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

April - June 2003

April 2003
An important example of an early 20th century cement kiln and associated drying structures have been demolished by site owners. They were part of the Medina Cement complex which operated on the western bank of the river from 1840 to the 1946.
  The Medina Cement Company was a leading player in the early development of modern cement. Their 'Roman' cement had quick drying properties and was particularly suited to a concrete which attracted construction engineers throughout Britain and the continent. The Island has many structures which demonstrate their product, including Osborne House. They were awarded a gold medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
  The company's most revolutionary contribution was as pioneer of the 'shuttered concrete' method of construction whereby buildings are raised of solid concrete walls. The nation's earliest example of this method is a pair of houses in East Cowes built by Medina Cement in 1852. These were rediscovered and reported on a few years ago.
  The demolished kiln ceased regular use in 1911 when a newly developed rotary kiln was introduced. One structure still remains in a corner of the site, albeit heavily overgrown and somewhat dilapidated. It is thought to be a cement kiln from the late 19th century which is recorded as ceasing operation in 1908.
  Questions have been raised as to whether the demolished kiln should have been protected. English Heritage were apparently aware of the importance of the site but, bizarrely, turned up just in time to watch it being flattened. The East Cowes concrete houses are of equal importance, both to the history of Medina Cement and the construction industry. Sadly they too have never acquired protection even though they are known to the local conservation authority. Perhaps they will attract attention when they're being demolished.
East Cowes Concrete Houses
May 2003
It has always been claimed that no German landing party ever set foot on British soil. Nevertheless speculation of a German raid at St Lawrence has been circulating amongst a few interested parties for some time. It recently went public when a web site invited any locals with knowledge of the event to come forward. We now learn that extensive research by an Island author has confirmed the raid and that he plans to publish a book exposing the full story
  The incident is said to have come to light some years ago when an Islander visiting Germany was confronted with a German war veteran who claimed to have taken part in the landing. He said it was a commando raid intended to capture equipment at an Island radar station, thought to be the low level unit at St Lawrence. The small party arrived by gunboat and scaled the cliff. They had anticipated little more than Home Guard resistance but were in fact confronted by regular soldiers. A fire fight ensued before the Germans eventually retreated without losses.
  Some doubted the validity of the story on grounds the raid would have surely become local knowledge and thus revealed long ago. Others felt this type of incident would have been hushed up at the time for reasons of morale and the demand for secrecy may have lingered on.
  Adrian Searle, author of Isle of Wight at War, has now revealed he has been researching the event for some time and confirms the raid certainly took place. He says it was launched out of German occupied Alderney in 1941. Even more surprising is the revelation that the operation was a partial success in that some equipment was taken and one or two British personnel were captured, presumably for interrogation. This would have been of considerable embarrassment to the authorities and explains why news of the event never leaked out. Indeed there is a suggestion that reference to the raid has been permanently removed from military archives. There is more to be revealed and Adrian anticipates his publication of the full story will cause a something of a sensation.

June 2003
We make no apologies for returning to the subject of the Island's pre-eminent son with an extraordinary discovery. In this tercentenary year of Hooke's death the lack of any surviving portrait has proved frustrating for biographers, giving rise to much speculation about his appearance. We can now reveal that local research may have discovered the true image of Robert Hooke.
  The revelation that an image of Hooke may exist will come as something of a shock to the academic world. There have been many recent attempts to re-create his portrait based on contemporary descriptions and the Royal Society are supporting a forthcoming Hooke Portrait competition. There is even a plan to disinter his remains in the hope the skull may reveal his features.
  The Island discovery is in the form of a face on a wax seal pressed on a mortgage deed made between Robert Hooke and the Town of Newport in 1684/85. Hooke rarely returned to the Island but he was occasionally drawn into financial transactions here through his brother at Newport. The document, signed and sealed by Hooke, was discovered among archives at the IW County Record Office.
  There can be little doubt it is Hooke's seal. However that would not necessarily mean the face on the seal is his. It could, for example, be some classical figure he particularly admired. In recent weeks there has been much research to see if there is an alternative figure the face might represent. No alternative has come to light so it seems reasonable to claim the image is most probably that of Hooke. It has now been decided the discovery should be given wider publicity and it has accordingly been released to the national press. The reaction should prove interesting.
Full story of the Hooke seal