Isle of Wight Hidden Heroes

Paul Armfield

paul armfield

Paul Armfield has in the last two years completely reinvigorated the Quay Arts Centre.

Through relentless hard work and determination he has not only made it a far more vibrant hub for Island artists of all varieties, he has stabilised it financially through successful programming and helped secure vital sponsorship and future funding for it.

All this has been done with a tireless vision and selfless determination that is typical of him.

He is my hidden hero.

Image: © Donna Woodward Taylor

John Cattle

john cattle's skate club

John is a passionate skateboarder and has been skating for all his life, which has taken him around the world and alongside some of the biggest names in skateboarding.

Here on the Isle of Wight, he founded skateboard company Wight Trash and has been fundamental in promoting the skating scene, from sponsoring local skaters, to fundraising for skate parks.

Skate parks provide important opportunities for kids (and big kids) to get outside, exercise, expand their boundaries and just have fun.

Skate Club for all ages
John also runs John Cattle’s Skate Club teaching all generations including the next to skateboard.

Based in a purpose-built training skate park in Wootton, he excels at teaching all ages and abilities (from 3 to 50+) with no previous experience necessary, in a safe and fun environment.

A real legend
Through sharing his skills and enthusiasm, John gets people more active, and involved in a great community.

That’s why John Cattle is my Isle of Wight Hidden Hero.

Ian Boyd

ian boyd

I’d like to nominate Ian Boyd as one of the Island’s kindest, brightest, productive and most unsung heroes.

A polymath by nature and a brain-poppingly knowledgable ecologist, he’s quietly and gently worked to conserve, restore, reimagine and revitalise landscapes, places, buildings, communities, developments, wildlife and people all across the Island… either directly, picking up a shovel and getting planting or painting, designing trails or commissioning artists, or indirectly behind the scenes writing funding bids/supporting campaigns for Island-enhancing projects even including the Biosphere.

He’s added the essence or sparkle to countless projects and lives, founded I2K, G2N, Island Rivers, Shaping the Bay, Arc, Artecology, Discovery Bay, new not-for-profit The Common Space and more – all to make the world a better place.

He works non-stop to connect people & wildlife, from a calendar of always-imaginative science and nature events such as Under the Pier on his days off, to making space to sponsor and support students or in fact anyone, of all ages and abilities, and including some of our most vulnerable people.

He’ll drop everything to support and direct people to become the best of themselves, with endless patience and enthusiasm.

Thanks to him, numerous people have been inspired by nature, or enabled to work in the environment, many of whom may not even be aware of it. His actions or advice have made a huge difference to species and habitats too.

Thanks to his imagination and experiments, the Island has acres of marvels and new opportunities; bee fields and biograffiti walls, rare elm trees and white letter hair streak butterflies, new artificial rockpools bringing hope for marine wildlife against sea level rise, universities visiting the Island, and £1000s has been raised for regeneration projects in the Bay area for example in just the last couple of years.

Believing in the importance of public realm, he’ll often spend his own money, spare time or last ounce of energy to make things happen – the Willow Walk a latest example, even planting hundreds of coastal plants by himself.

He advises on national environmental work from Bournemouth to Edinburgh. And all this is only a tiny bit of his output. I think good people, true heroes, don’t blow their own trumpet and their purpose is clear and genuine.

They meet adversity with integrity, invention, humility, humour and spirit, they look for and act on every opportunity to improve things for their community, and they always say it was a team effort! That’s why they’re hidden, presumably.

Ian’s a truly valuable human being and Island hero. But best of all, thanks to him, there are poems on our pavements, and orchids in our fields, we know why a weevil’s got a long nose, where to find a sponge garden or where to hear a nightingale sing at sunrise.

Image: © Portrait of an Island – Steve Blamire and Julian Winslow

Martin and Rob Drake-Knight

Rob left Mart Right Rapanui

Martin and Rob are fairly well-known on the Island as founders of eco fashion company Rapanui.

From starting out in an industrial unit in Bembridge, they’ve grown the business to now occupy the old Co-op supermarket in Freshwater and have had quite a journey along the way.

Constantly developing staff and providing opportunities to get into not just a fashion or production, but a tech business on the Island, is just one of the reasons why I’m nominating them.

Their years of campaigning around plastics is also highly commended, but if you dig deeper in to the workings of the Rapanui and Tee-Mill factory, you’ll see a burgeoning team working on AI, automation and robotics.

Not bad for a little fashion company on the Isle of Wight?

John Vereker (Lord Gort) 1886-1946

lord gort

John Vereker (Lord Gort) was born on 10th July 1886.

At the start of World War II, he became the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force and, in this role, organised the evacuation of Dunkirk.

In later life, Lord Gort lived in East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight, having grew up on the Isle of Wight as a child.

He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1905, promoted to lieutenant in 1907.

Promoted to Captain on 5th August 1914 and was part of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front.

The Vereker family name is long associated with East Cowes. He died on 31 March 1946.

Lord Gort was portrayed in the 1958 film Dunkirk by Cyril Raymond

St Simon of Atherfield (d. 1211)


Some intriguing medieval references inform us of St Simon of Atherfield, neatly described as ‘a martyr to his wife’.

Simon was, apparently, murdered by his wife Amicia (or Avicia) on 21 March 1211, and she was sentenced to burn for the crime, probably in early summer the following year.

We are told that many miracles subsequently took place at his tomb, though its exact location remains unknown.

Tomb raiders
No mention of St Simon is to be found in any known calendar or martyrology, and no official recognition was granted to his status as saint; it is more than likely that Bishop Peter of Winchester – lord of the manor of Calbourne which possessed outlying rights at Atherfield – suppressed the cult fairly quickly, but not before appropriating the ‘seven pounds, twelve shillings and a penny’ left in offerings at Simon’s tomb.

Humble background
Of Simon himself, the sources tell us nothing of his family, implying that his background was humbler than that of his wife.

All we know is that he bore the toponym ‘de Atherfield’, and hence that he was a local man.

Dramatic death?
To be widely regarded as a martyrdom, Simon’s death must have taken place in dramatic circumstances; and the method of execution employed against Amicia, burning at the stake, was regarded as a particularly horrific one, even in the eyes of her contemporaries.

By murdering her husband, she had in legal terms committed an act of treason, according to the prevailing ethos of the time.

Murder in the blood
Amicia’s violent temper may have been an inherited trait: in 1255 we find two of her kinsmen accused of the murder of a man named Peter of Whippingham.

Within six months of his death, Simon’s tomb had attracted offerings of more than £7: this is a substantial figure which compares favourably with other shrines of the period, particularly given Atherfield’s remoteness – a fact which in turn helped the cult to be suppressed with a minimum of fuss.

Local saints
Simon’s cult, though intriguing, is not unique, and fits a pattern of victims of violence being subsequently turned into popular ‘local saints’.

The martyr would be portrayed as a person of spotless innocence, brutally and unfairly done to death; and more often than not, the cult would be frowned upon or suppressed as soon as it came to the attention of the church authorities.

No hint of St Simon’s murder survives in Island folklore or legends.

Image: boretom under CC BY 2.0

Admiral Dudley Pound 1877-1943

admiral dudley pound

Admiral Dudley Pound born 29th August 1877 in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1891 serving in World War One and eventually rising to the Rank of Admiral of the Fleet on 31st July 1939 just before the outbreak of World War Two.

“Churchill’s Anchor”
Worked closely with Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and became known as “Churchill’s Anchor”, Pound’s greatest achievement was the defeat of the German U-Boats and winning the Battle of the Atlantic.

He was in poor health when he became Admiral of the Fleet and formally resigned from the post on 20th September 1943.

Ashes were scattered at sea
He died from a brain tumor at the Royal Masonic Hospital in London on 21 October 1943, he was given a funeral service in Westminster Abbey, and his ashes were scattered at sea.

Anne Preston

anne preston

Anne Preston’s disabilities didn’t stop her from setting up and running I.D.A.G (Island Disabled Action Group) through which she helped people with disabilities gain access to help, when they couldn’t get it from other health professionals.

She fought for shops and toilets to be more accessible for wheelchairs, as well as helping to make it easier to obtain or hire wheelchairs, mobility scooters etc,.

Day to day support
Anne did such a lot more to help the Island’s disabled become able and to not give up, and fight towards being recognised in the workplace as equals.

She even helped people who had not come to terms with their disabilities and ailments to accept what they have and help them cope on a day to day basis.

Held a place in everyone’s heart
Sadly Anne Preston passed away in April 2000 and has never been recognised nor awarded for everything she did, she held a place in everyone’s heart who she helped.

By Sharon Dearden (Anne’s daughter)

The Harris glass-making dynasty

Mike Harris at St.Lawrence C.1972 with his first trainee Tim Bristow

This is a brief story of how a family, of the most innovative and prolific exponents of Studio Glass-making, has helped propel this country to the top of the world glass-making tree.

Namely Michael Harris and his two sons, Timothy, the eldest and his younger brother Jonathan, also helped in no small part by Michael’s widow, Elizabeth, and now supported by Richard (Michael’s younger bother) to form ‘The Harris Dynasty of British Studio Glass Makers’.

The birth of Studio Glass
Up until the early 1960s, glass making was a somewhat staid and classic process to produce useful objects. Then an American ceramicist called Harvey Littleton explored the possibility to produce a mix of glass that would enable one man in a studio to produce objects, useful and decorative, on his own or with one or two assistants rather than as a factory-based multiple operative system required to complete one item as was, up until then, the norm.

Eventually with experimenting, successes came and he tutored several keen followers in this new Studio Glass making process. One of these early students, Samuel Herman, was invited on a scholarship to come to the RCA in 1967, where Michael Harris was the head of the Industrial Glass Design department and he showed Michael what had been achieved.

British Studio Glass Movement
This was a light bulb moment for Michael and, after many twists and turns, the British Studio Glass Movement was born, albeit that Michael had to move to Malta to prove that it was viable largely due to lack of support in this country.

Great commercial success followed due to Michael’s inherent talents at design and commercial marketing.

Forced to leave Malta
This product, called by Michael ‘Mdina Glass’, had considerable success on a world wide scale through careful and extensive marketing.

However eventually Michael was forced to leave Malta by the new Nationalist government in 1972, as were all semblances of British influence, and he decided to try to repeat this success on an island with similar characteristics.

He chose the Isle of Wight and so the Studio was founded in 1973 in a beautiful site at St. Lawrence.

Following a not-dissimilar range of designs and colours as were so successful at Mdina Glass, another breakthrough came in 1977. Michael made contact with his previous colleagues at the RCA and set up a competition for students to suggest a design that was new and radical, which could be produced commercially by the Studio Glass process.

Glass-making stardom
So was born a design which utilised Gold and Silver on the surface of black glass. Called eventually ‘Black Azurene’ it became the most successful design in studio glass that the world had ever seen and this propelled Michael and his studio and team, which now included his talented eldest glass-making son, Timothy, into glass-making stardom.

Eventually selling in enormous quantity to over 30 countries worldwide and selling to almost every major store in most major cities across the globe.

In the succeeding years of the immense success of the studio, a great volume of designs and processes have sprung from the fertile minds of the remaining family members, even after the sad demise of Michael in 1994.

Unique designs
Hot glass designs from Timothy and cold glass designs from his brother, Jonathan, as well as unique glass sculptural pictures from their mother Elizabeth. Many of these designs have incorporated some of the highest echelons of the glass-makers art of Cameo and a process known as ‘Graal’ and also of Incalmo, many of which included the now flagship process of adding 22ct gold and sterling silver to the surface of the pieces.

The Harris Dynasty seems to know no bounds.

Ground-breaking designs and techniques
However as Jonathan left to develop his own studio and cameo designs, the Studio’s success has fallen to Timothy’s ground-breaking designs and techniques too numerous to mention in one article.

It is praise enough to point out that from prestigious awards such as the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) in 1990, as well as a special piece of Cameo given to the Queen Mother for her 90th birthday.

Then a special gift presentation of one of his most successful designs called ‘Seascape’ to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll as a gift from the people of the Island Island in her Jubilee year of 2012 on Cowes seafront during her visit.

Immense, but largely hidden talent
Timothy has increasingly pushed the boundaries of his universally appealing art as he has proved time and time again with a multitude of innovative techniques and finishes.

These have undoubtedly set him alongside the very best in British, and indeed global studio glass production, demonstrating his immense, but largely hidden, talent for innovative Studio Glass design.

Innovative and prolific
During 2013 the Studio relocated to new state of the art premises at Arreton Barns Craft Village under the ownership of another Harris family member ~ Richard Harris, Timothy’s uncle and Michael’s younger brother, where it continues production of one of the world’s great studio glass products.

The continuation of this tradition of excellence of design and production is driven, as it has been for many a year, by Timothy Harris, one of the Island’s ‘Hidden Heroes’ – supported by his team, his mother Elizabeth and the new owner, Richard Harris.

Timothy is recognised as one of Britain’s most innovative and prolific designers and makers of Studio Glass and ranks amongst the best on a world stage.

About the author
As a freelance marketing agent, I had the pleasure of working with Michael and the Studio, covering sales over the South West of England from 1980 up until his untimely death, when Timothy, Jonathan and Elizabeth took over control of the Studio.

I still work very closely with the Studio and now represent them as their Appointed Secondary Market Specialist with my wife, Ann, trading as Artius Glass.

It is now, as it always has been an honour and privilege to be a part of such a worldwide success story. And long may it last. I will certainly do my bit to maintain that success as far as I can.

Isle of Wight Glass Museum
The Studio’s site now also incorporates another very important facility which is the Isle of Wight Glass Museum with over 1,000 pieces of past, and right up to date, innovative items from this ground breaking Studio.

The studio is open daily and has an excellent viewing area where you can watch this very special glass being created by Timothy Harris and his assistants.

Tel: (01983) 716270

(c) Ron Wheeler. ArtiusGlass 2018