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

October-December 2003

October 2003
roman outbuilding The pre-construction archaeology being undertaken at Brading Roman Villa has involved excavating an outbuilding at the rear of the villa. Previously part excavated in the 19th century, it was assumed to be a kitchen. Archaeologists are now less certain of its original use but in later life it appears to have connections with a Roman site at Yaverland.
  The building was originally intended for high status use. It had internal plastered walls and an apex roof of Bembridge Limestone tiles. Archaeologists now think the location would not be practical for a kitchen but they cannot be certain of its purpose. One possibility is that it was built as accommodation while the main building was undergoing structural alterations.
  At a later phase the building became a working area. A good deal of animal bone was found suggesting it had a spell as a butchery but there were more interesting finds of molten metal and artefacts pointing to iron and copper working. These were identical to material found on the Yaverland site which was assumed to be a jewellery repair workshop, in particular working in copper alloy items such as bracelets. A copper bracelet found in the Brading building during the original excavation now falls into place.
  The number of similar items implies the workshops were refurbishing a given range of jewellery rather than performing ad hoc repairs, a business which presumably incorporated trading connections for acquiring the goods and shipping the finished product. It is unclear whether these two working buildings were part of an area industry or a single operation which, at some point, crossed the Yar.

November 2003
Most Islanders know of the traditional milling operation at Calbourne but few realize the historical importance of the unique roller mill installation in adjacent rooms. Installed around 1895, it has recently emerged as one of the few remaining examples in Britain and is believed to be the earliest. Accordingly this multi-unit plant is now established among the Island's most important pieces of industrial archaeology.
Calbourne roller mill
  The revolution from traditional milling process to roller mills took place towards the end of the 19th century. The facility for increased output and greater extraction of fine white flour meant that mills with substantial markets had little option but to invest in this completely new method of production. The larger trading mills on the Island were no exception. Unfortunately mill history has concentrated on traditional methods, so the most dramatic development ever undertaken by millers has received scant attention.
  It was the roller process that facilitated the giant national milling companies which have become today's household names and this, in turn, ultimately resulted in the demise of local mills. When local mills closed we not only lost examples of traditional method but also most early roller mill installations.
  The plant at Calbourne Mill is preserved as a complete process covering three floors with the basic machinery still in working order. It was built by a pioneer of British roller mills, Henry Simon. It was originally designed to be water driven but the wheel failed to provide sufficient regular power. After a brief period driven by an oil engine, steam power was installed. Later this was replaced by the gas engine on view today. The Calbourne roller mill ceased full scale production in 1955.

December 2003
boat excavation   Island shipwrecks have been well documented, mostly located around the rocky southern coast. Less well known are the wrecks of smaller ships and boats along our northern shores and creeks. These are evident from their rotting timbers just showing above the mud and sands. In most cases too little is exposed to determine the age or type of vessel. An excavation is now under way on Ryde Sands to try and throw some light on at least one example.
  The boat being surveyed at Ryde is east of the pier and about 3/4 of a mile out. Even on the most favourable low tides work can only be carried out for about an hour at a time, just long enough to excavate a small section to photograph and draw. This boat is about 12 metres long and indications are that it is a Victorian trading vessel. Damage to the bow suggests it may have been involved in a collision. Research has revealed a few records of boats sunk in the area, the most likely candidate being the 'Trio' in 1881. This type of vessel was the staple coasting trade carrier and could be seen in numbers at Ryde during the 19th century. They were also useful for landing goods in shallow estuaries and creeks such as Newtown, Wootton and Yarmouth.
  The difficulty in surveying wrecks under these conditions means few will ever be recorded and most will eventually rot away. Some of those timbers exposed are probably 20th century hulks abandoned at the end of their useful life, particularly in the estuaries and along the banks of the Medina. Others may be more interesting and even of considerable historical importance, but it is unlikely they will ever be revealed.