Brownsea Island, Dorset

Brownsea Island is the largest island in Poole Harbour, which was a major port in the Iron Age. Despite this no Iron Age material has yet been found on Brownsea Island itself. In 1964 an Iron Age log boat was discovered just off the island and is now on display in Poole Museum. 

Off the north-east coast, a Romano-British site was discovered in 1973 around 80m from the sea wall, however it is thought that the site has since been destroyed by tidal action. 

Evidence of a medieval chapel and medieval salt production on the island have been found, but it is from the post-medieval period onwards that the majority of features date. In 1548 a blockhouse and gun platform were built as part of Henry VIII’s network of coastal defences. In 1726 it was converted into a country house and has since undergone numerous extensions and re-modelling.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the island was used in the copperas and alum industries. Brick structures, kilns and possible evaporation tanks have been identified and recorded in the past although they may not remain as they are actively being lost to due to erosion. 


CITiZAN Brick Kiln, Brownsea Island by maritimearchaeology on Sketchfab

In the 18th and 19th centuries the island contained a large pottery industry. The 19th-century Pottery produced earthenware; the complex was connected by a tramway which ran across the island. Maryland village was built in 1855 for the pottery workers; they were later evicted in 1929, and the site fell into disrepair. After a subsequent fire and WWII bombing, the site was demolished in 1963. An associated rubbish dump is eroding from the nearby coast and the remaining footings of the village are now just 20m from the beach. The buildings along the quay were originally coastguard cottages built in the 1840’s, and along with the castle are now listed.

The island's strategic position at the entrance of the harbour meant it continued to be used for defence. A coastal battery was built in the 19th century and later adapted in the 1940’s. During WWII the island was also used as a decoy site. 

Much of the work through the CITiZAN project will focus on the sites eroding from the southern shore, such as the remains of the copperas, alum and pottery industries. The island has an existing active volunteer group who have been monitoring the coast making this an ideal site for CITiZAN to operate in, encouraging new volunteers to engage with their local heritage and creating links within existing groups. 

Kiln eroding out onto the foreshore at Brownsea Island
Kiln eroding out onto the foreshore at Brownsea Island