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

July-September 2003

July 2003
After years of being overshadowed by Roman glamour, the Island's Iron Age period is set for some intensive archaeology. Addressing local history society representatives in June, County Archaeologist Ruth Waller announced her plan to concentrate on Iron Age features in reopening Yaverland's 'Time Team' site, in particular to ascertain whether it was once a hill fort
  For years it has been claimed there was little Iron Age activity on the Island, largely due to an apparent absence of any comprehensive earthworks or settlements. Some felt this conclusion was rather casual and might have more to do with a failure to extend excavation of known sites. A plan to investigate the Yaverland site for the specific purpose of uncovering features from this period is probably the first substantial piece of proactive Iron Age archaeology the Island has seen.
  Island people encountered by arriving Romans were not quite so primitive as is frequently imagined. The widespread existence of local industrially produced pottery and regular trading in overseas goods suggests a degree of civilised organisation had already been established.
  Iron Age post holes and pottery found at Yaverland certainly point to a possible settlement. But the big question is was the site a hill fort? The Time Team TV programme concentrated on Roman finds but the most dramatic discovery was the cross section of an enormous ditch with smaller outer ditches. If these ditches surround the hill it would represent a major defensive earthwork. Unlike most hill forts, the Yaverland site has no visible profile to hint at a ditch and rampart system. This may be due to soil washing down the hill over hundreds of years or even an intentional destruction.
  A hill fort would force a complete reappraisal of the Island's Iron Age and, if such a large earthwork can be hidden under a featureless field, it will raise the prospect of similar sites as yet undiscovered.

The featureless Yaverland field

Exposed ditch

Iron Age hill fort
Site location map

August 2003
chamber1     chamber2
Located in the front garden of Cliff Farm, this feature was previously assumed to be an ice house. Recent investigation now suggests it is something quite different but there is no obvious explanation as to what its purpose was.
  The chamber is built of brick and stone and around 3.5 metres long. The bricks appear to be 18th century but they could have been re-used from another building. The feature is peculiar in that the length suggested by the mound above ground is longer than the internal chamber. Moreover the rear wall seems to be on the outside of the chamber rather than an integral part of the structure. All this implies there could be something beyond the back of the chamber.
  There have been various suggestions as to its purpose, all of which have drawbacks. It might have been a store for farm produce but the back wall is very damp and would not create ideal conditions for most products. The dampness of the rear wall could indicate it's the face of a cistern, perhaps to collect rainwater, but why build a chamber in front of a cistern? The is no evidence of firing in the chamber, ruling out a kiln of some sort. Inexplicable features on farms are not uncommon and could relate to obscure practices long forgotten.
  The owners have given permission for a detailed survey and some excavation of the site. In the meantime we invite anyone who may have seen a similar structure elsewhere, or recognises its purpose, to contact the IW History Centre.
Site location map

September 2003
Research among 19th century patents has revealed it was a Ryde man who invented the classic tin opener: a basic design which has since generated many variants.
tin opener
  It is not always the big inventions that cause the greatest changes in our lives and, yes, canned food was around long before the tin opener. For decades the instructions for opening cans involved a hammer and chisel. The process of preserving food in cans was developed early in the 19th century but initially they were handmade of wrought iron. By the middle of the century lighter materials had speeded up production but it was not until the 1880s that the first automatic can-making machinery was introduced in Britain. Lighter materials also created the opportunity for a tin opening device.
  In 1881 Henry Knight patented his tin opener, a design which has probably opened more tins (and caused more cut fingers) than any other. He was the owner of the Arcade in Union Street, Ryde and described himself as an importer of Italian sculpture. He sold the patent to Crosse and Blackwell who brought it into common use.
  He had several patents under his name, including an automatic weighing machine and a horse clipping machine. A controversial member of Ryde Town Council, he earned little from his inventions and was declared bankrupt in 1890 following the failure of his import business.
tin openerHenry Knight died in 1895. He could hardly have guessed the next century would see an age of convenience foods in which his adapted tin opener would become one of the world's most familiar kitchen implements.