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

April - June 2021

April 2021
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.

May 2021
A planning application to convert this shop into a residential property has been refused, to the satisfaction of numerous objectors. Unfortunately changes to planning laws may leave the council with few powers to prevent such changes in the future.
The Candy Shop
   The planning application sought to change this Ryde shop into a residential property, losing its shop front in the process. The property is not listed but falls in a Conservation Area and forms part of Ryde High Street's historic character. On the face of it, refusal was a fairly straightforward decision within the council's planning policy and regeneration criteria. However, in a dramatic change to planning laws, the council's ability to stop vacant retail outlets converting to residential properties will soon be considerably curtailed.
   Government has taken the view that high streets will have to adapt to accommodate the public's change in shopping habits. Out of town shopping centres had already presented difficulties for the high street but online shopping accelerated the problem and the pandemic brought it to a head. The Government sees fewer retail outlets and more residential housing as the way to overcome streets of boarded up vacant shops. It is assumed the high street would be limited to retail outlets that are not subject to online competition, such as restaurants, cafes and personal services. Change of use into these types of businesses should be encouraged, along with conversions into residential housing.
   At the moment the decision on vacant properties remains at the discretion of the local planning authority but as from August 1st property owners will not require planning permission to adapt their properties. All they will require from the planning authority is 'prior approval', which leaves the council with limited reasons to refuse. Conservation Areas will not be excluded, so it looks as if only shops that are Grade II listed will be automatically protected.

June 2021
Museums were permitted to open as from May 17th. Most Island museums had already experienced a spell of activity and are well prepared to accommodate the similar restriction now in place. Much now hangs on the Covid roadmap plan for June 21st.
Guildhall Museum
   Most Island museums had a spell of opening from the latter part of last year. They are now operating with a similar range of restrictions. Some are open on usual hours and some on a limited number of days. All but the most spacious premises are operating visits by appointment. As before, the council's Guildhall Museum is limited to two days per week. There were mixed attendance results during the last spell but most venues were pleased with the number of visitors and some were surprised at the high level of attendance, in spite of restrictions. We covered the results in our news item of November 2020.
   Two of the Island's major museums had not opened at all since the original lockdown. Brading Roman Villa has now reopened. The Classic Boat Museum plan to reopen both their venues this month.
   June21st is now the critical date on the Covid roadmap, freeing us from social distancing and other restrictions. Like other businesses, museums have suffered financially and will be hoping this date will signal a return to something resembling normality in time for a summer season. There may still be restrictions on foreign travel, which could be beneficial to Island tourism. The Government is now making noises suggesting a possible fudge on the original June 21st plan. Some heritage venues anticipate there may still be visits by appointment for a time, although the public will have become accustomed to the practice.