Geoff Cadman: the loss of our Chairman

2nd July 1937 to 15th July 2021

All members of our Trust will be saddened by now to know of the death of Geoff Cadman who, for many years, had nobly held the tiller of the Isle of Wight Archaeological Committee (IWAC). And its successor, the Vectis Archaeological Trust.

Geoff was a founder member of IWAC, an independent committee formed in the 1975 to receive Government funds for the good management and protection of archaeological sites on the Isle of Wight. The Island had been surprisingly late in entering into this enlightened field of Central Government funding. The neighbouring Wessex counties of Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire had been receiving and sharing a substantial annual grant for quite some time. To their bemusement, the Isle of Wight County Council was still paddling its own canoe – or sieve.

When offers of Governmental funding brought little response from County Hall, two redoubtable champions came to the fore. At Carisbrooke Castle Museum, Dr Jack Jones organised an inaugural meeting at which he was readily elected Chairman. From the Island’s Joint Planning Department, Geoff Cadman offered himself as an advisory member of IWAC. While acting solely in a personal capacity the two pioneers were soon joined by an enthusiastic committee that was able to engage Vicky Basford to compile the Vectis Report, published in 1980. Once Vicky’s report was accepted by English Heritage, a steady stream of archaeological funding began to flow to the Committee with the purpose of nurturing an ongoing Sites and Monument Record that could guide and inform the Island’s local planning authorities.

As a mentor in support of the Vectis Report, Geoff was invaluable. When arriving on the Island in the late sixties, he had received a surprising instruction from the Chief Planning Officer. ‘I don’t want see you in the office at all for the next month. I want you to take your car and a mileage claim sheet and I want you to tour the entire island and explore every nook and cranny. When you return, next month, I then want you to sit down and set out exactly what strategic planning policy this island and its residents actually need.

As time, and Chief Planning Officers, passed, Geoff found that concepts of strategic planning could easily fall second when the attentions of planning committees were more often focused on the handling and prompt resolution of everyday development proposals.

When opportunity could be seized, Geoff drew attention to the Island’s countryside and historic landscape. Although this was Wight’s key tourism asset, its care had been largely left to the winds of fortune, or misfortune. When the historic Palmerston defence works at Fort Victoria were acquired in 1967, the Isle of Wight Council promptly embarked on a scheme of demolition. With quiet, yet persistent, persuasion, Geoff was able to transform this disaster into a heritage site that everyone can enjoy today. When Geoff pressed for the installation of public barbeque units to be freely used by everyone, he established the principle that tourism, countryside and landscape required thoughtful management and could not be left to assumption.

When answering to two District Councils and one County Council, life in the Joint Planning Unit was never simple. For most of his career, Geoff and colleagues found themselves in a cramped ‘temporary’ building on Newport Quay. Here they were enmeshed in a threefold political scenario in which each authority could ever posture that its funds might be drifting into the control of the other two. The Orwellian world of Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia never seemed far away.

After his retirement, Geoff’s patience and skill in negotiating such a wobbling tightrope made him the ideal chairman for the Isle of Wight Archaeological Committee and its subsequent successor, the Vectis Archaeological Trust. Geoff’s appraisal of the Isle of Wight probably came close to a Garden Isle dynamically tended by gardeners mesmerised by concrete gnomes. Geoff was never critical and was always prepared to go the extra mile to quietly point to out what might be found or nurtured in the spaces between the gnomes.

Geoff leaves us at a time when the Isle of Wight still havers at an existential crossroads. Landscape and tourism versus retirement homes and an expansion of industry has long been the Vectensian dilemma. It is only by contemplating the path now travelled that we can gauge our route ahead. With Geoff gone, that route has just become even more perplexing. Our thoughts go out to Christine and family from Trustees who will keenly miss Geoff and the quiet and sound wisdom he offered everyone.

David Tomalin

Secretary to the Vectis Archaeological Trust

26 July 2021.


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