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

October - December 2002

October 2002
In October 2001 Channel 4's 'Time Team' exposed one of the Island's most important sites in an excavation at Yaverland, revealing activity from Bronze Age through Iron Age, Roman and Saxon. Inevitably a brief three-day excavation of such wide ranging features raised more questions than answers. The problem now is whether there are sufficient local facilities to sustain interest and provide further archaeological development of the area.
  The Time Team organized and recorded the excavation but they have yet to provide a formal report on their findings to the Isle of Wight Archaeology Unit. The unit is therefore obliged to rely on its own interpretation on what was a rather arbitrary set of excavations. Fortunately most of the artefacts are retained on the Island.
  Another setback has been the council's inability to provide suitable facilities to house a public exhibition on the excavation and its artefacts. The County Archaeology team spent months preparing an exhibition only to discover the Museum Service no longer had the space to display it. There are a couple of compromise options but the Archaeology Unit is now in talks with Bembridge Heritage Centre to see if a reasonably sized exhibition can be mounted there. This would at least be local to the excavations.
  What plans are there for future archaeological interrogation of the site? County Archaeologist Ruth Waller believes the various occupations at Yaverland should be seen in the context of Bembridge district as a whole. Future archaeology should not just expose more of the site but seek to widen our knowledge of the surrounding area. The site itself will shortly be subject to another field walking exercise: this time by members of the Island's Young Archaeologist's Club. Thereafter Ruth hopes to organise a meeting of local historical associations with a view to involving the community in a comprehensive survey of what was once 'Bembridge Island'. What started out as the Island's largest ever archaeological community project looks set to continue along the same lines.

November 2002
The Needles Island folklore says the Needles were named after a tall needle-like rock that once stood over a hundred feet high, before collapsing in the 18th century. This 19th century engraving compounds the story.
The Needles Last month researchers unearthed this pen and wash watercolour by the Dutch landscape artist Lambert Doomer, dated 1646. It is the first time Islanders have seen the Needles represented at a date prior to the fall of the 'needle' rock. But where is it?
  There are various historical references to the "tapering pillar" and of it "being in process of time worn away at the bottom by the continual agitation of the waves". We are told it eventually "sunk into the ocean with a tremendous crash, the sensation of which are said to have been felt even as far as Southampton". However it is interesting that all descriptions of the needle rock are, like the above engraving, dated some years after 1764, when the rock is said to have fallen. There appears to be no reference to it contemporary with its existence.
  It is possible the smaller rock shown in Doomer's picture was once higher and a top section fell off at some point before 1646, but the remaining piece doesn't look big enough for its fall to have been 'felt even as far as Southampton'. Maybe Doomer's rock subsequently weathered into a more tapered shape but this would be long after the Needles were so named.
   Earlier references to the Needles go back to the 14th century. None of them are very descriptive but it seems they never allude to a needle in the singular. A map of 1595 refers to "The nedles certayne sharpe rockes at the w. end of the islande". Could it be they got their name, not from a single rock, but from their sharp pointed appearance when viewed head-on by passing ships?

December 2002
Born in Freshwater in 1635, Robert Hooke is recognised by academics as having been one of the nation's great scientific minds. Unfortunately he is less well known to the general public, overshadowed by his contemporary, Isaac Newton. As we approach the tercentenary of his death, historians, scientists and the media are lining up to produce works on Hooke with a view to raising public awareness of his extraordinary range of achievements.
  The Island is already playing its part as an area of interest. Television crews have roamed Freshwater, a coach trip has been arranged for interested international visitors and the private Robert Hooke museum in Freshwater has been subject to renewed interest. In the last few years Island research has uncovered intriguing aspects of Hooke's Island connections and this too has received recent attention.
  Hooke's amazing catalogue of work embraces chemistry, mathematics, physics, geology and architecture. Many of his discoveries formed the basis of later work credited to others. Few realise Hooke discovered light waves, sound frequency, planetary motion and the concept of gravity, or that he developed fields such as meteorology and microscopy. His engineering skills enabled him to convert his designs to practical inventions, particularly in the area of springs and timepieces. His ideas anticipated future developments like the telephone, steam power and synthetic fibres.
  The breadth of Hooke's interests may have, to some degree, worked against his place in history. His lack of one big idea seen through to completion enabled his arch-rival Isaac Newton to eclipse him. They were bitter enemies and when Newton survived Hooke he took the opportunity to downgrade Hooke's status. This time next year his reputation should be fully restored. Expect forthcoming lectures, articles, biographies and broadcasts to establish Robert Hooke as the Island's most eminent son..
Robert Hooke's Island connections - Science, Sex and Suicide