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

October - December 2018

October 2018

A planning application for nine houses might not normally attract archaeological attention but the historical significance of Arreton Valley prompted a geophysical survey of the site prior to planning permission being granted. The results suggest possible archaeological features.
Arreton archaeology
   Geophysical surveys have become the standard method of archaeological assessment within the planning process, normally at the pre-planning stage. They can indicate potential anomalies that might be worth archaeological oversight during building excavations, or in some cases, prompting trial trenches prior to any building work. There are two main geophysical methods. Magnetic surveying responds to magnetic properties in the soils. Resistivity surveying responds to the electrical conductivity in soils, detecting contrasts in soil moisture and porosity.
  Arreton Valley and its immediate environs have provided past evidence of prehistoric occupation, not least through Bronze Age barrows overlooking the valley. These fertile lands have probably been productive from Neolithic times. Arreton's Anglo-Saxon heritage and the nearby location of the medieval Heasley Manor Farm are evidence of the area's continuous activity. Any sizeable planning application in the area is bound to prompt an archaeological alert.
  The geophysical survey has shown the site comprises possible archaeological features, indicated by linear and curvilinear anomalies, which may represent a ditched enclosure and possibly linear ditches or a trackway. These features may be prehistoric in date. Other anomalies on the north side of the site may represent medieval or later settlement evidence.
  Planning permission has been granted on condition there is some archaeological oversight of the building excavations. This will likely involve an archaeologist on site at relevant stages of the development, with the authority to stop work and further investigate where necessary.

November 2018

During the Napoleonic Wars, legions of foreign troops were seconded to the British army and stationed on the Island. For some reason a number appear to have been encamped at various isolated farm locations, apart from main body of troops above Newport. Anecdotal reports that locals lived in justifiable fear of such troops has been supported by recently uncovered documented evidence.
The Kings German Legion
   There is no doubt there was concern in some quarters that many foreign legions largely consisted of ex convicts and undesirable mercenaries, which may have been one reason they were located out of the public eye on the Island. One Parliamentarian wryly commented that the number of foreign troops on the Island suggested we were more in danger of invasion from the Isle of Wight than France. Throughout the second half of the 18th century, as many as 25,000 British troops were encamped around Kitbridge, above Newport, in preparation for various campaigns. Some foreign troops were probably also located there during the Napoleonic Wars but they were doubtless subjected to a more disciplined regime than those left to there own devices at rural locations.
  There is scant information as to what legions were encamped elsewhere, or where they were located. One anecdotal story refers to the German Lowenstein's Chasseurs, who were said to have been encamped on Princelett Farm, Apse Heath. The legion's canteen apparently gave rise to 'Canteen Road'. The story claims the locals were subjected to aggressive behaviour and lived in fear of the troops.
  On the face of it, the King's German Legion was a cut above the rest. Representing the Royal House of Hanover, they were famously commended for their bravery and discipline in a number of campaigns. However some claimed there was a degree of mythology about this reputation and that they were not Hanoverians at all but "drawn from all quarters." It was in a challenge to their reputation that Archduke Charles wrote to the legion's commander, The Duke of Brunswick, citing their behaviour on the Island.
  "When they came to this country, one of the first places they were sent to was the Isle of Wight. There they committed all manner of violences, enormities, and devastations. They were charged with committing two murders;—I cannot pretend to say they actually did commit them;—but, this I will say, I have seen a letter, stating that the bar of a public-house has been chopped through with their sabres, and the landlord put in the greatest danger of his life, for not supplying them with liquors. In short they were the terror of the whole neighbourhood, who rejoiced most sincerely when they were sent off somewhere else."
  There seems to be no local record of these events, nor do we know where on the Island they were located, although it has been suggested 'Hanover Point' at Brook might be an indication. They were here when they were first formed in 1803. At that time, they were probably only about a thousand strong. They were not here long, being moved off the Island in 1804. The only hope of discovering their location probably rests with metal detecting clubs. Wherever the King's German Legion were encamped, they will have surely left some military debris behind.

Correspondence following publication has shown the quotation refers not to the King's German Legion but to the Duke of Brunswick-Oels. This legion was formed in support of Austria but continued to campaign after Austria was defeated. The Brunswick Corps eventually arrived at the UK in 1809 and were encamped at some unknown location on the Island. Here they carried out training in preparation for joining Wellington's army in Portugal in 1810. The King's German Legion's period on the Island is as stated but they may have been partly located at Parkhurst.

December 2018
The latest suggestion for a new County Record Office is a conversion of the Waltzing Waters building at Westridge. This spacious structure is council owned, close to existing heritage facilities, has easy access and space for future development. On the face of it, an ideal location. It is nevertheless worth bearing in mind all the previous proposals were considered ideal, until they were abandoned.
Waltzing Waters
  The last in a series of proposed solutions to the Record Office problem was a conversion of Seaclose planning offices, including an extension. This formal proposal arose out of a 2013 review of heritage facilities. The total cost of around £6m was accepted on the assumption it would be part supported by a grant. The idea was never likely to come to fruition, not least because the proposal could only arrive at a rather vague assumption as to when and where the existing planning facilities would be relocated. Even allowing for a grant element, the capital requirement would probably be too demanding for a council suffering austerity. It comes as no surprise Seaclose is no longer a favoured option.
  The Waltzing Waters building potentially offers some economic advantages over Seaclose and previous proposed conversions. A major factor in the cost of converting existing properties lies in the structural changes necessary to meet the environmental standards for storage. The Westridge building has large internal spaces which may allow rooms to be built inside them, without dismantling too much of the existing structure. Another advantage may lie in the building being large enough to house the complete records archive, without the need for an extension.
  The feasibility of the concept will be tested by an architectural evaluation. The council have put the proposal up for architects to compete in raising plans. Apparently four companies have taken up the challenge. The original concept was a heritage centre which included the county museum. This doesn't appear to be under consideration at Westridge, at least at this stage. The county archaeology unit is already located in the Westridge building.
  The Record Office problem arises because The National Archive have threatened to remove records from the Island unless it meets the required environmental controls for the storage of official documents. This threat has existed for nearly 20 years. It has been held in abeyance over that time through the council's practice of raising a new plan every time it becomes obvious the existing plan is never going to be implemented. Effectively the council have been engaged in a twenty year long feasibility study. The National Archive would have long since removed the records but for the fact they are as reluctant to be burdened with them as we are to lose them.