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

January - March 2012

January 2012
The Hants and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology have launched a project to raise public interest in the sunken archaeology around West Wight. In developing the project they have embraced the latest web facilities and mobile phone applications. It represents another step in the increasing role modern media is playing in introducing people to local history.
  The Sunken Secrets project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the West Wight Landscape Partnership. Researchers from the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology have used the mobile phone application Wikitude to map underwater locations around the west coast of the Island. The Augmented Reality software, which is free to download onto smartphones, allows people on the shore to use their smartphones to see where a shipwreck or submerged landscape is and access information about it.
  The project allows people to find out about eight areas around the coast that contain numerous wrecks and historic landscapes, either online in the comfort of their home or from a booklet whilst out and about on the island. With Wikitude they can also stand on the coast and, by pointing their phone out to sea, see where a shipwreck is and instantly access information online. Audio podcasts give a history of the site and details of the sunken archaeology. All the sites can be viewed from the coastal path and some have car access.
  Many of these sites have been researched by the Trust as part of the Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project, a joint venture with maritime archaeologists in Belgium and France that is investigating shared maritime archaeology in the Channel.
  The internet has had a huge impact on research and publication of local history. Amalgamating GPS, web mapping and smartphone technology takes the enquiring mind from the desktop into the field. The Island is fortunate to be an early beneficiary of this technology and it may set a trend for more general local history organisations. The Sunken Secrets website is here.

February 2012
An 1820 sketchbook featuring Island properties turned up at an auction in Chatham, Kent, and was acquired by a local resident. He realised its importance to the Island and has now kindly donated it to the IW County Record Office.
  There is no trace of the artist's name in the sketchbook. It seems to be the work of someone visiting the Island and was compiled on a tour during May and June. A handful of the drawings are of mainland properties but most, around twenty, are on the Island. The sketches vary from scant observations to detailed drawings. The most interesting aspect of the drawings is the subject matter. Apart from a couple of classic Island scenes, most are of relatively modest country properties. Each one is identified, either by name or general location. The artist appears to be interested in capturing a range of uncommon houses and cottages, both in their architecture and their surrounding settings.
  His mainland drawings include Trinity College, Oxford and this has led to the suggestion he may have been an Oxford don. By the end of the 18th century some academics were involved in a burgeoning movement that bemoaned the effect the Industrial Revolution was having on traditional architecture. They were concerned that migration from countryside to towns and sweeping modernisation would lead to the dereliction of unique rural properties and their eventual disappearance. By the 1830s it had become a prominent movement for the conservation of what became known as vernacular architecture. These drawings could represent somebody with a particular interest in the subject.
  It remains to be seen whether the sketchbook will be of any importance to particular locations. Nevertheless, it's comforting to know such items are still out there, waiting to be discovered.

March 2012
Northwood Recreation Ground
The upper section of this aerial view shows Northwood Recreation Ground, on which Cowes Town Council plan to build a multi use games area. In the adjacent cricket ground below can be seen two ring cropmarks, one of which is cut by the border. These could represent archaeology. Normally archaeologists would relish the idea of a development that would provide an opportunity to uncover a potentially important site. In this case they are less certain of what they wish for.
  The cropmarks could represent ring ditch remains of Bronze Age burial mounds or, less likely, Iron Age roundhouses. There are no identical features on the area of the recreation ground where the development is planned, but this could be because that ground has been subject to more continuous treatment. Burial mounds are typically found in clusters and would normally extend across a wide area. Of course, it's also possible there is no archaeology on the site at all.
  It is unusual for this type of feature to arise in an urban environment. It is also uncommon to find significant prehistoric features in the north Island, which largely consisted of woodland and ground that was too hard for the prehistoric plough. On the other hand, the site is higher than the surrounding land which is typically where tumuli would be located.
  If this was the usual commercial development, planning permission would oblige the developer to pay for a preliminary survey to establish whether any potential archaeology existed. If this proved positive, there would then be a watching brief on the development or a requirement for complete excavation before development could start. Naturally Cowes Town Council do not have the finance for any of this work. In order to avoid an outright cancellation of the project, the Planning Department archaeologist has offered to observe an initial scrape of the site to try and ascertain whether significant archaeology exists.
  If it emerges the site is too important to proceed without further archaeology, the development will have to be abandoned. Normally archaeologists would be hoping for a rewarding excavation, perhaps even a nationally important site. However, like most people, they would also like to see a worthy project for the local community proceed. And it's not as if the Island is short of tumuli remains.