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

October - December 2020

October 2020
There cannot be many who still believe the engine house at Browns Golf Course was in any way connected with the wartime PLUTO operation, particularly as Historic England no longer claim to have evidence in support of it. Nevertheless there are still a few who have publicly promoted the claim for so long they are now having difficulty coming to terms with reality.
   Of the few refusing to contemplate the inevitable, the most prominent are Arc Consulting and the council's Conservation Department. They were among the original supporters of the campaign to promote the PLUTO connection, the central element of which was their project to renovate the engine house. They have chosen not to acknowledge the accumulated evidence that now shows the engine house had no connection to PLUTO, most recently demonstrated in Historic England's own aerial photograph. They both have websites that are still making the original claims, although the council's may have been deleted in the last few days.
   Their stance would be relatively harmless but for the fact they are still promoting crowd funding to support renovation of the engine house on the assumption it was part of the PLUTO operation. Renovation is still underway but the community have moved on and the work is now being carried out on the understanding the engine house was developed and operated by Browns alone. Financial support from the public is now being sought on the basis of its local heritage, arguably a no less worthy cause.
   It seems deceptive for others to rely on what might be people's enthusiasm for wartime sites to encourage them to financially support work no longer undertaken on that basis. Anybody parting with their money on the assumption they are supporting a military installation will eventually come to realise they have effectively been defrauded. Hopefully the council may be about to abandon this appeal, although Arc Consulting are still maintaining it.
   The engine house remains Grade II listed but Historic England say they have no internal mechanism that enables them to delist a site: "where a full reassessment of the evidence would be necessary, we require a trigger in the form of an application." Given the mess they made of the last delist application, it is unlikely anybody will bother to go down that route again. Perhaps Historic England need to make an exception to their rule. Nothing in their remit from government permits dishonesty.

PLUTO plan
There is already a wealth of evidence debunking the PLUTO claim but people are still digging up more at The National Archives. The above plan of the Sandown PLUTO site was part of internal correspondence within the military to decide whether Yaverland residents should still be allowed to use the public footpath to Sandown. The solid red line is the outer security wire surrounding the requisitioned area of the PLUTO operation. The dotted line is the footpath. Browns' properties are not shown on the plan but we indicate the location of the engine house. The writer comments that ". . the land outside the existing defence wire has not been requisitioned . . . the route of the present path in no way acts as a breach of security." The PLUTO authorities clearly had no interest in the engine house.

November 2020
The announcement of a complete lockdown for November will of course be terrible news for museums. Nevertheless Island museums can take some comfort from the fact that the adaptations they have been obliged to implemented over past months have not proved a major deterrent to visitors, in spite of the restrictions it inevitably placed on them.
    The various venues have a variety of operating methods. All bar a couple have some sort of booking system. Some have opened for their normal full week, while others have limited the number of open days. They have almost all limited their capacity to one degree or another. There are mixed results but overall most seem to take the view attendance has been better than might have been expected.
   The County Record Office probably presented the most demanding restrictions, due to the complications arising from handling documents. Even here, after a slow start, attendance has reached more that half their capacity. Some of those who would have visited opted instead to make their research enquiries online and there has been a surge of activity in this area.
   The Dinosaur Museum opened earlier than most other museums and captured the summer season from July. Their mid summer figures were well down but this doubtless reflected the booking process and a general tourist shortfall. However their figures for September are actually higher than last year.
   The Guildhall Museum has also seen good attendance in the late season. They didn't reopen until October but their figures for the month are approaching last year, in spite of opening only two mornings per week, compared with five days last year.
   Carisbrooke Castle Museum have suffered a particular setback arising from the Covid restrictions. Their attendance was probably as good as any other attraction but they could not provide access to their much heralded Saxon exhibition. Under the original plan it was due to close in November and the British Museum have been unable to extend the loan. It will therefore go with very few ever having seen it. They plan to display a slide show of the Saxon items in their main exhibition section.
   One of the expectations was that senior citizens would be less likely to attend venues due to their greater vulnerability to the virus. There has been some evidence for this but the reduction appears to have been marginal. At Newport Roman Villa the number of senior citizens attending are recorded. Their attendance had a slow start but is now much the same as last year, per hours opened.
   Most museums only managed to catch the latter part the tourist season. Whilst general tourism has suffered badly, the Island has many day trip tourists who often make the trip with a view to attending particular attractions. Some museums noted that their visitors frequently included day trippers.
   The future will doubtless see further government edicts but Island museums have shown they can continue to operate under a level of national restrictions that might prove to be the baseline for some time to come.

December 2020
The projecting front offices of Newport Power Station were retained as part of planning permission granted for the site to be converted into flats. The retention was on the basis the building was regarded as a heritage asset. Without making any attempt to start the development, the developer defied the planning decision and demolished the offices.
Newport Power Station
   The manner in which the developer got away with the demolition without a council intervention was detailed in our item of March 2018. Demolishing the entire structure as an isolated project could hardly be an accident. The council theoretically have the power to enforce the rebuilding of the offices, so the developer said they would do so when the development started.
  They clearly never had any intention of doing so. They have allowed the planning permission to lapse and are unlikely to enter a new one in the foreseeable future. The council's only option is to now pursue an enforcement notice. In the past the council has been quite rigorous in enforcing planning decisions but austerity has taken its toll on such departments and it seems unlikely we will ever see the front offices rebuilt.
  What remains is a deteriorating skeleton of the building. All the developer now needs to do is sit tight until the structure is declared as dangerous and pulled down. On past experience, they will probably get some assistance from the council's Building Services to achieve that aim. In truth, the council will probably be as pleased as the developer to see the back of the power station.
  The first planning application went to appeal in 2011, which resulted in both the council and developer being admonished by the planning inspector for failing to grasp the importance of the building as a heritage asset and establish a sufficient degree of preservation. "The loss of the greater part of the building, specifically the integrity of its three dimensionality, and its replacement with the form and layout of development proposed, would significantly diminish that special character, resulting in material harm to it." This came as something of a shock to the Island's planning authority. They had previously never used the words 'industrial' and 'preservation' in the same sentence. They were nevertheless obliged thereafter to consider a greater degree of preservation for the power station.

PLUTO plan
The loss of the power station would leave the Island with little remaining as a reminder of the classic architecture of Victorian utility buildings, combining style and solidity. Some may remember the superb Knighton waterworks. It was demolished in the 1980s.