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

January - March 2018

January 2018

The original planning application sidelined the idea of a museum celebrating the J.S. White shipbuilding heritage. It was hoped the revised application would correct matters but the situation remains the same.
   At the public consultation stage, discussions evolved around establishing a museum on the site that would embrace both shipbuilding and boat building. The shipbuilding element would feature J.S. White and compliment the hammerhead crane. At some point the idea of the museum being part of phase 1 of the development was dropped and the planning application placed it in phase 2. There were some protests at this and it was hoped the revised planning application would reintroduce it in phase 1, but it remains unchanged.
   The problem with phase 2 is that many believe it will never happen. It is only an outline planning application and it may not match the financial rewards arising from the residential and leisure facilities of the initial development. It is also possible that the considerable remedial work required for the land preparation in phase 1 could give rise to unforeseen problems that add to the potential cost of any subsequent development.
   The developer has provided the Classic Boat Museum with a large shed for their new museum and workshop in the phase 2 area facing the crane. If a shipbuilding museum doesn't exist, the likely outcome is that visitors to the site will associate the hammerhead crane with the boat building museum opposite it. This will doubtless suit boating enthusiasts and it is no coincidence the developer and his agent are among their number. Add into the mix the council's general indifference towards industrial heritage and it's easy to see how the pre-planning discussions gave rise to this incongruous situation.
  It is not too late for the council to correct this anomaly and insist on a museum covering J.S. White being established in phase 1. A failure to do so could leave the crane without context and will be seen as an insult to the descendants of those who's skills and enterprise created the most prestigious and powerful industry the Island has seen.

February 2018

Dodnor kilns
It was always known the site included a rare early example of a chamber kiln, remaining from the cement works of Charles Francis and Son. Now the area has been cleared, an initial survey has revealed it has more examples of 19th century technologies than previously envisaged.
   The site was previously overgrown and has been cleared for a planned investigation by the site managers, Gift to Nature, in a joint venture with the neighbouring Vestas company. Local archaeologist Ruth Waller has been commissioned to organise excavations and establish details of the various features. She has carried out a preliminary survey of the cleared structures, accompanied by historians with previous experience of the site. The new site interpretation includes confirmation of a second chamber kiln and, surprisingly, the base sections of three bottle kilns.
  The originally established chamber kiln still has some unexplained factors, not least the question as to whether the existing concrete structure is covering an earlier brick built kiln. A plaque on the kiln carries the date 1875, just three years after the chamber kiln design was patented. Is an underlying brick kiln even earlier? There were a number of variations in chamber kiln features as the pioneers experimented with early development. It is hoped excavations will clarify its evolution and throw some light on features that were previously observed, before it became overgrown.
  It is now assumed the structure running at right angles to this kiln is another chamber kiln. Its front loading section has gone and remains of its kiln sections are now buried. It would normally be expected that two chamber kilns would run parallel with each other. This unusual layout is doubtless due to the supporting arches having a dual role. As yet it is not clear whether the two chamber kilns were in operation at the same time.
  There was previous evidence of some structures buried in a bank on the south side of the main kiln. The clearance has exposed more of these and their features now suggest they are the lower sections of three bottle kilns. Bottle kilns were the earliest technology in cement production. It is not yet known whether these pre-date the chamber kilns or were later being used to produce the company's earlier type of 'Roman' cement, alongside the 'Portland' cement being processed in the chamber kilns. It is hoped full excavation will provide some answers.
  The 19th century development in cement manufacturing was sufficiently widespread to imagine there would be plenty of structural remains scattered around the country. In fact, for a variety of reasons, they have been largely obliterated and some details of the history remain obscure. This leaves the Dodnor site with a unique status. It is likely the final archaeology report will form the basis for an application to established the site as a scheduled monument.

March 2018
In our news item of March last year we reported that the power station had been gutted, on the assumption development of the site was underway. It turns out work on the building was not directly related to the development and there is no evidence of it proceeding. Moreover, the developer has completely demolished a major section of the building that should have been preserved under planning permission.
   The power station is designated as a heritage asset by the council and they were obliged to preserve some parts of it under the ruling of a previous planning appeal. The approved planning application is for residential apartments and it sought to preserve the prominent facade, part of the turbine hall and the projecting front offices. The future state of the turbine hall is under question now it is exposed to the elements and the front offices have been demolished.
  The council had the building's roofing removed at the request of the police, to discourage vagrant occupation. Whatever the police may have thought desirable, there were other options to secure the property and the council's Building Services may have been remiss in agreeing to open the turbine hall up to the elements without considering the planning implications. The turbine hall may now be weathered for a number of years while awaiting development and this could effect the fabric of what were internal walls.
  It is almost beyond belief that the front offices could be demolished without the council being aware of it. In fact they were made aware demolition had started. A member of the public queried it with the Conservation Dept. They responded by saying they assumed the demolition had been agreed with Building Services as a safety measure. It seems the Conservation Dept were unaware the site had been subject to an approved planning application. The Heritage Service planning archaeologist also claims he had no knowledge of it. If it is true that neither of these departments were involved in the processing of a heritage planning application, it raises serious questions about planning procedures.
  The council can issue an order instructing the developer to rebuild the front offices and the developer has agreed to do so when the development eventually starts. It is claimed the original materials have now been retained to that end, although those who witnessed the demolition thought it quite destructive. There is no architectural plan of the structures, so the rebuild will have to be based on any photographs that can be found.
  The initial enquiry into matters surrounding the power station was met with the Planning Department's signature refusal to supply any relevant information, although they took the trouble to imply there were no problems and all was going well. The true situation only came to light after a Freedom of Information request retrieved the relevant documents. The council have strenuously denied rumours that planning officers have been operating out of an old Cold War bunker.
Newport Power Station
Left: the exposed turbine hall. Right: the front offices, now demolished.