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

January - March 2011

January 2011
The inhabitants of medieval towns had entitlements not afforded to the rural population. Access to these entitlements was normally controlled by a clearly identified boundary around the town; a system that continued into the Post-medieval period. The nature and precise location of Newport's boundary has never been established. It was hoped recent archaeology near the town's north access might provide a clue, but there was no trace.
  Finding evidence of Newport's boundary is all the more difficult because the type of feature is unknown. It might have been a timber pale or perhaps even a wall; at the very least a ditch. But no evidence for any of these features has been forthcoming, either from archaeology or research. There are references to people being refused entry or ejected from the bounds of Newport, so there must have been some feature that limited the points of entry.
  When a development was applied for on the north side of Crocker Street, near the Towngate access, an opportunity arose for archaeology to seek evidence for some sort of physical boundary. The excavations did reveal a wall and cobbled flooring facing the road, thought to be a 16th century house, but to the north of this the land drops dramatically and subsequent development appears to have ruined the prospect of archaeology. The site will however be revisited when building excavations take place, as there may be something at a lower level.
  Previous excavations further east along Crocker Street had also failed to provide boundary evidence. This edge of the medieval town was extended when the most northern street was re-established at some point. Originally the area north of Lugley Street was marshland. Workshops began to settle between Lugley Street and Lukely Brook, eventually giving rise to Crocker Street, presumably named after its potteries, located by the river as a fire hazard. It is possible Newport's boundary was not a continuous feature but used natural waterways at some sections. At this section Lukely Brook may have served as the boundary, depending on how easy it was to traverse at the time.
  Perhaps the most interesting Newport archaeology of recent years lies on the other side of town, in South Street. This was only a preliminary excavation in anticipation of a planning application that was never actioned. Only two test trenches were dug but it was enough to produce a good deal of pottery dated around 1400, some of which was sufficiently variable to suggest a kiln. The site would appear to be located on the south east corner of the medieval town. There's no telling whether it would have been inside or outside the boundary. Presumably a planning application will be re-entered at some point, necessitating a complete excavation. This will not only prove an interesting kiln site but may also provide another opportunity to find evidence of a boundary feature.

February 2011
Documents, submissions and public consultation returns were assembled in preparation for the October Heritage Service Review, intended to arrive at a detailed level of savings. The review was postponed, leaving the overall level of cut to be established without scrutiny. The service now has the job of arriving at measures to meet the cut.
  It is said the review was abandoned early in the process because the subject was too complex. In the event the service is targeted to produce savings of £225,000 by the end of 2012, including £75,000 saved this year, which is close to the 30% level the council is looking for in overall savings. Around 300 public consultation returns inevitably expressed an overriding view that heritage facilities should remain within local council control. The various departmental submissions and associated documents suggest this is unlikely.
  The council has no statutory obligation to maintain museums. Cowes Maritime Museum is already set for closure along with the library. The future of the Guildhall Museum is bound up with the future of the building itself, also under review. An immediate problem will arise in staffing the entrance because this is currently dealt with by the doomed tourist information section.
  Newport Roman Villa would appear to have limited options for savings, beyond being passed to a private concern or trust. Visitor numbers do not make for an attractive commercial proposition, although recent improvements leave it as a fine facility. One consideration has to be whether its education facility would be maintained. At present schools make extensive use of the museum and these visits are subsidised by the villa.
  A decision on the Dinosaur Museum has already been reached. It is proposed it be passed to a trust, presumably run by the present management. The council claim a charity concern should be viable when relieved of the high business rate. This decision would seem to yield little benefit to the authority, particularly in the short term. The council subsidy is a modest £25,000, a saving that could easily be neutralised by the cost of a complex transfer process, particularly if consultants are involved.
  It may prove difficult for the council to relinquish ownership of exhibits along with a museum, so they will probably be passed on loan.
  The Archaeology Unit has never really recovered from the extraordinary cut it received in the 2006 budget. This was unofficially instigated at a personal level by the council leadership in an apparent fit of pique; an act nobody would own up to. The result was a bizarre 'ghost' cut that verged on misconduct.
  Archaeology is largely directed by English Heritage, much of which has statutory implications. It is also inextricably linked with the planning process. Most of the latter is dealt with within the Planning Dept but the Archaeology Unit carry out some associated work. The council are considering amalgamating some planning with Portsmouth and Southampton and this may have an impact on local archaeology. However it's difficult to imagine how archaeology can contribute to Island culture without local knowledge and local contacts.
Record Office and Archives
  Artifacts are mainly held at Cothey Bottom, near Ryde, many of which are contained in environmentally controlled conditions. Outsourcing of the facility is being considered, perhaps involving the same premises. An alternative location providing the same controlled conditions is unlikely to exist on the Island.
  Paper archives have been problematic for some time and the present crisis arises not through cuts but from a failure to address the problem over many years. An inspection of Record Office facilities by National Archives, due in April, is sure to condemn the existing conditions as unsuitable. This will result in the council having to find alternative arrangements for some documents. Essentially the options are a new location or, more likely, transferring documents to another county. Fortunately National Archives will only require official documents to be moved. Some of these are of historical importance but the bulk of the historical archive will remain in place, albeit in conditions established as unsuitable. The whole question of archives is complicated by the fact many items are not owned by the council but permanently on loan.
  The Record Office will remain an essential public service, although the degree of availability and charges offered by the service are sure to come under consideration.
    Councillors are generally attracted to the calling through an abiding interest in the authority's major services. It would be difficult to find a member with an interest in subjects like history or archaeology, and there is public concern that the 50% cut to the library service reflects a culturally challenged council hierarchy. In the circumstances a 30% saving in the Heritage Service might not seem a bad deal. It will almost certainly result in cuts that put some public pursuits at a disadvantage, although hopefully without the complete loss of any core facilities.

March 2011
In the midst of concern surrounding the future of the council's museum service, news of a heritage centre for Ryde is particularly welcome. The centre is being established by the Historic Ryde Society and work is now underway on the premises.
  Historic Ryde Society was formed in October 2009 with the express intention of celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Royal Victoria Arcade. The idea soon evolved and the group became committed to raising funds for a permanent heritage centre in the town. Initially the society had no idea where the centre might be located. It is fortuitous that, after much searching, they managed to secure a lease within the arcade itself. The centre will occupy the basement of the Grade II* listed building, which became available under the conditions set by a Heritage Lottery Grant.
  Various measures were adopted to raise finance but the major contribution was a grant from Ryde Townscape Heritage Initiative. Building alterations began during February and they hope to open this summer. Society members have been collecting artifacts and archive material over many years and these will form the basis of the initial museum display. Additional items are expected to be donated and other acquisitions may arise when further finance becomes available. Funds are now being sought through membership fees, raffles, fund-raising events and merchandise created for the purpose.
  It is fitting that the centre has found a home in the Royal Victoria Arcade, one of town's the most distinctive locations. It was built by a Ryde apothecary, William Houghton Banks, and opened with great Masonic ceremony in 1836. The frontage was redesigned in 1856 by the then owner, Henry Knight, a controversial member of the local council.
  In the medieval period upper and lower Ryde were village settlements supported by farming and fishing. It was one of a handful of modest Island ports, with a 13th century record of local produce being shipped to Portsmouth. Development during the post-medieval period was leisurely but towards the end of the 18th century the concept of the English coastal resort had become established, and Ryde's landowner recognised the potential. The town's controlled Regency development and fashionable Victorian maturation has been well documented. Its sloping vista presented the Solent with an ideal image of the Island as a tourist location, for which it became the gateway. Over the last decade the council has devoted much attention to conservation in Ryde. A centre offering both locals and tourists an historical insight into the town has been long overdue.

Historic Ryde Society premises and artifact The basement now being prepared to house the centre. At right one of Ryde's treasured items. This solid silver trowel was used to lay the foundation stone of Ryde Town Hall and Market House in 1830. It is inscribed with the names of freemasons associated with the development.