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

April 2021


April 2021
THE PLUTO MYTH - HOW DID SO MANY GET IT SO WRONG?
Historic England and the IW Council have abandoned any attempt to defend the discredited claim that the engine house at Browns Golf Course is a wartime PLUTO installation. This leaves the question of how Historic England, the IW Council and assorted local experts all managed to promote such an implausible military concept for so long, without the support of a single piece of tangible evidence.
The PLUTO claim
   The PLUTO claim should have fallen at the first hurdle, on its assumption of operational plant remaining in situ after the war. The authorities would never have left wartime machinery to become dilapidated on private property. There is no example of it anywhere. Historic England noted how unusual it was but failed to draw the obvious conclusion.
   The founder of Browns, Alexander Kennedy, was an enterprising and resourceful businessman. His brainchild became one of the most popular leisure sites on the Island, enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. He was not one to be deterred by a lack of mains power supply, so in 1936 he established his own power plant, described as the 'engine house'. It was typical of his professionalism that it was such a solid installation it powered the business for over twenty years. The engine house is certainly worthy of preservation, in recognition of one of Sandown's most creative entrepreneurs.
   It might seem only natural that local enthusiasts accepted the PLUTO claims of the Grade II listing without question. However, unlike Historic England, locals should have an intimate knowledge of the surrounding history. Once they accessed the site a number of questions might have been raised, not least why the electrics switchboard is labelled with Browns' operations. An enquiring mind might have wondered how Browns managed to power its various facilities before the area had mains electricity. They need not have looked too far to find a few Sandown residents who had witnessed the engine house still powering Browns in the postwar years.
   The claim the plant was installed as a backup power for PLUTO pumps was based entirely on speculation and conjecture. Once a historian from the IW Industrial Archaeology Group began researching PLUTO records at the National Archives, it became clear the claim was inconceivable. Not only was the engine house never requisitioned, the concept was technically impossible and would have breached military practice. An official survey of the area noted that Browns powered its own facilities. If it were not for one historian carrying out thorough historical research, Islanders might have forever celebrated a wartime feature that never existed.
   It eventually became clear that years of pontificating expertise was going to be exposed as nonsense. The impending embarrassment prompted Historic England, the council and local enthusiasts to combine in an attempt to protect their reputations. It was a formidable combination and it managed to resist a delist application and a subsequent government review. Their use of speculation as a substitute for evidence enabled pseudo engineering fabrications and a reinvention of the PLUTO operation, while still leaving them without a single piece of documented support. They overcame the raft of evidence disputing their claim by pretending it didn't exist.
   It took over three years of perseverance by this website to overcome such concerted resistance and finally force the increasing volume of hard facts through for public acceptance. This body of evidence remains unchallenged and secures Alexander Kennedy's achievement.
   Back in 2006 somebody noticed there was derelict machinery in the general vicinity of Sandown's PLUTO operation. They leapt to the conclusion the two must be connected. From that mistaken assumption, a wartime feature was developed by presenting conjecture as evidence. It is a striking reminder of how easy it is for pure invention to become established history.