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

October - December 2021

October 2021
There can be few developments that have involved such exceptional conditions and abnormal delays in completing a planning application. Where are we now?
   The four phase planning application only included phase 1 as a full application, leaving some to worry that the three outline phases might never be developed, particularly the phase 4 industrial section. The solution for the Planning Committee was to pass the application on condition phase 4 was developed in parallel with the phase 1, thus requiring the developer to apply for full planning permission for phase 4.
   It's not clear what 'developed in parallel' means, as planning permission would not normally determine if and when a development is undertaken. It seems this unusual condition called for a particular legal agreement between council and developer. In February 2020 we reported this protracted negotiation had reached a conclusion with a signed agreement, but It subsequently emerged there were further delays as disputes arose over legal costs.
   This too was subsequently settled but months have passed without any indication the developer intended to proceed with what could be a less rewarding option.
   However, the developer's newly appointed planning agent has now confirmed the phase 4 process is underway, while pointing out there is a great deal of work involved in preparing the application.

medina yard plan
The above plan shows all phases. Phase 1 is to the right of the hammerhead crane, but includes the crane. Phase 4 is essentially the large industrial units at far left. The full application may differ from the outline application and is not without complications. It will have to accommodate the flood risk and deal with general site dilapidation, as in phase 1. It will presumably need to provide temporary relocation of some existing on site businesses.

November 2021
In 2004 a planning application was withdrawn after finds from a field walking survey of the site left archaeolosts in no doubt it was the location of a substantial Roman structure. A couple of years later they were taken aback when a geophysical survey found no trace of any building. There has never been an official explanation for this strange anomoly but a theory has emerged following a recent interest in the development of the Newport-Cowes railway line.
   The planning application was for a golf course in a field at Chawton, Northwood. As a historically sensitive area, it attracted an archaeological survey prior to any planning consideration. The survey was limited to a field walking exercise. The discovery of Roman artefacts was unexpected, particularly as the abundance of items included a large scatter of roof tiles, floor tiles, ceramics and discarded lead. The archaeology report concluded that the site gave "every indication of a high status building of villa character." There would have been no prospect of the planning application being passed and it was withdrawn.
   A couple of years later a geophysical survey of the Medina environs included the Chawton field. Archaeologists were looking forward to getting some indication of the layout of the Roman building. They were shocked to discover there was nothing to indicate any structure at all.
   There is now a theory that the development of the Island's first railway line, between Newport and Cowes, explains the mystery. Laying the line was dogged with problems at the outset. By 1860 the underfunded project was underway from Newport but excavating difficult land challenged their schedule. By December 1861 they had reached Hunnyhill. It called for a cutting through the highest point.
   It came as a surprise when excavation of the cutting revealed Roman remains. A local expert was called in to oversee excavations. There were a range of finds, including cremation urns laid in trenches, suggesting a Roman cemetery. Victorian archaeology had limited techniques, so detail of layout and the extent of the cemetery is not clear. The delay in dealing with this discovery was the last thing railway engineers needed. Moreover, it could not have escaped them that the remaining rail route would be along a river bank that would have probably supported shipping and other activities since prehistoric times, not least from the many inlets they would have to pass. They could well strike other historic remains.
   Speculation has it their worst fears were realised when they uncovered the remains of a major Roman structure near an inlet below the Chawton field. Engineers would have almost certainly recognised the building materials of Roman origin and understood that excavation of the area around a villa could set the rail project back weeks, perhaps calling for a costly detour.
   Unlike the Hunnyhill situation, they were in an area with no public access. It is suggested they took advantage of the privacy to dig out as much of the Roman material as they could and scatter it across a nearby field, carefully covering it. The fact that nobody recognised the scattering for a over century shows how easy it was to prevent its discovery.
   There is no evidence to support this theory. It may be there is an alternative explanation, but as yet, it has not been forthcoming. It would probably require substantial excavations to clarify the matter. In recent times traces of Roman industrial activity have been found on the bank of a Medina inlet.

Medina railway
The rail route along the west bank of the Medina is a historically sensitive 4.5 miles. Who knows what other historic materials where uncovered but went unreported.

December 2021
For years the dilapidated remains of a 19th century cement kiln was an unofficial kids playground, before becoming lost in overgrowth. Following archaeological excavation, it has now emerged as one of the most unique kilns in the land and is due to be considered by Historic England for protection as a Scheduled Monument.
kiln plates
   Historic England initially claimed the archaeological remains didn't meet with their criteria because they weren't early enough. Nevertheless they were persuaded that the highly unusual nature of the structure warranted an examination.
   There is no other example of this type of kiln anywhere, nor had anything like it ever been patented. It was designed to dry the soft cement mix using waste heat from its integral bottle kilns. It is a previously unknown predecessor to what became the common chamber kiln
   The heating process employed appears to be highly sophisticated, involving directing the hot gases both via under floor ducts and through the chamber. There are still features that cannot be explained and more work will be required for a full understanding of the structure. The Medina Cement works was no stranger to innovation. In the 1860s it built the nation's first concrete houses at East Cowes.
   Whatever the outcome of Historic England's deliberations, the Dodnor kiln will remain one of the Island's most unique structures, with an opportunity for further discoveries.