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At Stonehenge it’s always a case of another day, another theory. Observatory, hospital, temple, alien energy generator, the list goes on, but just sometimes a theory pops up that seems more attractive and convincing than the others. Not pushing it’s luck, just saying “how about me?”

There are more monuments in the area aligned with the crucial winter solstice than anywhere else on earth so was Stonehenge regarded as the centre of the world and did the enormous effort of constructing it represent a sign of peace between people from the east and west of the country after a period of conflict? …. So wonders Prof Mike Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University in a new book describing a massive research project involving five British universities.

On the face of it, as theories go it seems one of the better ones. Quietly persuasive even. And the timing is perfect -Solstice just over but a bit of a damp squib, Olympic fever hotting up, the Torch about to visit the Henge and England about to show those Romans who are the real rulers of Europe.

Good luck to the new theory. May it prosper!  Tomorrow, there’ll be a zillion links about it on the internet, but this is a really good one.

Anyone that tells you they understand what is meant by “the setting of an ancient monument” is a fibber. No-one knows as it all depends on the monument. And it’s setting. It’s a bit like an elephant – hard to describe but easy to recognise. So we have definitions and guidelines but in the end setting comes down to what an individual Planning Inspector perceives it to be.

There have been three recent examples of what a tricky concept it is:

First, there’s the spectacular Old Oswestry hill fort…..

There’s talk of housing estates being built within yards of it and a big protest is brewing.  Who knows if it will happen, but one thing’s a cert: if it doesn’t it won’t be out of respect for the “setting”. We don’t do setting when it comes to hill forts. Not an inch. Too big and ugly – and scary maybe? Who knows? We need a cultural-historical psychologist to explain it perhaps. Or a shrink. But it’s a definite fact. Some small Tudor houses have massive settings, whole hill forts can whistle for them.

Second, there’s the recent wind turbine case at Hemsby where a High Court judge has quashed the idea that national targets have precedence over local concerns. That’s NOT what the Government ordered at all as it means that although it’s still a balancing act between national targets and local concerns, complaints by the locals that turbines will spoil a view can now give them a chance of victory. As one of the papers said, it means that sometimes The Hobbits of the Shire can defeat the forces of Mordor. Hurrah!

Third, is this recent bizarre case in which it was ruled that a few mobile homes for Gypsy families at a place called – I kid you not – Hillbilly Acres, would cause substantial harm to the setting of a nearby Grade I listed building. Reading through the decision it’s hard to work out whether the “harm to the setting” was physical, aesthetic or social. The only way to test that would be to find an identical case where the mobile homes were occupied by Guardian readers named Piers, Rupert and Tabitha. Such is the uncertain nature of “setting”!


June 2012

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