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

October - December 2017

October 2017
Carisbrooke Castle Museum and the IW Heritage Service have embarked on a major grant funded project to generate a renewed interest in Island history, by focusing attention on less well known Island achievers - the Hidden Heroes. The scheme is seeking the support and involvement of Island museums and heritage centres, with the aim of raising their profile and attracting more visitors.
   The theme of the project is to shine a light on the Island's unsung achievers: enterprising individuals whose contribution to past events have never been widely credited and largely ignored by local history. The project was given a pre-launch presentation to interested parties at the Quay Arts Centre last month. There are apparently a good number of hidden heroes to be revealed following the public launch and it seems likely more will come to light as a result of the publicity. Some examples may be well known within particular disciplines but relatively unknown to the general public.
  There is some confusion as to the criteria that determines a hidden hero. A few examples of hidden heroes were given at the Quay Arts Centre but they bizarrely included the prominent historical figures Isabella de Fortibus and Julia Margaret Cameron. The promotional material talks of  'famous' hidden heroes - a contradiction in terms. It's difficult to know quite what to expect.
  The underlying objective is to bring Island history to a wider local audience, with ambitious plans for the promotion and marketing of our past to sections of the community who might not normally be drawn in. The method is to target schools, business, heritage groups and the general public with a high powered, branded campaign. These are areas that council services have engaged with in the past but the new element is likely to be social media, which has yet to be exploited by the Island's heritage establishment.
   It will not be enough to merely generate lots of Facebook and general internet activity. The aim must be to get people away from their keyboards and making use of the Island's heritage facilities. A mobile app is probably on the cards.
  Below are a couple of our own suggested hidden heroes, deserving of wider local recognition.
Anthony Henday
An Island born fisherman and convicted smuggler who became an adventurer, ending up in Canada in the 1750s. There he was employed by the Hudson Bay Company as an explorer and given the task of probing the vast distances of the unknown Canadian west, where he became one of the first white men to encounter the native Indian tribes.
Peter Jackson
A cutting-edge electronics engineer who developed an advanced analogue computer at Saunders-Roe in the late 1940s, at the dawn of such technology. It was part of a range of electronic test sets associated with guided weapons and aircraft design, at a time when the company was developing jet powered flight. Sections of this unique computer still exist, now in private hands.

November 2017
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has proved very productive on the Island, not least through the activities of the local metal detecting clubs. The scheme publishes details of all finds on its web database. Other counties generally provide an indication where the finds were found, by naming the parish, district or nearest village. For some reason, this information is withheld for Island finds.
   One of the main features of PAS is that it enables the public to search the database and take an interest in the various discoveries. A key factor in peoples interest must surely lie in where the items were found, in particular what might have been discovered in there own surrounding environment. Withholding that information seems to run counter to the principle of the scheme. The Island appears to be alone in this practice.
  It would seem the restriction comes from the metal detecting clubs. They apparently have the right to control the information released. There is a history of Island clubs operating in considerable secrecy. The reason normally given is to prevent nighthawking but there is no reason to assume the threat here would be worse than anywhere else. A more likely reason for secrecy is the fear of revealing productive sites to rival clubs. However, revealing the nearest village is unlikely to provide the exact field or farm of the find location. Presumably a club also has the option of securing exclusive access to a site by reaching an arrangement with the landowner.
  Where PAS data is transferred to the Historic Environment Record (HER), the location becomes available to the public, right down to the GPS position. There seems to be no rule as to whether an authority should transfer PAS to HER. Some authorities do but the Island is among those that don't. The lack of a standard national procedure for recording historic finds seems to arise from PAS and HER being governed by different organisations. The issue is further complicated because some archaeologists still take a dim view of metal detecting.
Roman coins
The above Roman coins are recent Island discoveries, recorded on PAS within the same few weeks. They are of the same period (4th century, House of Constantine). Roman coins are not uncommon finds. For all we know, these could have been recorded miles apart and considered no more than random items. Alternatively, they could have been found within 30 metres of each other in the same field, which might tell a different story. Having some idea of the location would enable people to see a bigger picture.

December 2017

Newport harbour
The current council review of options for the redevelopment of Newport Quay has so far overlooked its potential as a location for the long overdue County Heritage Centre. The location is not only an ideal visitor site but one that might ease the capital expenditure restriction that has inhibited previous plans.
   Ever since the National Archive declared the County Record Office storage facilities as sub-standard, the council has been under pressure to create suitable new premises to house the records, or face the prospect of some records being removed from the Island.
  Various plans have been drawn up over many years, including complete new builds and adaptations of existing properties, all ultimately abandoned. The plans sought to create a complete heritage centre, including document storage, public record office, archaeology unit and county museum. The most recent proposal, drawn up in 2014, is for a conversion of Seaclose planning offices, including an extension. Councillors may comfort themselves with this plan but they know the capital expenditure requirement rules it out for the foreseeable future.
  The advantage of the harbour site lies in its close proximity to the existing record office. It may be possible to build the new premises on a piecemeal basis, spreading the capital expenditure over successive years. The record office already relies on storage in outbuildings. Records are presumably allocated to them on the basis of the frequency they have to be accessed, the most immediately accessed being those normally called up at the public facility. These allocations could provide the basis for a schedule of new build sections on the quay, each being added over a period of time. As the new facilities are developed, it would temporarily leave some records apart from the central operation, but only by a short distance. Public access facilities, with associated records, could be scheduled at either end of the development. A county museum might be considered as the final stage.
  The proposal is not without unknown elements. It remains to be seen to whether the number of divisions will be enough to provide a sufficient reduction in capital expenditure for each. The system of adding sections over time would call for some imaginative architecture to create a final homogeneous facility. Whilst a central heritage centre might ultimately reduce staffing levels, it may put a strain on existing levels during the transition period.
  Clearly the concept requires further analysis but the council should not reach any firm conclusions on the quay's redevelopment before carrying out a preliminary feasibility study of the proposal. It would be unwise to dismiss such a unique opportunity out of hand.