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The tender document for the construction of the new Visitor Centre has been released. One aspect is of particular concern, the amount of space devoted to different functions. In particular:

Retail, Catering and Back of House facilities:       1,380 sq m
Interpretation and Education:                                600 sq m

It seems a  disappointing outcome to all the years of discussion, argument, public enquiries and expense, to end up with a building where more than twice as much space is devoted to providing meals, memorabilia and “back of house ” facilities than to actually interpreting the monument for visitors. Shouldn’t the figures be the opposite way round and wasn’t the reason for dispensing with the old facilities and building the new ones the undignified commercial atmosphere and the dearth of interpretative space – in fact haven’t we heard little else for years? Yet the figures tell a very different story – a million visitors a year will arrive yet only two and a bit tennis courts-worth of space is being provided for interpreting the monument for them. 

So has something changed? Previously, both the Government and English Heritage have made it perfectly plain that the purpose of the project is “to restore the landscape and create a world class interpretation centre”. To put what is now actually proposed into perspective, the area for interpretation of our national icon will be only 25% larger than the area being proposed for toilets. And the Mountfitchet Toy Museum is larger!

A couple of months ago we wrote this about the way the new Visitors Centre was to be financed:
“this extra money is to come from “private philanthropy” (that’s the new Big Society approach to funding major capital projects says the Government). Great, we’re all in favour of philanthropy. But we’d like to know exactly WHO will be the Stonehenge philanthropists. And will there be a price?

Is this the price? Will it transpire that the “philanthropists” are connected with the retail and catering trades and their philanthropy focuses on that and upon back of house facilities rather than on interpretation and education? We shall soon know.

Wiltshire County Council has announced that the Traffic Regulation Order Inquiry in connection with the new Visitor Centre has been adjourned for three months until Tuesday 20 September 2011 (due, we understand, to a procedural error).

Archaeologists have been enraged by recent remarks by Mr Alan Melton, leader of the Fenland District Council,  announcing that archaeological surveys in advance of developments will no longer be necessary in his version of the Governmen’s brave new localism world. Rather than trace the whole sorry story, which has been well aired on many archaeology websites, we thought we would highlight this phrase from blogger Li Dongni:

“It seems that sometimes people can elect leaders who are, quite frankly, barbarians…”

The danger, of course, is that there are other Mr Meltons with other developer pals in other planning authorities with similar pro-development, anti-heritage views and that they will soon be empowered by the government’s Localism Bill to give developers the license to do what up to now they have only dreamed of being able to do. While his specific proposals would be illegal there is little doubt that there has always been a strong wish on the part of many developers to build more, build faster and build without the irritation of current archaeological constraints and it is a wish that is shared in government. “Eric Pickles will be extremely proud of me”. “The bunny huggers won’t like it”. Mr Melton’s words may be intemperate but they betray a pretty ruthless pro-development agenda that extends far beyond the Fens. Is he being quietly cheered on elsewhere?

Here’s a petition against the plans to scrap archaeology in the Fens. Please sign it –   but please also be alert to the fact there may also be a Mr Melton near you – and soon he may have not just the wish but the means!

See also Maev Kennedy in The Guardian.

The Wiltshire Downs, looking towards Avebury from Alton Priors. Winter 2011.
Image credit and © Willow

Pi-e-ty/ˈpī-itē/Noun: The quality of being religious or reverent.

It seems that (according to Wikipedia) Piety can be either genuine, in that it springs from spiritual piety, or false, in that it is an attempt to exhibit the signs of piety for their own sake, or for some other reason, (such as propitiation or public esteem).

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that whoever recently deposited the nasty little straw-stuffed goddess-cum-teddy on top of this 15 foot high standing stone at Harold’s Stones, Gwent, was guilty of false piety.

Forensic examination of the scene suggests they must have expended quite a lot of effort in spoiling other people’s experience of the place. It might have taken ten or more attempts to throw the thing up and get it to stay. Or maybe they used a ladder. Or climbed on the shoulders of a fellow iffyofferer. Or worse (and most likely) clambered up the sloping side of the stone.

Whichever. May their deity decline their dippy donation.

On the other hand, less than a mile from Harold’s Stones in Trellech village can be seen this on the base of a sundial inside the church of St Nicholas…


Which means that at Trellech there has been a representation of a pagan “temple” tolerated and celebrated in a Christian place since 1689 (although admittedly the original stonemasons would have thought the stones dated to the Saxon king, Harold, not to pagan times).

In addition, there’s no doubt at all that the maker of this hassock knew very well that the Three Stones are from pagan times. Good for them. Pious people, sufficiently mature and comfortable in their beliefs to leave room for respect for the perceptions of others.

All in all it’s tempting to think that some modern pagans, particularly the litterati, far from saying modern Christians are doctrinaire and inflexible (as they often do) could do with taking lessons from them. Who can possibly deny that  Pi·e·ty/ˈpī-itē/Noun doesn’t mean chucking straw-stuffed goddess-cum-teddies on top of scheduled monuments but that it does come from having a bit of awareness of the perceptions of others!

Here endeth the comparison. Bible 1 Teddy 0.

There is a bitter sequel to the Priddy story. It concerns the fate of the world’s other multiple henge monument, also in England.

The Nosterfield Publication Report (insensitively titled “Holes in the Landscape”), the fruits of seventeen years of archaeological investigations of part of the now-quarried monumental landscape of Thornborough, the greatest prehistoric monuments between Stonehenge and the Orkneys, is now available here.

The fieldwork and publication have been funded by Tarmac Northern and the peer-reviewed report has been produced on behalf of Mike Griffiths and Associates who were engaged by Tarmac Northern to carry out the investigative work. 

Perhaps the most telling words are these from the introductory text: 

While Nosterfield Quarry has resulted in the loss of the archaeological deposits discussed within this tome, it has paradoxically added significantly to our understanding of the archaeology and landscape of the wider area and provided a framework in which future discoveries can be placed and understood.

Thanks Tarmac. Due to your unwavering insistence on digging here rather than somewhere less archaeologically important we’ve learned stuff. Of course, we could have learned much more over time by traditional sampling techniques but best not to dwell on that eh? You won, you got what you wanted. Couldn’t you have resisted, just this one time, dressing up what you did  as culturally beneficial when you know perfectly well it was unnecessary vandalism of the highest order? A big chunk of the Thornborough monumental landscape is now an electronic file. That is not something you should pretend is to anyone’s advantage but YOURS. Britain is full of gravel deposits, as you know perfectly well.

By Nigel Swift.

It’s hard to report on something you haven’t visited before and which is partly no longer there. But that’s how it is. By all accounts the Southern circle was the best preserved of the four, with most of its ditch and bank easily visible. Now, I’m afraid, taking the circle as a clock dial with the North at 12 o’clock,  there is simply nothing left of either the ditch or the bank between about 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. It is just flat. It appears from the tracks and the re-seeding it was done by using a bulldozer not many weeks ago.

There are two massive piles of stones in the field, one comprising modern builders’ rubble and one just stones. It’s possible that the latter came from the core of the henge wall but I have no way of knowing.

A stone wall on the Eastern boundary of the field in question bisects the circle so the destruction stops at this point (4 o’clock) leaving the circle on the neighbouring land untouched. The effect is to leave an exposed cross section of the henge wall within the stone boundary wall,  giving a clear view of the ruthlessness of the demolition. 

The henge wall also now comes to a similar sudden end on the other side of the circle, at about 8 o’clock…


Looking West

Looking North (showing the henge wall that remains)

Looking South (to where the henge wall has been for 4,000 years but isn’t now)

What’s to be done? Precious little other than grin and bear it I suspect – apart from deal with the culprit. I’d be surprised if anyone else can be blamed – for who can anticipate what someone might do in an afternoon with a bulldozer?

It had crossed my mind that someone could be required to build a replica of the missing parts, at huge expense, but on balance that may not be the best way forward. There’s something almost spooky about the look and feel of the area that has been scraped and recently re-seeded. It reminded me very strongly of my visit seven years ago to that other multiple set of henges which also happen to have been treated with contempt by this century – at Thornborough. There, it’s the surroundings not the actual henges that have been destroyed and an attempt to “restore” them has been made but with a marked lack of success in my perception at least as I thought the restored areas radiated deadness, with all the charm of a verge in front of municipal offices. Of course, they WERE dead and gone, other than in some electronic file far away, as is part of the Priddy monument. 

So maybe heritage crime scenes shouldn’t be prettified and should stay as a vivid example to others who might otherwise think such behaviour wasn’t all that bad and easily rectified. Instead, maybe a massive donation towards  the care of other prehistoric sites would be appropriate. Oh, and the donation of all four Priddy circles to the nation together with full access rights for the public, and a sum of money to look after them in perpetuity of course. That seems like a no-brainer in all the circumstances.

For previous article on Priddy see –

An English Heritage spokesman said, “This year there are about 20,000 people and last year it was about 35,000 – so that is quite a bit down which has meant the operation is a lot easier.

It’s always “easy” if you allow this (opening photo and about 25 seconds in). This and this (third and fourth photo) to happen. How come no-one can get away with that (stand on and climb the monument) 364 days of the year?  Is it because being drunk or leaving vast quantities of litter is seen as a valid expression of spirituality? Or is setting up consultations, arranging for stewards and issuing pleas considered adequate excuse for failing every single year to perform the statutory duty of care of keeping people off the stones and treating the area with the respect it deserves?

Has anyone considered reporting this prima facie case of repeated maladministration? What’s maladministration? Well, take your pick from these possible elements:

  • delay
  • incorrect action or failure to take any action
  • failure to follow procedures or the law
  • failure to provide information
  • inadequate record-keeping
  • failure to investigate
  • failure to reply
  • misleading or inaccurate statements
  • inadequate liaison
  • inadequate consultation
  • broken promises
  • and of course, failure to apply one’s OWN rules on one day but not on all the others!


Map of earthworks at Priddy Rings, Somerset by C H Bothamley

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 makes it a criminal offence to destroy or damage a scheduled monument through and including agriculture,  forestry,  flooding and tipping.

Sometimes it beggars belief that unique Scheduled Ancient Monuments get ‘trashed’ by farmers but every now and then it happens, and this time a large part of one of the Priddy Circles has been bulldozed into the ground. The Circles may not look much on the ground but from the air these impressive four Neolithic henges, trace a line across the landscape of the Mendips, close by to the linear barrow cemeteries of Ashen Hill and Nine Barrows.

News in This is Somerset states that… Land near the circles appears to have been recently re-seeded and tree saplings have been planted close by. Further photographic evidence on The Megalithic Portal, show that part of the southernmost circle has been partly bulldozed flat. Did the person that did this know of their importance??? Well that remains to be seen, but such vandalisation should be rewarded by prosecution and a stiff fine at least.

Happy summer solstice to all our readers


June 2011

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