William & Betsey White appear in the 1841 census as living in Medina Road Cowes, he is shown as a Brass & Iron Founder - he being born in Greenham Berkshire and she in Southampton. In 1851 they are living in Foundry House, Medina Road. He sons, Arthur and Edwin followed in the foundry trade. Later their residence was given as Highclere Villa, Mill Hill Road.
In an 1878 directory, William is shown as being at the Vectis Iron Works in Medina Road and is listed as being (amongst other things), 'steam launch engine makers'. In the same year (1878) William and his sons purchased the Shipbuilding Yard from Michael Edward Ratsey at the Vectis Works, 128 High Street,West, Cowes (at the bottom of Shooters Hill) and were trading as W. White and Sons.
In 1890, the W. White and Sons partnership between Arthur and Edwin (William appears to have left the business at this point) was dissolved and Edwin continued alone trading as W. White and Sons at the Vectis Works and Shipbuilding Yard West, Cowes.
The 1891 census shows Arthur ‘living on own means’ in Cowes with his sons Arthur Reginald (Marine engineer, draughtsman), Harold Edgar ( Marine engineer, Fitter), Wellesley Bates (Joiner) - his son Herbert William, who would later become a well known yacht designer, was not at home. Sometime during the early 1890’s, Arthur and his family moved to Southampton where White Brothers established a new works at Itchen Ferry.
In 1896 W. White & Sons built a chain ferry for use as the floating bridge between East and West Cowes, this was de-commissioned in 1925 when it was sold to Uffa Fox who used it as a home and workshop - moving it up and down the river Medina for a number of years. In about 1902, W. White & Sons supplied and fitted a new boiler to the old 1882 chain ferry which was being used as a relief vessel when required; this ferry was sold in 1909 and the boiler was transferred to the 1896 ferry. W. White & Sons also built the 1909 Cowes chain ferry which was the first to have electric lighting; pictures of these three vessels can be found on our Cowes-river page. J.S. White Ltd built the 1936 chain ferry - often these ferries are described as being built by 'Whites', which just leads to confusion !
Edwin continued trading into the 20th century, the 1901 census shows him as an 'Engineer & Yacht builder – employer', living in Percy Villa, Mill Hill Road with his family including sons Alfred (ship builder) and Frank (engineer, draughtsman). Edwin died in 1915 and his sons continued the business.
Alfred died in 1929 and in the 1930's, the Vectis Works was sold to Groves & Guttridge - more recently it has been transformed into Cowes Yacht Haven.