The early history of the St Helens Duver area

National Trust archaeologist at work

The St Helens Duver area at the eastern tip of the Isle of Wight has been inhabited from as early as the Old Stone Age.

Palaeolithic discovery

 
Priory Woods is a site of national importance due to the occurrence of Palaeolithic tools within the gravel from which the cliffs are formed. Hand tools used by people of the Palaeolithic era (Old Stone Age) were found on the beach of Priory Bay, but the source of these tools was eventually traced to the gravels washed down from the clifftop.
 
These were found to be the most prolific source of Palaeolithic tools on the Isle of Wight. They date from the Pleistocene Period which stretched from hundreds of thousands of years ago to roughly 20,000 years ago - their users were probably Neanderthals. The erosion of the gravel often exposes new finds. 
 

Archaeological finds covering the last thousand years

 
The quay area would probably have been the focus of any medieval settlement. However more recent changes to the coastline and harbour have disguised the location of the medieval quay and destroyed all traces of tradesmen’s workshops, storehouses, shipmasters' and merchants' houses.
 
A small priory is also thought to have been located nearby, possibly connected to St Helens Old Church, although no archaeological remains have yet been discovered to support this. However, there is more recent archaeology around Priory Bay with the remains of a sea wall and rusted iron railings.