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

April-June 2004

April 2004
When a Niton resident recently came across some old church documents they were taken to the rectory where they were immediately recognised as parish tithe maps. They have generated much local interest and represent an important record of 19th century Niton.
Niton tithe map detail
This detail from the 1840 map shows the Sandrock at top left
  The maps were among the belongings of one-time owners of an old rectory and must have been left behind when church documents were transferred to a new rectory. They range from 1840 to 1857 and are the work of Mortimer and Son. William Mortimer lived locally and is buried at Niton Church. The 1840 title carries the term 'corrected' and County Archivist, Richard Smout, says this most likely means the maps are based on an Estate Map from earlier in the century, probably traced and then updated.
  Most parishes had a tithe map and they are often the earliest large scale map to survive. The scale is sufficient to show topographical features, including individual buildings. Their research value lies in the accompanying text which records the name of the owner and occupier of each numbered plot shown on the map together with acreage and land use.
  The Niton maps had some damage which necessitated careful conservation. Last month they attracted around 300 visitors when put on a weekend display at the church. They are now held at the County Record Office.

May 2004
Metal detection in a single field at Kitbridge Farm has recovered over two thousand military items. This astonishing quantity highlights the extent of army encampment and activity that existed on Newport's doorstep during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some Kitbridge finds
  The finds cover the whole gamut of military paraphernalia, including badges, buckles, buttons, ammunition and catering items. The metal detecting was carried out by the landowner, Mark Earp, who is now in the process of recording and researching the finds.
  The Kitbridge field represents only a small part of an area occupied for encampment or training for over a century. Whilst an outline history of the military on the Island is well recorded, the full numbers here at any one time are unknown. Their presence increased under the threat of French invasion towards the end of the 18th century. Barracks were built at Parkhurst and elsewhere to billet troops but many were still encamped on farmland throughout the Island of which there is scant record.
  Entertaining and feeding thousands of soldiers obviously contributed much to Island wealth but little has been written about the social impact on local communities or the conflicting interests of civil and military authorities. Period illustrations showing the occasional smartly dressed officer in a street scene may have served to romanticise the military character of places like Newport. Local history appears to have avoided the more unsavoury aspects of an army town, like drunkenness and prostitution.
  One local historian recently challenged the pastoral idyll often suggested by Island history, claiming it may have been less of a "Lovely Garden Isle" and more of a "Loveless Garrison Isle . . . an uncultivated backwater of inbreeding and ignorance, aggravated by an uncouth and restless soldiery".

June 2004
Little is known about the role played by the consuls of foreign powers based at Cowes during the 18th and 19th centuries. Several nations, all with important maritime trade, were sufficiently impressed with the location of Cowes as a port to station a consul there. New research is beginning to uncover information about this aspect of Island history, via communications between the American Consul to Cowes and Thomas Jefferson.
  In 1789 Thomas Jefferson was ambassador of the fledgling United States to France. In an era of political upheaval and complex international trading arrangements, he prided himself on his connections and the useful information they provided. In October of that year he stopped over in Cowes while awaiting a ship back to America. He stayed with an East Cowes trader Thomas Auldjo. Auldjo had not only entertained and lodged Jefferson, but had also helped procure protection for Jefferson's belongings from the prying eyes of the Cowes customs service. Jefferson commented that Auldjo given him "every possible attention and friendly assistance" and was sufficiently impressed to recommend him as Consul for the United States at Cowes. In 1790 Jefferson officially wrote to Auldjo offering him the commission from the President.
   Auldjo's main role was the "patronage of commerce and its liberation from embarrassments in the British dominions." He was charged with the task of protecting the interests of all American citizens engaged in trade and thereby reducing, as far as possible, any disadvantage or loss from British interference. Beyond these official duties Auldjo was also involved in intelligence. He was enjoined to send "from time to time regular information from you of whatever occurs within your notice interesting to the United States." Much of the language of the communications with Auldjo is couched in these guarded, neutral terms, suggesting that Auldjo's real value to Jefferson was as a source of strategic information on economic, commercial or maritime matters.
  Whatever the published role of the Cowes consuls there was probably much activity we will never know of. Merchants could frequently find themselves in difficult situations in a world of international trading restriction and embargoes. Overcoming such restrictions on behalf of their merchants may well have involved consuls in both official and unofficial activities.