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

January - March 2019

January 2019
When planning permission was passed for the Vestas plant at Dodnor in 2009, a strip of land next to the mill pond was preserved for largely environmental reasons. It also contained the last dilapidated remains of part of the once great cement works that had occupied the site from the 1840s. Few would have anticipated these remains would become the basis of one of the Island's most innovative archaeological projects, reveal a range of Victorian technologies and generate a social record of hundreds of lives that had evolved around the works.
   Although a few local enthusiasts had established the remains on the Local List, it suffered years of neglect and became heavily overgrown. A renewed interest in the site arose in 2016 with the publication of Alan Dinnis's book 'West Medina Cement Mill', which provided a comprehensive history of the technological and commercial development of what had been one of the largest Island employers. The Gift to Nature organisation had taken over stewardship of the site from the council and saw a renovation of the remains as an opportunity for a heritage funded project. Thus an archaeological exercise became an important part of the Dodnor Rediscovered project
  Comprehensive excavations would not have been possible without a good deal of labour. The organisers and the appointed archaeologist, Ruth Waller, decided to approach the project as a community exercise, and this was no doubt also a key to lottery funding. The community involvement was probably more successful than anybody had anticipated, with around 50 volunteers involved at one time or another. Virtually all the excavations covered in the archaeology report were carried out by volunteers, together with some of the interpretations, guided by Ruth Waller.
  The excavations involved 11 trenches. They had been selected to provide an insight into the design and production method of each structure and uncover any allied operations. What emerged was a site that encompassed the earliest bottle kiln technology to the more advanced chamber kiln system, including what appears to be experimental methods. The features exposed in this one site epitomise the drive for new ideas that swept through the industry from the 1860s. The report therefore makes an important contribution to industrial archaeology.
  The excavations were full of surprises, not least the unusual underfloor heating and ducting that constitutes the bed of the main east-west structure. It had always been thought of as a chamber kiln and this remains a strong possibility, although more recent research offers alternatives. It now looks as if the answer to this mystery lies not within the structure itself but the chronology and layout of the surrounding features, and that analysis has yet to be done.
  Cement manufacturing was among the most labour intensive industries, particularly in the Victorian era. The bulk of the manual work involved the manoeuvring of heavy materials, so it was hard graft, and the pay was at a lower end of the industrial scale. The Medina Cement works nevertheless provided secure employment for many, and although operating under a strict discipline, seems to have encouraged a degree of social cohesion amongst the workforce.
  In conjunction with the archaeology, a group of volunteers carried out a project creating a Social History Report, recording the people who's lives evolved around the Dodnor works. The starting point was Alan Dinnis's book, which had already put names and faces to many who had played their part in a successful works, based on his own family history research.
  The project team researched censuses, burial records, newspaper articles and other sources, together with the oral records of people with family connections to the site. The result is a report providing extraordinary detail, including the names of hundreds of people who had a connection to the site, in some cases families who retained an involvement through generations. It is an exceptional historical document.

The archaeology and social history reports are PDF files.
Social history

Dodnor excavations
Some of the archaeology exposed at Dodnor

February 2019
Pan and its environs have always held out the promise of substantial discoveries but over recent decades the various opportunities have revealed very little. If the current planning application covering superstore development on Newport football ground is passed, it may be the last time there is a major development in the area able to support archaeology.
  The nationally important Palaeolithic flint tool and flake discoveries at Pan in the 1920s always held the possibility that other gravel levels in the area might reveal further examples, but recent archaeology has produced nothing, including that preceding the Asda development. Archaeologists will doubtless be hoping the planned site might be more forthcoming.
  However the area is not confined to Palaeolithic promise. There have been plenty of finds in the surrounding environs that suggest a wide range of periods, including Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman. It was once a riverside point that provided uninhibited access to the Solent. The Newport Roman Villa estate would have almost certainly encompassed land down to the opposite bank of the Medina, but as yet, there is no evidence it extended to the the east side.
   The proposed site was once part of Great Pan Farm, so there could be some medieval development. Unfortunately the pan housing development was preceded by a major archaeological exercise involving numerous test trenches and produced absolutely nothing. Nevertheless some may feel a low level riverside site might be more rewarding.
  If the planning application is passed, it will almost certainly call for some archaeological investigation prior to development. Geophysical surveys are becoming increasingly popular for such analysis but the land has apparently been subject to past landscaping work, which might render that option impractical. The most likely recommendation will be a series of test trenches.

Surrounding finds  Map showing the development site at centre and where finds of various periods have been discovered in the surrounding area.

March 2019
Heritage services incorporate conservation as an essential part of protecting artefacts and structures from the effects of unfavourable environments and degradation over time. A long term problem that has beset the council's museum service is contamination of the mosaics at Newport Roman Villa. Until now they have been unable to find a solution to the problem of micro organisms such as algae developing on the mosaics. A relatively untried system of using Ultra-violet light to overcome the problem is apparently proving successful.
   Historic England have been working with the Island's Conservator of Historic Objects, Dr Paul Simpson, in conducting experiments at Newport Roman Villa to develop a cost-effective method for treatment of micro-organisms on mosaics, by a means that can be repeated as part of a regular cycle of maintenance. The chosen method of treatment is the use of Ultra-violet light, using light boxes and equipment developed and constructed by Historic England. It is being utilised on areas of mosaic and within the hypocaust. Ultraviolet radiation is commonly used to control micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, moulds or algae in industrial applications but has rarely been used on heritage sites.
  The initial results were extremely encouraging and this has led to the continuation and expansion of the project. Experiments are continuing with the addition of a new partner in Portsmouth University, involving their micro-biology department and the department of geography. This will enable laboratory experiments to run in conjunction with practical application.
  It is perhaps surprising that features such as mosaics generally survive better buried underground than they do when exposed, even if protected within a museum. Newport Roman Villa was a grand farmhouse but the museum is quite limited in size, which doubtless contributes to a rather damp environment. In 2009 a new roof was fitted which, together with other alterations, was designed to improve environmental conditions but clearly it was only partially successful.
  The growth of micro-organisms is common on archaeological mosaics in damp and shaded conditions. If the pioneering experiments currently underway prove successful, there are sure to be similar sites elsewhere that could benefit from the process.
  Dr Paul Simpson's detailed account of the experiments and the technology is here

Newport Roman Villa
Examination by Portsmouth University scientists and the results on a treated section.