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

October - December 2000

October 2000
Many of the Island's ancient burial mounds are prominently sited on our downland and form a familiar part of Island scenery. There are others less well known and it may be surprising to learn previously unrecorded sites are still being discovered.
   A recent discovery is of a 'bowl' barrow in Brighstone Forest. This is Early Bronze Age belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. It is of low profile, 'ditched' and appears to be free from earlier excavation. Brighstone Forest was planted in the 1930's and gradually obscured many burial mounds before they were recorded. There have been a number of newly discovered Bronze Age bowl barrows on the chalklands of West Wight, often coming to light when scrub is cleared. Some of these have been considered worthy of protection as Scheduled Ancient Monuments. .
   Bowl Barrows, the most numerous form of round barrow, are funerary monuments which date from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age and often acted as a focus for burials in later periods. They frequently occupy prominent locations and are a major historic element in the modern landscape. Although often superficially similar, they differ widely in size and exhibit regional variations in form. These variations provide important information on the diversity of burial practices and beliefs amongst early prehistoric communities
Example of a Bronze Age bowl barrow. They occur in isolation or grouped as cemeteries. Constructed of earthen or rubble mounds they are often, as here, surrounded by a ditch.
Site location map
November 2000
Vectis Ware was exclusive to the Island, running from Iron Age through Roman times. Pipeline excavations have uncovered a number of examples, the most recent being at Briddlesford.
  The Briddlesford find occurred along the Somerton to Knights Cross pipeline. This find comprises the lower portion of a bowl or jar. It contains a carbonised residue which could be the remains of an ancient meal. Other finds of Vectis Ware have been at Somerton, Yaverland and Havenstreet. .
  This brown burnished pottery was industrially produced, coming from one or more centres. It was given the name 'Vectis Ware' by the ex. Island County Archaeologist, David Tomalin. It appeared first in the Late Iron Age and continued through to the early 4th century. The various pottery forms copied those of the popular Black Burnished Ware from Poole. Vectis Ware is not as well made and served only local needs. Its production sites have not been positively identified but Brading and Combley villas, as the largest sources of Vectis Ware, could well have been the manufacturing centres. In the past there have also been substantial finds at Redcliffe, St Catherine's Point, Grange Chine, Bowcombe and Mersley, although no villas have been discovered at these locations. A discovery in 1994 during the construction of a classroom at Brading Primary School has recently been donated to the County Archaeology Centre. This lower half of a vessel is particularly interesting as it contains a cremation, possibly that of a child.
  These recent finds along the routes of the Southern Water and Transco pipelines were made by archaeologists carrying out watching briefs on such routes. Watching briefs on the route of pipelines are negotiated between the Utilities and the County Archaeology and Historic Environment Service prior to the commencement of the work and are funded by the Utilities. These arrangements ensure that archaeological sites and finds are identified and recorded during the operations of stripping and pipe laying along the line of the easements.
Site location map

December 2000
Until now it has been assumed the Island's connection with alum started in the 16th century. Controversially some historians now want to set this date back a further 200 years.
  Initial research emanates from a single section in a book called 'The Little Red Book of Bristol'. This includes 14th century regulations to control and monitor the weavers, dyers and fullers of that town. Under the 'Ordinances for the Dyers' three types of alum are prescribed - "Spyralum, Glasalum and Bokkan". It continues by ordering "that no Alum de Wyght or Bitterwos be used or employed in working . . ." Anyone found using it were to be fined at the discretion of the mayor and the Council.
  The complicated chemical process in which alum is extracted from clays was not known in Britain until the 16th century. It has therefore been assumed that the 14th century term Alum de Wyght must have referred to imported white alum. New research has concentrated on the word Bitterwos contained in the same sentence. This is derived from the Old English word wos, meaning scum; later developing the sense of juice, sap or exhudation, finally giving the modern word ooze, and this provides the clue to the identity of the alum. It would seem that 'bitterwos' refers to a substance that oozed or exhuded from exposed rocks or on cliff falls. The word alum was used indiscriminately in the 14th century to cover several compounds. These efflorescences formed on pyritous layers but were not alum proper.
  The new claim is that this ooze was collected on the Island in the 14th century and traded as a mordant for the dying industry, albeit regarded as inferior to the proper imported alum. The theory is strengthened by a closer analysis of the term Alum de Wyght. There are Old English examples of Wyght to mean both white and Wight but it's unusual for white to be capitalised. Also de represents Alum of Wyght and there is little in 14th cent grammar to support Alum of White. Further research may be necessary but it would seem some re-write of our own alum page may be required in due course.