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

October-December 2005

October 2005
The election of a council executive committed to huge cuts in expenditure is likely to result in many local history services being swept away. The review is already taking place, without public consultation.
  The County Archaeology Unit is one of the services under threat. Cuts in this department could leave it as little more than a desk in the planning offices. Without professional guidance, there would be less effective watching briefs on building excavations or control of development on archaeologically sensitive sites. The absence of support for metal detectorists and other enthusiasts could leave hundreds of important finds and sites unrecorded. Community projects and educational services would be a thing of the past. In effect, archaeology will cease to be part of Island culture.
  The council is obliged to retain a County Record Office for preservation of its own documents. However, most of their activity is in providing the public with research facilities and guidance, and this is the area likely to come under review. Virtually every local historical publication owes something to the record office archives, including many sites linked on this page. Moreover, their part in national archive programmes could be seriously curtailed. Perhaps the most widespread victims of cuts would be those researching their own family history.
  The Conservation Department is apparently already somewhat understaffed, with some complaints that the current service is barely adequate. Any lessening in their ability to monitor listed buildings and conservation areas could send the wrong signal to developers and less responsible owners of heritage properties. Cuts might also result in less public access to the department and permanent cancellation of the long overdue record of buildings in need of repair.
  Making swingeing cuts in culture, while subsidising car park charges, represents the kind of philosophy that merely consolidates the Island's reputation as a political backwater. The average Island councillor is attracted to the position via a consuming interest in such things as property development, highways and refuse collection. They inevitably lack an understanding of the wider interests of many of their constituents. Anybody who wishes to limit the attack on Island culture should contact their councillor and make their views known.

November 2005
The lack of relevant finds has always left a question mark over whether army elements were stationed on Roman Wight. Archaeology on the causeways at Alverstone has finally produced some military artefacts. Moreover they may indicate a military construction.
excavating the alvertone causeways
Excavating a causeway at Alverstone
  The Alverstone archaeology, led by Kevin Trott, has been underway for a number of weeks, during which time it has been the subject of rather vague publicity. It would seem this one-time waterway and marshland has been spanned by structures since the Iron Age, possibly earlier. There was probably always a crossing of some sort at this point, right into Victorian times. Separate timber causeways, running at different angles, have already been excavated. Most timbers are thought to be prehistoric. The waterlogged ground has made the sequence of structures difficult to assess, and winter rains will shortly render archaeology impractical.
  The most interesting feature is undoubtedly the remains of a causeway constructed in a combination of crushed stone, flint and beach pebbles. The fact that a few Roman military artefacts have turned up nearby is leading to suggestions that this more substantial construction was originally built by a Roman Legion. A broken spearhead imbedded in the stonework has yet to be dated but may well confirm the matter.
  If the Romans took the trouble to build a substantial crossing, it is not unreasonable to assume it may have served a military route. Over the years there have been many theories as to the possible routes of Island Roman roads, mostly fanciful. If this causeway proves to be Roman, it will certainly invite speculation that it was part of a proper road. The causeway lines up with an existing road to the north, running through Kern, up to the downs. To the south lies a trackway which follows the Newchurch parish border in a straight line, right down to Upper Hyde at Shanklin. A sceptic might argue that the route passes no point of known Roman activity. Nevertheless it could emerge as the only Roman road theory to have at least some archaeological basis.

December 2005
The recent discovery that there was a small 17th century redoubt defending Yarmouth causeway has prompted further research into where other minor forts may have existed.
  Whilst the cliffs of our southern coastline gave a natural protection from attack, the inlets and bays of our northern shoreline offered an enemy many points of access. The coastal forts established by Henry VIII are well known but, from medieval times, there was a need to defend other vulnerable positions. Little is known about the small forts that served this purpose. What evidence there is suggests they were mostly single gun emplacements constructed of timber. They were doubtless intended to frustrate an attack and sound the alarm, rather than withstand a determined advance. The following survey of known locations includes the most recent discoveries.
  In November 1339 a 'peel' or wooden fortification was built to protect the landing place at East Cowes. Various oaks had been blown down in Parkhurst Forest and the Privy Council ordered for them to be used in the construction of one or two peels at Shamlord. Also at East Cowes, a bulwark was built somewhere near the present floating bridge terminal to prevent access to ships up the River Medina.
   A small fort was built on the west entrance to the Gurnard Luck, mentioned in State Papers as 'Gurnerds fortt'.
  In 1365 the Abbot of Quarr received a licence for the abbey to fortify its property. It built enclosure walls and a fortified fishouse at the point.
  By 1489 there was a small 'Bulwarke' on the sea shore at Ryde, roughly where the pedestrian traffic lights are at the bottom of Union Street. Expenses for this fortification were met by the Lord of the Manor of Ashey, the Abbey of Wherwell. The manor accounts mostly record expenditure on timber and carpenters for its construction. Its armament consisted of one gun that fired lead and stone shot.
  The French raid at Seaview in 1545 is an example of where the need for a fort was well anticipated. Built on Nettlestone point, it is mentioned in accounts of the raid. It had more than one gun and was in action at the outset of the landing, albeit ultimately overrun. It is is shown on Burghley's map of c.1590 and mentioned in State Papers as 'Nettlesheigh fort'. There was also a fort recorded at St. Helens in the Royal Survey of 1559-1560, on the shoreline between the sea mark and Nodes Point.
  Bembridge has a field name of "Fort Ground" in the area of the Crab and Lobster pub and this is presumably the site of a fort recorded at 'Brinn Bridge' in the 17th century. It is not mentioned in the account of the 1545 French landing at Whitecliff Bay, so it was probably that event which prompted a need to subsequently defend the position. Brading took precautions against 'Bembridge Isle' being overrun by building a gun battery to cover the Yarbridge causeway, shown on the Cowdrey print of the sinking of the Mary Rose.
  There may be other examples of minor forts as yet undiscovered. A glance at the coastline can identify vulnerable points, such as Newtown, for which there is no record of defences.

The Minor Defences of Yarmouth