The protection of monuments is subject to a postcode lottery it seems. Up in SY11 Shropshire Council is leaning over backwards in it’s mania to damage Oswestry hillfort. Down in OX7 it’s different.

Let Shropshire Council and planners take careful note of what the West Oxfordshire planners have just said about a proposal to build an overflow carpark for the Rollright Stones. We don’t know the full merits of this proposal, such as how far from the stones it will be, but we do know it’s not a money grabbing exercise, it’s just to provide occasional overflow parking for school parties visiting their heritage (and not metalled parking at that, just reinforced turf that you’ll hardly notice). What’s more, the applicant isn’t a money grabber he’s George Lambrick, very long term head of the charity which look after the stones, a previous Director of the British Council for Archaeology and an archaeologist of great repute – someone who certainly wouldn’t dream of causing harm to the stones or their setting.

Despite all that, the West Oxfordshire planners are treading very, very carefully: “Introducing such an alien form, even with the landscaping, which indicates in itself that the development requires screening to be assimilated into the landscape, will detract from the very special and unique character of the stones.” It is now likely that the Trust will amend the application in a way which will satisfy the planners – see here, but the process will have been conducted as it should have been with Guardians guarding like tigers, even when both the application and the applicant are meritorious.  Do you see, Shropshire Council? Of course you do, as everyone knows. Yet you have the massive nerve to state that you don’t think a load of houses right next to Oswestry Hillfort will cause “substantial harm”.

Here’s an interesting thought: Oswestry Hillfort would be safe if it was in Oxfordshire (or probably any other county that wasn’t Shropshire). How does that make you feel, planners and councillors of the Independent and Aberrant Republic of Shropshireland?

Just posted on a detecting forum (and getting loads of support): “So, today we received the valuation for our 20 piece, 1kg, 1100 year old viking hoard of hack silver. Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each. I honestly am gutted. We dont do it for the money but lets be honest, there is no wonder so many finds go unrecorded to the flo. We knew the BM would rip us off but we didnt expect to be stripped naked….”


“We knew the BM would rip us off but we didnt expect to be stripped naked”

For the information of all likeminded crybabies, there are about 200,000 proper amateur archaeologists in Britain who don’t take money for their finds. Or complain. They see them as everyone’s, not someone’s and they do it for the love of history, see?

One of his colleagues has a theory:They are wishing to impose ‘austerity’ on valuations.” …. Er, no. But think of this: the treasure rewards and Ebay earnings that detectorists get are the only part of the heritage sector that hasn’t suffered massive cuts. So actually, detectorists are uniquely privileged. Anyone think being ungrateful and graceless is the best reaction to that reality?

Update 4 October

A comment from “Spencer”: “Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each”. So the poor old landowner only gets a third! How can that possibly be right? What if there were 9 artefact hunters poking around. Would the farmer only get a tenth?”



Yes you heard right, if you live in Ireland, pop along to your local garden centre and if you are lucky they might stock a bag of compost made by Westland Horticulture. These helpful chaps have been systematically destroying a unique bronze age trackway to make compost for the last ten years! Don’t worry about getting into trouble with the authorities, the Irish National Monuments Service haven’t issued a preservation order, or recorded it in the Irish Register of Historic Monuments, despite being notified in 2005. Yes you heard right again, this offer has been running for ten years with full government knowledge and no-one’s stopped it yet!!

Use the trackway to grow hanging baskets like these!

Use the trackway to grow hanging baskets like these!

Of course you’d hope common decency would have stopped Westland Horticulture from destroying our shared cultural heritage in the name of a quick Euro, but apparently not…

More here:

Following the point we raised yesterday that English Heritage and the National Trust have no business lobbying for a short tunnel at this early stage, before the Government has clarified some crucial questions, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon provided a statement in the Lords that absolutely hammers home the point:

Highways England is currently in the early stage of scheme development looking at options and to date have not sought the advice of the National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
“The Road Investment Strategy is clear that the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme involves a tunnel of at least 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometres). Highways England is in the early stage of scheme development, looking at options, including the length of tunnel. Consultation on options will take place in 2017 and will involve stakeholders, local residents, businesses, road users and interested parties.”

Against that background, for EH and NT to be seen to be supporting the shortest of the possible tunnel lengths still being considered by Highway’s England, seems bizarre. If the tunnel length is still under consideration shouldn’t they,  as heritage-friendly bodies, be campaigning really hard at this stage for the longest option not the shortest, since that inarguably would involve no damage to the World Heritage Site?  But the National Trust’s archaeologist has written this in the latest edition of Wiltshire Life:

SH Tunnel Wilts Life

Actually, if you want to inflict zero damage on the World Heritage Site, length IS everything, there can be no argument about that. Instead, it seems as if the National Trust is proclaiming to the public that it supports the “the longest tunnel possible” but is actually arguing for a shorter one that emerges well inside the World Heritage Site, with all the damage that implies.  Given the nature and historic role of the National Trust, that in itself is surprising, but coming at such an early stage such a stance seems astonishing.

Much has been written, especially by English Heritage and the National Trust, about how good it would be to have a “short tunnel” at Stonehenge. But last Wednesday and Friday Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb asked HM Government three very simple questions which make EH’s and NT’s certainty at this early stage look a bit ill-founded…..

Does the Government plan “to implement a tunnel for the A303 in order to avoid the entire surface area of the Stonehenge part of the World  Heritage Site?”
Have they “sought, or been given, the advice of the National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites concerning proposals for dualling the A303 through the Stonehenge part of the World Heritage Site; and if so, what advice have they received?”
Do they intend “fully to honour Article 4 of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Heritage in respect of any future A303 dualling scheme at Stonehenge; and if not, whether they intend to withdraw as a signatory to the World Heritage Convention?”

Let’s see if the Government’s answers will be evasive – and if so whether English Heritage and the National Trust will persist in their present stance regardless. If that happens it will be hard not to conclude they’re pursuing a fixed agenda irrespective of the facts.

by Nigel Swift

There’s been another big row about which of two detectorists should get rewarded. It reminded me of a previous debacle…

Michael Darke and Keith Lewis who battled in 2010 over which of them should get £300,000 from you the taxpayer.

Michael Darke and Keith Lewis who battled in 2010 over which of them should get £300,000 from you the taxpayer.

This latest case interested me as they had been searching in fields I used to play in. My grandfather owned the adjoining farm and we village kids spent lots of time there. What’s eating me is how things have changed since those distant times in the fifties. I recall Jimmy Perks finding an artefact there (there’s a Roman road there) and all of us proudly processing, Cider-with Rosie style, to our headmaster’s house to present it to him “for the museum” (no-one thought there was any alternative). He made a big fuss about it – both in school assembly and the local press and sure enough it went off to the local museum, with full details.

For me that’s proper “community archaeology” – a village’s past revealed to the villagers and everyone benefiting. 60 years later those fields are subject to very different people and attitudes. For one churlish thing, if their forums are a guide, they are mostly people with far less spelling ability than the 1950’s village schoolchildren who preceded them – but that’s unacceptably snobbish of course and a separate matter the Government should explain. However, I am prepared to be snobbish about them if the word can be used in a heritage-friendly way, meaning “to appreciate those who engage in a shared learning process but not those who are non-sharing or personally exploitative”.

Actually, everyone should be snobbish about that since most detectorists fall into that latter category. It seems to me the authorities have been so anxious to be “inclusive” and avoid the first sort of snobbery that they’ve totally forgotten the importance of maintaining the second sort. So I hope that’s clear about my snobbism. I don’t mind a lot of them being, as PAS says, “challenged by formal education”  nor that they come all the way from Dudley to our little village of Claverley to do over “our” fields (much) but I do deeply resent the fact that statistically most of them won’t have reported most of their finds and that statistically more than 95% of them never renounce their treasure rewards despite all of them swearing blind they’re only doing it for the love of History. Shouldn’t everyone be snobbish about that?.

BTW, in the next county to Claverley is the similarly named village of Abberley. There, some excellent real community archaeology has just been happening, see below, just like we did in the fifties. Naturally, not one of the participants took any finds home or reckoned they should own them or sold them on EBay or claimed a Treasure reward or fought over who got one!




Many thanks to all those who responded to our recent survey. The results were interesting, but not in the way we expected.

Firstly, by far the largest group to respond were the metal detectorists at 30% of the overall votes. However as a very large proportion of these were cast in just a 45-minute period on the Sunday evening, with no further votes after that, we’re minded to completely eliminate those votes as a deliberate attempt to subvert the results.

So discounting those votes entirely, and in round numbers: approximately 38% of respondents are involved in heritage matters in a professional capacity – either as an archaeologist (16%), historian (3%) or other heritage professional (19%). A further 19% voted as ‘antiquarian hobbyists’, which to be honest we could have done with defining a bit better.  11% considered themselves amateur historians and only 5% voted as amateur archaeologists. This leaves 8% tourists and 2% students. The remainder (17%) selected ‘None of the above’, which strongly suggests that there are other groupings of our audience that we hadn’t considered.


But what this shows is that our audience is fairly well balanced between the professional and ‘lay’ sectors, and that in turn, our balance of comment and opinion pieces alongside the factual ‘site focus’ type articles is again roughly correct. It’s encouraging that so many (often very busy) professionals consider us worth reading on a regular basis, and for that we thank you all.

Our readership numbers have remained relatively stable over the last 18 months or so, despite reducing the number of articles. We can only interpret this as a period of underlying growth in overall readership – all of which is very encouraging for the future.

So what of that future? From these results it looks very much as if it’ll be business as usual on the Heritage Journal, our mix of pointing out problems in the heritage protection world and raising awareness of the wonderful sites to be visited throughout Britain – “Pricking the Conscience of the Protectors” – continuing as at present.

But we’ll also be working to identify just who those ‘None of the above‘ voters are, and looking to reach out to them too. So if you voted ‘None of the above‘, please let us know who you are, and what you’re looking for from the Journal. And thanks once again to everyone who took part in the survey – your input is very much appreciated by us all here!

A campaign group has accused authorities of staggering double standards over development affecting Shropshire’s historic landscape.

The backlash comes as Shropshire Council’s conservation department and Historic England rally to object to development skirting Caer Caradoc hillfort near Church Stretton in the south of the County.

Meanwhile, the two bodies have signed an outline agreement in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan for 117 houses across the landscape of Old Oswestry hillfort in the north, despite fresh acknowledgement from leading academics of its national importance.

With 117 houses planned on fields nearby, has the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ drawn the short straw in Shropshire’s housing rush?

With 117 houses planned on fields nearby, has the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ drawn the short straw in Shropshire’s housing rush?

Shropshire Council conservation officer, Berwyn Murray, has argued that an application for 85 homes at Caer Caradoc will impact the hillfort and valley as well as a nearby grade II listed 18th century farmhouse. He cites concerns that the proposed development will “urbanise the currently open and agricultural wider setting.” John Yates, an inspector for Historic England, has also objected, saying that the hillfort would be “closer to the suburbs, and less rural” if the housing goes ahead.

Maggie Rowlands of campaign group, HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort), said: “We are encouraged that strong objections are being made in defence of these wonderful historic assets and rural landscape in Church Stretton. But the same arguments can and should be applied in the case of Old Oswestry given its widely-accepted national if not international significance.”

Nevertheless, Shropshire Council is refusing to acknowledge that Old Oswestry’s historic farmland setting faces similar degradation from development sweeping ever closer to the monument. It has stated it “does not accept that proposed development (OSW004) would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort.” And it claims that “the sensitivity of the Old Oswestry hillfort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire Council throughout the local plan-making process.”

HOOOH points out that the Council’s opinion has not been supported by any evidence and is in stark contrast to the assessment by a group of 12 eminent British archaeologists that housing would cause “irreparable harm to the hillfort’s setting”. They include Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe and Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, while RESCUE (British Archaeological Trust), the Council for British Archaeology and The Prehistoric Society have all made similar objections. Testifying to the hillfort’s significance, representatives among them have described it as the “Stonehenge of the Iron Age” and in the “Premier League of British archaeological sites”.

“We ask why so little support to protect this significant hinterland landscape has come from Shropshire’s historic environment team,” said Mrs Rowlands. “It appears that OSW004 is being forced on us by the political will of the Council to fulfil their housing quota in SAMDev at any cost.”

Tim Malim, heritage planning adviser to HOOOH, said: “There is an inexplicable lack of appreciation for one of Shropshire’s and the UK’s most important heritage assets. There is also a serious lack of understanding for planning policy and the heritage significance of the hillfort’s setting in believing that development at OSW004 is sound. The LPA is leaving itself wide open to legal challenges while there is such glaring inconsistency in the interpretation of planning guidance in relation to the County’s heritage.”

Campaigners are also extremely disappointed with Historic England’s capitulation over OSW004. Having objected during the early stages of SAMDev, the national body has since agreed principles for housing, subject to design approval, in a statement of common ground. This is despite its stated concerns over the loss of the hillfort’s rural setting to urban development and the disruption of views to and from the hillfort that contribute to the aesthetic value.

HOOOH says that Historic England’s contradictory approach is further highlighted by its objection to the allocation of land in SAMDev to extend an industrial park adjacent to Shrewsbury’s historic Battlefield. The heritage body is concerned about the impact of development on key views to and from the site, and potential harm to the registered battlefield’s wider designation. This is a directly parallel situation with OSW004 at Old Oswestry, say campaigners.

Mr Malim added: “We have submitted evidence to the LPA showing that there would be substantial impacts on the heritage significance of Old Oswestry from the urban encroachment of 117 houses. These include assessments using industry standard methods and Historic England’s own criteria on the setting of heritage assets.”

However, HOOOH says it is encouraged that rulings elsewhere are providing some clarity on the interpretation of harm to heritage setting under national planning guidelines (NPPF).

In 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned plans for four wind turbines on land at the 17th century Barnwell Manor near Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire. The judge ruled there had been a failure by a public inquiry inspector “properly to interpret and apply the relevant planning policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites, which meant that the balancing exercise was flawed”.

The ruling has had notable repercussions for planning applications affecting heritage sites.

Andrew Batterton, legal director for global law firm, DLA Piper LLP, wrote in The Planner magazine earlier this year: “Even less than substantial harm impacts that fail to preserve setting and that contribute to significance of a heritage asset are now expected to be afforded considerable weight, creating a strong presumption against the grant of planning permission.”

HOOOH says if proper weight is given to Old Oswestry’s significance, the scale of harm from development in its setting, and to its community value as a heritage asset, then any unbiased balancing exercise regarding harm versus the need for housing must clearly rule OSW004 as unsound.

The SAMDev plan has been undergoing examination by Inspector Claire Sherratt for over a year. She is expected to submit her final plan to Shropshire Council in the next few weeks.

A major network of trackways, in use since Neolithic times runs from the Norfolk Coast near Kings Lynn, all the way across country to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a total of some 363 miles.

Much of this trackway, known today as the Greater Ridgeway is still in evidence, and is incorporated into a series of modern long distance trails known by several names for its different sections:

  • The Peddars Way – runs from Holme-next-the-Sea down to Knettishall Heath near Thetford in Norfolk.
  • The Icknield Way – runs from Knettishall Heath, SE of Thetford across country to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
  • The Ridgeway – runs from Ivinghoe Beacon to West Overton, west of Marlborough in Wiltshire.
  • The Wessex Ridgeway – runs from West Overton, via Stonehenge, to Lyme Regis in Dorset.


It’s no coincidence that this set of trackways follows a geological band of chalk which runs diagonally across Southern England. Some of these trails overlap, as explained by the Friends of the Ridgeway website:

 The Ridgeway, like other pre-historic routes, was never a single, designated road, but rather a complex of braided tracks, with subsidiary ways diverging and coming together.  Successive ages made use of the route for their own purposes, and left the marks of their passage.  Pre-historic barrows and burial mounds line the route and excavations have found implements and ornaments from many sources.

As the land lower down the slopes was cleared, a lower route became feasible in summer, closer to the spring line where water was accessible to travellers and their mounts.  While The Ridgeway followed the top of the downs the Lower, or Icknield Way, runs parallel to it just above the foot of the slope, as far south as Wanborough near Swindon. To the north of the Chilterns, where the chalk is flatter, the routes come together.  The Icknield Way was used and upgraded by the Romans for much of its length for both trade and military purposes.

In a series of forthcoming articles, we’ll be looking at each of these modern sections, noting some of the archaeological sites that sit on or near the trackways as we go.

(And no, I haven’t walked the whole route. Yet…)

Someone has scrawled “AA 2015” on one of the stones of Britain’s third largest stone circle, Orkney’s Ring of Brogdar.


A spokesman for Historic Scotland said “Fortunately incidents such as this are rare, and we continue to work with the local community to educate people on the significance of these prehistoric sites.” All very well, but it’s a fair bet it was a visitor not a local and the locals probably need no educating on the subject. In any case, Historic Scotland and it’s predecessor bodies have been “educating” the public since 1885 and it doesn’t seem to have got through to the likes of Andy Alexander or whatever the little toe-rag’s name is.  So you have to wonder if more could be done beyond vague promises to educate people – certainly at the “Hollywood” sites where the sheer numbers of visitors increases the statistical likelihood of attacks. (The Nine Ladies stone circle has recently suffered similar vandalism).

“Punishment” is a form of education that shouldn’t be neglected. In Britain if you’re caught you can theoretically get up to 5 years in jail but of course no-one ever gets much more than a fine. Even bulldozing a circle at Priddy resulted in a non-custodial sentence. Abroad, though, if people are caught damaging particularly precious monuments the penalties can be much more severe. Last year a Russian who carved a letter K on the Colosseum in Rome (which is less than half the age of the Ring of Brogdar) was fined £15,800 and a couple of years ago a man was jailed for 18 months for urinating against the Alamo (a monument that’s one twentieth of the age of the Ring of Brogdar!)


October 2015
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