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

July - September 2020

July 2020
The naval conflicts of the First World War have been largely overshadowed by the tragic trench warfare that cost so many lives. In 2014 the Maritime Archaeology Trust embarked on an ambitious 'Forgotten Wrecks' archaeology project that would identify hundreds of World War One shipwrecks that remain on the sea bed along the English Channel. The results of this huge venture have now been published in a highly accessible form.
   The sea conflicts carry their own stories of bitter warfare and human tragedy, involving both naval and merchant personnel. We covered early progress on the project back in May 2016. The Maritime Archaeology Trust report shows the full extent of the losses both sides suffered in the attempt to control the crucial shipping lanes. The sites have been mapped and many wrecks have been explored, archaeologically recorded and subjected to detailed research. The archaeology includes recovered artefacts.
   The range of discoveries are reproduced in both printed works and online video and audio presentation. The reports are designed to provide an educational resource as well as a source for research into World War One history. It may also assist family history research of those who's ancestors served on naval and merchant ships during the period. Work on the project involved many volunteers who benefited from the training and experience arising from a range of assignments.
map of wreck sites
   Above is just an Island section of a map that identifies wrecks along the English Channel. The map within the report is interactive, allowing the user to enlarge the map and home in on any particular wreck, to reveal a detailed account of the site and related data. The database has over 500 photos and 100 videos, including 48 hours of dive footage of wreck sites. There are also 3D models offering a detailed exploration of wreck sites and recovered artefacts. The interactive map is here

August 2020
Most museums will be reopening to take advantage of what remains of summer tourism. Each establishment will be presented with its own particular problems in meeting the Covid-19 restrictions.
    The council's various heritage facilities are at different stages of post-lockdown development. The Dinosaur Museum has been open since July 20th for five days a week. To attend it is necessary to book a slot. Booking a slot will also be required to visit Newport Roman Villa, when it reopens on 3rd August. It will open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with last entries at 2.30pm. Both will be without their education sections. As yet there is no planned date for the reopening of the Guildhall Museum. The situation for Cowes Maritime museum will depend on when the library reopens.
   The record office presents an entirely different set of problems, arising from the handling of materials. Documents cannot be sanitised due to the damage it would cause. This means they will need to be quarantined after handling, as currently practised in bookshops. There is no date yet for it to reopen. When it does, it is likely to be by appointment, perhaps with the documents pre-ordered.
   The Archaeology Service continued to operate throughout lockdown, in support of the planning process, albeit working from home. For the time being they will continue on the same basis.
   The Heritage Service are working with five other museums on the Museums and Schools project to see how they can encourage sustainable links between schools and museums, including the adaptation of existing workshops to take account of Covid-19, both in terms of existing requirements and the possibility of a second wave.
   Visitor opportunities will doubtless increase in the course of time but some restrictions may linger. The Heritage Service realise some sections of the public may no longer see the traditional outlets as places they are comfortable with. There may be alternatives, such as remote access, but the council recognises its obligation to retain an outward facing service.
   Brading Roman Villa is closed but working on plans to reopen. It has yet to issue a date, although it seems likely they will do so in August. They have heavier overheads than most local museums and the closure has caused them considerable financial difficulty. They are hoping crowd funding will ease the situation.
   Dimbola Lodge was able to complete a refurbishment during lockdown. It will be reopening the shop and museum from August 4th, on every day bar Monday. There will be a circular one-way system. Visits will be by appointment only, via telephone or their website. The re-decorated tearoom will also be open.
   Carisbrooke Castle Museum will reopen on August 15th, on all days bar Tuesday and Wednesday. There are some restricted areas, including the Saxon exhibition. They are a separate operation from the castle but visitors will be limited by restricted access to the castle. Carisbrooke Castle has reopened but visitors have to book in advance.
   The Shipwreck Centre at Arreton will reopen on 1st August. Visitors will be required to book a slot via their website, for Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. There will be a one-way system. Access is through the shop, so a face mask is essential.
   The Bus Museum at Ryde will reopen on 9th August, on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. There will be a one-way system. Drinks and snacks will be available from their tea bar. There is no requirement to pre-book visits.
   The Wight Military & Heritage Museum at Northwood has already reopened, on every day bar Sunday. Both the museum and Churchill's Tea Room will close at 3pm. No pre-booking required.
   The Classic Boat Museum is still just stating that it is closed until further notice, both at the East Cowes Gallery and the Boat Shed at West Cowes
    Some local heritage centres are within libraries and cannot open until the library reopens. Most have their own archives, which would be subject to the same material handling restrictions as the record office. Ventnor Heritage Centre has reopened its shop. East Cowes Heritage Centre is closed but will provide access to meet particular enquiries, requested via telephone or email.
   All museums will be following official guidelines in providing sanitising and disinfecting facilities. Some museums have shops, where face masks are already a legal requirement. Masks in museums is set to become law on August 8th.

September 2020
Historic England have launched a major campaign which departs from their traditional emphasis on individual structures and applies their expertise and support to the environment of complete towns and communities. One aspect of this campaign is a scheme to encourage local authorities to use heritage as part of their attempt to regenerate the high street. The Island has been awarded a grant under this scheme and the associated project is now underway.
   The council announced their grant of £2.36m in September of last year. The bulk of the money will come from Historic England, with some grants raised by local business. The High Street Heritage Action Zone will be focused on the high streets of Ryde and Newport. The project was started in April, with project managers appointed for each town and in post by June. Each town has a steering group on which Historic England are represented.
   The main aims are to create an improved pedestrian environment, make the towns more attractive and improve the settings of key buildings. There will be feasibility studies to investigate options for the restoration and sustainable future use of key buildings. Some of the awarded finance will go towards grants for individual businesses to improve historic shopfronts.
   Other measures seem less heritage orientated, including the creation of a design code for shopfronts and commercial frontages, together with plans to bring disused spaces into use, such as floors above shops. The latter might particularly apply to Newport.
   There is an obligation on steering groups to encourage a community involvement in the project and raise an interest in the heritage of their town.
   Ryde High Street would seem to be a prime location for this kind of project. It still has a diverse range of locally run shops that already give the street a nostalgic appeal. Improving the appeal of Newport High Street might be a little more challenging, given the amount of modern development generated by national retailers.
   Of course, since the project was envisaged, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on already depleted high streets. There is likely to be pressure to prioritise measures that provide the most immediate benefit to business. The steering groups may have already made some adaptations to meet the current situation.
   The High Street Heritage Action Zone is a timely cause and its aim of an improved high street environment will hopefully have a favourable effect on some business. It should also raise an awareness of town heritage, at least for a period. However, it is unlikely to have a major impact on the underlying problem facing high street retailers. Heritage is not an answer to Amazon.