You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2010.

 Two crucial aspects of the Stonehenge proposals have yet to be clarified…

 1. The transit system.

Will it be like one of the two examples shown here ? Not one like the Eden Project, please! That one is called “Percy”. Very tasteful! So more like the Dover Castle one? It may be, if this video is a true representation. But the video one pulls four carriages, not two. Is the vehicle up to it? And what about the livery? Can we be solemnly promised it will never ever carry advertising? And what’s wrong with buses? And what about talk in The Times letters column of Lord Lansdowne saying Stonehenge would be turned into a toytown with visitors approaching in dinky electric vehicles? Isn’t anything that prompts thoughts of Noddyland (which it’s hard not to think of when watching the video) to be absolutely avoided at our national icon?


2. The fences 

Will the fences be removed? Surely it has been decided upon? After all, if the detailed design of the new Visitor Centre and the colour of the transit system coaches have been decided then surely it is inconceivable that the matter of access to the stones (in other words the fences) hasn’t been been decided as well? English Heritage as good as says it has : “The need to care for Stonehenge properly has been recognised for many years. Improvement to its landscape setting and presentation to visitors are identified as priorities in the WHS Management Plan ……… The proposals to address this need have been agreed by a group of key stakeholders led by English Heritage

So what HAS been decided about the fences? The reason the question needs to be asked is because the video appears to show that there will be no fences – and although that would be very nice we have concerns that behind the scenes a different view might have been taken. The practicalities suggest that having no fences at all would prove impossible. Security is one problem. And erosion is another. But the video seems to suggests that nearly a million people a year will be free to walk amongst the stones, not held back by fences, ropes or rules. It seems unlikely.

A lot of people hold the “no fences and free access to the stones” concept very dear. If it is not going to happen then it would be better if people were told, not given a contrary impression by a video. Indeed, the public has the right to know does it not? Open access to the stones may or may not be impractical but open access to information about this matter certainly isn’t!

As can be seen the Society has much to offer both to a general readership and the academic community.  Its interests are worldwide and “extend from the earliest human origins to the emergence of written records”.

Membership is open to all, and includes professional, amateur, student and retired members.

The Society’s publications include its own Proceedings going back 75 years as well as PAST, its excellent topical newsletter, which is available for download.

Anyone that didn’t see this coming was in denial; from Paul Melia in yesterday’s Irish Independent (the special “Four-Year Plan” section);

“But there will be no major schemes starting in 2012 or 2013. This means the N5 Ballaghadreen bypass, N4 Downes upgrade, N2 Slane Bypass, N22 Macroom to Ballyvourney, N8/N25 Dunkettle Roundabout and Enniscorthy/New Ross bypass are shelved.”

Although they may not remain so; the Department of Transport tells us that these “high priority schemes will proceed as funding becomes available and planning permission is granted”. The Government has effectively pawned the country to pay for the bankers and their credit spree (“Business is about risk“; said Seánie Fitz, but that turned out to be our risk, didn’t it?), but there’re always other ways and means. As the Independent points out;

“The Government is looking at charging motorists to use new and existing routes in an effort to fund new road projects across the State.”

If the bypass, proposed to run just 500m outside the Brú na Bóinne buffer zone, does eventually go ahead and it, as a “new route”, is tolled, then how many of those high-toll HGVs would actually use it? Looking further ahead; how many are going to use any of these roads, when the oil is gone or too expensive to use (a couple of decades, give or take)?

Press Release from the Department of Transport

Familiar picture? The Portable Antiquities Scheme at a metal detecting rally, maybe Durobrivae? No, it’s Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Verulamium 75 years ago.

Wheeler and General Pitt Rivers (fifty years earlier) were the first major exponents of “outreach” to the general public, and the concept was expanded throughout the twentieth century, including with great credit by English Heritage’s Outreach Department   But no more. The English Heritage Outreach Department is to fall victim to the cuts leaving PAS operating the flagship publicly funded national outreach. Worse still, despite appearances above, PAS outreach has as much to do with the archaeological outreach of Pitt Rivers and Mortimer Wheeler and English Heritage as a donkey has to Red Rum. Actually, no, as a bag of spuds has to Red Rum, there’s just no comparison at all…..

For one thing, the finds at Durobrivae were mostly lost without trace, scattered to hundreds of places here and abroad, whereas the Verulamium finds stayed put! And for another, traditionally public outreach has been available for everyone that wanted to listen – whereas PAS outreach is effectively lavished on just 8,000 hobbyists in England. Even after the current cuts it will cost us about £165 per year to fund PAS to outreach to each detectorist. Compare that to the half a penny per ordinary person English Heritage’s outreach was costing before the government decided it was too expensive!

The other differences of course are all too obvious. EH’s half-pence outreach was to willing people, happy to share and learn, PAS’s 165 quid outreach is to a group that has very many resentful and uncooperative members (it probably costs us £2,000 per year for every fully co-operative detectorist – anyone from PAS dare deny it?). And of course, unlike the rest of the population PAS’s clients are clearly distinguished by the fact that every one of them is engaged in personal taking for their own recreational or financial benefit – two thousand of them from ten countries and three continents alongside the Ridgeway over one long weekend a couple of years back, while PAS’s archaeologists suspended their ethicality and smiled through gritted teeth for fear of offending the perpetrators!

“Not offending the perpetrators” is not something that troubles archaeologists abroad. Nor was it here until Britain went bonkers. But now it is PAS’s outreaching leitmotif and after 120 years of archaeological outreach, PAS’s outreach is essentially the British national outreach – and your main hope of being outreached to, dear reader, is to become a perpetrator! The Outreach term has certainly turned.

Oh, and it’s outreach that doesn’t even visibly advocate truly ethical detecting! If you want guidelines on that the only place you can go to is here –


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


A brief message from the Heritage Action team:

We should like to draw attention to our submission guidance for articles & comments (see link at the top of the page). In view of some comments posted to the Journal recently, it is appropriate to clarify that the Journal is not a democracy. It is part of a conservation website set up to promote and facilitate our own conservation agenda to the very best of our ability, not a facility provided to enable public debate upon whether conservation is important – so postings that advocate any other approaches to heritage or otherwise (in our judgement) conflict with or adversely impact upon our aims are never welcome. Consequently we reserve the right to exercise editorial control over all comments (although we do so as sparingly as possible). In addition, spurious comments from posters using multiple aliases or email addresses in an attempt to obfuscate their true intentions or views are never acceptable.

Please bear the above in mind as we will take it from now on that any comments received signify that the conditions have been understood and accepted by their authors and we will not be entering into any discussions on any editorial actions we may judge necessary.

Many thanks.


Suton Hoo burial mound
Image credit Moss

Writing in the East Anglian Daily Times, Andrew Clarke, Arts Editor, reports that –

“It’s like stepping back in time. The Sutton Hoo Visitors Centre has unearthed a host of new, historically important treasures. Like the original ship burial, this remarkable find has laid unseen and forgotten for a long time. Tucked away in a dusty storeroom were a couple of fairly nondescript cardboard boxes. Inside these unprepossessing packages were a photographic treasure trove which sheds new light on the discovery and the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Inside the boxes were more than 400 photographs taken during the summer of 1939 by two visiting school teachers Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack.

““The colour pictures, in-particular, give us a real sense of a window into the past. For the first time we can see the coloured stains in the sand left by the rust from the rivets, we can see the impressions and the discolourations made in the sand by the wood and just as importantly it offers us a view of the excavation process.””*

An exhibition Captured on Camera: The Summer of 1939 of the photographs runs at Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge, Suffolk, from 23 November 2010 until 20 March 2011. For opening times and further details visit or telephone 01394 389700.

* More here –

Heritage Action has been a strong opponent of the Tara Motorway, a ruthless wrecking of Ireland’s heritage – and for what? A road to nowhere, a road that will be remembered as a wasteful flash of euros; electronic credits that never really existed, while an ancient legacy was bulldozed into the dust. It won’t be the first time the following has been published (first penned four years ago now) but perhaps next time someone will sit up and take note when something like this is written again.
Tara abandoned by a generation who prefer soulless symbols
TARA, here I am. I have come all the way from Kerry to be with you before the vultures, with bulldozers and JCBs, open your lower belly. They are impatient to inflict the wounds.

You are abandoned, forsaken and rejected. All the powers that be – Meath County Council, the Government, NRA, An Bord Pleanála and the High Court – have walked out on you. We pay them to protect you but they betrayed us. We trusted them too much.

Tara, I know you sympathise with the people who are forced to commute to Dublin five days a week. But why are they not angry with Meath County Council for not putting in a bypass at Dunshaughlin and a proper one in Navan 20 years ago? They allowed them not only to close down but also to rip up the Dublin/Navan/Trim railway line over 30 years ago. And they still trust them. There were so many other options for this road. Are you the same Tara who was magic for Master O’Connell, the principal of Tarmons National School in Tarbert? He instilled a love of you into our hearts, and I can still see the face of Fr O’Flaherty (our history teacher in St Brendan’s, Killarney) come alive at your name. But that was a different generation, other times. You are no longer in fashion. This generation prefers soulless symbols – motorways, shopping malls, four-wheel drives, big trucks and, of course, the euro. I expected all the people in Ireland to have run to protect you. It would have been unacceptable, I thought, to run a motorway through the Tara/Skryne Valley, opening up a wound that no plastic surgery can cure. But this generation was not touched, nor incensed. How sad. Will you forgive us?

The day Environment Minister Dick Roche sanctioned the motorway, I was watching the evening news in a pub. One man said, when he saw Mr Roche on TV, “Isn’t he a pity? I wouldn’t ask him to mind my chickens, and Bertie Ahern put him in charge of our heritage and environment. He has no bottle, afraid of the hawks.” Poor Mr Roche. Maybe he has no power. An Bord Pleanála, which is not comprised of elected representatives, makes all the big decisions. Or does it? Who has real power today?

Democracy, the people’s participation in the ordering of their own lives, is now perceived as a meaningless facade that hides the ruthlessness of corporate self-interest. The suspicion that political ideologies and institutions are becoming irrelevant because politics is being reduced to following ‘the laws of the market’ is creating political unease among people and cynicism among the young about voting. Tara, what else can your support groups and friends do now? Are all avenues closed? Has your hour come? Will we call the lone piper to play a dirge?

Tommy O’Hanlon
Co Kerry

a guest feature by Colin Coulson

Francis Nicholson is a man who made a difference.

He was born, the son of a weaver, in Pickering, North Yorkshire, in 1753. Upon leaving school, he yearned to become an artist. He trained for three years in Scarborough, and for two short periods in London. At first, he was a portrait painter, working in oils. But his several views of Scampston Hall show that, by 1790, he was taking an increasing interest in landscape water colours.

The water colours of that time were – quite justifiably – described as “stained drawings”. The colours were flat and the pictures lacked depth. But during his residence at Ripon, c.1797 – 1800, Nicholson devised a system whereby he stopped out his light areas with a beeswax solution. This allowed him to apply wash after wash to create deep shadows where he wanted them. By gradually removing the beeswax with turpentine, he could apply the washes in different quantities to different areas, and thus grade the lighting. Finally, the lightest areas would be applied in brilliant colour. The Society of Arts, who purchased the method for twenty guineas in 1799, claimed that Nicholson had brought water colour painting from “stained drawings” to having all the power of oil painting.

Nant mill, North Wales (c.1807) 

Nant mill, detail

Beginning at the house in brilliant morning sunshine at bottom left, we move to ‘A’, where the trees are mist-covered but not to such an extent that the sunlit highlights are obscured. From there, to ‘B’, where any highlights left are very indistinct. And finally, we go to ‘C’ where even the outline of a mountain is almost invisible. Here, Nicholson grades his mist exactly as nature would have it, and the sense of distance is all the greater for it.

Nicholson moved to London in 1801. Three years later, Robert Hills and William Henry Pyne invited him to join them in founding The Society of Artists in Water-colours. As Pyne would later record:

“From the time his [Nicholson‘s] drawings appeared upon the walls of the first exhibition of the Society, many of its members, Professors of landscape, wrought their elegant designs with a greater degree of force and effect.”

His contemporaries dubbed him ‘The Father of English Water-colour Painting’ because of it.

According to Thornbury (1861) the great J. M. W. Turner was wont to describe Francis Nicholson as “my model”, and once related to a Mr. Munro how he had copied Nicholson’s paintings in his youth. Surely, no artist requires a higher recommendation than that! Nicholson’s favourite pupil, the Hon. Mrs. Henrietta Fortescue was the half-sister of Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead. This relationship was probably what led to him doing a series of paintings of the Stourhead estate and vicinity between 1813 and 1816. Nicholson dedicated his book, The Practice of Drawing and Painting Landscape from Nature in Water Colours (1820) to Mrs. Fortescue, and mentions the many kindnesses received from other members of the Hoare family.  They remained life-long friends.
From about 1816, Nicholson applied himself to the development of English lithography, and was described as “first amongst” those few artists who did so. The first of these were published in 1820. Monochrome was all that could be managed at that time, though Nicholson would hand-colour them for those who could afford it.

St. Mary’s Abbey, York (1821)

Until recently, Francis Nicholson was entirely forgotten in his home town. But, in 2010, a group comprising of Judy Dixon, Gordon Bell and Colin Coulson was formed to address this neglect. A 32-page booklet by Colin Coulson, entitled Francis Nicholson of Pickering, is currently available from The Pickering Civic Society, 102, Outgang Road, Pickering, N. Yorks. at £3.50 (p&p free). A web-site is planned for 2011, and a larger volume, edited by Professor Bell, will examine Nicholson’s work in the wider context of English water-colour painting, 1750-1850. This will be published by Blackthorn Press in 2012. An exhibition of Nicholson’s work is planned for Ryedale Folk Museum in 2012, too.

Today, water-colour painting is considered the jewel in the crown of British art. It is surely a national disgrace that the man who, more than any other, brought it from mere stained drawings has been forgotten, even in his own home town. If this group have their way, Turner’s ’model’, Francis Nicholson, will not be forgotten again.

Glastonbury Tor
Image credit and © C. Brooks

“Two thousand trees are going to be planted on the bottom slopes of Glastonbury Tor, in a hark back to the area’s traditional roots. On Saturday, 20 November, volunteers and staff at the National Trust will begin the three-week project in one of the southern fields. Organisers hope the mass-planting will “be an eye-catching reminder of yesteryear”.” 

Trees to be planted include the Ash, Blackthorn, Common buckthorn, Dog rose, Field maple, Guelder rose, Hawthorn, Hazel, Standard oak and Spindle.
More here –

by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action

Image credit Chris Brooks

Sitting in a quiet field just off a busy ‘A’ road lies a piece of prehistory, unnoticed by those living in the nearby town.  Lanhill Longbarrow may not be as spectacular as the other restored barrows in the area, such as West Kennet, Stoney Littleton or Wayland’s Smithy but is a gem of a burial mound located just a few miles outside Chippenham in Wiltshire. For those with GPS/Sat Nav’s and other devices, you can park off the road at ST 87855 74742 (or 51° 28’ 18.00”N & 02° 10’ 34.37”W) and the barrow can be found at ST 87728 74711 (or 51° 28’ 16.25”N & 02° 10’ 41.00”W).

For those without gadgets, the barrow can be found as follows: From the A420 Bristol road out of Chippenham proceed past the junction to Yatton Keynell & Castle Combe for a further 500m and start to slow down just before telegraph poles wires traverse the road. Immediately after this there is a drop in the kerb stones on the left and a short (often hidden) 20m track that leads to a gate in the hedgerow that runs parallel with the road. If you pull off onto this track you are able to park up on the right by the hedgerow and out of the way of the farmer’s gate. Access into the field can be made over the gate which is often locked; however, there is a small stile in a gap the hedgerow 5m to the right of the gate but this can be overgrown especially during the summer. The stile is handy if you have a dog as it has a small access hole which you can open by pulling up on a wooden handle.

This route is part of a signposted public footpath that leads to the south side of the field and then up onto Lanhill itself. As you enter the field the Longbarrow is a short distance to your right by the side of the hedgerow lying east to west. Once in this field I always feel I have stepped into another little world. The hedgerow seems to screen you from the noisy traffic of the main road especially if there is a bit of a breeze. Often there are buzzards and other birds of prey gliding over head and once or twice I have seen deer on, or  near, to the footpath up to the hill, all of which add to the good feeling of the place.

Bound on two sides by trees and the large hedgerow the barrow can not be easily spotted from the A350 which runs along side it only 30m away. And although sited in a pasture, its southern aspect is both hidden and dominated by its namesake, Lanhill and the wooded slopes of Lanhill Brake. Hardenhuish Brook, a tributary of the larger and lovely By Brook, runs 75m away to the south and the area in between forms a boggy area in the winter months.

I was first introduced to this barrow in 1979 on a field trip for my Archaeology course at Chippenham College and I have been coming back regularly ever since. It was my very first encounter with such a thing and, as I said, although there are bigger and better ones all over the country I feel that, along with nearby Lugbury Longbarrow, I am responsible for this one.

Originally the barrow was believed to have been about 190ft long and 90ft wide but Lanhill has had a bit of a traumatic past with various excavations right up into the 1960s and much of the material has been taken for road building and a small a nearby wall. Initially it is believed to have had two chambers on the north side and a false entrance at the east end but because of all the damage these are now all gone. But a lovely little reconstructed chamber does still exist on the south side which you can get into but it is only about 2m long by just over a metre high and wide.

Image credit Chris Brooks

When I first used to come here there was a little green plaque but this has now been taken and only the metal post remains. The barrow was also roughly mown and the forecourt was clearly visible but a certain amount of deterioration has taken place. Possibly  leaving the grass to grow each year will attract and sustain more wildlife but the deterioration of the forecourt is a concern.  One of the angle iron supports for the cap stone (which was once corbelled) is exposed at one end and it looks as if some of the stone infilling has been removed or eroded. There are the remains of a dry stone entrance way and a small entrance stone ‘guarding’ the way in.

Image credit Chris Brooks

Constructed about 5,000 years ago it is known as Hubba’s Low according to John Aubrey, however this name has been disputed. Hubba was a leader of the Danes and Low is a burial place but no real record showing a link to Hubba can be found and of course the barrow itself is very much older. Scattered in the various chambers were about 20 burials ranging from a 12 month old baby to adults of 50-60 years of age. Some of the skulls were used by Doctor A J E Cave to carry out a study on many of the individuals and concluded they were most probably related through descent.

As I have said, this a great little barrow and is worth stopping by to see, either as part a walk along the public footpaths of the great Wiltshire country side or while passing through the area along the busy main road.


November 2010

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