At the beginning of the Oswestry Hillfort saga  we mentioned the danger that it might develop along the lines perfected by Tarmac PLC at Thornborough Henges – and indeed used by almost every developer and market trader wishing to make a bob or two……


You ask for the earth and progressively reduce what you’re asking for until the punters agree to what you were originally hoping for and think they’ve got a bargain.  That’s exactly the track that Oswestry seems to be taking.  No way did the developers think they’d get lucky with their first or second or third demands but now …. far fewer houses… further away … you know it makes sense Rodney!

Except that it doesn’t. It’s still awful. A while back we contrasted what was going on at Oswestry with a similar situation in Malta, and it’s Malta that is still showing how things ought to be. The number of houses  that El Del Boy wants to build near the Xaghra Stone Circle there has been reduced from 10 to 2 (and further away) but the authorities are being urged…

to prohibit any development in the buffer zone to the Xaghra Stone Circle and to change the local plan to ensure that no development is ever allowed in this zone.


For more about Xaghra see here  and here.

Another Bank Holiday Weekend, another Heritage Drive. I don’t know if it’s the increase in traffic levels with the roads getting more and more crowded, or my energy levels dropping as I approach my 60′s, but the thoughts of a day’s drive to say, Somerset or Gloucestershire are no longer the attractions they once were. And so, for this Bank Holiday we stayed relatively close to home, but still had a full day of heritage to enjoy!

On the M1, turning off for Hemel Hempstead at Junction 8 we passed the Buncefield Oil Depot (home of a horrendous fire some years ago) and made our way toward Redbourn, and the first stop of the day at The Aubreys (OS Grid Rref TL949112).

Stitched panorama of the Aubreys interior

Panorama of the Aubreys interior

Nestled between a low hotel (site of an old Manor) and the noise of the M1, this ‘plateau fort’ is unusually situated with high ground all around. The well defined double ramparts are intact for a large proportion of the circumference, if a little ‘fortified’ by more recent scrap in places.

Is this a Heritage Crime? The ramparts 'fortified' by industrial tyres.

Is this a Heritage Crime? The ramparts ‘fortified’ by industrial tyres.

To be perfectly honest, there’s not a great deal to see here, though scrabbling amongst the hotel detritus it’s just possible to make out a causeway entrance to the NW. There is much evidence here of animal settlement, badger setts and foxholes abound – as well as material remains of the aluminium-based ‘Fosterian’ culture for future archaeologists to mull over, the Aubreys has not yet been subject to any excavation as far as I can determine. But nearer the hotel there is plenty of colour at the moment from the bluebells growing among the trees.

And so we left the hotel behind and skirting round the village of Redbourn, headed toward Harpenden, passing the spookily-named Rothamsted Experimental Station, which has the remains of a Roman Temple in the grounds. This, I suspect, is off limits to the public and I didn’t try to gain entry. Instead, we continued across to Wheathampstead, the Iron Age capital of the area, nestled pleasantly on the River Lea. There are several good heritage themed walks around the village (heritage walks are the theme of an upcoming Journal Post), covering many different time periods. Some of the local characters from history are celebrated on a temporary building site hoarding.

Wheathampstead hoarding

Cassivellaunus can just be seen at far left, brandishing his sword.

The oldest aspect of the town is to the east of the current settlement, marked on OS maps as ‘Belgic Oppidum‘ (OS Grid Ref TL185133), the site of two defensive earthworks known as the Devils Dyke and the Slad. This is supposedly where Cassivellaunus led a defense of the Britons against Julius Caesar. Whether this is true is open to debate, but there is no doubt that this was an area of some importance in the early Iron Age.

Dyke Plaque

The ditch and ramparts of the Devil’s Dyke are still quite formidable, and even assuming some ‘infill’ over the years, the scale of the original, when topped off with a wall of timbers can only be imagined.

Devil's Dyke

Following the lane down past the Dyke, and joining the main road south and west into St Albans past Nomansland Common (site of the exploits of a lady highwayman!), we continued into the cathedral city.

At St Albans, a possible continuation of the Devil’s Dyke is another long earthwork, known as Beech Bottom Dyke. But we didn’t stop there this time, as Verulamium awaited us.

Now a large municipal park, the town of Verulamium, forerunner of the modern town of St Albans can still be made out via the low bumps and humps remaining from excavations by the Wheelers in the 1930′s and again by Frere some 25 years later. Many of the finds from those excavations, including some spectaular large mosaics are on show in the Verulamium Museum (£5 adult entrance for non-locals) at the north end of the park, whilst a large mosaic hypocaust is preserved in situ in it’s own (free entry) building in the park.

Verulamium Hypocaust

Elsewhere, some fragments of the Fosse – a later defensive earthwork – and the original walls remain. Watling Street ran through the centre of the town, which is famous of course as being one of the targets of Boudicca’s campaign against the Romans. Across the main road to the north is another site, the Roman Theatre (separate entrance fee required), which we didn’t visit this time round.

A section of Roman Wall, alongside the River Ver.

A section of Roman Wall, alongside the River Ver.

Of course, Verulamium didn’t just pop into being when the Romans arrived in Britain, as a high status Iron Age burial discovered in 1992 just NE of the Roman town in Folly Lane attests. This has been an important and strategic area for a very long time.

Our final stop was at St Stephen’s church just south of the town, on Watling Street, to take a quick look at the marker stone in the churchyard. This could be a prehistoric standing stone, but it is much more likely to have been a way-marker, or boundary stone set much later. It’s origins, as they say, are lost in the mists of time.

Watling Street Stone

And so, with four major sites visited, our journey was complete and we set off back for home.

So, where did you go this Bank Holiday weekend? Why not write a short article for the Journal and tell us about your own travels?

All photos copyright Alan S. All rights reserved.

Especially the ones at Oswestry!

A warning: if you want to see one of Britain’s finest hillforts at it’s optimum get up to Oswestry TODAY.  It’s hard to believe it but there are some elected Councillors on Shropshire Council that have in mind to damage its setting, so this view may well be different next Easter…..

Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments on the Old Oswestry housing proposal: "Countryside across England is being lost as a result of the Government’s planning policies, but the proposal to build over a hundred houses in the setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort is notably philistine and short-sighted. It is bad enough that the developer thinks this is an appropriate place to build; the fact that the Council is supporting the scheme beggars belief. Of course we need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but it is not necessary to trample on our history and despoil beautiful places to do so.”

View from the Hillfort, including land the delusional NIMBYs want to protect.  One of them, Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Countryside across England is being lost as a result of the Government’s planning policies, but the proposal to build over a hundred houses in the setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort is notably philistine and short-sighted. It is bad enough that the developer thinks this is an appropriate place to build; the fact that the Council is supporting the scheme beggars belief. Of course we need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but it is not necessary to trample on our history and despoil beautiful places to do so.”

Notably philistine” and “not necessary“! Any Councillor who votes to allow the development is going to have to convince themselves and others that neither of those accusations is true. Good luck with that!


IMAGE:  (C) Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License


Aristotle once asked Plato: “Is it right to take for one’s own benefit knowledge that belongs to all?” to which the old man is thought to have replied “Well, it’s legal innit in an uncivilised Northern realm?”

There’s to be a conference on “heritage ethics”. Good. But one discussion topic is “the rights of  “disfranchised groups” to access heritage”. Disfranchised is a much used term and it’s no secret it’s a coy way of referring to artefact hunters. But are they truly “disfranchised”, i.e. locked out of conventional archaeology? Personally I don’t see it. In Britain literacy is high, books and websites are numerous, training, museums, community projects and local societies are open to all. So where’s the barrier? Isn’t it that detectorists make a free choice to interact with archaeology in their particular way?

Moshenska and Dhanjal (Community Archaeology: Themes, Methods and Practices) describe two perceptions of archaeology. “Closed” which “should only be carried out by trained professionals” (or at least, in ways they approve) and “Open”, based on the idea that the public have an absolute right to experience it on their own terms with or without professional guidance. The latter version, the idea that the archaeological record is a common treasury for the population to enjoy, exploit and interact with” is self-evidently what every artefact hunter acts upon – by deliberate choice, not disfranchisement. 

So who started the disfranchisement rumour? Probably Culture Minister Lammy (in PAS’s 2005/6 Annual Report) saying PAS had “helped to break down social barriers and to reach out to people who have often felt excluded from formal education and the historic environment” and “almost 47 per cent of people recording finds with the Scheme are from groups C2, D & E.” The intended implication (else why mention it?) is that detecting is for those too uneducated to do Archaeology properly. Patronising, yes. But worse, very damaging because PAS (despite knowing full well detecting is inferior to Archaeology in terms of knowledge-loss) has adopted a core message of “please detect more responsibly” when it should have been saying “please join your local archaeology group and do Archaeology more responsibly”. It would be great if THAT was discussed at the University of Kent.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Mitchell's Fold  (C) Graham Farrell

Mitchell’s Fold (C) Graham Farrell

If you’re in The Midlands and contemplating a “bronze age outing” this Easter, there’s no need to go far. You could visit Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, high on the heathland of Stapeley Hill in West Shropshire. You’ll need to be fairly fit as it’s a bit of a climb but well worth it for the wonderful views it commands. Friend of The Journal Tish Farrell provides lots of information about this fascinating place here and here.

If you’re here you probably like ancient sites and want to see them fully appreciated and preserved. The Journal is a community resource for everyone that feels that way so why not join in and add your voice or images??

We’re always looking for contributions – news, views, pictures, you name it – anything that helps raise the public profile of these places. If you’re out and about over Easter and visiting an ancient site or perhaps attending a related event (you can get some ideas from our Diary of  Prehistory and Heritage Events ) and you feel you have something worth sharing why not get in touch?

Thanks! Enjoy the break. Most of us will be away but we’ll leave someone in charge of the shop for if you’d like to get in touch, particularly if you have any news.

Twitter:         The Heritage Journal …..  @heritageaction
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Telephone:   07542 258107

In the latest installment of our series looking at ancient monuments around the UK, Katherine (Cait) Range takes us to the wilds of the Peak District, Derbyshire, to look at the enigmatic site of Arbor Low. 

Arbor Low

Arbor Low, near Bakewell in Derbyshire, is often referred to as the “Stonehenge of the North”, and like that famous monument, Arbor Low has been a place of reverence for many generations. Situated on a hill with magnificent views over the Derbyshire countryside, the site cannot fail to impart some of the power and mysticism our ancestors must have felt when looking out from where we stand. And people looking up at the limestone ridge upon which the henge sits, couldn’t fail to be awed by the place of the gods, looking down on them.

© David Wilson Clarke via Creative Commons

© David Wilson Clarke via Creative Commons

Dating from the Neolithic/Bronze Age, the oval bank and ditch, with causewayed entrances at both the northwest and southeast, were constructed first, during the 3rd millennium B.C. The stones being added later, by about 2000 B.C. There are 46 large stones of locally quarried limestone, within the bank and ditch, along with 13 smaller stones arranged as a grouping in the middle (a feature called a “cove” and found only in major sacred sites). But the most striking and unexpected feature is that all of the stones are recumbent and there is no evidence to tell whether the site had been constructed with the stones laid flat or whether they had all been toppled at a later date. Archaeologists have not, as yet, found any evidence of post holes to provide a solid conclusion. One theory suggests that the stones were knocked down by early Christians, in order to drive out the sacred nature of the site. But there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever for this.

© Des Blenkinsopp,  and  licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

© Des Blenkinsopp,
licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

The Bronze Age long barrow of Gib Hill lays a mere 200 meters from Arbor Low. Gib Hill’s original construction was roughly contemporary with Arbor Low. It is thought to be a Neolithic oval barrow with an Early Bronze Age round barrow superimposed at one end, and was most likely the original worship focus, with the later, 1st phase of Arbor Low being the “new” ritual site for the surrounding community. There is some evidence that the 2 sites might have once been connected by an earthen bank. However, this may be a much later and more mundane field boundary. Around Arbor Low are dozens of barrows constructed in the Late Bronze age, about 1000 years after the Arbor Low circle. One of these was even built into the bank near the southeast entrance. It was excavated by Thomas Bateman in 1845 and found to contain several burials. Bateman also found a large burial cist at Gib Hill in 1848. In 1901-02, a human burial was found near the “cove” of stones in the middle of the henge.

© Stephen Jones via Creative Commons.

© Stephen Jones via Creative Commons.

To take a more mystical view, Arbor Low is purported to have many ley lines running through it. This is a nice, romantic thought but a line can be drawn between pretty much anything, depending on the angle. And while there may very well be fissures of energy around the site, the area is too dense with archaeological features and too many lines would be pure chance. This huge complex of burial and worship sites was in use for at least 1000 years. Clearly the successive generations saw and felt the power of their ancestors and their original choice of the site. To build these massive and magnificent structures, these had to be a people who lived with a great sense of community, co-operation, and spirituality.


For more information about Arbor Low, see the Arbor Low Environs Project website.

Check back soon for the next site in our A-Z.

The CPRE has issued “a wake up call for the Government”…..
“We are saying loud and clear that whatever their original intentions, the reformed planning system is not working. Local people are being disregarded, open countryside is being developed while suitable brownfield land is left unused, and still too few homes are being built. We have evidence from across England that the effects of current policies on the countryside are devastating, with the Green Belt, protected areas and, above all, our ‘ordinary’ but hugely valued countryside, destroyed or threatened with destruction. Our latest research into adopted and emerging Local Plans shows at least 500,000 new homes planned for greenfield sites. This could result in the loss of 150sq Km of irreplaceable countryside. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Destruction on this scale is totally unnecessary when there are enough suitable brownfield sites for around 1.5 million homes.”  More here.

The National Trust concurs…..
“Councils are being “hustled” into allowing development on greenfield land by central Government” (their Director) and “the green belt is no longer sacrosanct …. At the present moment 150,000 applications are in for the green belt…. This should be absolutely inconceivable.” (their Chairman).  More here .

In stark contrast, the Government’s says:
“This Government values and protects the countryside” (Planning Minister Nick Boles).

That’s very similar to what they said way back at the time of the introduction of Section 79 of the Planning Practice Guidance …..



Depending on who you believe you may wish to sign the CPRE’s Charter to Save our Countryside HERE


Wiltshire does a Shropshire!              [Image Credit: Montage: NSE 2014]

The above of course is a fantasy. But it’s interesting because the distance from the monument to the houses, about 150 m, is similar to the first proposal for the development around Oswestry Hill Fort. What would be regarded as utterly ludicrous and unacceptable worldwide in Wiltshire is being pushed for in Shropshire.  And yes, Shropshire County Council, “pushed for”. No-one should imagine it’s not obvious that for some people this isn’t a process, it’s a plan.


Anyway, those campaigning to keep Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting development-free may enjoy Section 7.2 of the November minutes of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, just released. It was a presentation on “setting” and how EH’s guidance on the subject has been “woven into government guidance”. Their key points on setting are:

  • There is always a degree of subjectivity in assessing setting but EH guidance provides a standard framework and means of analysis. The Department for Communities and Local Government has accepted the approach.
  • A line to define setting cannot be mapped in advance of development proposals coming forward. It is not fixed spatially.
  • Appreciation of setting will change over time.
  • While visual impacts, especially views, are likely to be the most important factors, other elements may well affect setting.
  • Setting is not dependent upon public accessibility (but especially ‘popular’ views etc may be particularly important).
  • Designed settings may well be more important than ‘fortuitous’ settings but the latter, e.g. in many conservation areas, may be a major part of the significance of the heritage asset.
  • Setting has no significance in its own right: setting is not a heritage asset; it is not a designation.
  • The interest in the setting of a heritage asset lies in what it adds to (or detracts from) the significance of the asset.
  • Only some elements of the setting may have a bearing on that significance; others may be neutral.
  • Buried archaeology can have a setting.

We suspect it is good news for the campaigners in 3 ways….
1. Nearly all of those points can be cited to suggest development would be inappropriate, not the reverse.
2. EH have formulated a standard framework and means of analysis for assessing setting which the Government has accepted. Nothing could be more sensible. It means there should be no purely subjective, inexplicable or unclear decisions, whether by officials, councillors or Inspectors.
3. EH has already said the Hillfort is “one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” and yet, as everyone can see, it’s setting on the Town side has been reduced so much  that it’s now derisory. So it would be SOME “standard framework and means of analysis” that enabled any official or councillor to successfully argue it ought to be even smaller! So bravo to EH for constructing a bulwark against impenetrable or idiosyncratic decisions.

That’s all the Campaigners have ever asked for or been owed, a fair assessment on the merits of the case. Nothing else.

Dear Fellow Landowners,

Farmer Brown and colleague randomly and selectively truffle hunting entirely for their own personal benefit.  (A renewable resource so a morally defensible pastime.)

Farmer Brown and colleague randomly and selectively truffle hunting entirely for their own personal benefit.
(A renewable resource so a morally defensible pastime.)

You’d expect a TV series showing detectorists incompetently digging up dead bodies(as one termed it) would be universally condemned. Yet many detectorists still haven’t done so and the overall hobby “verdict” seems to be settling down to a comforting “they were stitched up by National Geographic”. But the question is: “would bus drivers or bank clerks have been?”  It seems unlikely. Anyway, one of them is also excused on the grounds he’s well respected and has “many Youtube videos showing how to detect properly”. However, that’s not what his website reveals.

It recommends a  letter to send to farmers which contains not a word about reporting finds or the code of conduct together with a contract to get him to sign which also says nothing about those subjects, Tellingly, he also advises people to talk to the farmer “about history not treasure” and not to show him the contract straight away “in case it scares him”. Friends, they are YOUR artefacts. The ONLY “contract” you need is to assert that fact and that access must be on YOUR terms. The authorities have no right to have damaged your interest by advising you to sign anything else.

Friends, professionals clearly enjoyed a few days of fury over a telly programme but why aren’t they shouting permanently about the misbehaviour in your fields by huge numbers of people who fail to report finds and get you to sign contracts that benefit them, not you or history. You’re on your own about controlling that, the expendable victims of a failure to tell it how it is. Terrible, innit? If you doubt it, write and ask the Culture Secretary or PAS why they recommend you to sign a finds agreement and how it won’t damage your interest and that of the country. They won’t have an answer and won’t admit who  insisted on it being said as the price of their reluctant signature on the official Code but I think I know. In fact even my pig Tanya knows that. “Cui Bono?” she seems to ask with her come-to-bed eyes every time she finds a truffle.


Silas Brown
Grunters Hollow Farm,

Update, 20 April 2014  The cheery digging up dead bodies” boast has now been hidden. (Or laundered,  like much else, both in forums and fields.) The hobby can now carry on telling the public the participants were fine fellows,  tricked into taking part by wicked National Geographic!


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



April 2014
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