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We’re pleased to be able to present a guest post by Peter Cornall, the Area Representatives Convenor for the Cornwall Archaeological Society, telling us a little about the Society’s “Monument Watch” scheme and its workings. 

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The late Tony Blackman was President of the Cornwall Archaeological Society until his untimely death early in 2012. Highly regarded both locally and nationally, in particular for his work with young people, Tony felt keenly the need to offer members of a local Society the chance to play an active role in the archaeology of their area. Opportunities in excavation for amateurs are infrequent, even in a region rich in monuments of the past. Other openings were to be sought, one being helping with the care of  Cornwall’s ancient monuments.

Of these hundreds of monuments, scheduled and unscheduled, some may be found to be under no threat at all, while others may be neglected and clearly at risk. All stand to benefit from regular inspection, so it is no wonder that the development of Monument Watch across Cornwall came to seem a highly appropriate objective for the Society.  The idea is by no means new, and important groups of volunteers have for some time been active in the protection and sometimes also the physical care and maintenance of monuments in several areas of Cornwall, including the Lizard, Meneage, West Penwith, Newquay and Bodmin Moor. Monument Watch countywide is in debt to their pioneering example.

For many years, the Cornwall Archaeological Society had recognised volunteer ‘Area Representatives’ acting as archaeological watchdogs for whatever group of parishes each felt to be within their reach. The members of this small group met quite informally each spring and autumn to exchange ideas and to report significant items of archaeological news, which might prompt the Society to action, often in concert with the Cornwall Historic Environment Service, English Heritage and the National Trust. It was this group which could be developed into a countywide watchdog for monuments, although this would never be the whole of its work.

During the past four years the group has doubled to twenty, as new volunteers have been recruited from the CAS membership, each to ‘adopt’ a contiguous group of ‘orphan’ parishes which the new Area Representative feels able to cover. By the autumn of 2012 the whole of Cornwall’s considerable land area and all its numerous Scheduled Monuments were covered by the scheme. (We also have an associate in the Isles of Scilly, who works alongside us.) A Short Guide has been written to describe the role of Area Representative; this paper can be consulted on the AR page of the CAS website, and probably offers the best concise picture of what we are trying to do. Our Monitoring Report Forms can also be found on the website.

This group of monument watchers now includes a wide range of age, experience and expertness, with some of the local heritage professionals doubling as advisers and Area Representatives. After careful discussion, a format for reporting has been devised which meets the recording needs of both English Heritage and the Cornwall Historic Environment Record. Reports on monuments can be submitted at any time either by e-mail or post, and the steady flow of these new-style reports is now of key importance to the sadly shrunken group of professionals in Truro. Thanks to this routine process, monuments under threat can be identified and action taken, while those reported as comparatively safe and sound -happily the majority- need not take up precious time. In this manner, Tony Blackman’s original wish to offer Society members a chance to be more active has led to an important and most timely collaboration between volunteers and professionals, just when resources for heritage protection are under serious threat.

It is possible, I guess, that this account may come under the eye of enthusiasts in other parts of the country where no such collaboration as that described here yet exists. There is one aspect of our Monument Watch which we would not offer up as ideal. Ours has been an organic growth, with the untidiness  often associated with such a pattern of development. A group starting from scratch would certainly wish to achieve a more even distribution of responsibility for Scheduled Monuments than ours, which is numerically grossly uneven, reflecting the history of the Area Representatives group and its relatively rapid expansion. We have not seen fit, as yet, to attempt any redistribution of parishes in order to achieve a fairer sharing of burdens. Our answer has rather been to encourage the ARs to form support groups (where these do not already exist) or to recruit friends and fellow-members as sharers in the monitoring work. At the same time, we recognize the inherent difficulty of achieving even an approximate evenness of load, where the variables of terrain, distance, monument type and site distribution are so significant.

Our distribution of MW responsibilities to Area Representatives happens – somehow – to be based on the ancient ecclesiastical parishes of Cornwall;  church and civil changes over the years have sometimes complicated matters for us, and more up-to-date boundaries would obviously be easier to use.

Then there must be more exciting – and descriptive – titles for monument watchers than ‘Area Representatives’, even when their duties (like ours) extend further than simply MW,  and I am sure that they will be found and employed!

Any scheme starting-up elsewhere would certainly wish to ensure that all its monument watchers could at least send in their reports online, even if not all would be ready to deploy every possible gadget in the field, seeking their targets by GPS, making notes on tablets and taking their photographs on smart phones. Some of us in Cornwall still cherish the compass, the map, the notebook and the camera!

Peter Cornall

8.02.13

Our grateful thanks go to Peter for taking time out to put together this account of an important part of the Society’s work. If your local society has a similar or comparable scheme, please let us know and we’d be happy to give space to it  here on the Heritage Journal

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