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

July - September 2013


July 2013
NEW COUNCIL TO RECONSIDER THE GUILDHALL PROJECT
The election of a new Independent Council fell in the middle of a heritage review, at the heart of which was a proposal to move the Record Office into Newport Guildhall. The new authority confirms a commitment to retaining all records on the Island but declines to automatically support plans proposed by the previous cabinet.
  The issue of the Record Office, the county records and a possible one-stop heritage centre is one of the council's longest running sagas. Back in 2007, the problem of being unable to retain the official county records within acceptable environmental standards prompted proposals for a new heritage centre. Much research and public surveying was done and, for a while, Nodehill School was earmarked for the project. The concept gradually lost impetus through the general indifference of councillors. The problem of the National Archives removing county records from the Island remained but, with arrival of the financial crisis, a solution seemed even more remote.
  In 2012 the council suggested Newport Guildhall might be sold off as part of their cost saving measures. This prompted a public outcry and suddenly historical preservation was on the agenda. Councillors who previously had little to say on the subject found themselves obliged to publicly intone the importance of heritage. A new imperative gave rise to the idea of killing two birds with one stone by moving the Record Office into the guildhall, something that could have been considered anytime in the past. The concept was greeted with general public approval.
  By the time of the election, the council cabinet had tentatively approved a 7m proposal to adapt the guildhall to take the records currently stored at Hillside, 3.5m of which was to be met by grants. The next stage would have been consideration of firm, detailed estimates from officers. We will never know whether the cabinet would have stuck to their proposals, although, given the cost, the plan may well have been watered down.
  It seems the new council want to review the matter before committing themselves to such expenditure. The councillor now with responsibility for heritage is Roger Whitby-Smith. In confirming the intention to retain records on the Island, he says "There are options of how this will be done and it is intended to address the subject more fully when we are able to, as soon as the budget for the next year becomes clear. The Council budget will be substantially reduced across the board in line with central Government directives and the decisions that are taken must therefore be innovative and flexible, particularly in such areas as Heritage".
  Cllr Whitby-Smith is a known enthusiast for Island history, so it might be regarded as being in safe hands. Nevertheless it looks as if the matter is going to drift along without a solution for a while yet. Whilst the guildhall proposal met with general public approval, it was not universally welcomed. The guildhall may be an important historic building but a few felt it was too municipal and uninviting to revitalise an interest in local history: a view borne out by past attendance figures for the existing museum.




August 2013
PROGRESS TOWARDS HAMMERHEAD CRANE REPAIRS
At the end of 2011, much publicity surrounded the dispute between English Heritage and the council over the council's refusal to issue an Urgent Works Notice for crane repairs. Since then, English Heritage have made further proposals to overcome the council's objections, with some success.
  The crane was declared to be at risk and in need of urgent repairs. The council had refused to issue the Urgent Works Notice on the grounds it couldn't afford the expense, even though English Heritage was prepared to grant 80% of the cost of works. However, as our report of December 2011 showed, there were other factors at play.
  The 80% figure was the limit within English Heritage's own guidelines. They have since adopted special measures in order to offer the full cost of works, thereby overcoming the council's stated objection. They have also assisted the council in raising the paperwork. It is thought the work will cost around 90,000.
  The Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust carried out the groundwork, detailing repairs required and seeking out Island contractors able to do the work. This leaves the council with the job of formally requesting quotations and issuing the Urgent Works Notice. However, a delay in this process is now giving concern that the work will not be carried out before winter sets in, as originally planned. The problem rests with the Conservation Department. It would seem they have given the matter a low prioriy, although it is not clear at what level this decision has been taken. It is generally assumed the new independent council is more 'heritage friendly' than its predecessor, so help from councillors is now being sought to speed things up.
  The long term future of the crane became brighter when the developer's newly appointed architects carried out community consultations on the overall development of the site. There was a majority in favour of retaining the crane and it featured in the resultant sketched out plans. Its retention and renovation was partly encouraged by an alternative cost of 750,000 just to take it down. Unfortunately the development is a complex project, with concerns about its overall profitability and many issues to be resolved, so it will be probably be years before it comes to fruition. Keeping the crane in a viable condition until that time remains a concern for interested parties.



September 2013
ROMAN VILLA HOUSING PROPOSAL DRAWS
ATTENTION TO PREHISTORIC SURROUNDINGS
The recent proposal for 25 houses to be built on land near Brading Roman Villa has highlighted the fact that the villa occupies only a small proportion of a far ranging site of potential archaeological importance, some of which may lie under the proposed site
  There has already been extensive geophysical surveys of lands around the villa, although they may not have covered the area planned for the housing. The most recent survey used a caesium magnetometer to expand coverage into the wider landscape. The surveys have shown an extensive range of anomalies. The numerous features are thought to point to a long standing occupation on the site prior to the establishment of the villa, dating from possible Bronze Age to first century Roman. The full scale of the area showing anomalies can be seen on the image below. The features extend right up to the bordering infrastructure and may continue beneath it.
  Many of the features are assessed as enclosure or boundary ditches, perhaps associated with the villa farm or previous Iron Age activity. Other items are more intriguing and include possible furnaces and funerary features, together with the kind of polygon shapes which can be associated with structures. There has even been speculation that anomalies towards the estuary could indicate Roman defences. There have been little or no military finds at the villa, or anywhere else on the Island, but a temporary fort at the point of conquest landings may have left few scattered artefacts beyond its confines.
  The housing proposal is likely to be controversial. Some may see it as visually incompatible with a historic environment. Others may relish the thought that the development will generate some archaeology, for it's unlikely to get planning permission without an extensive excavation of the planned site. It is perhaps inevitable that a spectacular site like the villa is seen by many as a self contained historical showpiece, whereas archaeologists also see it as part of a complex series of developments which have yet to be revealed.