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

October - December 2016

October 2016
Having established a strict embargo on all British goods into France, Napoleon was horrified to discover Josephine's travelling trunks contained British clothes. According to Josephine, he had customs officers seize the goods. Details of how Josephine's attire may have been enabled by enterprising Cowes fishermen has recently been the subject of local interest.
   Napoleon's blockade of all British goods during the Napoleonic Wars was designed to paralyse British commerce. The blockade proclaimed that continental neutrals and French allies were not to trade with the British. It was intermittently effective from 1806 to 1814. One area of British commerce Napoleon particularly intended to hit was the cotton trade, where he hoped his ailing domestic industry would be given a chance to develop. The Industrial Revolution had left Britain far more advanced in the production and printing of cotton. The British product was superior, cheaper and much coveted on the continent. The blockade resulted in plenty of demand for smuggled in material and clothes, some of which sailed from Cowes.
   The smuggling operation out of Cowes was well organised, involving both English and French fishing boats. At Cowes, the clothes were packed into chests which were then hermetically sealed. The chests were lowered into the water off small fishing boats, secured by chains and concealed by fishing gear. The route of the journey is not entirely clear but suggests the Channel was crossed at the Straits of Dover. The boats would have sailed from Cowes to the east coast. French waters would have been a risky place for any British boat during the blockade, so it seems probable the goods were transferred to French fishing boats somewhere around Dover.
   This information comes from a German book published in 1850. At that time, the author claims the practice was still occasionally ongoing but with nothing like the intense activity that existed during the blockade.
   There doesn't seem to be any particular reason why Cowes should be a point for smuggling clothes. The business was almost certainly generated by merchants, probably some of those who had lost their legitimate trade with the continent. A variety of cargoes regularly passed through Cowes and doubtless a number of merchants had representation there. Cowes may have already been home to some experienced smugglers, perhaps leading merchants to take advantage of local skills.

November 2016
It is not often reorganisation arising from the council's financial plight provides an improved situation but relocation of the IW Archaeology Unit seems to do just that.
   The long time location of the IW Archaeology and Historic Environment Service was at Clatterford, in a premises that was essentially a converted residential property. The opportunity to realise the capital value of this property was something the council couldn't resist. At one time it was thought it would be difficult to find an alternative location that could house the vast amount of archive material. The solution was to establish a dedicated facility.
   They have now been relocated to the council's offices at the Westridge Centre and provided with a purpose designed space. It uses efficient storage and modern office design to accommodate the entire archive and provide the administrative requirements of a forward-looking service. The Archaeology Service has, like most departments, seen a reduction in staff over the years and these days has little opportunity for proactive projects. The relatively small staff has to now concentrate on updating the Historic Environment Records and providing the planning service, developers and local organisations with guidance on the archaeological implications of a range of activities which interact with the historic environment. They are still available to meet enquiries from the general public. Access is at the rear of the Westridge Centre. They can be contacted on 01983 823810. Email:
  The Portable Antiquities Scheme was also operated out of the Clatterford property. The scheme is funded by the British Museum and has proved particularly successful on the Island. This operation has now been relocated to the council offices at Newport Guildhall. The Finds Liaison Officer, Frank Basford, is available there to assess finds between 10.30 and 14.30 Mondays to Fridays. He can be contacted on 01983 821000 ext 5866. Email:
new archaeology unit The new office and storage facilties of the Archaeology Service at the Westridge Centre

December 2016
The Grade II listing of this small pavilion on Browns Golf Course at Sandown is based on the assumption it houses diesel engines driving generators to power WWII PLUTO pumps in the surrounding pump houses. It has now emerged that its use was purely local and there is no evidence it ever had any connection with PLUTO.

Browns pavilion
   There has recently been much publicity on local plans to renovate the site, with extensive coverage in the press, TV and other media. The basis for this is Historic England's interpretation of the site as having national importance as an integral piece of PLUTO infrastructure. Unfortunately this is a rare case where Historic England have got it wrong.
   Suspicions of the PLUTO claim first arose while an Island historian was researching PLUTO at The National Archives. The records covering this major project are extensive and detail virtually every aspect of the operation. Yet he found no mention of a power facility at Browns Golf Course.
   The Historic England listing claims the plant was installed to serve PLUTO within the already existing pavilion, the idea being its humble appearance would disguise a wartime use. In fact the three diesel engines were installed in the pavilion when Browns was established in 1932, driving generators to provide electricity for the site. It powered two pumps to water the greens, club house lighting and ice cream making machinery. It was not uncommon for isolated businesses like Browns to generate their own DC power. The switchboard is still labelled to identify the various Browns connections.
  When its true origin became clear, that might have been the end of the story. However, the idea had taken hold and it was then locally claimed the plant had been commandeered from Browns during the war to provide the power source for the pump houses. Such a concept assumes the power arrangement required to deliver fuel for the Allied advance into Europe was, coincidentally, identical to the requirements of a miniature golf course.
  Had the PLUTO operation been researched at the outset, it would have revealed that the motors in the pump houses were driven by mains power, supplied by The Isle of Wight Electric Light & Power Company. The energy required to drive even one of the hugely powerful PLUTO pumps was of a different order to that provided by the pavilion. The Mather and Platt centrifugal pumps were driven by electric motors producing up to 550 bhp at 1470 rpm. Power was delivered from transformers to the pump house via high tension cables, providing three-phase current supplied at 50 cycles and 3,300 volts. They were not making ice cream.
  There is no recorded power backup for the centrifugal pump houses at Sandown or Shanklin. Had a backup power facility been practical, they would have purpose built it, just as many others had been built during the war.
  It is perhaps understandable that a generator house within the vicinity of the PLUTO pump houses would lead people to assume there was some connection, but the idea was pursued without any supporting evidence. The fact that the generator house had nothing to do with the PLUTO operation does not necessarily mean it has no importance as a piece of local history. It would still be worth preserving within its proper context. Whether it is of sufficient national importance to justify its Grade II listing will be something Historic England will have to review.

And now there's a movie