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

July - September 2006

July 2006
In September of last year our news item covered the impending plan to recreate methods employed by the Island's earliest arable farmers. The first part of the Neolithic Education Project is now complete, with seeds sown and two healthy crops in a field at Brading Roman Villa.
  The initial task was to create the necessary stone tools. Some technical expertise was required to help with flint knapping. The most important tools were axes, critical for constructing an ard to plough the furrows (above photo). The key to making the ard was selecting a tree with suitably placed forked branches. Additional parts were then attached using rope made from timothy grass.
  The two crops sown were flax and emmer. Flax will be used to make a fibre. If successful, it should be possible to weave this into linen. Emmer is a hard wheat that was cultivated as early as 10,000 BC. This will provide flour to ultimately make some sort of bread product. The crops were a little late coming due to the poor spring weather, but they are now well developed with the flax beginning to flower. One of the unexpected problems is distinguishing emmer from naturally growing grass. Weeding seems to require a fair bit of labour (Cursing weeds may be a good example of a conversation topic unchanged for thousands of years). The next stage will be harvesting and milling, and the search is on for a stone of suitable size and shape to act as a quern.
  The project has embraced other activities from the Neolithic period, notably replicating artefacts using the appropriate tools, mostly employing antler. There is also an attempt to recreate the flint dagger found on the famous 5,000 year old 'iceman' discovered in the Alps. Perhaps the most ambitious challenge is to try and reproduce Neolithic pottery. An initial trial suffered the limitations of a prehistoric kiln.
  The project is entirely carried out by members of the community, including the Island's Young Archaeologists Club. Anyone wishing to become involved can contact Joy Verrinder, Education Officer at Carisbrooke Castle Museum: tel 01983 523112.

August 2006
The hydraulic ram was a 19th century invention that used the pressure of a relatively low head of water to pump a proportion of it to a much greater height, thus operating without motorised power. The recent discovery that a hydraulic ram which served Carisbrooke Priory is still in situ has prompted an interest in where other local units might still exist.
  The hydraulic ram was a simple but clever concept. It allowed water to be raised hundreds of feet merely by being located around 20 feet below the head of a natural spring. It was a French invention subject to much development in Britain. A few appear to have come into use on the Island towards the end of the century, proving an ideal solution for properties located on high ground, above a natural water supply. One such example was at Carisbrooke Priory, installed in 1896. The pump is still located in a lower field on the opposite side of the road and, when in operation, pumped water up into the Priory's tanks; a distance of 600 feet, to a height of 136 feet. The pit containing the pump is now flooded but arrangements are under way to see if it's possible to examine the unit, and perhaps remove it.
  An earlier installation was at the Hermitage, below St Catherine's Down. Here water was pumped up to a reservoir higher on the down, which then supplied the surrounding properties. The general arrangement still exists, now operated by a diesel pump. The hydraulic ram is no longer on site, although it may be one of two that can be seen at Calbourne Mill Museum.
  In the 1960s a hydraulic ram was still operating in connection with a chlorination plant at Luccombe, belonging to the water authorities. In this case it pumped water from Luccombe right up into a reservoir on Shanklin Down. It was said to raise 10 gallons for every 100 gallons it received. It is unknown when this was installed or whether the plant is still in situ.
  There are only a few early examples still in operation anywhere in the country. Calbourne Mill have experimented in running one and plan to try and achieve a more regular operation this winter. Hydraulic rams were ultimately surpassed by motorised pumps, although they continued to be developed for specialist use. Recent predictions of higher fuel costs and demands for energy savings might well see modern versions coming back into more common use.
ram 2Pump at left is at Calbourne Mill Museum, perhaps from the Hermitage

Diagram at right shows how the basic hydraulic ram operates. The water enters at A and the pressure forces the closure of outlet valve B. This causes a violent back pressure, forcing valve D open, pushing a spurt of water into the air chamber C, and out through E. The pressure on valve B is then released and it reopens, closing valve D. The cycle repeats continuously.

September 2006
History is not only recorded in the structures that inhabit our landscape but also in the landscape itself. Newtown, at left, with its renowned medieval footprint, is a recognisable example of past influence on the landscape, yet there are many more varied and subtle features which identify phases and events in the Island's development. A three year programme mapping the Historic Landscape Characterisation is now complete and the second stage is in progress. The Historic Environment Action Plan (HEAP), launched in June, will identify particular areas of importance and discuss ways in which they can be conserved.
  The HEAP project report will involve local communities in an understanding of landscape and areas of archaeological and historic interest. A separate topic report will be prepared for each historic landscape type. It is hoped these will be published on the Isle of Wight Council's website. The HEAP Officer, Vicky Basford, is located at the County Archaeology Unit and welcomes information on all aspects of the Island's historic landscape. She is also happy to give presentations to local community groups. Vicky can be contacted on 01983 823810 or at The following are examples of the various landscape types.
Field patterns in the modern landscape occasionally preserve evidence of medieval open-field farming, for instance at Newtown and Freshwater. Other field patterns may be medieval assarts created when land was cleared from woodland or waste.
Chalk downland is a man-made habitat created by the grazing herds of farmers from prehistory until recent times. It often contains archaeological earthworks including Bronze Age barrows, prehistoric field systems and boundaries relating to medieval land use.
Heathland developed on acidic soils from prehistoric times, often as a result of human farming activity. Little heathland is left on the Island today but surviving remnants contain important archaeological monuments such as the Neolithic Longstone on Mottistone Common and the Headon Hill Bronze Age round barrow.
Woodland in the north part of the Island often occupies land that has been wooded since at least medieval times, even if replanting has taken place. Two sites of particular interest are Parkhurst Forest, which was a royal hunting forest, and Combley Great Wood, which was owned by the monks of Quarr Abbey in the Middle Ages.
Valley-Floor Land was often managed as hay meadow in the past. Elsewhere there were areas of damp grazing marsh and woodlands containing alder and willow. Sometimes the willow was managed in withy beds and the young shoots used for basket-making. Traditional valley-floor land use still survives in places.
Settlement on the Isle of Wight is surprisingly varied, including medieval towns and villages, scattered hamlets and farmsteads, 19th century seaside towns and modern housing estates. Newtown is a very well preserved example of a planned 13th century town. The failure of the town in the later Middle Ages preserved the original street plan and some of the house plots.
Coastal Land has provided many valuable archaeological discoveries, both from the Island's eroding cliffs and from inter-tidal deposits. There are surviving traces of past activities from Neolithic trackways to post-medieval salterns.
Parkland has existed on the Isle of Wight since the time of Domesday Book when Waching Park (near Parkhurst Forest) was recorded. Functional medieval deer parks gave way to ornamental landscape parks in the 18th century. The Island's grandest landscape park was at Appuldurcombe but the best preserved example is the 19th century parkland of Royal Osborne.
Roads and Tracks are a neglected part of the historic landscape, often representing the oldest surviving features in the modern landscape. The HEAP Project is working with the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society to record historic lanes and tracks.
Industry and Mineral Extraction. Sites can often cover quite extensive areas and can be of considerable antiquity, such as the medieval quarries around Binstead.