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

July - September 2011

July 2011
Whippingham school
Whippingham Primary School will soon become surplus to the council's education requirements. One obvious consideration might have been that it could provide for relocation of the County Record Office and form an ideal basis for the long term development of an IW Heritage Centre. Some had assumed this possibility must have been entertained before it was decided to dispose of the property. It turns out the idea had never even been considered, and nobody seems to know why.
  The Victorian school has been subject to additions and modernisation over recent decades. It is not listed nor does it fall in a conservation area, so it is without protection. It is certainly of sufficient size to house the existing Record Office facilities and probably more. Car parking and general access would give considerable improvements over existing facilities. The real benefit lies in the additional land for future development of purpose built facilities to overcome the ongoing problem in archive storage and provide a one-stop Island Heritage Centre. Whilst no money is available at present, grant opportunities may arise in the future. At one time Nodehill School was being considered for the purpose before it was reclaimed for educational use. Unless a suitable property is secured now, the current sell-off of council properties may leave no long term opportunities. Of course it could prove unsuitable, depending on the number of existing locations it could absorb and their relative sale values. It would require an initial brief analysis to assess suitability, but no such analysis has taken place.
  The most curious aspect of this issue is the manner in which councillors and officers have dealt with enquiries on the subject. When the sale of the property first emerged, Properties Dept were asked if the possibility of relocating the Record Office to the site had been considered and, if so, on what grounds had it been rejected. They refused to reply. The councillor for Whippingham, Edward Giles, was asked to take up the enquiry but it soon emerged he was loath to pursue the matter. The enquiry was passed to the councillor responsible for Island heritage, George Brown. He claimed the option of relocating the Record Office to the school had been considered by the Heritage Service but rejected. In fact no such consideration has taken place, as is evident from released council papers and associated interviews. It is unknown whether this deceit was Cllr Brown's own invention or he was misled by council officers. Following this response, Cllr Brown announced that responsibility for heritage had now been passed to Cllr Barry Abraham. Cllr Abraham claimed much devotion to his new responsibilities but his enthusiasm rapidly drained when asked to pursue the enquiry.
  A lack of transparency surrounding capital sales naturally gives rise to a suspicion of vested interests. But in this case it looks as if it arises out of yet another example of complete indifference towards local history matters. The option of relocating the Record Office simply never entered the head of any one of the 40 councillors who constitute Island democracy. Once wedded to selling the property, some seem to prefer obfuscation and deceit rather than admit to the failing.

August 2011
There is of course much controversy surrounding the current planning application for a wind farm at Wellow. The main issues have been well rehearsed but the archaeological implications have received little attention.
  The indication of prehistoric features on the site have long been understood. Aerial photos show crop marks of circles and possible enclosures, suggesting a funerary landscape. The circles almost certainly represent ploughed out round barrows. Archaeologists think the the other features may also be connected with burials, although they could represent different types of enclosure. The proposed layout of turbine bases has been designed to miss any of these features.
  The potential archaeology prompted the Planning Department to initiate a preliminary evaluation involving a series of trial trenches. The trenches were positioned to touch on the proposed turbine bases and access roads. Most trenches produced nothing of interest. One trench uncovered post holes with burnt traces and iron smithing slag that might indicate iron working. By far the most interesting find consisted of a large pit covering the full width of the trench, the surface of which contained 19 Saxon pottery sherds and numerous animal bone fragments. The pit was not fully excavated.
  Saxon pottery is uncommon in archaeology. Many archaeologists assume the Saxons must have preferred wooden vessels, although the use of underfired pots and their ability to survive is an area that has yet to be properly explored. In isolation the Wellow finds would not normally be considered of major significance, but in the context of Island archaeology they could prove important. The Island has place names, church sites and burial sites that provide plenty of evidence of Saxon occupation, not least at nearby Chessell Down. And functional Saxon remains were uncovered during the Wootton Quarr intertidal project. However archaeological evidence of actual dwellings is almost non-existent. The only notable evidence for a Saxon settlement arose at the Yaverland Time Team excavation. The Wellow finds suggest possible habitation and will be even more significant if they are associated with iron working.
  If the planning application is passed, the building work will be accompanied by archaeologists on a watching brief. Where necessary, full excavation will be carried out. There may be some people who are as concerned about the environmental impact of the wind farm as they are intrigued by a possible Saxon site. Unfortunately both interests cannot be satisfied. There will be no archaeology if the planning application fails.

September 2011
Newtown's medieval footprint leaves it as a particularly sensitive area. The original burgage plots may still contain evidence of early buildings. Thus the recent demolition of a Newtown property automatically necessitated an archaeological evaluation of its origin.
  Key Cottage was located in Newtown High Street. A report on features exposed during its demolition was compiled by local archaeologist David Tomalin. The property comprised of a primary two storey house with extensions and an attached milking parlour. On examination, the primary brick dwelling was found to sit upon a stone foundation marking the dimensions of an earlier building, with some possible interest under the milking parlour.
  It was established that the two storey house was an adaptation of an original single storey building, and this was of a greater height than might be expected of a dwelling. The stone footings indicated walls on three sides, with an open front facing the street and a probable rear door. There was evidence that the hearth in the existing building was part of the original structure. The existing flagstone floor may not have been original but there was no evidence of any internal dividing walls. The overall conclusion is of an open space incorporating a large hearth, with a working area of around 45 sq. m. As such it almost certainly represents a commercial purpose. The open front may have been timbered with doors. There were few finds and no hard evidence for dating the building but it was speculated that it could have been 16-17th century.
  It was noted that the borough map of 1768 identifies the property as a Glasshouse. At the time this would have commonly referred to glass manufacturing. However there were no finds to substantiate this. Glasshouses of this period leave a great deal of debris in their wake: not just glass remains but numerous white pottery sherds of the firing crucibles. The only authoritative reference to an early glasshouse on the Island comes from a national survey of 1696, originally suggested as being at Yarmouth but now thought to have been at Cowes. An alternative interpretation of the Newtown 'glasshouse' may be that it was a piece of local terminology referring to a glass importer.
  One Newtown publication claims the map's Glasshouse reference is a misnomer and should really be Gladhouse, although there's no explanation for this. The open front and large hearth might point to a smithy but the general lack of finds leaves much uncertainty. Located in the ancient High Street, the premises can be said to have occupied a prominent position. Perhaps further research will eventually throw some light on the subject.