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

January - March 2020

January 2020
In December 2018 we covered the council's project to check the feasibility of the Waltzing Waters building at Westridge as an answer to their need to relocate the county record office. They have now formally established it will be the location for which expenditure will be included in the next budget. This would be an important development but for the fact it is unlikely to happen.
   The National Archives (TNA) first declared the council's record storage facilities as inadequate in 1993, subsequently stating that, if no proper premises were established, they would have to remove a section of the records to their own storage facilities. In the following 25 years the council has come up with a number of proposals for new premises, none of which have come to fruition.
  Each time the council raise a proposal, TNA give them a few years to implement it. When that time is up and nothing has materialised, the council come up with a new proposal and are given another few years to implement that, and so on. Most of the proposals have found their way into the budget, only to be ignored. It is a practice that repeatedly postpones any TNA action.
  Westridge is the most recent proposal and calls for a capital expenditure of £4m, half of which is anticipated as coming from a grant. The early proposals included a new museum facility but that is no longer the case. Unfortunately any survey of Islanders' priorities in council expenditure puts heritage way down the list. Moreover, the number of people using the record office is extremely limited. It is unlikely the council will opt to spend £2m on such a measure in the midst of an austerity crisis that is causing genuine hardship. A reduction of just £0.6m over the previous failed proposal hardly seems enough to now make it viable.
  Equally unlikely is the prospect of getting some sort of grant for the £2m balance. A heritage grant for that amount will expect a substantial new benefit to the community. The Westridge plan is just a relocation of existing storage and administration facilities. There is no significant community benefit. The record office attracts a limited clientele who make their visit for specific research. There is no reason to assume numbers will increase through a change in location, particularly as the location will be less central than it is today. The benefit of retaining a particular section of the records may only impact on a small proportion of users. Even if some minor exhibition facilities were included, a limited attraction at a remote location would generate little interest.
  TNA's role in events is also worthy of examination. When they first threatened to remove records they mistakenly assumed the council would swiftly react and they would never have to implement their threat. Taking in of some of the records would be as disadvantageous to TNA as it would for the council. In spite of decades without progress, TNA have never made any serious arrangements for the records to be transferred.
  The council and TNA have been continuing a process that creates the impression they were seeking a solution, while quietly accepting that they were not going to do anything. It was recently suggested to TNA that they were compliant in such an arrangement and it is significant they never took the opportunity to deny it.
  Although the practice is rather pointless, it could be argued that there are no serious drawbacks, other than a lack of transparency. In reality, the problem with the Island's storage facilities is not as severe as is sometimes implied. TNA's objections are largely theoretical. There has been no evidence of a deterioration of Island records and no damage has been recorded. Doubtless there will have to be solution at some point but it seems unlikely there will be an innovation that faces financial reality until the council officers develop a conscience about misleading the public.

February 2020
When the planning committee passed this Cowes planning application in March 2018 they included a condition that phase 4 should be developed in parallel with phase 1. This was not as recommended by the planning department or anticipated by the developer. The lack of any comment or activity by the developer since then has given rise to speculation they might abandon the development or sell off the site. It now looks as if they are still interested in proceeding with the project.
Medina Yard
  The permission granted by the planning committee requires the developer to apply for full planning permission for phase 4 in order to proceed to develop both phases in parallel. It now looks as if this unusual condition was applied by councillors without an understanding of the unprecedented legal implications. In fact there could be no planning permission until the issues arising were resolved.
  Much of the interim period appears to have been taken up with the planning department arriving at set of obligations to which the developer would have to agree before planning permission can be formally passed. It is understood this protracted process has now been completed and the developer has recently signed the necessary legal agreement. This suggests they are now intending to apply for full planning permission for phase 4 and proceed with the development.
  The key heritage aspect of the site is the hammerhead crane. The developer's planning application was for a complete renovation but it was to be a static monument, much to the disappointment of Historic England and the crane's supporters, who were hoping to retain a degree of operation. At the time, Historic England were said to be still in discussions with the developer in an attempt to retain some movement of the jib. The need for the developer to include phase 4 in their plans is likely to concentrate minds, perhaps at the expense of any further discussions on the hammerhead crane.

March 2020
An outline planning application for a residential development on land to the east of Gunville Road is sufficiently close to Carisbrooke and its early medieval associations to be of considerable historical interest. Should the planning application be passed, it will almost certainly generate some archaeological activity.
Gunville planning
  In the early medieval period, Carisbrooke was a sizeable town and effectively the Island's capital, at a time when Newport was still a relatively undeveloped village. The castle and priory were important centres of political and religious power. The land covered in the proposed development has been known as 'Priory Fields', suggesting activity associated with the priory.
  The area may include past developments and perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the question of where the Island's first hospital was located. It is generally accepted as being in the Gunville area but the exact location has never been established. It existed in the 13th century, in association with St. Augustine's Priory and run by the monks of St Mary's Priory. The then incumbent of Carisbrooke Castle, Isabella de Fortibus, made an annual contribution to its upkeep. It was referred to as a leper hospital but it probably treated a range of complaints. The County Archaeology Service think there could be remains within the planned site, although some local historians feel it was more to the east of the site.
  With two Roman villas, the Carisbrooke area was also an important centre of Roman activity. There is anecdotal evidence of an excavation within the planned site in the 1960s that was said to have exposed a Roman wall. Any Roman structure is likely to put the site on an entirely different level of archaeological importance.
  If the application is passed, it will almost certainly carry a condition requiring an archaeological survey before any development can begin. If a geophysical survey shows any hint of structure, test trenches will probably be required. For some reason the planning application is without a heritage statement, which is a requirement for even an outline application. Presumably it will be included in the full planning application.