelling. Having been sold a few years ago, it is currently being renovated.

Please read more about the history of Cowes buildings with more illustrations on our page Cowes History.

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