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

October-December 2012

October 2012
Virtually nothing now remains of the great cement works that had a commanding presence on the River Medina for a century. Much research has gone into trying to detail its working processes but nobody ever imagined there existed a 1934 movie recording the full operation.
Medina Cement
  The film was uncovered by the East Anglian Film Archive and is now on view at their website. It was made by an amateur cinematographer. He was a member of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers and his film, shot on 16mm, won the institute's award for the best 'home movie' of that year. Following an introduction showing the use of cement, it starts by covering the blasting and quarrying of chalk at Shide and its rail journey to the works. It then covers clay excavation, the various grinding and mixing processes, the silos and the rotary kiln in action. It ends with the milling process and loading the company's sail boat for transport. Many of the workers can be identified and may well be recognised by local families. The film constitutes an important historical record and will be of interest to anybody studying early 20th century industrial processes.
  The Medina Cement works was established in the early 1840s. In 1911 the works changed dramatically with the introduction of a rotary kiln. Over time the rotary kiln dominated production, replacing the previous chamber kilns. This kiln and its associated operations remained largely unchanged up until the closure of the plant in 1946.
  In 2006 one of the few surviving locals who had worked at the mill gave an account of life at the works in the 1930s. Ron West started there as a fifteen-year-old in 1935. In addition to describing the working practices, he was able to recall many of the technical processes. These recollections can now complement the movie to provide a comprehensive slice of prewar Isle of Wight. In addition, an expert in the history of cement plant is compiling a clarification of the operations shown in the movie. It is hoped these texts will be published on the Net to accompany the link to the film. The film can be seen on this East Anglian Film Archive webpage.
  Another useful record of the works was revealed in the recent release of Aerofilm archive photos by English Heritage. They include a view of the works in 1926. It shows what a sizeable operation it was at its peak. Most of chamber kilns shown in this photo would have been out of operation and the site thinned out by the time the film was made.

November 2012
This blade was turned up by ploughing at Shide in 1954. It would be natural to assume it had been struck from a fine piece of black flint. In fact the material is obsidian, a volcanic glass, virtually nonexistent in Britain but commonly used for tools in other lands.
Obsidian blade
  The item has been sitting in the Island's archaeological collection largely forgotten. It recently came to light during a pre-planning desktop survey carried out as part of the Asda development. Archaeologists are now beginning to ask how the material could have found its way here in prehistoric times.
  The blade is about 15cm long. Such items cannot be easily dated and are often assessed on the basis of associated context. The obsidian tool has no context but some experts claim it has the look of a paleolithic implement. It doesn't appear to be worn through practical use, which might suggest it was a much prized item.
  The gravel beds around the southern end of the Medina River have been the source of nationally important paleolithic finds. The discoveries at Pan in the 1920s produced numerous stone tools dated to between 300,000 - 50,000 years ago, a world of Neanderthal hunter-gatherers and woolly mammoths. There have been recent excavations at Pan and off Blackwater Road in the hope of discovering similar finds but without success. It nevertheless seems probable Neanderthals were moving around in the Shide area at some point. However, the blade could also be from the later neolithic period.
  In those parts of the world where obsidian is present, it was struck for tools in much the same way as stone, notably in the Americas and some parts of the Mediterranean. Extinct volcanoes in Scotland may have produced obsidian but evidence for tools appears to be limited to pitchstone, a coarser volcanic material. Very few obsidian tools have been found in Britain.
  The blade appears to be another example of prehistoric travel and trade. If it is neolithic, it would be unusual but not completely surprising. There is plenty of evidence of neolithic trade in stone tools. If it is paleolithic, the implications are far more interesting.

December 2012
The major housing development at Pan was preceded one of the most extensive archaeology surveys the Island has seen. The site was thought to have considerable potential but in the event nothing was found. Nevertheless archaeologists were subsequently commissioned to carry out a watching brief throughout the years of building excavations. Their first phase report has now been released and it identifies interesting Iron Age finds.
  Back in 2005, prior to development, over 50 trenches were excavated over nearly 20 hectares. In particular archaeologists were hoping to find further evidence of the major paleolithic finds that had arisen in the 1920s. There was also the possibility of locating the medieval Pan settlement recorded in the Domesday Book. As it turned out there was barely a find from the entire site. Local archaeologists and Pan residents were naturally disappointed but a watching brief was established to cover building excavations over the lifetime of the development. Building started at the northern end and the first archaeological phase is now complete, covering around a third of the site area.
  The archaeology report for this phase identifies two ditches containing numerous Iron Age deposits. The ditches are at right angles, suggesting they form part of an enclosure. Over 50 domestic pottery sherds were recovered, dated from middle to late Iron Age. Contemporary with these sherds, around 140 sherds of Mediterranean amphorae were recovered. It is thought these would amount to tens of vessels. The amphorae fabric was identified as being of wine vessels from the Campania region of southern Italy, dated to 120-50BC.
  There have been many other Island Iron Age sites with evidence of Roman imports but the quantity within the Pan excavation is significant. No evidence of habitation was found but it seems likely there would have been some related dwellings. The ditches are close to existing Pan housing so something may have been lost to earlier development.
   It is not clear exactly what the enclosure represents. If it was related to a nearby settlement, the considerable number of wine vessels might suggest they were a fairly high status group with a taste for life's luxuries. Alternatively, it could have been some sort of import centre for subsequent local distribution. Perhaps its location relative to the Medina is significant. There are years of development still to go at Pan, so there may be more to be revealed.