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

April - June 2014

April 2014
The micro climate benefits of a walled garden have been known for centuries and many still remain, yet there seem to be few comprehensive surveys of the subject. The Isle of Wight Gardens Trust has embarked on a project to locate the Island's remaining walled gardens and trace when and where past examples existed.
   The advantages of a walled garden lie in the protection from wind and frost. They can raise the temperature by several degrees, enabling a far more productive and varied range of kitchen produce. Fruits from warmer climes could gain additional benefit by being grown against the walls, which absorbed solar heat and released it at night. A one acre walled garden could typically provide for around twelve people, which might include the complete family and staff of a residence. Some status was gained in being able to impress guests at the table with unusual fruits and vegetables. On the Island's relatively modest estates, they were mostly located near the main house, so there were often architectural considerations.
   The development of the walled garden largely reflects an increasing familiarity with mediterranean foods and the expansion of the British Empire, where the discovery of more exotic fruits and vegetables created a desire to enjoy them locally. They became commonplace during the 18th century and remained prominent throughout the 19th century. Their decline began as more efficient 20th century shipping enabled foreign produce to reach the shops and commercial production developed.
  The Isle of Wight Gardens Trust has been awarded lottery funding for the Walled Kitchen Garden Project. Some local walled gardens are well known but the main aim of the project is to trace other existing sites and where past examples were located. The initial work will centre on the study of early maps to trace locations. The trust's volunteers will then carry out a survey of the sites. A key element of the project is community involvement. During 2014 there will be a number of free events including visits to a variety of walled gardens, talks on the history of walled kitchen gardens and workshops to explain how anyone can become a garden history detective, details here.
The walled garden at Wydcombe (left) and the garden entrance at Northcourt

The Britain From Above website is proving useful for spotting walled gardens in full production. Quarr Abbey and West Hill, Shanklin have been noted. This one shows the Northwood House garden in 1928.

May 2014
It is now over a decade since the council acquired the 112 watercolours and drawings featuring the Island around 1790, mostly by Thomas Rowlandson, with some by Samuel Howitt. The collection is the jewel in the crown of the museum service and has been extensively exhibited, using both originals and prints. The original watercolours have not been on display since 2011 but in June there will be a major exhibition of Island art which will feature the 12 Rowlandson pictures that have proved most popular with the public.
   The Rowlandson collection was discovered in two binders at Longleat. The binders are dated six years after Rowlandson's death and include handwritten notes providing a general description of areas Rowlandson and his circle visited, although without particular reference to the paintings. The author is unknown. The fact that the watercolours had not been exposed to light for most of their life contributed to their excellent condition.
   The council acquired the collection for 825,000, most of which came from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, with a balance of 50,000 each from the council and The National Art Collections Fund. The works constitute a remarkable record of Island life in the late 18th century. Rowlandson sought to capture people pursuing their daily activities in their natural surroundings, sometimes in humorous caricature.
  The collection was launched in 2002/3 with four consecutive exhibitions in which all the pictures were displayed. Since then there have been a number of exhibitions that have included various originals from the collection. Prints and slide shows have also been available to libraries and other venues. The pictures are rich in detail and have contributed much to local research and to a general interest in provincial Georgian life. They have featured in books and been used to illustrate local walks. It was originally intended to generate an income from the issue of limited print editions but sales were disappointing. It is thought the quantities may have been too great to attract collectors. The print licence ended in 2008 and has not been renewed. The museum has large banner which shows all of the paintings together in their entirety.
  The exhibition Island Art will open on 3rd June and will run until October. The Museum of Island History will be open free of charge on Thursday 24th July to celebrate the National Festival of Archaeology and Thursday 11th September to celebrate Heritage Open Days.
Rowlandson art Detail at left shows trolleys being used to take people ashore from the ferry service at Ryde. At right, a scene at Newport Market. There were thousands of testosterone fuelled troops encamped above Newport. They didn't come to town to buy cheese.

June 2014
When the County Press launched an online searchable archive of its past issues, it promised to provide a rich source of historical data. Unfortunately a fair amount of it has been rendered as gibberish. Can it be repaired?
County Press
  The OCR process of converting printed text to digital text has made a massive contribution to research, enabling keyword searching of a huge range of books, documents and newspapers. The process has developed to the point where even relatively poor printing quality in old typefaces can be converted, although errors still arise, even in sophisticated operations like Google Books.
  The problem with the County Press Archive is the sheer volume of errors. Incorrect characters and erratic spacing has resulted in it being difficult for searches to bring up reliable results. There are examples of people searching for known incidents and phrases and failing to find the article.
  The newspaper says the archive is a beta version and under development. However, some experts believe it is going to be a difficult problem to overcome because it is inherent in the source to which the OCR was applied. The normal practice would be to photograph the original pages. The County Press decided to use the existing microfilm records that were processed 30 years ago. These have been laced up many times in the reader and are now the worse for wear. In the past, researchers have also noted that some sections were over exposed and difficult to read.
  The County Press have briefly referred to the problem, although without acknowledging its extent. Promoting the archive in their columns, they said "Improvements are also being made to archive pages to make them easier to find." They are attempting to overcome the errors by passing the worst pages through photo editing software to try and improve the text before OCR reprocessing. This should give some improvements but it's a time consuming operation and it may be difficult to address the full extent of the errors.
  The County Press is to be congratulated in seeking to provide an extremely important research resource, covering over a century of highly detailed material. Even with its limitations, it will prove of some value. Nevertheless, if it cannot be brought up to standard, it may be seen as something of a missed opportunity.