to Isle of Wight History Centre Archive of Monthly News Items
As previously featured in the History Centre

January 2019

January 2019
When planning permission was passed for the Vestas plant at Dodnor in 2009, a strip of land next to the mill pond was preserved for largely environmental reasons. It also contained the last dilapidated remains of part of the once great cement works that had occupied the site from the 1840s. Few would have anticipated these remains would become the basis of one of the Island's most innovative archaeological projects, reveal a range of Victorian technologies and generate a social record of hundreds of lives that had evolved around the works.
   Although a few local enthusiasts had established the remains on the Local List, it suffered years of neglect and became heavily overgrown. A renewed interest in the site arose in 2016 with the publication of Alan Dinnis's book 'West Medina Cement Mill', which provided a comprehensive history of the technological and commercial development of what had been one of the largest Island employers. The Gift to Nature organisation had taken over stewardship of the site from the council and saw a renovation of the remains as an opportunity for a heritage funded project. Thus an archaeological exercise became an important part of the Dodnor Rediscovered project
  Comprehensive excavations would not have been possible without a good deal of labour. The organisers and the appointed archaeologist, Ruth Waller, decided to approach the project as a community exercise, and this was no doubt also a key to lottery funding. The community involvement was probably more successful than anybody had anticipated, with around 50 volunteers involved at one time or another. Virtually all the excavations covered in the archaeology report were carried out by volunteers, together with some of the interpretations, guided by Ruth Waller.
  The excavations involved 11 trenches. They had been selected to provide an insight into the design and production method of each structure and uncover any allied operations. What emerged was a site that encompassed the earliest bottle kiln technology to the more advanced chamber kiln system, including what appears to be experimental methods. The features exposed in this one site epitomise the drive for new ideas that swept through the industry from the 1860s. The report therefore makes an important contribution to industrial archaeology.
  The excavations were full of surprises, not least the unusual underfloor heating and ducting that constitutes the bed of the main east-west structure. It had always been thought of as a chamber kiln and this remains a strong possibility, although more recent research offers alternatives. It now looks as if the answer to this mystery lies not within the structure itself but the chronology and layout of the surrounding features, and that analysis has yet to be done.
  Cement manufacturing was among the most labour intensive industries, particularly in the Victorian era. The bulk of the manual work involved the manoeuvring of heavy materials, so it was hard graft, and the pay was at a lower end of the industrial scale. The Medina Cement works nevertheless provided secure employment for many, and although operating under a strict discipline, seems to have encouraged a degree of social cohesion amongst the workforce.
  In conjunction with the archaeology, a group of volunteers carried out a project creating a Social History Report, recording the people who's lives evolved around the Dodnor works. The starting point was Alan Dinnis's book, which had already put names and faces to many who had played their part in a successful works, based on his own family history research.
  The project team researched censuses, burial records, newspaper articles and other sources, together with the oral records of people with family connections to the site. The result is a report providing extraordinary detail, including the names of hundreds of people who had a connection to the site, in some cases families who retained an involvement through generations. It is an exceptional historical document.

The archaeology and social history reports are PDF files.
Social history

Dodnor excavations
Some of the archaeology exposed at Dodnor