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

July - September 2021

July 2021
A planning application for 113 dwellings at Gunville was designated a historically sensitive site due to its proximity to the Island's first medieval centre at Carisbrooke. An archaeological survey prior to any planning consideration was inevitable, but the results were surprising .
    As we reported back in March last year, the historical potential of the site would determine a geophysical survey of the area. The survey produced plenty of anomalies which necessitated numerous trial trenches to explore further.
   The results were unexpected. Most of the trenches produced little of interest but four crucial trenches contained a mixture of late Iron Age and early Romano-British pottery. In two of these the finds were in copious quantities. Most of the sherds represented domestic items but some Romano-British fragments were building materials. A ring ditch suggested an Iron Age roundhouse. This wealth of material pointed to an Iron Age dwelling that had embraced a Roman lifestyle.
   What makes the site particularly significant is the date range of the Romano-British pottery, which puts it within the period directly following the Roman Conquest of 43AD. This suggests the site is an early example of Islanders coming under Roman influence. The Island had abundant trading with the continent for years prior to the conquest and many believe locals accommodated Roman occupation with relative ease. Evidence of a significant Roman military presence has yet to emerge.
   The Gunville site appears to be a single homestead. It might be expected that adoption of Roman lifestyles would have first originated at relatively wealthy Iron Age farmsteads. Some of the Island's later Roman Villas probably had earlier incarnations but until now there has been little evidence to show the profile of a site at the point of transition. The modest nature of the Gunville site poses interesting questions. Some of the finds suggest iron smelting on site, so it might have involved an industrial element. Perhaps the site is related to a more substantial occupation, as yet undiscovered. In the past the has been talk of a Roman wall being discovered in the area in the 1960s. There was never any evidence to support the claim and many were sceptical of the idea. It is perhaps now looking more likely.
   If the development is passed, there will likely be further archaeology required both prior to development and in a probable watching brief during building works. It may be there is more to be revealed.

August 2021
Last September we covered the launch of Historic England's High Street Heritage Action Zone, aimed at reinvigorating the heritage aspects of Ryde and Newport high streets. Since then the Government has launched its plans to change the profile of the future high street, backed by legislation. It is not entirely clear how these two concepts will interact.
    The Heritage Action Zone project provides a £2.36m grant to renovate or replace shop fronts and associated accommodation, to generate a more interesting heritage environment for the high streets of Newport and Ryde. Following the launch, much of the activity has involved arriving at stakeholders, consultants and local council representatives who will contribute to the project. A programme of implementation has now been developed.
   Shop owners will be invited to apply for grants to renovate their shopfronts. The project has established a design guide which demonstrates the required standards for any shop applying for a grant under the scheme. The design guide covers the key components of a traditional shopfront and provides general guidance on renovations. It is intended to provide some local examples of shops that already meet such standards. Grants for funding to renovate or replace shopfronts are granted by Historic England, based on meeting the published standards.
   The guidance is for wider use than just those shops that will apply for grants. Future planning applications related to shopfronts in these areas will likely be assessed according to this shopfront design guide.
   Since Historic England launched the Heritage Action Zone concept, the Government has arrived at its policy of completely changing the profile of the nation's high streets. Essentially it sees the high street as being limited to shops that will not be subject to future competition from the kind of online sales and out of town shopping centres which have devastated so many town centres. Their policy suggests a high street of cafes, restaurants, coffee bars and shops providing personal services, together with residential accommodation. Any shop that cannot survive will now have a simplified route for converting to residential accommodation. Full planning permission is no longer necessary for conversions and conservation areas will not be protected. There are already many boarded up shops that may take this route. The Government feel their planned profile can still maintain the high street as a community centre.
   The organisers of the Heritage Action Plan claim the Government's aims for the high street need have no impact on their own project as they are flexible enough to accommodate changes. This may be true but a crucial element missing from their guidelines is the long term viability of the shop applying for a grant. It would probably be a mistake to assume the digital sales revolution has reached its full potential and the future of local retail can be predicted. There are interesting times ahead for our major high streets.

September 2021
At a time when Island museums are struggling to recover from Covid losses, it is pleasing to see that confidence in heritage venues remains undimmed and there is support to build a brand new exhibition outlet. Construction is underway for a museum at Whippingham that will celebrate the extensive history of Island brickmakers and their products.
brick museum
   The Island's collection of brickmaking artifacts and research material dates from the 18th century and is probably the most comprehensive of any county. Unfortunately the original museum closed decades ago and since then there has not been a facility to display it.
   The first proposal for a new brickmaking museum was mooted back in 2015, to be located in the old coach house at Whippingham Church. We covered the plan in our October news item of that year. After much deliberation the coach house was deemed impractical, but the idea of locating a museum on church property remained and has now come to fruition with a purpose built structure.
   The museum is located in the church recreation park. The project was established by the lsle of Wight Society and East Cowes Heritage Centre, the driving force behind it being David and Sarah Burdett. It would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support of the Church Warden, Peter Robinson, who has contributed to construction work and financial support
   Finance has been raised from a number of donors. Nearly £2,000 has come from a generous member of the Isle of Wight Society. Other donations have come from individual supporters, charities and local business. Around £4,000 has been raised to date but the organisers would welcome further donations. Anybody interested in making a contribution should contact David Burdett. Volunteers for further construction work would also be welcome.
   The brickmaking collection was largely assembled over many years by the IW Industrial Archaeology Society, led by Jill Reilly. They established a brickmaking museum to display the collection in a barn at Clamerkin Farm in 1996. When this had to close a few years later, Vectis Storage offered free storage of the collection. In addition to making their own donation towards the new venue, the society has provided the necessary research material to accompany the exhibits.