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Early Day Motion on Government Planning Policy tabled yesterday

Primary Sponsor: David Anderson

 

Early Day

And so says everyone! Who in their right mind would want to lose open countryside if there’s a perfectly viable alternative?

(Other than those who stand to make vastly more dosh out of building executive houses – of which there is no shortage whatsoever – and who advised the Government on the policy!)

It seems there is now the political will to finally sort out the congestion on the A303. Some “options” are now being considered. So far as the section near Stonehenge is concerned it looks very much as if the “solution” has already been decided upon. For what it’s worth, here’s our guess about what is going to happen pretty soon:

1.  Whatever is done, the World Heritage status of Stonehenge will NOT be permanently removed. That threat has been used before to influence public opinion and it didn’t happen. Why would it? It would make no sense.

2. A bypass taking the A303 far away from the stones will NOT happen. The construction and compensation costs would be impossibly high.

3. The A303 close to the stones will NOT be made into a dual carriageway. The effect on the stones and the archaeology would be far too severe.

4. Building a tunnel WILL happen, on the convenient grounds that tunneling technology has become much cheaper since it was last rejected on cost grounds.

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But WHICH tunnel? The long, non-damaging but expensive one or the short, very damaging but cheaper one that almost got built despite massive opposition from virtually every archaeological and heritage body except EH? No prizes for guessing. The new study will “look to initially build on work done to date on potential proposals” – so the long tunnel isn’t even being considered.

You’d think it would be pretty easy for EH to confirm which tunnel THEY support – especially as they have said they are fighting “with all our strength for a tunnel”.  But no. We put in a Freedom of Information request  asking them for “Clarification as to the most likely tunnel option English Heritage have a preference for and documentation supporting that decision as referred to in Simon Thurley’s statement in The Art Newspaper of 11 December 2013” and we got this response ….

“It is not possible to comment on this, or provide documentation that supports a decision regarding which scheme English Heritage would support, for the simple reason that we have not yet been presented with scheme options to advise upon. When DfT presents us with their potential scheme options, then we will be able to advise upon their heritage impacts and relative merits.”

It’s pretty clear that presented with a series of impossible options plus the short tunnel our national heritage champion is going to reluctantly choose the short tunnel, as favoured by the Government – and all those archaeological and heritage bodies that previously called for a long tunnel and the avoidance of damage to the setting of our national icon will have been effectively sidestepped. We’ll be happy to be proved totally wrong though.

The Cruyff turn

The Cruyff turn

Dear Fellow Landowners,

sila

You really should look at some detecting forums. See this, just 3 days ago: “I’m trying to get my head around that what we find is the land owners property…..something laying buried there for years, maybe hundreds of years how can it belong to them if they didn’t lose it….. Stuff we normally find that’s not treasure surely is ours.” Followed by…. “Im totally with you on this one ….  I think we are the new owners (excluding treasure items of course)” Followed by They aren’t the land owners property they never lost the stuff in the first place” So what they are saying is very clear: what they find on our land is theirs! What is it with  detectorists? Which other group would include people who claimed that? It makes you wonder how much we farmers have lost on the basis of such belief.

As it happens, Central Searchers have just provided a clue about that. They say 341 recordable artefacts were found at their last rally. So do the maths – if each was worth £20 and they have 50 such events a year plus a massive summer one – and loads of artefacts are worth vastly more than that and many are pocketed without anyone being told – the value being taken out of the fields by Central Searchers alone has to run into millions a year. And guess what, the rallies are run under their hidden Rule 11 that says all finds worth less than £2,000 (as privately valued by the detectorist alone) belong entirely to their detectorists. Basically that means the same thing: everything on our land is theirs! And that’s just the Central Searchers attendees. Who knows how many other detectorists at other rallies or on their own work on the belief, whatever they say at the farm gate, that everything they find is fair game and theirs?

Friends, how come the government and it’s officials keep quiet about all this and do absolutely nothing to warn us or stop it happening?  They must know perfectly well what is going on as their quango has had a grandstand view of it every single week for 15 years. What have we farmers done to deserve the official silence? Is Britain totally, totally barmy?

Yours, in considerable anger,

Silas Brown

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Update, 28 April 2014
Look what happens if you pay a quango oodles to outreach and it pulls its punches for one and a half decades to the detriment of us farmers:

“Up until the other day I always thought that the finds we made unless classed as treasure was really ours, to keep or to sell. I never realised that there were laws in place about who has the rights to our finds. To be honest I always thought that if it wasn’t a treasure find it was up to us if we wanted to hand it over to the landowner or not. Just that it was common courtesy to show or even offer the land owner what I had found and never really thought that these finds belonged to him/her by law. That’s the bit that hit me, by law, as I like to keep within the law I will now have to declare everything to the land owner and say words to this effect, “This is all yours, anything you don’t want I don’t mind taking”. I know I hear some you shout, I should have been doing this from the start.”

Bloody scandalous. And I don’t just mean the detectorists. Will the Government be compensating us for the millions of pounds we’ve surely  lost due to their dereliction of their duty of care towards us?

Silas

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Update 29 April 2014
And on the same forum …. “Interesting discussion. Just to warn you all that there are ‘people’ watching this thread with great interest. Kid gloves, my metal detecting brethren. Don’t become a quote on a tacky blog.”
Translated as:  Careful what you say lest unkind people  such as Farmer Brown and his tens of thousands of colleagues as well as historians, conservationists and taxpayers come to the view that a lot of us are utter ignorami and moral pygmies who shouldn’t be on the fields – and the rest of us are protecting them!
Heroes and history lovers, eh? But you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry one would you Mr Vaizey? 😉

Silas

Update 30 April 2014
Amazing. From the original fellow on his blog: “I’m just imagining now holding out my hand showing the farmer the finds for a day consisting of some buttons, a buckle, some other interesting tat and a silver hammered coin and thinking…’Please don’t take the hammy’, Please don’t take the hammy’… 

So he’s imagining it. He doesn’t DO it. How many times has he not done it and how many detectorists habitually do the same. How is that not mass theft from the country’s hardworking farmers? And still, the whole shebang isn’t regulated. No-one can justify that.

.

Silas

Update 30 April (later)
Another blog and someone who would like to be “responsible” but doesn’t quite get it: “Without the farmers and landowners there would not be much of a hobby” [none at all, actually], “so its only right that we show them the upmost respect and always let them know what we have found on their land.” No, you shouldn’t show them respect and you shouldn’t show them what you have found, you should give them their property. It’s a subtle but crucial distinction, give property not show property, one that most people would have no problem whatsoever recognising as being right and proper but one which 16 years of being praised and patted on the head seems to have robbed even the best detectorists (bar a tiny minority) of the capacity to grasp. Altogether now, ad risk of nauseam, it’s time this nonsense was regulated like it is in the rest of the world
. Show me a detectorist who disagrees and I’ll show you a crook or someone that wants to make it easy for crooks.

Silas
Grunter’s Hollow,
Worfield,
Salop
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Update 1 May 2014
This could go on forever Friends, so I’ll end with this. A barrister friend once advised me: if a big lorry aggressively tailgates you move over straight away, the driver may have an IQ of 80. By the same token you shouldn’t assume that at one end of a metal detector there is always an heroic historian.  Beware. It could also be the likes of this bloke who has just publicly responded to me on his blog:

“The definition of a thief to me is shoplifting, burglary, pickpocket, etc, To be called a thief for taking away something that’s been lost maybe hundreds of years ago and I had permission to search and no one knew it was there in the first place is so wrong even if it seems it is in the eyes of the law. Before people start branding others what might be right and wrong, they should take a look at their own lives. Ye who casts the first stone etc comes to mind.

No one is squeaky clean, everyone breaks a law now and again. Important laws like murder, assault, theft, (here i mean theft as in breaking and entering), drink driving are examples of important laws and we must have them. But this law of whatever I find in the ground with the reasons above is bound to get flaunted, its human nature. Its nothing like pinching a bit of bacon from Tescos as one site put it. To me its on par with throwing a ciggy butt out your car window, picking a wild flower, taking a pebble off a beach, dropping litter….the list goes on. These things are all against the law, but people do it and they know its wrong, its just a minor thing.

If we lived within every nitty gritty bits of laws like these minor ones the world would be a perfect place. It won’t happen. Hell, I’ve said it before, some of the people who make these laws are at it themselves and in a bigger way than taking something away that never existed before we found it. There will never be a perfect world so all we can do is survive as best we can on how far our consciousness will take us.”

Silas
Grunter’s Hollow,
Worfield,
Salop

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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In the light of the succession of all the heritage harm and exploitation stories we’ve been publicising lately and the fact that today is the AGM of RESCUE (we’ll be there, so say hello), their remark above is a timely reminder. If there’s an opportunity to make a buck or annex public assets for private benefit someone will try to take it. And the corollary is, unless someone says no, they’ll succeed.

Logo: RESCUE, the British Archaeology Trust

Logo: RESCUE, the British Archaeology Trust

See Rescue’s latest efforts against the budget cuts, and their excellent guide to ‘Fighting Back‘ for what you can do to help.

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ehtick.

It’s the new Heritage Planning Case Database.  You can now very easily search for appeal and call-in decisions relating to planning permission (that affects a heritage asset), listed building consent and conservation area consent. Try simply searching on setting….

At present it has just 123 cases on it but the sky’s the limit. So how will it make things better? Well, how about improving democracy, openness, consistency, justice …. and heritage protection? Carbuncles can now be properly assessed, a bit more like doctors do it….

recent article in the Oxford Mail about a new Heritage Trail based upon archaeological finds during development of a new housing estate caught our eye. With so much ‘developer-led rescue archaeology’ being undertaken, often with the ‘preservation by record’ caveat attached, it seems to us that such Heritage Trails could be a good idea going forward for many new housing estates across the country. Not only would such trails be educational, sparking the imagination of the people living in those communities, and connecting tehm to the area’s history, but they would be a constant nagging reminder of what has been lost forever (Oswestry, anyone?)

And of course, involvement with sites doesn’t just have to be about information boards. Although written from an Ireland perspective, the Bored of Boards‘ document available for free download from the Heritage Council of Ireland gives many alternative ways of providing interpretation for heritage sites, particularly in an urban environment. One of the alternatives listed in that document we’ve discussed here on the Heritage Journal in the past: the use of QR codes, such as that provided by the iBeaken system.

Many town centres and villages of course already have Heritage Trails set up. One town relatively local to me that has a trail (actually 7 of them!) is Wheathampstead, in Hertfordshire. There is a town centre trail, marked by mini-plaques on historical buildings, with a map and interpretation board outside the church, and a further six trails through the surrounding countryside detailed on their web site, ranging in length from 4-8 miles and covering the Iron Age, through Roman and Saxon times, to relatively recent historical sites. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area!

Wheathampstead Heritage Trail

Wheathampstead Heritage Trail

Further north, the University of York, in partnership with the grand sounding ‘Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP)’ has created a fine Roman Trail as well as other trails in the area (a Viking one is under development) but it would be wonderful from our point of view to see a similar trail somewhere that didn’t rely purely upon historical/preserved buildings but concentrated solely on sites from prehistory, i.e. discovered purely via excavated archaeology rather than above ground remains, which would otherwise be lost forever, and preserved only in a Heritage Environment Record somewhere.

If you know of any such trails, please let us know so that we can highlight them here and spread the word.

Starting next week, the next stage of the project to restore the Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen will be taking place. The plan is that on Friday 2nd May the remaining two supports, or orthostats, for the capstone will be raised. The public are welcome to watch this event, which should start at about 11am.

Carwynnen, the first upright, upright! (March 2014)

Carwynnen, the first upright, upright! (March 2014)

The completion of the raising of the uprights will mark the culmination of a week of education events at the quoit – the capstone itself will be raised and placed later in the year (this is currently planned for Midsummer, Saturday 21st June).

Five schools will be visiting the quoit during next week, when the students will be taught a little about the archaeological processes of excavating, searching, sieving, and cleaning finds by professional archaeologists from the Historic Environment Service. They will be taught about the importance of Neolithic monuments in the Cornish Landscape, the age and weight of the stones and how the ancients made use of their surroundings to live, eat and clothe themselves. Art activities will take place in the marquee, along with an exhibition and quiz. A basic snapshot of the activities each day is as follows:

  • Guess the Weight of the Stones – An introduction with all the team
  • Gory Neolithic Demonstration – by Experimental Archaeologist Sally Herriet
  • Honeysuckle Rope-making – by Experimental Archaeologist Jacqui Woods
  • Sieving, Searching and Trowelling – with Community Archaeologist Richard Mikulski
  • One Timeline, One book, One Spinning Image – with Artist and Designer Dominica Williamson
  • Time Capsule Brainstorm – with Project Leader Pip Richards

Finally, on Sunday May 4th, Julian Richards, “Archaeologist and Broadcaster” will be de-mystifying the ancient art of moving large stones, utilising wooden levers, sledges, rollers and honeysuckle ropes. This will be a free workshop starting at around 10am. If you would like to participate, please register your interest with pip.sustrust@gmail.com or ring the Sustainable Trust on 01209 831718 – safety or stout boots and a hard hat will be required for all those taking part.

See all the details, finds and future events at their website or on their Facebook page ‘Carwynnen Quoit’.

“The Sustainable Trust is grateful for the support of The Cornwall Heritage Trust, Sita Cornwall Trust and The Heritage Lottery Fund who are currently financing this work. We also thank all the volunteers who have made this project possible.”

At the beginning of the Oswestry Hillfort saga  we mentioned the danger that it might develop along the lines perfected by Tarmac PLC at Thornborough Henges – and indeed used by almost every developer and market trader wishing to make a bob or two……

del

You ask for the earth and progressively reduce what you’re asking for until the punters agree to what you were originally hoping for and think they’ve got a bargain.  That’s exactly the track that Oswestry seems to be taking.  No way did the developers think they’d get lucky with their first or second or third demands but now …. far fewer houses… further away … you know it makes sense Rodney!

Except that it doesn’t. It’s still awful. A while back we contrasted what was going on at Oswestry with a similar situation in Malta, and it’s Malta that is still showing how things ought to be. The number of houses  that El Del Boy wants to build near the Xaghra Stone Circle there has been reduced from 10 to 2 (and further away) but the authorities are being urged…

to prohibit any development in the buffer zone to the Xaghra Stone Circle and to change the local plan to ensure that no development is ever allowed in this zone.

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For more about Xaghra see here  and here.

Another Bank Holiday Weekend, another Heritage Drive. I don’t know if it’s the increase in traffic levels with the roads getting more and more crowded, or my energy levels dropping as I approach my 60’s, but the thoughts of a day’s drive to say, Somerset or Gloucestershire are no longer the attractions they once were. And so, for this Bank Holiday we stayed relatively close to home, but still had a full day of heritage to enjoy!

On the M1, turning off for Hemel Hempstead at Junction 8 we passed the Buncefield Oil Depot (home of a horrendous fire some years ago) and made our way toward Redbourn, and the first stop of the day at The Aubreys (OS Grid Rref TL949112).

Stitched panorama of the Aubreys interior

Panorama of the Aubreys interior

Nestled between a low hotel (site of an old Manor) and the noise of the M1, this ‘plateau fort’ is unusually situated with high ground all around. The well defined double ramparts are intact for a large proportion of the circumference, if a little ‘fortified’ by more recent scrap in places.

Is this a Heritage Crime? The ramparts 'fortified' by industrial tyres.

Is this a Heritage Crime? The ramparts ‘fortified’ by industrial tyres.

To be perfectly honest, there’s not a great deal to see here, though scrabbling amongst the hotel detritus it’s just possible to make out a causeway entrance to the NW. There is much evidence here of animal settlement, badger setts and foxholes abound – as well as material remains of the aluminium-based ‘Fosterian’ culture for future archaeologists to mull over, the Aubreys has not yet been subject to any excavation as far as I can determine. But nearer the hotel there is plenty of colour at the moment from the bluebells growing among the trees.

And so we left the hotel behind and skirting round the village of Redbourn, headed toward Harpenden, passing the spookily-named Rothamsted Experimental Station, which has the remains of a Roman Temple in the grounds. This, I suspect, is off limits to the public and I didn’t try to gain entry. Instead, we continued across to Wheathampstead, the Iron Age capital of the area, nestled pleasantly on the River Lea. There are several good heritage themed walks around the village (heritage walks are the theme of an upcoming Journal Post), covering many different time periods. Some of the local characters from history are celebrated on a temporary building site hoarding.

Wheathampstead hoarding

Cassivellaunus can just be seen at far left, brandishing his sword.

The oldest aspect of the town is to the east of the current settlement, marked on OS maps as ‘Belgic Oppidum‘ (OS Grid Ref TL185133), the site of two defensive earthworks known as the Devils Dyke and the Slad. This is supposedly where Cassivellaunus led a defense of the Britons against Julius Caesar. Whether this is true is open to debate, but there is no doubt that this was an area of some importance in the early Iron Age.

Dyke Plaque

The ditch and ramparts of the Devil’s Dyke are still quite formidable, and even assuming some ‘infill’ over the years, the scale of the original, when topped off with a wall of timbers can only be imagined.

Devil's Dyke

Following the lane down past the Dyke, and joining the main road south and west into St Albans past Nomansland Common (site of the exploits of a lady highwayman!), we continued into the cathedral city.

At St Albans, a possible continuation of the Devil’s Dyke is another long earthwork, known as Beech Bottom Dyke. But we didn’t stop there this time, as Verulamium awaited us.

Now a large municipal park, the town of Verulamium, forerunner of the modern town of St Albans can still be made out via the low bumps and humps remaining from excavations by the Wheelers in the 1930’s and again by Frere some 25 years later. Many of the finds from those excavations, including some spectaular large mosaics are on show in the Verulamium Museum (£5 adult entrance for non-locals) at the north end of the park, whilst a large mosaic hypocaust is preserved in situ in it’s own (free entry) building in the park.

Verulamium Hypocaust

Elsewhere, some fragments of the Fosse – a later defensive earthwork – and the original walls remain. Watling Street ran through the centre of the town, which is famous of course as being one of the targets of Boudicca’s campaign against the Romans. Across the main road to the north is another site, the Roman Theatre (separate entrance fee required), which we didn’t visit this time round.

A section of Roman Wall, alongside the River Ver.

A section of Roman Wall, alongside the River Ver.

Of course, Verulamium didn’t just pop into being when the Romans arrived in Britain, as a high status Iron Age burial discovered in 1992 just NE of the Roman town in Folly Lane attests. This has been an important and strategic area for a very long time.

Our final stop was at St Stephen’s church just south of the town, on Watling Street, to take a quick look at the marker stone in the churchyard. This could be a prehistoric standing stone, but it is much more likely to have been a way-marker, or boundary stone set much later. It’s origins, as they say, are lost in the mists of time.

Watling Street Stone

And so, with four major sites visited, our journey was complete and we set off back for home.

So, where did you go this Bank Holiday weekend? Why not write a short article for the Journal and tell us about your own travels?

All photos copyright Alan S. All rights reserved.

Especially the ones at Oswestry!

A warning: if you want to see one of Britain’s finest hillforts at it’s optimum get up to Oswestry TODAY.  It’s hard to believe it but there are some elected Councillors on Shropshire Council that have in mind to damage its setting, so this view may well be different next Easter…..

Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments on the Old Oswestry housing proposal: "Countryside across England is being lost as a result of the Government’s planning policies, but the proposal to build over a hundred houses in the setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort is notably philistine and short-sighted. It is bad enough that the developer thinks this is an appropriate place to build; the fact that the Council is supporting the scheme beggars belief. Of course we need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but it is not necessary to trample on our history and despoil beautiful places to do so.”

View from the Hillfort, including land the delusional NIMBYs want to protect.  One of them, Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Countryside across England is being lost as a result of the Government’s planning policies, but the proposal to build over a hundred houses in the setting of Old Oswestry Hillfort is notably philistine and short-sighted. It is bad enough that the developer thinks this is an appropriate place to build; the fact that the Council is supporting the scheme beggars belief. Of course we need to build more houses, particularly affordable houses, but it is not necessary to trample on our history and despoil beautiful places to do so.”

Notably philistine” and “not necessary“! Any Councillor who votes to allow the development is going to have to convince themselves and others that neither of those accusations is true. Good luck with that!

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IMAGE:  (C) Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

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