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

January - March 2009

January 2009
Like many Palmerston Forts, Yaverland Battery appeared to be heading for obscurity through gradual destruction and neglect. The remains had already become barely visible under its developing holiday facilities. It is therefore a pleasant surprise to discover the new owner of Sandown Bay Holiday Centre has started on plans to excavate the site and bring the remaining sections back into full view.
Yaverland fort
The recently revealed Carnot wall and its west Caponier
         Yaverland fort

Yaverland fort
Before and after clearance
  Completed in 1864, Yaverland Battery was one of numerous forts established around the Channel coast in the face of an anticipated French landing that never materialised, under the controversial direction of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. Over the years the Yaverland fortification was subject to a number of adaptations and was still in use in the early 1950s as a training centre. It was finally sold off in 1956 and, like some other coastal forts, became an ideal spot for a holiday centre.
  As the holiday facilities developed, parts of the fort were increasingly flattened with the remaining sections left to become heavily overgrown. The new owner acquired the site last summer and decided the remains should not only be preserved but recovered to form an integral part of a redesigned holiday centre.
  Much of the surrounding Carnot wall has long since gone but most of the long seaward section remains, together with its two musketry Caponiers. The ditch fronting this has now been completely excavated, bringing the section back to its original state. The fort's main gun emplacements still survive and these will be cleared to form a feature of the revised holiday facilities. A few other structures remain, including a pump house and the original winch room, complete with the winch that controlled a horizontal sliding drawbridge. It is planned to incorporate a small museum covering the history of the battery.
  The state of the Island's other Palmerston Forts range from near complete to virtually gone. The most vulnerable have been those under private ownership, where there is either a lack of resources for preservation or they stand in the way of development. The unprompted resurrection of Yaverland Battery is an unexpected reversal of its fortunes and shows how enlightened business can contribute to, and benefit from, conservation.

February 2009
Some will remember Yafford Mill still occasionally turning when it was part of a tourist attraction. Anybody passing it in recent years would have seen the water wheel rotting away and probably assumed it would never run again. The present owner was undeterred and has set about securing the necessary skills to bring it back into production.
Yafford Mill
  Yafford Mill was established around the middle of the 18th century. It was a grist mill, grinding corn into animal feed for local farmers. It is thought to have started producing flour during the First World War, when water power was briefly supplemented by an oil engine. There is no record of how long flour production lasted and it may have reverted to animal feed after the war. It had certainly been grinding meal for many years prior to ceasing production around 1970. It eventually became the centre of a tourist attraction, occasionally turning as a museum feature.
  Thereafter it became an example of how quickly a mill can deteriorate once it stops operating, having run continuously for over 200 years. In recent times the external units had reached the point where they were beyond basic repair. The owner contracted an experienced mill engineer, Malcolm Cooper, to carry out a fundamental rebuild and repair project, as necessary to bring the mill back into flour production. A new overshot water wheel had to be built (above), with the design as near as possible to the original. The launder, which feeds water onto the wheel, had also rotted and was renewed. The internal mechanics were in reasonable condition but required a general overhaul. A major bearing was re-engineered and the pit wheel had to be reset.
  There are still a few minor repairs needed to finalise the project but the stones have been redressed and the mill has already produced a trial quantity of flour, from which a loaf was baked - perhaps the first loaf out of Yafford Mill for nearly a century.

March 2009
Local archaeologist David Motkin pioneered the Island's aerial archaeological surveys and identified numerous sites over many years, before retiring from the County Archaeology Service in 2000. One of his most fascinating discoveries was of a boundary hedgeline running the full length of the Island. Recently an opportunity arose to excavate a section of the boundary during development at Lynbottom, raising the possibility of a better understanding of this feature.
the Motkin boundary
  The boundary's profile is of a ditch alongside a bank that carried the hedgerow. It runs from just east of King's Quay down through Merstone, Godshill and Whitwell, terminating at St Rhadagund's Path, above St Lawrence. The approximate line is shown above, on a map that indicates how the Island probably looked in earlier times, although, as yet, the boundary's age is unknown. There is no historic record of anything following this route, which could imply it's Saxon or earlier. Some have suggested it might be as early as Bronze Age. However it appears to have been recognised in the medieval period, as some parts of parish and estate boundaries adopt its line.
  David Motkin first detected the boundary in the late 1970s during observations of 1948 Ordnance Survey aerial photos and also in subsequent analysis of 1946 RAF work, although many field boundaries showing in these photos had been levelled by the time it was discovered. It hasn't been physically checked along its entire length but some sections still show the bank and ditch profile.
  The excavation at Lynbottom consisted of trenches cut across the boundary. They revealed a section of the U shaped ditch with an intriguing double-gully at the base, rising to a bank on the east side. There were no finds but material was collected in the hope it can be dated by the OSL method. If the general period can be established, it will at least allow comparison with similar features elsewhere from the same period. Archaeologists will be keen to try and ascertain whether the double-gully served a practical purpose or simply represents local custom.

The Lynbottom excavation shows the base of the ditch with the double-gully feature. The full vertical profile of the ditch has been lost to subsequent disturbance, while the bank at left will have been partly destroyed by root action from the overlying hedge.

Photo courtesy of SLR Consulting Ltd