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

April-June 2005

April 2005
As gas mains services came on stream they were naturally concentrated in populated urban areas. This left many wealthy landowners experiencing an unfamiliar sense of deprivation in their country houses. One solution was the type of gas generator which has recently come to light at Wolverton Manor.

gas generator
  The 'Silverlite' generator operated in the cellar of the manor and provided lighting. Little is known about its maker but the patent numbers suggest the product was launched sometime around WW1. This unit was in operation at a Hampshire location before being installed in Wolverton Manor in 1935.
  The process converts a highly volatile petroleum to gas. Fuel is released into a drum at the base of the unit where it is agitated by a paddle. The resultant expanding gas is forced into a cylinder of water above, in which sits a bell-like chamber. The gas bubbles up into the chamber where it passes through a pipe into the lighting system. As the system pressurises, the chamber rises and cuts off the petrol supply. As gas is used, the chamber falls and the process is repeated. The energy to drive the paddle comes from a massive descending concrete block. After it is winched to its full height, it provides about seven hours of lighting.
  The generator provided the only form of lighting until electricity finally came to the manor around 1971. By this time the fuel was already regarded as too hazardous for industry and was proving difficult to obtain locally.

May 2005
brick arch
Not for the first time, a peculiar farm feature has left everyone puzzled as to its purpose. Last month this brick structure was exposed at Upper Hyde Farm, Shanklin. It appears to date from the early 20th century and is set into a bank a few metres from the farmhouse. It consists of a narrow alley for steps leading down to an arch opening, brick built and topped with a stone wall. If it was ever an entrance to something, it is now blocked up. But was this structure intended as an entrance?
  The feature has been hidden under earth and domestic rubbish for over half a century. The bank rises behind it and fifteen metres further back there is a brick well, now partly filled in. A metal pipe running under the floor of the opening presumably runs up into a lower section of the well, as it apparently once served a hand pump outside the farmhouse. This concept is, in itself, rather mysterious. Why build a well on top of a bank and incur a five metre deep excavation to run a pipe to the house, when the well could have been sunk lower down, outside the house?
  The steps appear to have been built inside the trench which was dug to lay the pipe. Initial speculation was that the opening was once a tunnel following the pipe up to the well. However the walls only run 42 inches into the bank, and the is no indication they ever went further in. It is, in effect, an alcove, backed by trench infill. There are few clues as to its function. The floor of the opening has dropped, suggesting it may have supported a weighty object. There is the vague suggestion of a door. The steps show little use. Farm features often demonstrate rather haphazard building methods but all the brickwork here is of a professional standard. If the well, excavation and lower feature were a single project, it would have been a costly venture.
  There is little to go on but, if anybody has any ideas as to its function, or has seen anything similar, please let us know:

June 2005
The few standing structures in the main section of the Medina Cement site are now being razed to the ground. Fortunately a strip of land next to the mill pond is to remain untouched, preserving within it one of the last two chamber kilns in the country.
cement kilns
Remaining cement kiln
cement kiln
Original brick-built kiln inside the concrete
  The remaining kiln is thought to have ceased production in 1908. Chamber kilns were established in the 1870s. They increased cement production by using flue heat to dry the slurry mix in preparation for the next firing. This Medina example was subject to considerable redesign and rebuilding. It may appear dilapidated and overgrown, but much of the original twin bay brick-built kiln remains inside the concrete shroud of the subsequent rebuild.
  The long term future of the structure is unclear. Existing documentation of chamber kilns tends to be rather theoretical, so it would be useful to excavate the buried sections of this one to expose as much detail as possible. Unfortunately this would be a major task and there are other competing considerations. Children have been playing on the kiln for years but heightened concerns on health and safety will likely now render it a hazard. The strip of land containing it appears to have been mainly retained for reasons ecological, rather than archaeological, and the kiln itself may be considered a home to plant and wildlife. The average lizard prefers his structure to be undisturbed, slowly crumbling and, ideally, fenced off from the public. He will probably carry the day.
hopperThe clearing of the main site was carried out under archaeological supervision to record the remains and any revealed items. One feature uncovered was a brick tunnel belonging to the long gone rotary kiln, newly developed when built in 1911. It contained a line of cast iron hoppers, still holding the coal dust they metered out to fuel the burner. One of these (at left) is being preserved as an example of early rotary kiln engineering, and to recall an industry which dominated the sight and sounds of the area for a century.