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We have featured the London Stone, a remnant of oolitic limestone upon which the destiny of London relies, on the Journal before.

It now appears the the Stone will be on its travels once again, although this time not across the road, but a few doors along.  Diamond Geezer, one of the prolific London bloggers, has been delving into the planning application from the owners of the building where the stone now resides:

…it turns out the London Stone has led a fairly nomadic life, repeatedly crossing Cannon Street or being built into the fabric of yet another building. The latest shift isn’t unprecedented heresy – it’s a continuation of centuries of movement. The Stone will also be considerably easier to see, and better noticed by casual passers-by, which has to be a huge bonus. And yet I can’t help seeing Minerva’s action as some sort of corporate kidnap. They own the property where London Stone is, they own the property where London Stone will end up, and they want this inconvenient rock out of the way so that they can knock down an office block and make a profit.

Minerva’s grand design finally removes London Stone from the built environment, forcibly elevated after two millennia at ground level. It’ll become a showcased exhibit – an ancient relic in a glass cage – rather than part of the everyday fabric of the city. London Stone’s moved many times before, and not always for the most noble of reasons. But this time I fear it’s moving solely for commercial convenience, in what will literally be a break from the past.

His post with its  associated links is well worth reading in full if you have any interest in this stone, or indeed, any interest in heritage protection issues.

A recent academic panel discussion in far-away Houston might resonate as far as Salisbury Plain. It was about the nature of “property” in the context of heritage. Moderator Kristina Van Dyke proposed that “artworks have lives and offer us an opportunity for each visitor to “possess” them in a way. If I like to stand and absorb and really take in a work of art, I’ve created a connection with the work which might not be the same as ownership, but is in many ways a richer more fulfilling relationship.”

Dangerous, revolutionary stuff, implying visitors to Stonehenge somehow own Stonehenge! What next? People entitled to a say in how it is managed (other than occasional dubious “consultation” exercises, that is)? “Participatory stewardship” the article calls it. Thinkable in Houston but less so on the Plain as we’re all so use to Stonehenge’s guardians handing down decisions like High Court judges? Still, one day maybe, for as Derek Fincham says (paraphrasing Professor James Leach of Aberdeen University): “In fact anthropology and the law grudgingly, has begun to increasingly view property not as mechanical rights but as a complex web of interconnected relationships.”

There’s precious little evidence of “a complex web of interconnected relationships” at Stonehenge, just a very selective group of consultees. Have you been to a Public Meeting about its future? Hardly. Instead we have to settle for the “Our Proposals” website which is billed as “the culmination of months of working closely with a range of stakeholders and engaging with local residents” but which, from the point of view of the rest of the stakeholders might just as well be dubbed the “Sweet Fait Accompli” site for it simply lays out what English Heritage has already decided in private.

One issue in particular illustrates the unsatisfactory nature of the behind-the-scenes approach: the big chain link fence is universally hated yet it seems a debate has been going on and plans about what to do about it have actually varied over time! The video clearly shows it being swept away and replaced with absolutely nothing – yet they also say here  “The high chain link fence will be replaced by more appropriate stock fencing”. Hopefully that won’t happen but it’s concerning that it clearly has been the intention at some stage and that intention is still being displayed to the public as a settled fact. How could anyone think it would be OK to replace a universally despised fence with another fence? Had “participatory stewardship” been in place it is probable that such an idea would have been instantly rejected. There’s a lot more plain common sense outside Swindon than inside and it’s a resource that should be tapped!

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