West Cowes Castle Discoveries

MA Ltd. archaeologists made an exciting discovery whilst working at West Cowes Castle during the winter of 2010/2011. During excavations required for an extension to the Royal Yacht Squadron building behind the original fort, sections of wall that were probably part of the original Tudor structure were discovered alongside the present driveway.

Two sections of wall were uncovered during the work. Further research identified a 1576 survey and plan of the fort which, when overlaid with modern plans, revealed that the wall is almost certainly part of the retaining wall of the dry ditch that protected the back of the castle, and was probably contemporary with the fort’s construction (from 1539-1542). The ditch ran along the entire length of the back of the castle and was approximately four metres wide. The recent excavations showed that the retaining wall, which kept the ditch from collapsing, was 2.7 metres wide at the top but may have been even wider and higher in its original state.

RYS wall feature

Over 400 artefacts were recovered during the dig – mainly ceramics, oyster shells, tiles, animal bone and clay pipes. The pipes were dated to the late 17th century, and may be contemporary with repair work that historical records suggest may have taken place in the early 1600s. Further analysis is ongoing.

Cowes Castle was part of King Henry VIII’s massive fortification programme of the 1540s. The ditch was designed to defend the castle in the event of French forces landing elsewhere on the Isle and attacking from behind. When the castle became obsolete in the 18th century, the ditch was turned into a garden and subsequently all traces of it were lost.

After discussions with the Isle of Wight Planning Archaeologist, the Royal Yacht Squadron and the architects, the remains of the wall were protected and re-turfed, and the plans for the new driveway were amended to incorporate the features. The finds recovered from the site will be archived with the Isle of Wight County Museum.

Young Archaeologists Dive In!

Eight lucky and brave 12 to 17 year olds spent May 2008 exploring their sunken history as they dived into the cold Solent sea to explore ancient shipwrecks with maritime archaeologists from the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA).

As well as diving on shipwrecks including the Pomone, War Knight and Joannis Millis, the young pioneers also investigated the foreshore for WWII archaeology, and tried their hand at rowing a reproduction of an ancient coracle. With their new-found skills the group measured, drew, photographed and recorded the archaeology in exactly the same way as professional maritime archaeologists.

No other project of this kind has ever taken place before with such young archaeologists. HWTMA Education Officer, Alison Hamer says that she is “extremely proud of the children’s determination and is impressed with how the challenge brought out their best qualities”.

To find out more visit the website designed by the young people at, www.divein2008.co.uk