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

December 1999 - March 2000

December 1999

The base of a brick-built kiln has been discovered in a field at Newchurch. Its outline shape does not conform to the common design of kilns this size, leaving archaeologists somewhat baffled as to its practicality.
  The kiln has a single oblong shape with a slightly curved head. The burnt floor suggests it was fired at the head and raked out over the lower section. This implies the firing section and the stoke hole are of one piece. Most kilns of this size have a bowl shaped firing chamber with a narrow stoke hole.
  The purpose of the kiln is also something of a mystery. It appears too small to be a brick kiln. The absence of any pottery finds rule out a pottery kiln. The only evidential material is tiny deposits of chalk in the surrounding soil, perhaps pointing to a lime kiln.
  Bricks are notoriously difficult to date but the dimensions of the kiln bricks probably puts them somewhere between the mid 17th and mid 18th century. A search among older properties in Newchurch revealed a few identical bricks in the corner dressing of a stone building at Parsonage Farm. These displayed the same burnt features, suggesting they had been re-used when the kiln was dismantled.
Site location map

January 2000
The general assumption that wine making arrived with the Romans has been challenged with remarkable evidence suggesting these terraces on the southern slopes of Mersley Down supported a vineyard during the Iron Age period.
Mersley Down
  The terraces, previously thought to be cattle tracks, have been subject to archaeological investigation as part of a general survey of the district. Archaeologist Kevin Trott carried out test digs which revealed pairs of post holes at intervals along the length of the terraces. This concurs with the pattern of vine growing on at least three other sites in England. Whereas similar sites are thought to be Roman, the pottery found in and around the post holes at Mersley was Iron Age.
  This pottery is known to be that of Belgae people who arrived on the Island around 50 BC. They were the last wave of Iron Age immigration prior to Roman occupation in 43 AD. The first discovery of a Belgae settlement was at Knighton in the late 1960's. It's only through recent archaeology that it has become clear they occupied a considerable area of Arreton Valley and the southern downland. They traded with the Romans and were eventually assimilated into the Roman occupation. Indeed this region is beginning to emerge as a major archaeological site, showing continuous occupation from Bronze Age to Post Medieval.
Site location map

February 2000
ice house
When an attempt was made to remove a 'kink' in a lane beside East Dene in Bonchurch, a section of brickwork was exposed which turned out to be the rear of a previously unrecorded Ice House.
  The East Dene Ice House has yet to be excavated but an initial survey of the exposed section suggests it is of quite a sophisticated construction compared to other Island examples, which probably dates it as mid 19th century. Most notably it has a cavity dome for extra insulation. The internal surface of the cavity is rendered to allow condensation to run off through a small drainage outlet. Cavity wall ice houses are not uncommon but the Island has few examples. This discovery brings the total number of known Island ice houses to fourteen.
  Ice houses were frequently built into banks or topped with earth to improve insulation. As a result many became buried soon after falling into disuse. They were used to store ice collected in the winter for use throughout the summer months in food preparation or with drinks. They began appearing in the grounds of wealthy houses from the early 18th century and continued on until the development of mechanical refrigeration centres in the late 19th century. The ice house was something of a status symbol, with the top manors having their ice shipped in from Scandinavia rather than collected from local ponds.
Site locaton map

March 2000

The Isle of Wight County Archaeological Unit, in collaboration with English Heritage, has recently completed an audit of the Island's coastal archaeology. This fifteen month project combined fieldwork, documentary and cartographic research, and interrogation of aerial photographs

.  The whole of the Island's open coast was examined together with the Medina Estuary, the Newtown Estuary, the Western Yar and Wootton Creek. The total number of archaeological sites in the coastal zone is now 1671, of which 1088 were recorded since the start of the Coastal Audit. A large proportion of newly recorded sites reflect the growing value of industrial and military features. Structures such as coastguard stations, lifeboat houses, quays, oyster pens, saltems, shipbuilding yards, brickworks and quarries were recorded. Military features dating to the Second World War, including gun emplacements, tank traps and pillboxes are often located in vulnerable coastal locations.
  A number of features were noted in the eroding cliff faces. These include hearths which contain fire-cracked flint and charcoal and are believed to be prehistoric, and middens full of pottery, bone and shell. Middens of Bronze Age, Roman and medieval date were identified.
  Features recorded in the intertidal zone include brushwood and hurdle trackways or platforms, fish traps and post alignments of unknown date and function. Thirty one hulks were located and photographed. There were also important palaeoenvironmental sites - peats and fallen trees - dating from periods when sea level was lower than at present. The trees can be dendrochronologically dated, whilst the peats contain important environmental evidence in the form of pollen, seeds and insect remains.
  The Coastal Audit has significantly increased the number of known archaeological sites on the Island. However, more work is now needed in order to fully record these sites before they are destroyed by coastal erosion.