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

January - March 2021

January 2021
When a planning application was entered to demolish a rather delapidated lookout perched on top of Cliff End Battery, it produced a host of objections. It seems many would like to see it protected as a historic feature, although it is not entirely clear when it was built or for what particular purpose.
Cliff End Lookout
   Those objecting included the council's own Archaeology Service, on the grounds that, as yet, little was known about the history of the structure. The planning decision was held in abeyance but it was on the basis the precise condition of the lookout was unknown, rather than a consideration of its historical importance. There were some initial claims that it was a Coastguard lookout but neither its design or map references support that idea. The structure has an opening underneath the lookout section which would appear to be for small arms defence.
  Cliff End Battery was largely built in 1868 but the guns were not fully installed until a decade later. The lookout was clearly not part of the original battery. It could be associated with one or more subsequent gun or searchlight emplacements that no longer exist. A 1939 map shows the lookout already existed so it is not likely to be a WWII feature. In fact a WWII lookout exists nearby and is of an entirely different design. Some have suggested it could have been built as part of a First World War defence. There was no serious threat of invasion during WWI but some coastal defences were adapted.
  There is reference to an observation tower being installed at Cliff End in 1937. If it refers to this lookout, it would have been at a time when there was no particular defence imperative. It might be pertinent that the area has a history of experimental and training operations, from searchlight tests at Fort Victoria to position finding cells near Cliff End. It may be the lookout is all that's left of a particular test or training project.

February 2021
Plans for a TT racing event here may have been held in abeyance but the idea prompted local enquiries into whether the Island has any historic connections with motorcycles.
    Unfortunately there appears to be little in the Island's past that can relate to the mean machines that would be racing around a TT circuit. Nevertheless we do have examples of more modest motorcycle concepts manufactured locally.

The ABC Skootamota
   Motor scooters became a popular means of transport after the First World War. The ABC Skootamota was assembled in a specially built factory at Somerton, from 1919. It was one of the earliest of its type and very popular. It has nice lines and would not look entirely out of place on today's roads.
   It was developed by the ABC Motorcycle Company and designed by Granville Bradshaw. The 125cc engine drives the rear wheel. There is no suspension and the seat is rather basic, but it was mostly used by drivers standing rather than sitting. There is a record of tests where it reached a cruising speed of 15-20 mph and climbed a 1-in-4 gradient.
   It wasn't long before other manufacturers were producing similar models, often cheaper than the Skootamota. Ultimately it could not survive the competition and production ceased in 1922.

The Clark Scamp
   This moped was designed and manufactured from 1967 by the engineers A N Clark of Binstead. It was essentially a small wheeled bicycle with 49cc engine driving the rear wheel. In some ways it might be considered a forerunner of today's electric bicycle. On some journeys the motor had sufficient power without pedalling.
   It achieved considerable fame when it became the subject of a high profile legal case, resulting in a landmark ruling on the issue of breach of confidence on a matter of commercial value. A Mr Coco claimed the Scamp engine used some of his own design features, previously submitted to Clark but rejected. It was a complex case. Mr Coco failed to obtain an injunction to prevent manufacture of the Scamp but was awarded a royalty of 5s per machine produced.
   The Scamp seems to have experienced a number of reliability problems. This, together with Japanese entries into the market, soon brought production to an end. Around 3500 had been produced. By the end of 1968 the company was in the hands of the receiver.

March 2021
The country park surrounding Golden Hill Fort is council owned and developed on their behalf by Gift to Nature. Under the management of Natural Enterprise, they have undertaken an archaeological survey of the area to uncover evidence of how and where thousands of troops were billeted on the site over two world wars.
Golden Hill Fort
   Golden Hill Fort was completed in 1871, as one of the many Palmerston Forts. Following the outbreak of the First World War, it became a major training site for thousands of troops who were billeted on the surrounding lands.
  The initial contingent were encamped under canvas but by September 1914 the ground had become so waterlogged the troops had to be relocated in local properties. To overcome the problem, the authorities undertook a programme to build huts providing a range of facilities around the fort. By early 1915 some huts had been erected and occupied but it wasn't until the end of the year that the work was completed. The area became known locally as 'Hut Town'. Throughout the course of the war some 30,000 troops would be billeted on the site.
  There were limits to the type of training that could be carried out at established military locations. Training in trench warfare generally required open farmland where fully fitted training trenches could be established. There are indications of a WWI command post on Bowcombe Down, which may have been associated with trench training.
  The huts around the fort continued to house some troops after the war and were extensively reoccupied in the Second World War, when additional facilities were added. The military abandoned occupation of Golden Hill Fort in 1962. It's not clear when most of the structures were pulled down but soon all that remained as evidence of the huts were their concrete bases.
  Golden Hill Country Park was established in 1970. It was only a matter of time before the bases became overgrown with shrubs and trees. The archaeology project is aimed at uncovering a some of the features to ascertain what kind of facilities existed and to which war they belong.
  The archaeology has been interrupted by the series of Covid restrictions. Nevertheless excavations have exposed a number of features, including a bathhouse and ablutions block. It is anticipated work will resume at the end of March. The excavations are being carried out by volunteers, under the guidance of local archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Waller. The project is a rare opportunity for members of the public to learn archaeological techniques and experience the discoveries at first hand. Anybody interested in taking part should enquire with Ruth at