A tram on Ryde Pier. One example resides in the IW Council collection. Picture by Tim Genower.
THIS ISLAND LIFE AN island which contains hidden treasure has been the staple of many a fine book over the years.
Literary luminaries from Robert Louis Stevenson to Enid Blyton have produced variations on this particular theme — and I’m about to add my own humble four penn’orth to this particular canon.
There is one slight difference, however, because the story I’m about to tell you is true. So if everyone is sitting comfortably …
Stashed away on the Isle of Wight — at a location I’m not prepared to divulge because it might encourage ne’er-do-wells to make unwanted inspections of their own — is a hoard of treasure.
This mix of the historical, the nostalgic and the downright valuable has been accumulated by the IW Council over the decades, mostly through donations, bequests and the regular reorganisations of local government.
The precise contents are not widely known but, thanks to a couple of leaked e-mails, I’m able to detail some of the mothballed items, which numbered 1,329 at the last count.
Among the more spectacular is a barouche commissioned by Queen Victoria for one of her daughters, and the magnificent Brigstocke china collection, which contains a vast amount of quality porcelain.
There’s an electric tram car once used on Ryde Pier, and a farm cart marked '1932 Osman’s, Sheepwash Farm, Freshwater’.
Also stored away is a Flying Fifteen dinghy designed by Uffa Fox and once owned by Prince Philip, innumerable models of well-known boats, old farming equipment, steam engines, a barrel organ and the children’s swing-boat which was once such a popular attraction at Puckpool Park.
There’s plenty of traditional local authority paraphernalia, such as maces and chains of office, side by side with a beaded and tasselled leather jacket worn at the 1970 IW Pop Festival and a wooden truncheon dating from the reign of George IV, which is adorned with the coat of arms of the Borough of Newport.
Other fascinating items include maritime memorabilia (much of it from JS White’s), uniforms, badges, plaques, gas masks, cannon balls, flags, furniture, silver salvers, antique firemen’s helmets, old shop signs — and even seven boxes of 78rpm records.
As you would expect, these artefacts have been dutifully catalogued and are held in trust by the Island Council — but the concept of common ownership is indisputable.
Island people have every right to be able to see what they own but the chances of our doing so in the near future seem remote
in these financially-straitened times.
Yet the Island is full of heritage groups, museums, history enthusiasts and established attractions which surely have the combined manpower, enthusiasm and expertise to exhibit these artefacts properly.
Apart from the local interest, we have an ailing tourist industry which is desperate for any addition to its list of attractions — especially one which could properly claim to represent the essence of Island life over the years.
Leaving our hidden treasure safe but mouldering in a secret location is simply not an option.
Latest twist in the gastropod saga unpopular in the basement
THE trouble I’ve had writing this part of the column is nobody’s business.
Before a word had been committed to the computer screen, I popped downstairs to advise La Hofton to avoid reading it at all costs because it includes the S words – Spanish super slugs.
You will have read last week that she finds all reference to gastropods (especially their sex lives) distressing, so I thought it only neighbourly to warn her this week’s column contained more of the same.
I caught her in the middle of making some chutney while listening to Woman’s Hour, and though up to her elbows in beetroot, rhubarb and Dame Jenni Murray, she was still kind enough to invite me in for a glass of sloe gin and a plate of pork scratchings.
It was the first time I’d been in her basement apartment and was immediately struck by how homely she had managed to make it.
Covering an enormous damp patch on the sitting room wall was an impressive piece of embroidery, hanging between signed photographs of David Pugh and Andrew Turner (complete with the obligatory kisses, of course).
La Hofton proudly informed me the embroidery was all her own work, had been painstakingly completed over a number of years and represented the entire Island Council in a series of unflattering poses.
Apparently, she based it on the Bayeux Tapestry and calls it the Sodyeux Tapestry.
But I digress.
I told her the purpose of my visit was to warn her about an e-mail I had received from Barbara Brown, of Ryde, who informed me whenever it rained, her front lawn was covered in enormous orange and brown slugs, the like of which she had never seen before.
She said they looked just like fallen autumn leaves and that many had been squashed by mistake.
Barbara said these creatures were destructible, because her partner had inadvertently chopped some up while cutting the grass, and the next day there were other slugs feasting on the remains of their fallen comrades.
This was the point at which La Hofton began to feel the bile rise.
She shrieked 'eeeuuughhh’, gathered up her skirts, leapt on the chaise longue, put her fingers in her ears and ordered me back upstairs where I belonged.
I never did finish those pork scratchings …