Friday, 5 December 2014

The timeline of Chad's Rock

Another post inspired by the interesting category History of Blank, Missing and Empty Things at John Ptak's blog Ptak Science Books: the fate of "Chad's Rock" (aka Chad Rock), a picturesque monolith on the Isle of Wight Undercliff that regularly appears in paintings and photos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but which no longer exists.

The Undercliff near Ventnor
Isle of Wight
, 1908, Internet Archive isleofwight00moncuoft).

Windy Corner - Rambles in the Isle of Wight II, Marcus B Huish. The Art Journal, Vol. 54, 1892
The Isle of Wight Family History Society has a number of postcards showing the rock - see Photo Gallery : Isle of Wight - Niton and Blackgang. You can also find plenty of photos at GeoScenic (the BGS photo archive - just search for "Windy Corner"). The dates aren't always cited, but the general scenery shows that the rock existed both before and after the major landslip of 1928 that permanently disrupted the road. It acquired a certain celebrity, as in this postcard (found on eBay) which describes it as "showing profile of the late Lord Salisbury", a detail mentioned by an Indian visitor in the 1920s:
We drove a little further and saw a mould of earth hanging over the road. They call it Lord Salisbury's face, because one edge of this earthy projection forms an exact profile, the mere work of wind and weather, which resembles very strikingly, with its pointed nose and flowing bird, the facial front of one of the great Salisbury Lords.
- Padma Desai, From England with Love: An Indian Student Writes from Cambridge (1926–27), Penguin UK, 1 Nov 2014.
I don't really see it.

The rock is visible in this British Pathé clip, Great Landslide (1928), at 0:30-0.33.

There's no sign of it now - see The road more travelled - and as this is an active landslip zone, an obvious conclusion would be that the rock simply slipped at some point since. A look in the Isle of Wight County Press Archive, however, reveals a more complicated story. There's no indication of where the name Chad's Rock came from, but it appears that it went by other names - "Big Rock", "Lord Salisbury's face" and "Kerr's Folly"; that its timeline was quite short (1850s to 1940s); and that both its origin and disappearance were down to human agency.

Gore Cliff - The Geological Story of the Isle of Wight, Rev. J. Cecil Hughes, B.A., 1922
The rock is mentioned, unnamed, in an 1880s geological guide:
Several minor slips have taken place during the last 30 or 40 years. Beneath Gore Cliff, between Niton and Blackgang, is an enormous mass of rock, as large as a good-sized cottage. It once formed part of a large pinnacle which had become loosened from the cliff and overhung in a manner extremely threatening to the safety of the public. The authorities decided on its removal by means of gunpowder,. In its fall it carried with it tons of adjacent rock and debris. entirely blocking and destroying the roadway made round the landslip of 1799. A new road has since been constructed, and the rock alone remains as evidence of the past destruction.
- A popular guide to the Geology of the Isle of Wight, Mark William Norman, Ventnor: Knight's Library, 1887
The IWCP , however, leads to considerably more detail. It first reports brief discussion of the rock in connection with the 1928 landslip ...
Many years ago there was a very serious fall in the old Commissioners’ time. It was then considered to be dangerous as it was considered now, and as the result of blasting some hundreds of tons were brought down, and the big rock still remaining there was part of that which came down.
- Safeguarding a great asset, IWCP, Saturday, February 25, 1928, page 10 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive

Mr. George G Young … recollects the blasting away of the big rock at Windy-corner, the Undercliff, and thinks it was in 1853.
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday, August 18th, 1928, page 5 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive

It is somewhat remarkable that the only portion of land beneath the inner cliff fall which shows no sign of movement at present is that on which rests the Big Rock, but how long this familiar landmark will escape the surrounding upheaval is problematical.
- Huge landslide on progress at Blackgang, IWCP, Saturday, September 22nd, 1928, page 8 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
... but fuller details emerge after World War Two, when accounts ascribe the rock's destruction to military manouevres:
On Easter Monday it was my delight to re-visit that charming spot, Blackgang Chine. It was a relief to find that it has escaped damage by enemy action. The fell work of the blue slipper clay has gone on, but fortunately cliff falls have not affected any of the chief attractions of the place, and the work of restoring the chine to its former careless-ordered beauty is well in hand. Quite a number of visitors, including some American naval officers, were among those enjoying its pleasures. Walking along to the scene of the great landslide in July, 1928, my impressions were not so pleasing. Nature had healed many of the wounds before the war, but the area has been used by the military as a training ground, and it now lies torn and shattered again, with gaping craters, blasted trees, and splintered rocks. More regrettable still is the fact that the big rock by the roadside, on the western lip of the chasm caused by the landslide, which for centuries had been an impressive landmark, has gone. “Big Rock,” or “Chad Rock” as it was known locally, was formerly the outstanding object in views of the Undercliff at this point, and its loss will be regretted by thousands who have visited the district. Apparently it was made the victim of an experiment with explosives, and it has been shattered out of all semblance to its former noble shapea wanton and almost sacrilegious act when there were so many other rocks about on which to test explosive power.
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday April 7th, 1945, page 5 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
These recollections also firm up the date for the original blasting of the overhang, with a corroborating citation to The Year Book of Facts.
Mr [GF Mew’s] records also contain a quotation from "The Year Book of Facts" for 1854, which reads:
The Blackgang cliff, in the Isle of Wight, has been blown up, and the process was an interesting one. Eight holes were bored and filled with about 2 cwt. of powder, seven of which were fired, and caused a vast quantity to fall; but the most prominent part and the most mighty still remained. This piece, in which was bored the eighth hole, was rent away from the body of the cliff at the top about 5 yards. Mr. Dennis placed his life in most imminent danger, by putting an iron bar across, and crawling on it to set fire to the charge; and in about two minutes a very loud report warned the bystanders, of whom there were about 150 present, that it would fall ; and it certainly was a grand sight, for some hundredweights seemed for a time  suspended in the air, and then fell with a tremendous crash. One piece measured 4992 cubic feet, which, reckoning the usual weight of 14 feet to a ton, would weigh upwards of 350 tons. Several other pieces, of from 50 to 150 tons weight, also fell, and are lying on the ground. This tremendous weight, on land which was completely saturated with water, as most of the land in the Undercliff is, so shook it, that about 250 yards of the high-road is entirely gone, and the common, for some distance round, is completely rent in pieces. - see original, which has slightly different wording.
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday June 28th 1952, page 6 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
The Year Book of Facts is evidently a fairly indiscriminate collection of recent clippings, as contemporary news reports show that the blasting actually took place early in 1853. The first attempt, started on 28th December 1852, was fairly shambolic:
It being understood that the piece of cliff, near Blackgang, which had been considered dangerous to persons passing, was to be blown down with gunpowder on Monday last, a vast number of people, from all parts of the island, were attracted to the spot. The wind, which had blown a perfect hurricane the whole night, continued so high during the morning that it was impossible for the men to stand on the cliff to work; and about two o’clock the rain came down so heavily that it was obliged to be postponed till Tuesday. About fifty took luncheon at the Hotel, but many of them left early, much annoyed with their disappointment; some, however, remained till a late hour, enjoying such good things as Host Jones is noted for providing.
    On Tuesday, the morning being very fine, between 200 and 300 persons again assembled to witness what, as was supposed, about 5000 tones of cliff blown down; but as man is doomed to disappointment, they were obliged again, after seeing a few tons only blown down, to return. At two o’clock, Mr. Dennis, the contractor, signalled, by firing off a gun for every person to get out of the way, when himself, along with three others, were to fire the four holes which had been bored, and charged with about 160lbs of powder. One of the men, however, from timidity, ran away before the fusee caught, and in one hole the powder blowed up through, leaving only two to do the work, which, of course, was not sufficient. Had they all been properly secured and lighted, there is no doubt but the cliff would have fallen, as the two holes shook it very much. Mr. Dennis then fired the fourth hole, and that blew down the quantity before mentioned. One of the holes was again filled with about 80lbs of powder, and the fusee set fire to, but from some unknown cause, the powder did not catch, and it was against postponed till Wednesday morning at 12 o’clock, when Mr. Dennis added about 20lbs more powder to the 80lbs left the night before; but unfortunately it all blew up through the hole, instead of blowing the cliff down. Having no more powder, it was then decided that another hole should be bored in the solid part of the rock near the edge, and filled with a large quantity of powder, as soon as it could be obtained, as the whole of the back part is so shook, that it is impossible to find a solid piece of rock to bore a hole in. There can be no doubt whatever as to this being effectual, and it will be a sight worth seeing. It is supposed to take place on Monday next,  but that could not be settled on Wednesday, as they had to get the powder from Portsmouth, and it was uncertain exactly what day it would be ready.
- BLACKGANG, Isle of Wight Observer (Ryde, England), Saturday, January 01, 1853; Issue 18. 19th Century British Newspapers: Part II
A follow-up Isle of Wight Observer piece for Saturday, January 15, 1853 (on which the Year Book clipping seems to be based) reports that the operation was completed on January 12th 1853. The writer added a deal of critical comment on the cost and disruption instigated by people who didn't have to foot the bill.

The June 28th 1952 IWCP piece continues with more detail on the destruction of "Big Rock":
* * *
Mr. Mew is of the opinion that these blasting operations caused the former well-known landmark at Windy Cornera high block of pointed rock known as “Big Rock”, which was a familiar sight to all who travelled on the Undercliff Road. It survived the landslip of 1928, which occurred just to the east of it, but by a strange coincidence it was demolished during the last war by American soldiers, who experimented on it with high explosives, much to the disgust of local residents, who valued it as a notable and singular feature of the wild landscape, and also as a welcome shelter for anyone caught in a sudden shower in this very exposed spot.
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday June 28th 1952, page 6 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive

I am indebted to Mrs. Sylvia Prendergast, of Windcliffe, Niton Undercliff, for the following letter, correcting some of the records I published in the issue of June 28th, and adding further interesting particulars about the “Big Rock” at Blackgang.

“With regard to the blowing up, or rather down, of the Big Rock at Windy Corner in 1854, the account that I have heard numberless times from my father, who was 22 years of age at that date, is as follows. Captain Kerr, who then lived at Westcliff, Niton, came to my great-uncle, George Kirkpatrick, and said that he and others considered the bit of overhanging rock at Windy Corner a public danger, and that he had come to ask my uncle to have it blasted down. My uncle replied that he was sure the rock was safe, but as the question had been raised, he was willing to give them leave to do what they considered necessary, but would have nothing to do with it himself, nor hold himself responsible, for any damage that might occur. They put in a heavy charge of gunpowder and exploded it, and the rock remained unmoved. However, my uncle than said that the rock was now undoubtedly shaken, and now had become a danger, and that they most go on till they had got it down. So they put in a much heavier charge of powder and got the rock down.  Half an hour later, the whole road and much of the surrounding land slipped away in consequence, and the rock poised at the edge of the declivity on the south side of the road was known for long as “Kerr’s Folly,” a name now forgotten.

With regard to its final demolition during the late war, it was, I regret to say, wantonly destroyed, not by the Americans camping here, but by our own military, who had leave to use the land for gun practice at targets on land or sea, but had no authority to destroy the scenery. We put in a very strong protest to the military authorities in question, but of course that could not restore the Big Rock.
- An Islander’s Notes, by Vectensis, IWCP, Saturday, July 12, 1952, page 6 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive
Gore Cliff, 2012 - the rubble in the foreground is talus from the 1928 slip

If anyone has any thoughts/information on where the name "Chad's Rock" came from, feel free to contact me.

See On the lost road for more about this location.

- Ray

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