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

July - September 2014

July 2014
A painting has come to light showing workers collecting white sand from the cliff to the north of Alum Bay, under Headon Warren, dated 1748. The image has prompted a renewed interest in an often undervalued West Wight resource that supplied the glass industry for over a century.
collecting white sand
  The above detail from the painting shows the white sand being dug out of the cliff and loaded into boats, for transfer to a ship in the bay. It would have then been taken around to the Sand House at Yarmouth for storage. From there, this scarce material would be shipped to glass manufacturers throughout Britain and Ireland.
  By the end of the 17th century, sand had begun to replace flint as the major material in glass making. Glass makers required materials with a minimum iron content, as this gave the clearest glass. Fine white sand met this need but it was uncommon, with fewer than a handful of sources in Britain.
  The Urry family owned the rights to the sand. They were already supplying the glass industry with white 'pipe' clay, to make the crucibles in which the glass was melted, so they had the connections to take early advantage of the developing trade. In addition to the Sand House, there was also a Clay House, located towards Norton. The Island's white sand and clay was also used in the making of Chelsea ware, the first English porcelain. The only record giving the volume of white sand shipped out of Yarmouth comes from the mid 19th century, when it averaged around 3,600 tons per annum.
  The Sand House is one of the Island's earliest remaining industrial buildings. It is listed as 18th century and appears to have no narrower date-range. It may have been preceded by a more modest building serving a similar purpose. It is a substantial structure and represented a considerable commercial investment. The ensuing years saw the Urry family flourish in West Wight, doubtless partly due to the wealth created through their trade with glass manufacturers.

Yarmouth's white sand trade would have probably been familiar to some glass making regions in Europe that would otherwise know little or nothing of the Isle of Wight. Venice was the world-renowned centre for glass. This 1776 Venetian map of England shows limited interest in the Island, except for the location of Yarmouth.

August 2014

The granting of planning permission for the Asda development will initiate an important and highly specialised programme of archaeology. Any site near the Medina holds the prospect of finds from a number of periods but the main interest lies in a possible Neanderthal occupation. The site may be able to add to our understanding of when Neanderthals arrived in Britain, a key element in Europe's post-ice age migration.
  Britain has been inhabited by members of the Homo genus for hundreds of thousands of years. Pre-Neanderthals moved south during the last ice age, around 200,000 years ago, leaving Britain uninhabited. The point at which post-ice age Neanderthals arrived here from Europe has long been open to question. It was generally assumed to be around 60,000 years ago but a recent discovery in Kent suggests it could have been 40,000 years earlier. It is a natural assumption that the South of England would have seen the earliest warming and may have therefore experienced early arrivals. However, an additional factor lies in when and where the Channel first receded. Only when Britain became at one with the continent were Neanderthals able to cross.
  Periods of fluctuating glaciation gave rise to variations in the level of rivers like the Medina. These variations left the river flanked with gravel terraces, patches of which now lie underground in the Medina's environs. Past archaeology has shown that this type of gravel terrace can contain evidence of tool making. The great quantity of flint tools and flakes discovered at Pan in the 1920s remains one of Europe's major Palaeolithic discoveries. The Pan discoveries are thought to come from a lower terrace, while the Asda development may expose higher terraces. The number of levels and the periods they represent are still the subject of geological debate.
  The Asda development will effectively take the top off a hill and thus provide access to the levels of interest. The examination of this type of material requires specialist knowledge and there may be a limited number of archaeology operations with the necessary experience. The age of Palaeolithic flint finds can generally only be determined by analysis of the context in which they are found. It will therefore require sophisticated dating techniques and a geological input. It's not yet clear how the archaeology will be incorporated into the process of site development. It looks as if a good deal of flexibility will be required of both developer and archaeologists.

September 2014
The council instituted their Local List programme via the Conservation Department in 2007. Public nominations got off to a slow start but eventually the scheme had considerable support. However, by the end of 2010, nominations had dried up. The scheme became dormant. Then, a few months ago, somebody made a nomination. The system woke up, only to discover the Conservation Department no longer had the resources to deal with it.
  The Local List project was launched by English Heritage to supplement the national listing process. The scheme does not offer the protection of national listing but it marks items to be considered in planning and conservation issues and also brings their importance to the attention of property owners and the general public.
  The Conservation Department's inability to cope with the scheme is presumably due to staff reductions since the process was last in operation. The solution has been to move the processing of nominations over to the Heritage Service, where it will be run by the Record Office. It is claimed that moving it out of the Planning Department also removes any perception of a conflict of interest, in that the same department no longer controls both the raising of listed items and their subsequent assessment for planning purposes.
  On the face of it, the change will make little difference to anyone making a nomination, although there may be some advantage in the Record Office having the facilities to carry out any additional research. Strictly speaking, council staff should not influence the decision on acceptance, as this falls to a panel of local historians.
  The overall success of the scheme ultimately depends on how effective locally listed items are in influencing planning and conservation decisions. There are known failures (March 2014 news item) but there is no record of how often locally listed items have cropped up in planning applications.
  With around 2,000 nationally listed properties and over 150 on the Local List, some might consider the Island's preservation requirements are pretty well exhausted. However, the Island has numerous World War II defence features, most of which have no formal recognition. A couple of examples are included in the Local List but there is probably scope for more. After all, these represent as critical a time in British history as any of the preserved defences of past centuries.