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It’s always sad when for whatever reason a museum has to close its doors to the public. However, as with all things, there are right ways to do things, and wrong ways.

The Lackham Agricultural and Countryside Museum, in Wiltshire, was closed in 2009 due to lack of funds. Since that time, an extensive collection of over 4000 objects has been ‘mothballed’, but now the museum is taking the step of trying to trace the original owners who donated the various items in order to offer the items back. The full story is on the BBC website and is an example of trying to ‘do the right thing’.

Less satisfactory is Stamford Museum in Lincolnshire. It was closed in 2011 and while some of the exhibits were relocated to the Discover Stamford area at the town’s Library the rest are in storage and available only by prior arrangement. Stamford was the home of the famous antiquarian Dr William Stukeley and there are many objects associated with him that ought to be on display – including his framed sketches of the druidic temple he constructed in his garden nearby.

Worst of all, let’s look at the Church Farmhouse Museum, in Hendon North London. The London Borough of Barnet, the owners of the Museum, closed it on 31 March 2011 as part of their austerity measures and made the staff redundant. There were stories at the time of parts of the collection being disposed of in a skip. Some items have been offered to other museums outside of the borough.

Church Farmhouse Museum, Hendon

The only other museum in the borough, Barnet Museum, is itself under threat having had its funding withdrawn, and is only still open as the council cannot prove ownership of the building which houses it. It now transpires that, not being satisfied with trying to sell off the listed property for development, (PDF link) the council are looking to auction off the remaining items from the collection in October.

Bosses at Barnet Museum, in Wood Street, Barnet, have accused the council of betraying people’s trust by selling off hundreds of items donated to the museum by local residents.

Barnet Museum archivist Dr Gillian Gear said she was “disappointed” that she had not been given the opportunity to claim more items from the axed museum before they were sent away for auction.

“We have collected our own stuff and a very limited number of domestic items,” she told the local press. “But I was advised by the council that everything else was spoken for and found a good home. I didn’t realise it was going to be sold off and not remain in Barnet. I’m very disappointed. It is a bad sign if people cannot trust a local council.”

A petition has been hastily organised on the local council website, objecting to the auction. Notable signatories include several Labour Councillors as well as several members of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. We would urge all who feel the auction is morally wrong to sign as soon as possible.

“Here in Barnet artefacts and records tracing the history and heritage of our borough used to be available to view in two museums. That was until the current council administration closed Church Farm House Museum as part of the ‘One Barnet’ programme. Many people will be surprised and shocked at the vast collection of artefacts from this Museum that the council is now disposing of by auction.

Some may have a substantial monetary value and others not, but how we value our history and heritage for the benefit of future generations has clearly reached rock bottom. Respecting our heritage, preserving it for future generations, and appreciating our past should be common sense and the duty of those we elect to be the custodians of our history. It will be a very sad day when all these items are sold or disposed of.”

We ask that the council advertise by public notice for donors to reclaim any items they donated to the Museum and that any remining items are either offered to Barnet Museum or are re-housed for viewing or for archive in Barnets Libraries so that generations to come can enjoy and learn from them.

You can sign the Petition here

Several years ago we complained about a metal detecting rally at Foxham because the organiser said:

“The land has been pasture and undisturbed for approximately one hundred years” (which flouts all guidelines on responsible detecting) and….
“Only finds that are subject to treasure trove are to be divided fifty/fifty with the land owner”
which flouts all notions of fair dealing (everything not treasure, including a Crosby Garrett helmet if found, would belong 100% to the detectorists!)

Today the event is repeated (same organisers, village and landowners), BUT:

“The pasture fields have not been pasture for more than three years” (which complies with responsible detecting) and…..
“Finds over £300 in value are to be divided 50/50 with the landowner”
(which is a shift (albeit inadequate) in the direction of fair dealing)

There’s a lesson for officialdom there maybe. If people are acting badly it’s best to say so. We did, and now both the archaeology and landowners of Foxham (and maybe other places) are a little bit better off – and we didn’t charge the taxpayer a penny.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Demolition Operatives

Salary: Good
Start Date: ASAP

RM Penny (Plant Hire & Demolition) Ltd, Green Street, Ston Easton, Radstock, BA3 4BY

Enthusiastic, hard working individuals required for this varied role.


A discussion on the new Heritage Action forum opened our eyes to an interesting and slightly disturbing question:

When was the last time a development was stopped or significantly altered as a result of unknown archaeology being discovered?

Picture of the Coliseum taken by Kevan Davis

The latest suggestion we had stepped outside our remit slightly and was the Coliseum under the Guildhall in London, discovered in 1988. Surely there must be a more recent example. Can you help? Leave a comment below or on the forum thread if you know of any more recent discovery which permanently stopped or changed significantly a development.

English Heritage recently recommended that people visit their Guide to Heritage Protection. It’s certainly worthwhile and it got us thinking about what our primary concern, conservation, actually means.  If you look in the dictionary it means “careful preservation and protection of something” which would be fine applied to heritage sites but the trouble is a different version applies to those.

EH quote three definitions and they have clearly changed over time. The earliest one [ICOMOS 1994] was fine, much like the dictionary. It said Conservation comprised efforts to ensure the material safeguard of heritage assets. But by 2008 [Conservation Principles, English Heritage] it was no longer just about safeguarding, it was a process that seemed to presuppose that change might happen to the site and would need managing. It was “the process of managing change to a significant place in its setting in ways that will best sustain its heritage values”. And now in 2012 under the definition in the National Planning Policy Framework, change is no longer to be merely “managed” in a reactive way but is also to be maintained in an almost proactive way. Conservation currently is “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset”.

It would be naïve to expect conservation of heritage sites to mean no change to them. Not all windfarms and housing developments near heritage sites can be cancelled. On the other hand, bearing in mind all the political breezes currently blowing, a Planning Framework that specifies the act of conservation of a heritage site comprises maintaining and managing change sounds as if it is taking sides – and not with those who value them!

This is the first in a series of short articles in which Dr Sandy Gerrard draws upon his long experience with English Heritage to reflect upon the scheduling system and poses some pertinent questions in the hope that there will be some public debate on the issues including some responses from EH themselves.

Does English Heritage know what archaeology is? A letter I recently received from the Designation Department strongly suggests that they do not. In January I submitted a request for a prehistoric settlement, field systems, entrance grave, cairns and later tinworks in Cornwall to be scheduled. The letter recently received was an invitation to comment on a Consultation Report that had been prepared for these sites.

This letter states “Further to our previous correspondence, I am writing to advise you that we have completed our initial assessment of the above building to consider whether it has special architectural or historic interest.”

I have previously expressed my concerns at the lack of engagement by English Heritage (EH) with the archaeological parts of its designation role and was assured that this was recognised and that EH would “wish to see an increase in the national designation of archaeology” and in January 2012 the Head of Designation stated “The best way of judging us is by actions.” So let’s spend a little time doing just that…

Well it would certainly appear that within the EH Designation Department there is still some room for improvement. It must surely be obvious that field systems and tinworks are not buildings possessing some sort of special architectural interest and it would, therefore surely make sense to update the pro-forma letters accordingly in order in avoid any future misunderstandings. Previously I have pointed out that the National Heritage List for England referred to all heritage assets as buildings so for example the Battle of Hastings and  Maiden Castle were for a while referred to as buildings. This unfortunate mistake has now been rectified and I look forward to the present oversight being remedied with equal alacrity.

However why does the EH Designation Department seem to be making a habit of referring to all sorts of heritage assets as buildings?  Does this error tell us about the culture within the Designation Department at EH?  Do they assess so little archaeology that the new IT system simply ignores it?


[For other articles  in the series put Scheduling in the search box]


High status helmet?
Much criticism has been levelled against all those that played a part in the diversion of the Crosby Garrett helmet, a national treasure in all but legal definition, away from permanent public view. But Mike Pitts just added a further dimension. He asks why the owner has lent it to the Royal Academy and not to the Tullie House Museum, which was so keen to show it to the people of Cumbria – and he answers himself like this:

“As Mrs Merton might have said to the collector, “So, what first attracted you to the socially prestigious Royal Academy?”


Bleeper sounds off
An astute metal detectorist-blogger reckons our Farmer Brown isn’t a real person but a literary device! Genius! Then on that basis he goes off on one about us. (No, we aren’t archaeos and we can’t be unfrocked!) Still, he said one sensible thing to his readers: “What I suggest is that you print off a copy of the piece and take it to your local FLO/Friendly Neighbourhood Arkie. Ask for their comments and if they will stand by them in public.” Please do!


Why don’t Barristers read English Heritages guidelines?
This week EH have been encouraging people to visit their website to learn all about concepts like setting and significance. A good idea but a hopeless plea in the case of Mr Jeremy Pike, barrister for power company E.On. Just look what he said at the Chiplow windfarm Inquiry:
“no-one is entitled to say that they should not have to see wind turbines in the same view as listed buildings or other protected assets.”
“Wot, nowhere, never?” a lawyer from EH’s legal department may have been heard to exclaim. “Bleedin ‘ell, why did we bother writing all those definitions and guidelines on “setting” and “significance” then?

The Inspector smirked and said “Don’t tell him Pike!”

Today we are launching our new public forum. It will be for the discussion of anything relating to ancient heritage promotion and protection and we intend it to be lighthearted and polite at all times.

This will be our second attempt at a public forum, the first crashed and burned but taught us a few lessons. We’ve codified those lessons into some simple rules of behaviour: Be polite at all times, no discussion of metal detecting, no anonymous proxies and the moderator is always right!

So if you can stick to those, please pop along, we’d love to see you…


You can register at

The Sustainable Trust are progressing with their initial work to excavate the GIANTS QUOIT at Carwynnen. A full scale archaeological dig is being undertaken by volunteers, overseen by Historic Environment, until 3rd October. This work will inform us of the best way to restore the Quoit, as well as providing us with valuable insight into the way our ancestors lived 5000 years ago.

© The Sustainable Trust

The public are invited to an open day at the Quoit on Sunday 30th September between 10am and 4pm There will be guided tours of the excavations and an exhibition of the history of the Cromlech. A digital photographic workshop will run between 10.30am and 3.30pm for amateur photographers wishing to improve their skills. If you have ever wanted to write poetry or prose, there will be the opportunity to seek advice at 2.30 from Gary, who is leading the Giants Quoit Writing Project.

On Saturday 29th at 2pm, local botanist, Phil Harris will lead a walk around the field identifying plants and mapping their positions.

Pip Richards, Director of the Trust, stated “This is one of the most interesting Neolithic sites in the area. We are privileged to have been able to facilitate this unique opportunity to excavate underneath this Cromlech, which has remained covered since 1966, and we look forward to restoring it in the future. The Trust is delighted with the response from the public. We look forward to hearing about and seeing more of its history throughout the project.”

The Sustainable Trust is a local charity caring for two large historic Groves on the Old Clowance Estate. It works to maintain our heritage for future generations.

For more details ring 01209 831718 or email

Note: parking is limited. Car sharing or a short walk over from Treslothan Church is to be recommended.

For those looking to take an interest in our ancient past, now is the time to enrol for courses beginning in October. Those who do not have the time for a full time course but are interested in furthering their knowledge of pre-Roman Britain may be interested to know that the University of Exeter are offering a range of online distance-learning Archaeology courses.  None of the below are ‘credit-bearing’, so will not count towards a formal certification, but there is enough material in each of the 20-week courses to provide a solid foundation for more formal studies.

Introduction to Prehistory in Britain

“An introduction to prehistory, discussing common perceptions of this age and showing how archaeology can tell us how prehistoric man lived. This online course introduces students to prehistoric archaeology in Britain, and covers the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age.”

Neolithic Prehistory in Britain

“This course will cover the Neolithic period in Britain and Ireland, broadly between 4500BC – 2000BC. The course first sets the scene with a summary of the previous Mesolithic Hunter Gatherer lifestyles and the development of farming which reached Britain around 4100BC and started slightly earlier in Ireland.”

Ancient Britain in the Bronze Age

“This online course introduces students to the Bronze Age in Britain (2500-700BC), a time when the stone-working inhabitants first learnt and developed the skills of refining metal for tools and other objects.”

The Iron Age in Britain

“This online course explores the Iron Age in Britain, from 700BC until the arrival of the Romans in AD43. We will begin with a look at the Late Bronze Age (LBA) and consequent Iron Age as concepts, their chronology in terms of current research, and some discussion of the ‘Celts’, before a short overview of the LBA background and changes in landscapes and societies in this period.”

All the above courses commence on the 8th October, run for 20 weeks of study with a mid-winter break (15 for the Neolithic course), and cost £145 each – the price of 3 or 4 pints per week. Other courses  at Exeter cover later periods such as the Roman and Viking eras.

If you know of similar online courses, or have experience of attending such a course, please let us know in the comments.


September 2012

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