You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2011.

Anyone that is minded to believe the government’s recent hurried soothing words about how “sustainable development” doesn’t mean relaxing heritage protection measures might care to look at this – a policy statement published today by The Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

It seems that the reform of the planning system will not merely enshrine  a presumption in favour of sustainable development – it will entail an all out promotion of it!

Look at these bits of the Action Plan :

H2 Ensure Natural England has a remit to promote sustainable development
H1 Ensure the Environment Agency has a remit to promote sustainable development
H3 Ensure English Heritage has a remit to promote sustainable development
H4 Ensure the Highways Agency has a remit to promote sustainable development
H5 Ensure the Health and Safety Executive has a remit to promote sustainable development  

On 22 November, English Heritage held an open access community forum event under the discussion heading “Should the historic environment be managed by experts; is involving the public just an unnecessary burden?” which was attended by couple of Heritage Action members. The discussion was billed as:

We would like to provoke discussion on the 22nd November by exploring the following three questions:

1. What should be the role of the local heritage groups in maintaining and promoting the historic environment? Is their existence simply a convenient solution for the fall in local professional historic environment staff?

2. Does it really matter if the young or the less well off aren’t represented in local groups? Isn’t it more important to have a committed few rather than the less interested many?

3. If the local community groups are the way forward for the historic environment, how can professional staff best support them? Are there examples of local groups which are already making a significant difference?

We raised several points regarding inclusion of pre-existing groups on the internet and the massive improvements which could be made to enable automatic site condition and damage reporting by the general public. They were generally accepted and agreed with, though whether any actions will come of this is unsure. Hopefully this isn’t just a talking shop from which nothing will come.

You can see the full discussion here (free login required).

English Heritage has published a guidance paper on the setting of heritage assets. Broadly, it is about what should be done when development is likely to affect the view of and from monuments. As they say….

The significance of a heritage asset derives not only from its physical presence and historic fabric but also from its setting – the surroundings in which it is experienced. The careful management of change within the surroundings of heritage assets therefore makes an important contribution to the quality of the places in which we live.”

For those of us that are interested in prehistoric sites there is a passage that is particularly pleasing:

“Some views may contribute more to understanding the significance of a heritage asset than others. This may be because the relationships between the asset and other historic assets or places or natural features are particularly relevant; because of the historical associations of a particular view or viewing point; or because the composition within the view was a fundamental aspect of the design of the heritage asset. Intentional inter-visibility between heritage assets, or between heritage assets and natural features, can make a particularly important contribution to significance. Some assets, whether contemporaneous or otherwise, were intended to be seen from one another for aesthetic, functional, ceremonial or religious reasons. These include military and defensive sites; telegraphs or beacons; and prehistoric funerary and ceremonial sites.”

Intentional inter-visibility between heritage assets and/or natural features is certainly something that needs recognising and protecting so it’s good to see them saying so in such a clear way. Indeed, they’ve said it before – for example  earlier this year in relation to a windfarm development in the Vale of Pickering:

We consider the proposed wind farm would alter the way the landscape is experienced and read and the setting of numerous heritage assets would be harmed.” 

Let’s hope the concept that prehistoric sites can sometimes be seen as a part of an intentional landscape can often win the day against the coming Government pressure to tip the balance more in favour of development and less in favour of protection.

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance" - Yoko Ono

In an article Vandalism at Priddy; what should be the punishment? we asked what might be an appropriate sentence by using a recent case at Kingston as a comparison. Some said the two cases were too dissimilar but the English Heritage Legal Team tweeted about the the Kingston case: “Judgment handing out largest ever conservation area fine for demolition. Valuable precedent.” 

As we suggested at the time: “if demolishing a house in a conservation area thereby causing a small amount of long term harm gets you a non-custodial sentence and an £80,000 fine then demolishing part of a unique and irreplaceable monument thereby causing massive harm forever gets you…” ???

No doubt we’ll all know the answer soon. In the meantime, here’s another picture –

Note the bulldozer tracks...

And here’s one of Priddy Nine Barrows, just across the road….

The Nine Barrows could be used for comparison purposes themselves perhaps, for since they aren’t unique then if it had been all of those that had been bulldozed the heritage damage would probably be assessed by a judge as far less!

Two previously undiscovered pits have been found at Stonehenge, shedding new light on the monument’s association with the sun, archaeologists said today.

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the landmark and could have contained tall stones, wooden posts or fires to mark the rising and setting of the sun, academics believe.

The team also discovered a previously unknown gap in the middle of the northern side of the Cursus, which may have provided the main entrance and exit point for processions that took place within the pathway.

More here…..   and here

(c) Damon Hart-Davis

As Mid-Winter approaches, it’s time to consider the accompanying consumerfest. Whether you’re buying gifts for someone else, or just giving yourself a year-end treat, the following is a list of books, in no particular order, that we have enjoyed throughout the year. You may too.

Note that not all of these are new books by any means, but they are books we’ve read, enjoyed and can recommend.

  • Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans – Francis Pryor. The first in a four-part opus spanning athe Ice Age to Modern Times, this books concentrates on the birth of Farming and Agriculture in Britain, a subject close to Pryor’s heart.
  • A History of Ancient Britain – Neil Oliver. A companion to the TV series, this book spans half a million years of human occupation, through several Ice Ages to the Romans, looking at the various objects left behind for us to interpret. A thoughtful read.
  • A Brief History of the Druids (Brief Histories) – Peter Berresford Ellis. Forget the romantic antiquarian view of the Druids, this books tells it like it is, using the latest research into classical sources to give a good general overview of life and society in the pre-Roman period.
  • A Brief History of Stonehenge – Aubrey Burl. Although titled ‘A Brief History’, the scope and detail in this book is remarkable. casting aside the more lunatic fringe ideas, this book deals purely in facts, but is no less readable for all that. The ‘Brief History’ series generally is to be recommended, whatever your historical period of interest.
  • The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain – Julian Cope. First written in the 1990’s and recently re-printed, this book spawned a website of the same name that has gone from strength to strength. A series of extraordinary essays followed by a decent gazetteer of some 300 ancient sites to visit in Britain.
  • Standing with Stones: A Photographic Journey Through Megalithic Britain and Ireland – Rupert Soskin. “Across the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland lies an unsurpassed richness of prehistoric heritage. Standing with Stones is a personal voyage of discovery, taking the reader to over a hundred megalithic sites in a photographic journey through the British Isles.” Stunning photography and an easily accessible text make this book a must-have. A companion DVD is also available.
  • A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany – Aubrey Burl. A superb gazetteer of stone circles. Provides what it says on the cover. In our view, an indispensible item.

Any of the above should provide a decent background to our ancient heritage. There are of course many more academic books we could recommend which go into fine detail about specific sites or time periods, but those above are targetted to a more general readership. If you think we’ve left anything important off our list, please add a comment to let us know.

Image credit - Graham Orriss, Heritage Action

In an act of extraordinary generosity (that contrasts sharply with the Treasure Act reward system we have recently highlighted) an anonymous history lover has acquired and gifted a house and garden at Stenness to the Orkney Heritage Society. The house is immediately adjacent to the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology excavations and, over the years, it has become clear to the archaeologists that the Neolithic structures on site run under the house and continue across much of the garden. The gift was made in order to ensure further excavations can take place in future.

More here and here

Duloe is both the smallest and largest stone circle in Cornwall. Hidden away in a field, accessed via a driveway between some cottages some 60 yards north of the church gate, the circle consists of 8 stones in an elongated oval just 37×39 feet in diameter. The stones used are some of the largest found in Cornish circles (the largest here is some 8 feet high), and consist mainly of gleaming white quartz.

Duloe Circle. © AlanS

Although actually oval in shape, this ‘circle’ was first recorded in the C14th, but only fully recognised as an important ancient site in the early C19th. Murray’s Handbook for Devon and Cornwall (1856) describes the circle:

A hedge bisects it, one stone lies prostrate in the ditch, five only stand upright, and three appear to be wanting to complete the circle. The stones, which are rough and unhewn, are principally composed of white quartz, and one is about 9 ft. in height.

In 1861 a modern hedge which dissected the circle was removed but the restoration, which unearthed a ribbon-handled funereal urn, sadly also dislodged and broke the largest stone. However, two further original stones were recovered from the hedge and replaced in the circle.

Plan (after Tregelles)

Lukis and Borlase in their 1885 Prehistoric Stone Monuments of the British Isles: Volume 1, Cornwall (Society of Antiquaries) described the circle thusly:

a remarkable monument, on account of the great size of its stones. It is situated in a grass-field, close to the village of Duloe, and is 36 feet 6 inches in diameter. Seven stones are erect and one is prostrate. They are placed at distances of from 8 to 12 feet apart, and are all blocks of quartz; the highest stone is 8 feet 8 inches high, and 7 feet 6 inches in greatest width. The lowest is three feet. The fallen stone, the largest of the circle, has been artificially split into two parts, and is partially buried in a pit, which appears to have been excavated when it was thrown down for the purpose of converting it into building materials or gate-posts. The ground on which the monument stands is level. The monument is so small and differs so much in character from all other circles, that it is probably the enclosing ring of a cairn which has been entirely removed.

The intruiging thought that this may have been a cairn or barrow is interesting, and to some extent the existence of the urn, which contained human remains, gives this theory some weight as circles as a rule not usually contain funerary remains. There are no known outlyer upright stones either, which are usually present in many other Cornish circles. The 8 stones also (roughly) represent the points of the compass, so there is possibly also an archeoastronomical element to it’s use.

Duloe Circle © AlanS

When discussing the definition of a stone circle, to see whether Duloe fits the description, the Victoria County History states:

“The question immediately arises What is a stone circle ? And in trying to answer it we can hardly do better than accept the definition given by the late William Copeland Borlase, F.S.A., that when the stones are set up on end, at some distance apart, and enclose a level piece of ground, it constitutes a ‘stone circle’, but when the stones are set on their edges, contiguous to each other, and enclose a rock, mounds, or an area of uneven ground, it is a ‘ring barrow’ and sepulchral in character. Most of the Cornish circles belong to the former class, but whether they are sepulchral or not is still an open question, and though one indeed, that at Duloe, appears to be undoubtedly sepulchral, for the rest such evidence as there is points to a ceremonial use rather than to burial.”

The circle can be clearly seen on a Google Maps satellite image.

The application to build a large grainstore at the Eastern approach to Avebury that we previously discussed here has been withdrawn by the applicant.

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