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a guest feature by Littlestone
And the stones in the road shone like diamonds in the dust
And then a voice called to us to make our way back home.
Mary Chapin Carpenter
No, this isn’t about that stirring song, Stones In The Road, by Mary Chapin Carpenter (though it could be) on her 1994 album of the same name, but about the megaliths that lay scattered along our highways, byways, high streets and lanes which, depending on your point of view, can certainly be either, ’A thousand points of light or shame’ or ‘diamonds in the dust’. Heritage Action ran an earlier feature on the stones in Ingatestone High Street, Essex – stones which almost certainly once formed a stone circle but, sadly, are still there on the road and just as vulnerable to damage now as when that feature was first run.
One of two stones at the entrance to Fryerning Lane, Ingatestone, Essex
The stones in Ingatestone’s High Street are not the only examples of megaliths used as buffers, pushed onto verges or just left where they are, awaiting their fate to be damaged or deliberately broken up. William Stukeley’s 1724 Groundplot of Avebury shows no less than nine stones in the roads there – all now long gone but once part of the proud Avebury Henge.
William Stukeley’s 1724 Groundplot of Avebury
Stones in the road are illustrated by small rectangles (click on the map for details)
On Flowergate (road) in Whitby, north-east Yorkshire, is a horse mounting stone. It’s not clear that the stone is originally from a megalithic structure but, as British History Online* records, “The monoliths which exist in the parish possibly mark ancient British interments… North of the lane from Whitby Lathes to Stainsacre a stone 1 ft. square and 4 ft. high stood in Robin Hood Closes in 1816, while south of the lane, in Little John Closes… was a second pillar 2½ ft. high.” so there is a possible connection between this, the more famous Wishing Chair also in Whitby, and a megalithic site. The horse mounting stone is now to be found outside the Little Angel pub in Flowergate road. British History Online again records that, “A diligence commenced in 1788 to run twice a week from the ‘Turk’s Head’ and ‘White Horse and Griffin’ at Whitby to York and another to Scarborough began in 1793. The mail-coach started in 1795 and ran three times a week. A Sunderland coach commenced in 1796. All the coaches ran from the Angel Inn…”
The horse mounting stone in Flowergate, Whitby
Turning south again there are stones on the verges outside The Church of St Barnabus at Alphamstone in Essex – and outside the lichgate of The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield also in Essex – both almost certainly pre-Christian sites. More here –
Stones on the verge outside The Church of St Barnabus, Althamstone, Essex
Stones outside the lichgate of The Church of St Mary with St Leonard, Broomfield, Essex
The examples above of ‘stones in the road’ are just a few of perhaps many more scattered through the country – some with possibly intriguing histories. It’s been suggested, for example, that the stones in the little village of Berwick St James, Wiltshire may have originally been part of the Stonehenge complex (see ).
Two of the Berwick St James Stones. Image credit AlanS
But perhaps the most famous ‘stone in the road’ of them all is the London Stone in Cannon Street, east London. Both the stone, with its receptacle and iron grille, were designated a Grade II listed structure on 5 June 1972. It’s recorded that the, ”London Stone was for many hundreds of years recognised as the symbolic authority and heart of the City of London. It was the place where deals were forged and oaths were sworn. It was also the point from which official proclamations were made.”** Legend has it that, “So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish.” Let’s hope so, and as one of the longest surviving, and most respected ‘stones in the road’, this stone might, perhaps, lend itself in some way to the 2012 Olympic Games – for what better symbolizes the history and continuity of the City of London, and a place to swear the Olympic Oath, than this stone that lies at its very heart.
The London Stone. Image credit AlanS
Finally, this isn’t a campaign to have these stones in the road restored to their rightful place (though it could be) but just a little setting straight of the record. It could be that many of the stones that now lay chapped and chipped by passers-by once formed circles, or at least a place where people met to celebrate the rhythms of their lives and the planet that sustained those rhythms. If nothing else, that at least is perhaps worthy of a mention.
And the stones in the road leave a mark from whence they came
A thousand points of light or shame.
Mary Chapin Carpenter
* From: ‘Parishes: Whitby’, A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 2 (1923), pp. 506-528. URL:

From The Stone Crosses of the County of Northamptonshire (1901) by C A Markham

Mike Pitts in a Guardian article on Sunday the 25th April highlighted the danger of an Anglo-Saxon carved stone cross shaft being sold in the saleroom of Bonhams auctioneers. The cross dedicated to Saint Pega (who died in AD 716, and was England’s first female hermit) was from Peakirk in Northamptonshire. As an invaluable piece of our heritage, that it should go on to the open market, with the danger of it being exported abroad, raised alarm bells in the archaeological world. Two things came to light about this stone, firstly that although the chapel and house in which it had been housed were listed buildings under English law, the stone was not, and of course stone as a material is not covered by the Treasure Act.

Professor Rosemary Cramp, a leading expert on Anglo-Saxon history said she had worked hard to “stop a market in these monuments from being created”.

It was indeed unfortunate that the owner of the house in which the stone had been kept for the last few years, had merely decided to sell the stone on a whim, rather than with a profit motive in mind.

But the seventh cavalry came charging in at the last moment, and it can be revealed that, “it was the Guardian wot won it”. In an article on Thursday 29th, Mike Pitts, ever so slightly victorious, wrote that Bonham’s had withdrawn the cross from sale on Tuesday evening, in no small part to letters of protest written by Janet Gough (director of cathedrals and church buildings for The Church of England) and Mike Heyworth (director of the Council for British Archaeology).

So the cross is saved, its’ future not known at the present time, though it would obviously be preferable that it ended up in Peterborough Museum for public display. For more information the following links lead to the two original articles and the   link  below raises a more serious question as to the legality of selling ‘ancient stones’….

“Bonhams established it [sc. the cross] was not part of the listed building, which would have prevented the sale: the church had simply sold it with the house without restrictions, and it’s not physically attached… But there is a more important issue here.

“Has the cross been “removed from a building or structure of historical, architectural or archaeological interest where the object has at any time formed part of the building or structure”? Would the cross be protected under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003?”.    Looting Matters blog

Save Our Anglo-Saxon Stone  Mike Pitts – Guardian Article; 25th April 2010

Has the stone been saved?     Mike Pitts – Guardian article; 28th April 2010

Paul Barford’s excellent blog also highlights the perils.

According to yesterday’s Times the number of wild tigers in India has now fallen to around 1000 animals. Poaching, for traditional Chinese medicine, is considered to be the main cause of decline, but habitat damage – caused by tourism – has also been recognised as a significant contributory factor. The government there has announced that tourism in tiger reserves is to come to an end;

“Seeing a wild tiger has become a kind of status symbol,” M. K. Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, said. “People do not realise the harm to the broader ecosystem. They are loving the tiger to death.”

A parallel? Keep it in mind when you read the following letter by Joe Fenwick. The evidence of our past is under constant threat of destruction by modern agricultural method, by neglect and, latterly, by development, but do we also destroy that which we celebrate? Can we love our monuments to death? From the Irish Times;

Madam, – Not wishing to pour cold water on Fáilte Ireland’s “Festival of the Fires” in celebration of Bealtaine, but perhaps the burning of bonfires on upwards of 50 prominent hilltops throughout the nation is not in the best interests of our ancient heritage or, indeed, the promotion of our tourism industry.

Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin, I believe, is to reignite this ancient “Celtic” festival this coming weekend and (according to your Magazine, April 24th) openly invites communities throughout Ireland to “commandeer” a local hilltop for the purposes of lighting their own bonfires.

Alas, some of our most significant (and lesser significant) archaeological monuments are located on the summit of hilltops; largely because of the commanding views such places afford. In recent years geophysical survey has revealed the presence of otherwise invisible, but often substantial sub-surface archaeological remains on and surrounding extant archaeological monuments at many of these places (for instance, Uisneach, Co Westmeath, Rathcroghan, Co Roscommon and Knockaulin, Co Kildare).

Magnetometry has been especially successful in this regard, as this technique is particularly sensitive to the residues of ancient fires and the subsequent distribution of ash and burnt material from such events into surrounding ditches and pits.

Bonfires lit on or near archaeological monuments will permanently affect the magnetic properties of the underlying and surrounding surface soils and in so doing compromise the value of these places for meaningful scientific research in the future.

As an archaeologist specialising in archaeological geophysics, I would ask the organisers of such events, even at this eleventh hour, to confine bonfires to elevated “fire boxes” well away from any known archaeological monuments (and hopefully unknown ones too). Aware, however, of the futility of my appeal in the face of spontaneous and largely unregulated events, I will be praying to the gods for rain and hoping Fáilte Ireland and Ms Hanafin will not be promoting this well-meaning if ill-considered event as the beginning of an annual nationwide “festival”.

– Yours, etc,

JOE FENWICK, Department of Archaeology, NUI Galway.

An excavation, funded by the Department of the Environment and the Royal Irish Academy, has uncovered a “high-status” Viking necklace in a cave in the Burren. Also found, at Glencurran cave, were the remains of seven adults, two children and an infant (the latter dated to the middle Bronze Age) and the 10,000 year old shoulder-bone of a bear. The necklace, the longest of its type to be found in Ireland, has been dated to around 850 CE.

According to team leader Marion Dowd; “Viking necklaces that have been found have five to six glass beads, but this has 71 glass beads covered with gold foil.” No evidence of Viking settlement exists in the Burren area, so how did such a significant item – 12 times the size of previous specimens – get there and into a cave? Speculation is currently centring on trade, from Limerick, with local Gaelic chieftans.

There may also be a vague shadow in the story of Olaf the Peacock, one of the protagonists of the Icelandic ‘Laxdaela Saga’ and grandson, via a seized mother, of the Irish King, Myrkjartan (Muirchertach). An early chapter of the saga describes his visit to Ireland, about 100 years after the necklace date, with first, a grounding in an unfamiliar area and then, the threat of seizure of his goods by the Irish;

“Then they cast anchors, and they caught bottom at once. There was much talk during the night as to where they could be come to; and when daylight was up they recognised that it was Ireland. Orn said, “I don’t think we have come to a good place, for this is far away from the harbours or market-towns, whose strangers enjoy peace; and we are now left high and dry, like sticklebacks, and near enough, I think, I come to the laws of the Irish in saying that they will lay claim to the goods we have on board as their lawful prize, for as flotsam they put down ships even when sea has ebbed out shorter from the stern (than here).”

Then, the aid to a grandfather, in his struggles on the west coast;

“The king was seldom at rest, for at that time the lands in the west were at all times raided by war-bands. The king drove from his land that winter both Vikings and raiders. Olaf was with his suite in the king’s ship, and those who came against them thought his was indeed a grim company to deal with.”

And finally, the parting gifts;

“When Olaf’s ship was ready, the king saw him off on board; and gave him a spear chased with gold, and a gold-bedecked sword, and much money besides.”

Clearly, there are more ways than one to gain a necklace, but what carried it (trade, spoil, salvage or gift) into the cave?

My precious.

“A new road is to be built on the Isle of Thanet in east Kent during 2010-11. The road will be 6.5 km long and will cross one of the richest archaeological areas in Britain.

Before construction begins archaeologists will excavate the whole length of the route. This will be the largest excavation in Britain in 2010, covering approximately 40 hectares.

Visit the project blog to keep up to date with the latest archaeological news.”

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Or, lightning strikes twice in Arklow?

The Irish Times this week wrote about – what could be – local man Peter Dempsey‘s second dug-out canoe find, in just one river. The first boat, found in 1966, had been confirmed, recorded and photographed by the National Museum and then returned to the water. Mr. Dempsey said that he initially suspected his recent discovery, spotted, apparently, while feeding ducks on the riverbank, to be the same craft.

After studying the photographic evidence, however, a representative of the Museum, Nessa O’Connor, considered it to be distinct, with “a strong likelihood that it was indeed a canoe.”  Experts are to go and view it this week.

The longest prehistoric canoe of this type to be found – from Co. Galway; about 56 feet long and dug out of the single trunk of a tree – is in the Kildare Street display, in Dublin. Mr. Dempsey, also the mayor of Arklow, has expressed the wish that this craft, if authenticated, might go instead to the local Maritime Museum.

Oddly, Allison Bray, of the Irish Independent, reported the same find, but wrote the following about his first and its fate forty-four years ago; “The canoe was photographed and archived but there was no way to preserve it then so it was left to rot in a spare room at his friend’s house.”


It’s been tough for Stonehenge – insulted for decades and endlessly argued about – but now a lack of money has forced common sense to triumph and a site has finally, finally been selected for a modest visitors’ centre. It’s not the ideal location but it’s infinitely preferable to the mass vandalism that was being pushed for over oh so many years so we’re minded to feel grateful for small mercies. History after all will record that for several decades the British contemplated replacing a temporary national disgrace with a permanent one but saw sense at the eleventh hour.

But it’s not quite over, it seems.

Some 4×4 owners are opposing a couple of byway closures, citing their rights as free born Englishmen in a pompous metaldetectoristic way. Hopefully the rights of Stonehenge and the vast majority of people will count for more.

More reasonably, we understand there’s some local opposition to the closure of the A344 past the stones. While we can understand and sympathise, we feel that traffic speeding past the stones is part of the national disgrace – and ending it just has to be a national priority so we hope that view will prevail.

But of most concern to us is this, from Section 5.3 of a Wiltshire Council Strategic Planning Department document: “a proposed land train between the new visitor centre and the stones.” Land trains have lots of economic and environmental advantages no doubt.However, there’s more to consider than that is there not? After all, this is our national icon, fresh from decades of national disgrace; don’t we owe it some dignity, irrespective of running cost considerations? Wouldn’t that be impossible with a transit system that reminded visitors of trips to Drayton Manor and Disneyland?

So…. why not just use buses? These days there are as many environment-friendly innovations applying to them as to land trains – electric, hybrid, low-impact, you name it. And in addition, they are arguably just as or more flexible, inexpensive, safe, weatherproof, robust, long-lasting, reliable and easy to load – and they have a pretty small turning circle (hence require only a small footprint near the stones). Half a dozen of those and the job could be done – with no expensive, exclusive maintenance agreements with manufacturers, no equally expensive “custom built” elements – and let’s face it, buses are rather well-tested technology so they’d definitely give a high degree of reliability. There are thousands currently on sale, you’d get some beauties for £15,000 each so we’ll wager you could solve the whole visitor transit issue for a shed load less than the combined supply and exclusive maintenance packages the land train companies are quoting. And bear in mind six times £15,000 adds up to about one seven hundredth of what was to be cheerfully spent on the previous £70 million visitors’ centre!

But actually, never mind the cost, it’s the dignity thing. Land trains on the Stonehenge landscape would look AWFUL – Noddyland imposed upon megaliths, who could possibly bear it? Apparently they’ll be based on the ones currently used at The Eden Project. Like this?

It ought to be recalled that land trains on special tracks were essential originally because the intended visitors’ centre wasn’t on a metalled road to the stones. It is now, so the necessity for a land train has completely disappeared. Which makes us fret in our paranoid way. Why are land trains still being talked of at all? Could there be a plan to take the land train off the A344 and go metaphorically parp parping all over the landscape on new access tracks like was proposed before? We hope not, but if it is then it should be firmly confirmed or denied not let through without discussion. Future intentions are relevant to current planning discussions we’d have thought, and the public has a massive right to know exactly what is contemplated for their monument. (Yes, we know it might not go parp parp – but it would inside the heads of any who saw it chuffing past King Barrow Ridge in all its teletubby, ice-cream waving glory! That’s the thing about this issue; it’s a perception thing that can’t be discussed using monetary terms. Naff is in the eye of the beholder not the accountant or the environmentalist and we’re betting most people would share our view of what’s naff. If there’s doubt, they should be asked of course. Before the event!)

So here’s our plea. Think bus, not Noddyland. In very subdued colours at that, without adverts or any writing at all on the sides! Let’s run them only where they’re essential, for as short a time as possible, straight along the A344 and back, nowhere else, or come clean if that’s not the plan. Let’s finally give Stonehenge and its landscape a break. It has been widely proclaimed that the “core objective” of the Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Project is to “restore a sense of dignity to the site.” We question if the Eden project transit system is a good starting point to achieve that, no matter how many modifications might be proposed.

“Perky” the Land Train takes visitors on tours of the Eden Project
Image: © Copyright Gary Rogers and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Go ahead John? Sorry, but the Irish Times doesn’t think so.

This Monday’s editorial responded to the submission of Ireland’s latest candidates for Unesco World Heritage status  – by Environment Minister John Gormley – with the following;

“It is all very well for Mr Gormley to hawk our heritage on the world stage, with the promise of a pay-off in terms of tourism revenue, but the real test is whether it is really valued at home. As Fine Gael’s heritage spokesman, James Bannon, pointed out, the Minister’s much-heralded legislation to strengthen the protection for national monuments has been languishing on the Dáil schedule for more than two years, with no date indicated for its publication.

Mr Bannon branded this inexplicable delay as a “huge stumbling block to the preservation of our heritage”.

Instead of playing to the gallery internationally, Mr Gormley must publish the Bill without further delay to demonstrate his bona fides.”

Tough words? Perhaps not. Minister Gormley has been no stranger to inaction on heritage issues. In a recent article (linked below), I used material from a ‘Village’ magazine interview, in contrast to two newspaper reports, to cast some light on the shadier parts of Green Party heritage rhetoric and, particularly, the reasons given for lack of progress. After reading the admonition above, it may be worth looking at that content again.

In the specific area of Unesco submissions, the sore thumb is, obviously, John Gormley’s ’unstoppable’ road through Tara and the same minister’s behaviour on the National Monuments Legislation carries a large lump of déja vu – more big words and no deeds. In the ‘Village’ interview he proclaims this anticipated bill as “visionary”, but maybe that should really have read as ’a vision’. Just working out ‘de lay’ of the land for a while, I suppose.

Don’t worry anyway, Mr. Bannon. I’m sure that he’ll find some way to make your stumbling block look better. What was that quote about the M3? “But what we have done is to use our position to ensure that the excesses – the terrible planning that you find along motorways – that simply won’t happen along that route – and I can guarantee that.”

There you go. And next time you need a kick in the teeth, make sure that the person involved wears sneakers.

“Men who talk about their importance for mankind have a weak conscience about their common bourgeois honesty in keeping contracts or promises.”

Previous Heritage Journal Articles on John Gormley:

John Gormley/Tara: The Wearing of the Green

John Gormley on how to destroy Irish heritage kindly

 Article by Moss

Charles  Lucas was a curate in Avebury for several  years in the 18th century, during his time there he wrote a long poem about the stones called The Old Serpentine Temple of the British Druids at Abury, which was published in 1795. He was angered at the destruction of the stones by local farmers and also heavily influenced by reading William Stukeley’s book,  Abury, A Temple of the British Druids so that the idea of druids and serpents lay at the heart of his interpretation and writings about the great stone circle and henge of Avebury.  Also an 18th century preoccupation with the ‘pagan stones of the druids’ was a very popular concept at the time, still sadly in our time as well.

So what does he offer us in the 21st century?  Firstly, his anger at the destruction of the stones by local farmers, secondly of course his 18th century eye witness account of stones that were actually in existence at the time, such as the stones of the Beckhampton Avenue; The Beckhampton Avenue was also visible though not so perfect as the other in the memory of the late Mr. J. Clements, who could clearly point it out.  This has been chiefly demolished by Farmer Griffin and Richard Fowler.  The two stones in the Cove are all that now remain, and with difficulty these were saved by applying from the farmer to the landlord.

The Avenue, though fairly complete towards the Marlborough end, lost many stones nearer the village during the time of William Stukeley;   A Mr. Smith informed Dr. Stukeley, that when he was a schoolboy he remembered the Kennet  Avenue intire from end to end, and by the time that Lucas was writing; The stones from the neck were taken by a Mr. Nalder by order of the landlord Mr. Grubbe to build the farmhouse, now Mr. Tanners, and most of the Kennet houses are built from that part of the Avenue.

I suspect it is difficult to judge these farmers and house builders with hindsight, though Lucas has a few tidy words in his poem to express his anguish.

A better lot, I trust awaits the few
Remaining Stones.  No more in common lie
The fields, each has its separate owner,
Nor longer needs to fear the visionary schemer,
Or hare-brained Speculatist, whose wild plans
More mischief did than rustic ignorance

Though again ‘hare-brained speculatists’ are at work this very year on the boundaries of Avebury with the five new houses being built  at the former site of Bonds Garage just outside the henge on the Swindon road!  History has an unfortunate way of repeating itself.

So shall we name these miscreants from the past, long dead and buried in their graves, they chose to destroy the stones as best as was possible in their time, was their no over-arching power to stop the destruction of the stones?  The answer of course is no, short term gain normally wins the day when it comes to profit, though Farmer Robinson seems to have lost out; The destruction made by T. Robinson was chiefly in the Temple of Avebury, under pretence of building houses, but the experience of demolishing (the stones) was greater than the value of the houses, and after they were built the houses by some accident burnt and T. R. utterly ruined.

The fallen Obelisk

A further interesting point in the poem is the presence of the two  earlier  north and south circles with the great obelisk stone in the centre, these circles have a date of approximately 2900 bc. The obelisk is toppled to the ground in Stukeley’s time but still a giant as it lay there, Stukeley recorded it thus “The central obelisk of this temple is of circular form at base, of a vast bulk, 21 feet long and 8 feet 9 inches in diameter; when standing, higher than the rest“. In the following link from that invaluable site; Avebury A present from the Past, it is stated that the obelisk is the central and most important feature (and also the Cove of course is earlier) from which all the later large stone circle and henge would have been built around.  Here is what  Charles Lucas has to say on this earlier complex.

Thus by the Dike, a single ring is rear’d
One hundred stones compos’d the pile completed
Two circles less inclosing, South and North;
But these with double rings, thirty the one,
The inward only twelve.  Each stone agrees
In number, size and shape.  The North Contains
A cove form’d of three stones triangular,
An antient altar this; – the south has one
To which they ty’d the victim; and another.
An Obelisk the highest of the group,
Which in the centre rears its spiring head

Well putting aside druidical sacrifices, we are left with a fairly good idea of how the Avebury complex may have looked in the 18th century, many stones fallen and buried; the slow accumulation of a ritual landscape from the ‘stone age’ over time with  ceremonies that we know little of now, had fallen victim to changed farming ways and more practical necessities such as stone for the new farmhouses and cottages. William Stukeley did a great service when he sat down to record by drawing and the written word the landscape he saw before him, already beginning to disintergrate, that his imagination coloured his thinking is something that can easily be forgiven.  Charles Lucas, impressed by the scholarly Stukeley also put pen to paper to record his impressions sometime later, such historical records are invaluable.

The Cove

Earlier article: Avebury’s Restoration and the Stukeley Line

Ref: Online Google book: The Old Serpentine Temple of the Druids at Avebury by Charles Lucas.

Avebury A present from the Past 

Abury, a Temple of the British Druids, William Stukeley.

It’s almost exactly five years this weekend since the “Near Avebury Metal Detecting Rally”, a crass and vulgar grabfest dedicated to “self” and a denial of the existence of “society”. 480 people lined up along two fields at Winterbourne Bassett and rushed forward on a signal (“like the start of the Grand National” crowed the organiser in the press) to grab what they could of our history. Which in this case was very rich, from Palaeolithic scatters onwards, as might be expected in this world-famous area under the scarp of the Marlborough Downs, overlooked by The Ridgeway, a White Horse, 2 Iron Age forts and countless bronze age barrows and visited but not harmed by John Aubrey, William Stukeley and scores of famous archaeologists since.

"The Near Avebury Rally" : detectorists cars below the White Horse.

The usual claims underlay the event – that it was “disturbed plough soil” so no harm could arise – a demonstrably false mantra that PAS consistently avoids correcting. And we know that “Don’t worry, we all report to the PAS” was actually said to the elderly landowner. And as one said in our hearing “Anyway, it’s legal, innit?” It sure is. It’s not right of course as the rest of the world knows, but in Britain you can’t get locked up for it so that’s that.

PAS didn’t attend (it’s unclear whether by accident or embarrassment but who can blame them – no professional would want it on their CV!)  Of course, if they and detectorists are to be believed it didn’t matter as most detectorists heroically record their finds anyway. If you believe the PAS records for those two fields show a commensurate huge spike in numbers we suggest you become a supporter of unregulated metal detecting – or even Minister of Culture! If on the other hand you believe that absence of records means absence of recorders whatever chatter may be put forward you’ll be less than happy to think of all that Wiltshire history being carried away without trace to Bootle, Bognor and Brussels.

So, now that five years have passed……we should ask whether anything in Britain has changed since that toe curling, populist display of cultural philistinism. Is our national behaviour less at odds with opinion abroad? After all, everyone was assured at the time that things would change. Both detectorists and PAS explained over and over that all that was needed was patience. Everyone needed to stop complaining about the damage, jump on the train to Liaisonville (as PAS put it) and trust PAS to offer detectorists understanding and education and outreach and liaison – and some more understanding – and definitely no criticism – as a result of which, very soon, more and more and more of them would see the light and become “responsible” rational citizens that recognised that their interests were as nothing compared with the interests of society and would start to regulate their own behaviour accordingly. In other words, they’d start to act like other people. 

Well, for a start, this weekend there are not one but two metal detecting rallies in North Wiltshire – one of them a little way north of Avebury literally within a stone’s throw  of the two fields that were used for that 2005 rally. So self interest still completely outranks communal interest, five years later.

However, at least the five years has brought the publication of a Code of Responsible Detecting. That’s a big step innit (as they say!) Trouble is, although it’s centrepiece is the assertion that to be responsible you have to report all your finds to PAS, PAS’s own statistics clearly indicate most detectorists still don’t – despite PAS regularly re-jigging the basis of calculation to make things look better than they are. No change there then – after five years most detectorists are still not responsible as defined, they are still knowledge thieves, plain and simple.

Also, some Guidance on Rallies has been published. Now that IS progress, because the Establishment has finally admitted publicly we were right that rallies are extremely damaging  (or “troubling” as they put it!) . The problem is, the guidance doesn’t say what it should – don’t hold rallies, they are vandalism writ large – it merely offers some obvious suggestions that no-one with a conscience wouldn’t be doing already. Worse, some less-than-archaeology-friendly rally organisers are using guidance compliance as a marketing ploy. Crude bellicosity towards archaeologists and an endless succession of adverts for scores of rallies effectively saying “meet at the layby on the A1 and we’ll pilot you to the unpublished venue” hardly instills confidence in such rallies does it?  Ah, but each rally is Advice Compliant, innit? Yep.

One other thing that has certainly happened over the past five years is that PAS staff have spent 1800 days outreaching, educating and persuading detectorists so some of that must have rubbed off. Or has it? This very day, a few minutes drive from the place where the Near Avebury detecting disaster took place the Colchester detecting society is holding the Foxham Rally – which is depressing enough since it shows no progress has been made, but worse, they are holding it on pasture that has remained undisturbed for 100 years, this being in direct defiance of both the Code of Responsible Detecting and the Guidance on Rallies. Why? Because they haven’t heard it’s not acceptable? Hardly. The hapless taxpayer has spent millions of pounds and more than a decade trying to get that message through their skulls. Presumably then, simply because they want to and they can.

Not that any of them are likely to do advanced heritage irony or even irony but if the attendees happened to look around Berwick Bassett on their way to one of their “fun weekends” (as one of the rallies is being marketed) they might well see traces of stones that Caleb Bailey smashed and removed from the Avebury stone circle to make stone cottages in the 1740’s – because he wanted to and he could and he fancied a fun weekend.

And that, it seems to us, illustrates the profound flaw in the “persuasion, education and liaison strategy” that Britain alone has adopted. It might not have been obvious at the start but it certainly is now. Like Caleb Bailey you can inform the majority of detectorists what’s right till you’re blue in the face, but you can’t get them to do what’s right if they find it more self-fulfilling to do what’s wrong. There’s no reason to take our word for it though, look at the PAS statistics or ask detectorists themselves. Both will confirm we are correct.

So is that it? Nothing has really changed over the past five years? PAS still liaising, most detectorists still helping themselves and North Wiltshire still subject to a self-serving pestilence? Pretty much. Except for one thing. Detectorists have used the extra five years provided by the liaison policy to lift another 1.44 million artefacts from the record, mostly without reporting them. How many is that? Well think of Wembley’s pitch. It wouldn’t be big enough to lay them all out. Britain is utterly barmy say know-nowt amateurs. 


Nighthawks should be called “Site burglars” say detectorists. Wrong again!

More Wiltshire local history being flogged off “for charity”

Staffordshire Hoard: Parting the Piggy Bank

Lucrative heroism?

Heritage Action vindicated at Portable Antiquities conference

Largest detecting forum confesses to undermining PAS

PAS to support metal detecting sales push

Metal detecting and helping Donald Trump: two additions to the British education syllabus?

Wiltshire metal detecting rally flouts archaeological guidelines

Metal detecting at the end of the noughties: bad just got worse

Metal detecting: a letter to English Heritage

Metal detecting: £3.2 million reward for reporting the Staffordshire hoard should have been £32 million claims detectorist!

Nighthawking: much ado about the wrong thing.


April 2010

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