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

January - March 2007

January 2007
Although the Cowes Hammerhead Crane has a Grade II listing, it is still at the heart of an area of controversial development with an uncertain future. A group of private individuals have now established The Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust, dedicated to the long-term preservation of the crane, in the hope they can influence events and make a practical contribution to its maintenance.
  The driving force behind the Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust is Ed Checkley, who comes from a family with a long Cowes maritime tradition. Other members are of a similar background. The trust is also supported by the IW Industrial Archaeology Society. Ed Checkley was born in East Cowes and was a sea cadet before joining the navy at 15. After leaving the navy he travelled widely, working in over 30 countries, including on various major UN projects. He finished his overseas career as chief executive of a telecommunications company in Indonesia. He now supports training and response in emergency preparedness for the NHS in London. Ed says the trust will be "the voice of the hammerhead crane" and that it "represents maritime Cowes and its history as a shipbuilding industrial centre, while motivating young people into design and construction in competitive and recreational sailing."
  The trust has no ownership of the crane as it belongs to the developer, Peter Harrison. Nevertheless they are applying for charity status which may enable them to acquire funds towards the cost of maintenance. They also have members available to carry out work on the crane. It is hoped that, by accepting some of the burden, they will encourage cooperation of the developer.
  The future of the whole waterfront development site remains unresolved. It seems likely the previously refused planning application will be re-entered under new 'Island Plan' criteria. The developer has so far shown an uneasy relationship with the crane, having on one occasion applied for its complete restoration while, on two occasions, seeking to have it dismantled. The trust has established itself as part of any council discussions affecting the crane, with an ideal aim of retaining it as working plant for the benefit of deep-water harbour industry. Some enthusiasts are worried that the longer the structure sits idle without maintenance, the quicker it could deteriorate. The council may be forced to exercise their powers to instruct work on the crane on a health and safety basis.
  English Heritage have now completed their own research, firmly establishing the crane as one of only a handful of pre WW1 examples surviving worldwide. Public opinion on the crane's preservation is said to be mixed but experts point out that, once such structures are established as local monuments, residents soon become very protective of them.
The Cowes Crane Web Page

February 2007
In 1696 a national list of glassworks was published, amongst which was reference to one on the Isle of Wight. In recent times much effort has been devoted to finding where on the Island it was located. Now the matter has been resolved by the discovery of an 18th century book that makes it clear the glassworks was at Cowes.
  In the 17th century glass making was a highly specialised industry centred in London and the Midlands. The problems in transporting such a fragile product throughout the country led some glassmakers to set up operations around the coast. The Island also had the advantage of being home to key glass making materials. The white sand of Alum Bay provided raw material with a low iron content. It is the natural iron in silica that gives glass its green tinge and minimising the effect was a constant challenge to glassmakers. The white clay of Alum Bay was also used, to make the crucibles glass was fired in.
  For years the most popular theory saw the glassworks as the existing Sand House at Yarmouth. This is recorded as being built in the 18th century as a depot to ship white sand to the glass industry, but some felt it had been originally built as a glassworks. In spite of much research and some archaeological excavation, no hard evidence was ever forthcoming.
  The book containing the Cowes reference was published in 1774 and suggests the operation ultimately folded because of the cost of firing. This presumably refers to the price of transporting coal to the Island. At that time the glassworks would have been one of the few major coal users. The remaining question is where in Cowes it was located. It would have to be somewhere with the convenience of shipping the product and receiving the coal. The mud banks of the outer estuary would have been impractical so it was likely to be at a more sheltered point, possibly in one of the areas later developed for Medina wharf or White's shipyard. Glass making sites generally leave plenty of debris. Unfortunately the evidence is probably now buried under concrete, although shards of white crucible would have been abundant and may have been recovered in the past without people realising their significance.

March 2007
Two years ago we first reported on the sorry state of the limekiln in Strawberry Lane at Mottistone. It is located on National Trust land but had been allowed to become completely overgrown. Following our interest, the National Trust has now embarked on a programme to renovate the kiln.
  The kiln is one of only two standing examples on the Island and has the advantage of being just off the roadside, within public view. It has already suffered some damage to its fabric, either through root penetration or from the weight of the debris within the firing chamber.
  Work has been started to clear the brick and stone facade and is likely to be completed by spring. This will enable a proper survey of the facing structure to see the extent of repair work required. Repairs will be carried out during the summer. Thereafter there will have to be some investigation as to best method of clearing out the inside of the firing chamber. If is this is not done, it is likely that time will bring further damage to the facade. Also the full design and construction method cannot be understood until the chamber is emptied. On completion, a stile will be installed at the fence to enable public access.
  The exact date of the kiln is unknown as there appears to be no documentation referring to it. What evidence there is suggests it was built towards the end of the 19th century. It seems to have had a good working life. A local resident worked on the farm as a young lad in the 1930s and recalls being given the task of clearing out the burnt lime in preparation for spreading on the adjacent fields. Evidence of a cart track running towards kiln from higher up the down points to the source of the limestone. Although the precise internal dimensions are as yet unknown, the firing chamber itself seems unusually large, providing a considerable capacity.

overgrown kiln
Above: the buried kiln.
Right: clearance underway.
kiln clearance