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

October - December 2015

October 2015

It is fifteen years since the Isle of Wight Brick Museum closed. The collection has remained intact and premises may have now become available to reopen it.
brick museum
  The museum was opened at Clamerkin Farm (above) back in the mid 1990s. It was established and operated by the The Isle of Wight Industrial Archaeology Society. It contained numerous examples of terracotta products, including bricks, finials, ridge tiles and chimney pots. The collection was started by Brian Evans when he was Clerk of Works and stored in his garage. It was continued and researched by Jill Reilly over many years. The museum was able to show when and where the products were made and display details of some of the numerous Island families who were involved in brickmaking, from the 18th century to the mid 20th century. It also demonstrated changing fashions and the technologies employed over time. The collection has been in storage since the museum's closure.
  The possibility of available premises was pursued by East Cowes Heritage Centre when they noticed the old coach house at Whippingham Church was no longer used and had fallen into disrepair. Talks with the church authorities and the Isle of Wight Society reached preliminary agreement on developing the coach house for use as the brick museum, although it remains to be sanctioned by the Parochial Church Council. It was seen as a worthy project, particularly as Whippingham and East Cowes have a prominent brickmaking heritage. The Isle of Wight Industrial Archaeology Society have agreed to loan the collection for an indefinite period and assist in creating the display.

coach houseThe coach house was last in use as a souvenir and confectionery shop and became redundant when the church established its enhanced tourist facilities. It is in need of some renovation but the work could be carried out by volunteers. The structure was originally part of Truckles Farm. When the Almshouses were built on the site in the 19th century, it was moved to its present position and became part of church property.

November 2015
Back in May 2013 we covered research by the IW Industrial Archaeology Society that revealed the important wartime role played by this Y-station structure on Rew Down, Ventnor. The revelation that it could be the only remaining example prompted the IW History Centre to apply for national protection. As a result, Historic England have granted it Grade II status. Their basis for the listing is reproduced below.
  Signals Intelligence (known as SIGINT) played a critical role during the Second World War. The contribution of Bletchley Park - headquarters of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) - and its code breakers to the war effort is of global renown. Much less well understood is the role of the Y-Service, an inter-service intelligence gathering collaboration with each service (RAF, Army, Navy, Foreign Office and GPO) tracking activity in its enemy counterpart. During the Second World War the Y-Service consisted of a chain of wireless interceptor stations, known as Y-stations, which were distributed around the country, often in elevated positions, sometimes on the coast as at Ventnor. These comprised both fixed receiving stations and/or Direction Finding (D/F) capabilities (Ventnor had both.) The Y-station operators were critical in intercepting enemy transmissions, identifying the locations of enemy ships and aircraft and passing this information back to their home station and to Bletchley Park (known as Station X) to be deciphered and translated. As Pether put it 'Throughout the Second World War the 'Y' Service was the "ears" of the G.C.& C.S. at Bletchley Park' (2011, 3); without the Y-service's interceptions GC&CS could not have functioned as its codebreakers and analysts would have had nothing to work with.
  Ventnor was a naval Y-station: the Royal Navy's Y-service gathered intelligence from German naval radio traffic and also gained positional fixes on vessels in convoys, blockade runners, U-boats (German submarines) and E-boats (German fast torpedo boats). Naval Y-stations were manned by Special Duties Wrens. Historically these Y-stations played a vital yet relatively un-sung role in the campaign to combat the E-boat attacks on our coastal shipping, allowing our forces to ward of attacks and thus saving many lives as well as precious war materials.
  We currently have no evidence relating to the SIGNIT intercepted at Ventnor. Such work was governed by the Official Secrets Act; some SIGNIT work is still subject to this Act and even when such provisions no longer apply there is a seeming reticence among many former Special Duties Wrens to talk about this work. It is possible that there may be evidence about Ventnor's role in the National Archives but such research is outside the scope of this assessment. We can surmise that Ventnor was likely to have been a very busy Y-station given its strategic position on the south coast. We also know from its form of blast wall that its tower was felt to merit the additional protection provided by its loopholes when many D/F towers did not have these features (it is presumed that the perceived threat was from German special forces).
  It is highly likely that Royal Navy (RN) Y-stations were responsible for intercepting the Naval Enigma code, the de-coding of which was so instrumental in turning the tide of war. We cannot make grand claims that Ventnor D/F tower intercepted such key messages, however it is a site which is representative of the role of RN Y-stations in this respect and a critical part of the SIGNIT chain.

December 2015
Talks to reopen the council's Guildhall Museum in alliance with the 'Visit Isle of Wight' tourist operation seem to have stalled. The Heritage Service is going to adapt Newport Roman Villa to display some items but there are clearly space limitations. Even the Guildhall Museum could only display a tiny proportion of the council's considerable collection. It now looks as if the vast majority of the collection will remain unknown and unseen by the public, at least for the foreseeable future.
  The council's artefact collections have always been shrouded in mystery. For reasons of security, the detailed contents have never been published and the storage locations are not widely known. It seems likely most people have no idea of the considerable size of the collections and the wide range of objects they contain.
 The Museum Service began to acquire items relating to the island's history soon after its formation in 1975. The formation of a Unitary Local Authority in 1995 led to the assimilation of the property of former Borough Councils, through whom a miscellany of civic, local history and fine art collections were inherited, including ceramics, silverware, and paintings. The rapidly growing local history, art and archaeology collection led in 1996 to the formation of a Museum of Island History, in Newport Guildhall.
  Existing local history and fine art collections mainly comprise the following:
-Local civic regalia, silverware, and ephemera.
-Local/social history objects made or used on the island, including trade tokens, and items of local souvenir ware.
-Local tradesmen's tools, shopkeepers' equipment and blacksmithing tools.
-Large industrial archaeology and transport objects, including static steam engines, brick making machinery, printing presses, farm machinery, a tram, a carriage, Thrust II parts etc.
-Historic photographs, postcards and ephemera.
-Paintings, prints and watercolours, including the late 18th century Rowlandson Collection of sketches, and fine mid-19th century watercolours of local view.
  In 1975 a maritime history collection began to be assembled, exploiting acquisitions made following the closure of J. S. White shipbuilding, plus maritime items assembled from the amalgamation of the District Councils. These acquisitions led to the establishment of the Cowes Maritime Museum within Cowes Public Library. The maritime collections were expanded considerably with photographs, documents, ephemera, books, and pictures, and a miscellany of objects ranging from navigational instruments to a small number of boats. The maritime collection covers both shipbuilding and the design and building of small pleasure yachts and craft.
  The archaeology collection has its origins in the 19th century, when a number of bodies amassed small collections of antiquities on the Island. Carisbrooke Castle Museum was established in 1889 and over the years it absorbed the various local archaeology collections. By 1975 concern was being expressed by the Trustees about the lack of space for the rapidly expanding archaeology section. By 1981 the Trustees and the County Council had negotiated for the permanent loan of the collections to the Council.
  Today the archaeology collections comprise two major groups of material: collections on deposit or loan by various organisations, and items largely acquired after 1981 from excavations and by other means (donations, purchases, etc). All items relate to the Isle of Wight and its surrounding waters, and range from the Lower Palaeolithic to the nineteenth century. Nationally important assemblages exist of Lower Palaeolithic and Mesolithic flint tools, Bronze Age pottery and metalwork, Iron Age coinage, Roman remains, and Anglo Saxon coins and metalwork. Amongst the post-medieval collections are substantial remains from the wreck of the Santa Lucia (1567) and HMS Pomone (1811).
  The council's collections are not completely inaccessible. Researchers can ask to view a particular item but they first have to discover its existence. Moreover, the council's dwindling labour resources make a visit difficult to arrange. Local museums are increasingly displaying some council items on loan but they have to meet strict criteria and many have their own space limitations. Some historians feel the council should now change their approach to collections by detailing some content and publishing a photographic record of many items. It might not do much for tourism but it would allow Islanders to feel more involved with the historical artefacts being held on their behalf.