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

April - June 2015

April 2015
cist kln
This photo seems to capture the archetypal Victorian antiquarian, proudly pointing to the key find in his excavation of a cist burial near Sheepwash Farm at Freshwater. The year is 1898. This important past discovery has now become pertinent to a planning project at Sheepwash Garage, as it is within the vicinity of the burial and will call for some building excavation. It is thought the burial is unlikely to be an isolated feature, so some archaeological oversight of the work will be necessary.
  Cist burials consist of a stone, coffin-like structure to contain the interred individual and often include ornaments representing their status. They are not uncommon but the Freshwater discovery is the only record of a well defined example on the Island. It was said that remains of the skeleton were fragile and crumbled to dust when exposed to the air. What remained was a 'pillow stone' on which had been placed a human cranium and a two-handled urn. The urn is still in the council's collection and has been dated as Roman.
  The cist was discovered by workers digging sand, some three feet below the surface. The antiquarian was Robert Walker, who seems to have been quite active in West Wight around the end of the century. The discovery caused quite a stir and the site was visited by Princess Beatrice. The cist stones were eventually removed to Carisbrooke Castle and the site backfilled. Robert Walker had less luck elsewhere, when his theories on Isle of Wight tin trading led him to mistakenly attribute ancient origins to the lime kilns at Moons Hill.
cist burial
The urn remains in the county collection but the cranium has long gone. Group photo shows Princess Beatrice visiting the site.

May 2015
On the face of it, the closure of a museum that was open only two days per week, with little more than 1,500 visits per annum, might not be considered a great loss. However, the public outcry at the closure of the Guildhall Museum at Newport has more to with losing the only facility covering all aspects of the Islands past, drawn from the council's wide ranging collection of artefacts.
   Talks surrounding the idea of moving the Visit IOW operation from Osborne to the Guildhall may yet resurrect the Newport museum. The council say there are no plans to close Cowes Maritime Museum or Newport Roman Villa. However, austerity relentlessly ploughs on and there can be no certainty of what the future holds for council museums. The Heritage Service have always offered a wide range of support for community run museums but the fact they are supplementing these reflects their acceptance that past and future cuts to the service are likely to place increasing reliance on museums outside the council orbit.
  Comments in the press about a £2.4m grant for Island museums are the result of a misunderstanding. The figure arose out of discussions surrounding grants for the proposed replacement for the Record Office and is not related to museums.
   Part of the council's aim is to raise as many Island museums as possible to national accreditation standards. This standard is an important factor for museums in acquiring grants and the loan of artefacts. The council's own museums are accredited, as is Carisbrooke Castle Museum. The council work along with the Island Museums Forum, a group which meets twice a year to provide mutual support and exchange information. Other accredited museums and heritage centres within this network include Brading Roman Villa, Dimbola, the Classic Boat Museum Trust, plus the English Heritage sites. There are other museums and heritage centres which attend and are working towards accreditation. The Isle of Wight Museumís Forum work in partnership in seeking grants and training bursaries.
  Local heritage centres and societies are given assistance and advice on environmental conditions and display. The Local History Forum meet to network and share news. The council currently have loaned items from their collection to the Bembridge Heritage Centre and to Ryde District Heritage Centre. Work is ongoing in extending displays in local libraries, in extending the displays at Newport Roman Villa and in giving support to a local primary school to create their own school museum.
   Many of the measures now in process arise from the Conference on the Future for Island Heritage held last year. The above details indicate an official view of the activities being undertaken but it must be said their success cannot truly be tested without soliciting the views of local museums and heritage centres.
  When the closure of Newport Guildhall emerged, it brought into focus the council's huge collection of artefacts. Even if the Guildhall museum re-opens, only a tiny proportion will ever be on display to the public. There are other issues with the collection that some find less than satisfactory. This may be a subject to which we return at a later date.

June 2015
The Waitrose development in 2010 was accompanied by an archaeological watching brief in the hope of uncovering evidence of East Cowes Castle. What slender evidence emerged was regarded as inconclusive. Now a smaller section of land adjacent to Waitrose is to be developed, offering a second bite of the cherry.
  East Cowes Castle was the sister to the surviving West Cowes Castle. There are no existing surveys or drawings of the East Cowes structure but they were both built at the same time and comparable costs are recorded, so it's assumed their design was similar. All trace of the structure has vanished and there is no indication of where it was located. Both castles were completed around 1540 but the East Cowes side seems to have fallen out of use by the end of the decade, for which there is no known explanation. In the 17th century, East Cowes began developing its trade with shipping, so a derelict castle may have been pulled down to make use of its stonework elsewhere, perhaps in the construction of sea defences.
  The Waitrose building excavations were overseen by archaeologists but the ground had been heavily churned up through past activity, so evidence of any early structure may have been destroyed. Nevertheless a small section of stone wall was located and this seemed to be associated with sherds of Tudor pottery. The only other significant find was a cannonball, but it was a haphazard discovery and without context. There are differing views of whether the discoveries suggest a castle.
  Since the Waitrose development, another stone wall has been exposed in the vicinity, this time during excavations by Island Roads. Unfortunately the wall was dug out before the council archaeologist could examine it in situ. This wall was located further towards the river and would have been on land unlikely to have been reclaimed in the 16th century. It may have represented a later sea defence or little more than a garden wall. The periods when the Medina mud flats were gradually reclaimed for development is an interesting subject in itself.
  Planning permission has been granted for the new site, with a condition calling for an archaeological watching brief on excavations. As yet, there is no indication when work will start.
site locations