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

January - March 2013

January 2013
The huge 500 page report is the culmination of an archaeology project that has spanned 20 years, charting human and environmental developments from the Mesolithic to the medieval, over an extended coastal area. The work was carried out by past and present members of the IW County Archaeology Service, together with palaeoenvironmental experts. It has probably been the most detailed and wide ranging body of work the Island has seen, and stands as a testament to local expertise and dedication. The report summary is reproduced below.
  Attention was first drawn to the Wootton-Quarr coast in the late 1980s when Roman pottery was found on the beach adjacent to the Fishbourne ferry terminal. Further site visits revealed intertidal post alignments and palaeoenvironmental deposits which were becoming exposed through coastal erosion. Consequently, Sealink (now Wightlink) funded a preliminary survey, the findings from which prompted English Heritage to fund a major project. In the early 1990s the Isle of Wight County Archaeological Unit carried out an intertidal survey over 6km of downwarped coastline on the north-east coast of the Island between Kingís Quay in the west and Ryde in the east. The focal point of the survey was Wootton Creek, a drowned river valley which has provided a haven for human activity since at least Mesolithic times. In addition to the intertidal zone, the survey took account of the archaeology of the hinterland and of the nearby parts of the Solent seabed. Hinterland studies extended inland as far as the Islandís median chalk ridge, while sub-tidal survey extended the area some 5km northwards to encompass the shoals of the Mother Bank and Ryde Middle Bank. An important aspect of the survey was the integration of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data, and a multi-disciplinary range of specialists contributed to the project.
   The intertidal study revealed some 180 sites and structures amongst which the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman, Saxon and medieval periods were particularly well represented. Outstanding features were the wooden trackways, post alignments and fish-traps of Neolithic and later date. These were sampled for radiocarbon dating, species identification and examination of wood technology. Further evidence of prehistoric coastal subsistence was provided by lithic scatters including large numbers of microliths, picks and tranchet axes of late Mesolithic/early Neolithic character. Trees entombed in Neolithic peat produced a 770-year dendrochronological sequence dating from 3463 to 2694 cal BC, with a further, older, floating sequence of 268 years.
   Wootton Creek served as one of the gateways to the Isle of Wight in late Iron Age, Roman and medieval times. Its silts yielded a profusion of exotic ceramics of the Roman, medieval and post medieval periods. A similarly wide range of ceramics came from an offshore assemblage dredged from Ryde Middle Bank.
   A range of palaeoenvironmental analyses including studies of pollen, diatoms, insects, plant macrofossils and molluscs was used to characterise the changing environment at Wootton-Quarr as it responded to rising sea-levels, and a preliminary sea-level curve for the Solent area was produced.
   The Wootton-Quarr survey has pioneered a seamless approach to the archaeological evaluation of the coastal zone. For this purpose its field team has deployed its energies both landward and seaward of the shoreline. This approach has combined hinterland, intertidal and offshore surveys to produce a fully integrated and quantified assessment of the archaeological dimensions of a port and its adjoining coastline. Beach monitoring surveys were designed to measure the nature, scale and pace of intertidal change and of archaeological loss. These were supplemented by a suite of deep sediment cores and offshore geophysical surveys which permitted the project team to compile a general reconstruction of shoreline history.

February 2013
The publicity surrounding proposals to convert Newport Guildhall into an Island heritage centre have rather detracted from the fact that cuts to the service targeted in 2011 are still in the process of being implemented. The major savings in this programme have just been established, mainly by a restructuring within Museums and Archaeology.
  The review was started back in 2011 with a target of £225,000. There was immediate action to hive off the Dinosaur Museum. Thereafter any major developments were delayed. By mid 2012 some natural wastage had left £150,000 to save. The restructuring has met most of this amount.
  It must be said the council are being very secretive as to precise details of the restructure. Development of the new Heritage Strategy included a policy to 'disseminate information to the community' but that particular commitment seems to have fallen at the first hurdle. Changing the culture was always going to prove more difficult than changing the structure.
  On the face it senior figures have gone from both the museum and archaeology services. It's difficult to say what impact this will have on the overall museum service but it's clear archaeology facilities have been halved since the review was first undertaken. The position of County Archaeologist has presumably been made redundant. The one archaeologist who fell under Planning Dept control has now been returned to the Heritage Service, giving a department of two. It looks as if archaeology has been left with the minimum required to fulfil statutory obligations, doubtless leaving extras like community interaction as a thing of the past. The Island is not alone in looking to archaeology for savings. Many authorities have made similar cutbacks. Some have generated an income from their archaeology service but this option was probably a little too ambitious for Island officers.
  Any further reductions in the Heritage Service will centre on the Record Office. The proposal to use the Guildhall as storage for archives will certainly obviate the need to transfer some records to the National Archive and keep everything on the Island. However much depends on whether the Guildhall can house as many archives as the current Record Office facility and what proportion will need to be outstored. This in turn will depend on the extent to which the building can be converted to take archives and how much space is taken up incorporating other heritage facilities. Any shortfall from the £7m aspiration will probably result in an inferior research facility, although it may be regarded as a price worth paying for the overall benefits.

March 2013
When Sandown Bay Holiday Centre went into receivership the future of the 19th century battery contained within it came into question. It seems the fort is regarded as a liability and would inhibit any future financial settlement on the holiday facilities. It is therefore planned to dispose of it separately, but can it find a new owner?
  The 1864 battery saw subsequent adaptations but is regarded as of historical interest. The internal rear of the fort has gone but the important sea facing defences are largely retained, including the gun emplacements. It had become virtually buried until the previous owner spent much effort in clearing the site and exposing its features (Jan 2009 news item). Thereafter is was established as a Scheduled Monument and, as such, now has legal protection. The site therefore comes with responsibilities but with no obvious income. Accordingly the receiver may be looking to some sort of charity or trust to take it over, presumably at a token price.
  One obvious candidate would be The National Trust and it is thought the receiver's agent is already in talks with the Trust to that end. The National Trust already have Bembridge Fort which is contemporary with the site (The fort's water supply was pumped up from the battery). However, they may feel Bembridge Fort is burden enough. There would be considerable work to do in order for the Yaverland site to be accessible to the public. There is also a complication in that the holiday facilities have been built around some of its features, perhaps making it difficult to physically separate.
  If the National Trust decline to take it over, the option may exist for some local organisation. The battery could be configured to provide storage facilities and might be considered a potential museum site. The latter may attract lottery funding and English Heritage have a grant system for scheduled monuments.
Yaverland Battery The Carnot wall with its west Caponier and the shell and cartridge stores under the gun emplacements