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

October - December 2013

October 2013
The council's cancellation of the latest plan to relocate the County Record Office is just the last in a series of abandoned proposals. Recent Freedom of Information disclosures show how the council has failed to deal with the archive crisis over two decades.
  The first formal survey to highlight shortcomings in council archive storage facilities was carried out in 1993. It concluded the Record Office "has all the hallmarks of a record office which has remained undeveloped for the last 20 years . . . and has now reached a stage where investment is required." The council noted the report but took no action.
  The survey was carried out by The National Archives (TNA). They hold responsibility for storage and access to Britain's official archives, both on their own premises and at nationwide locations. Their responsibility is for public records, which are those belonging to central government, some of which are held by local authorities. Even TNA seem unsure as to exactly what this category embraces, although it's thought the documents probably constitute around 10% of the total Island archives. Some date back to the 16th century but a fair proportion are contemporary and these are still growing. The bulk of the archives are not included but substandard storage facilities could result in a general loss of confidence in the record office.
  The present County Archivist was appointed in January 1996. At the time, he stated that his first priority would be to find a new home for the archives, adding that he hoped the issue could be resolved during 1996. Today he is no closer to achieving that aim.
  The next formal TNA survey was in 2000. It concluded that, although numerous minor improvements had been carried out since 1993, " . . current storage fails to meet the recognised standard." Their concerns covered building security, potential water ingress and fire protection. They placed emphasis on the risk to documents through a lack of environmental control over temperature and humidity. Following this survey, TNA informed the council that unless they could arrive at suitable premises by 2003, public records would be removed from the Island. This would leave them out of reach for regular local research. TNA would then charge the council for the storage and associated services.
  Following this notification, the council began considering options for relocation of the record office. By 2003, nothing positive had been established but TNA accepted there was serious intent and their deadline was put back. In 2005 a feasibility study got underway on the basis of a new, purpose built, one-stop Heritage Centre, housing the complete archives and all heritage departments. TNA welcomed the project but warned that such grand plans often failed to come to fruition, so there should be a plan B. Project planning was at an advanced stage when financial constraints put an end to the concept. It's not clear if there ever was a plan B, but the hunt was then on for an existing council building to adapt. A number of properties were considered and by 2010 a vacant Nodehill School had become the favoured location. It would require an additional structure and would house heritage facilities and a relocated Newport Library. The planning for this project was still in process when it was cancelled.
  In April 2011, TNA wrote to the council, noting that developments had come to a halt and giving them until October to come up with a solution. Then came the Newport Guildhall proposal. TNA were not impressed with this plan as it seemed likely to result in storage split between two locations, which they regarded as unsatisfactory. They nevertheless reluctantly accepted it.
  With the new council no longer committed to the Guildhall solution, we are back to square one. More cuts are due in the next budget, so the outcome is likely to be less than ideal. There can be no doubting the time and effort the Heritage Service have devoted to the various options, but above them, there has been only grudging support from executives and councillors. A comprehensive solution may be possible but it will probably require both TNA and the council to be more inventive than they have been to date.

November 2013
While a solution to the archive problem is still on hold, the council is continuing to develop its heritage service strategy for the coming years. A conference to be held this month will put the broad proposals to a wide range of interested parties and seek their input to guide detailed implementation.
  A new heritage strategy arose out of the need to offset cutbacks to the service. A different approach was required to meet the demands of both tourists and locals. The process has now been embraced within the new council's root and branch review of all cost centres. As with other services, a greater community involvement is seen as an essential ingredient. Last year a series of workshops were held with local museums, heritage centres and local history organisations, at which a general framework was developed. Voluntary organisations make a major contribution in providing tourist attractions and serving local interest. The framework seeks to enhance this benefit by creating a greater interaction and cooperation between them, via a central, coordinating partnership.
  Following last years workshops, around twenty local organisations volunteered to form the Heritage Reference Group. This hub will oversee the various elements of the framework. It is envisaged that joint-working among voluntary organisations will enable them to encourage a wider public interest. Cooperation in areas such as publicity, exhibitions and events should create a greater impact. They will also be able to share skills and perhaps even benefit from joint grant applications.
  So far, details of the framework have been limited to those directly involved. The forthcoming conference is designed to explain the arrangement to a much wider range of interested parties and get their input on requirements within their own specific fields. The morning session will see a presentation, followed by an opportunity for questions and discussions to ascertain people's general views. In the afternoon, groups will be formed to get down to detailed discussions within three workshops. The workshops will cover Heritage Tourism, the Heritage Hub and Accessible Collections. It is hoped some overall conclusions can be collated before the conference ends.
  The council's role within the framework will be to oversee the Heritage Reference Group. It's not yet clear what part their own facilities will play in the general interaction, bearing in mind they hold a wealth of historical documents and artefacts. Doubtless the conference will see some voluntary organisations pressing this matter.

December 2013
There has always been some uncertainty as to why an area on the north of Newport Harbour came to be known as Little London. Research on the mainland seems to provide the answer.
   Little London is recorded from the 17th century and may well have been known as such from medieval times. There is nothing about the history of the area to suggest the name. In typical riverside evolution, it gradually developed from regular moorings on mud flats into a small quay.
   The name Little London became the subject of enquiry when it was realised there was no common explanation for a number of spots carrying the name, scattered around the country. A BBC radio programme decided to seek an answer. Their conclusion was that these were all on drover routes, where cattle were driven from far and wide to the London markets. It appears to be the name given to assembling locations and stopover points along the route. Cattle were driven to London from as far afield as Wales and the West Country. Our own Little London was not part of this survey but it seems likely to have the same origins. In our case, the cattle were waiting to be shipped but it was still just a stopover en route to London.
   Cattle, geese and turkeys could be driven long distances to markets, sheep in considerable numbers. The Island was a major provider of sheep and wool from its earliest farming development. There appear to be no records giving the numbers being shipped during medieval times but a 19th century record suggests it could reach 8,000 a year. Little London would have been an assembling area for sheep, before being taken to a quay for loading. Like stopovers elsewhere, it would have provided pasture land for temporary grazing. It might seem logical to ship them straight into a London port, although the fact that Little London is a 'drover' name suggests they were just taken across the Solent and thereafter continued their journey by land.
   The quay used to load the sheep probably varied over time. Newport quay or Little London itself would have been used. They may have also been loaded at Hurstake, which seems to have been a prominent shipping point in the early medieval period.
As late as the 1920s, sheep were still being driven to the markets through the streets of London.