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Following recent changes to the heritage legislation in Wales, plans now appear to be afoot to “evaluate whether the structures underpinning the sector are fit for purpose” (Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure).
Regular readers of the Heritage Journal will be aware of the various concerns raised over the years regarding the existing medieval feudal structure and hope that the Committee set up to look into the matter will take the opportunity to modernise the archaic structures that currently riddle the Welsh heritage sector. Providing genuine positive changes are made with protection and sensitive management of the heritage at its core, this would seem to be a long overdue step.
If on the other hand it’s just another excuse to wield the axe, or tinker with job titles then almost certainly the result will be another lost opportunity. Apparently the heritage sector in Wales contributes more to the economy than agriculture and it would therefore seem sensible to treat it with the respect it deserves and fully recognise its importance.
A policeman-detectorist has been convicted of theft. He secretly sold dug up coins for £15,000 to a dealer and kept the entire amount, despite having a contract with the landowner to split the proceeds of any find.
“No big deal, there are crooks in all walks of life”, as detectorists say every time there’s some nighthawking. Maybe. But it does illustrate that “finds agreements” are no protection for landlords. Indeed, they’re a crook’s best friend for most of them authorise the detectorist to take home items of “low” value (commonly £300 but £2,000 at Central Searchers rallies) as his own without showing the farmer – and that’s as good as carte blanche since it is the detectorist alone who determines “low value”. As the notional but wise Farmer Silas Brown has said to farmers ad nauseam:
“NO good can come from you signing a finds agreement. The official Responsibility Code (for detectorists, not for you!) says signing a finds agreement avoids future ownership disputes. But it categorically doesn’t, it’s a lie as by law they’re already our artefacts or the State’s, no-one else’s. So don’t do it. Sign nothing, especially if it contains the word “share”. Why would a person who’s “only in it for the history” ask you for a share? Do history lovers or amateur archaeologists ask for a share? No. By all that’s logical, legal, practical, safe and just it should be YOU alone who decides what (if anything) you give away, and then only when you’ve seen everything the detectorist has found, not before. And only when you’ve been given the finds and had them independently examined and valued.
By not signing a finds agreement you’ll still get ripped off sometimes. More fool you for letting an “acquisitive historian” onto your land (what a horrible description, yet totally accurate) to do what archaeologists nearly all object to in private (ask them) but it will happen less often if it is made clear: nothing leaves my farm without me seeing it.
On the subject of digging up the Stonehenge landscape (see yesterday), Friend of the Journal Jim Rayner has sent us this contribution to the ever-growing list:
English Heritage & the National Trust will not allow as much as a tent peg to be hammered down into the ground near Stonehenge in case it ‘damages any sensitive archaeology’. Yet, they are supporting the potential construction of two massive dual carriageway tunnel portals within the World Heritage Site which would do exactly that! A situation so contradictory, you couldn’t actually make it up!
Relax. Highways England says it’s just “fact finding”! And anyway, there’s a Consultation going on, so nothing’s settled. Allegedly. Two things though:
- Does that really look like they haven’t decided exactly where to start, irrespective of any consultation? Seriously?
- And IS it a real Consultation? Rushed through in a couple of weeks following almost no notice and. apart from one exhibition at the Society of Antiquaries. all held locally within Wiltshire! There isn’t even one at Avebury, the other half of the World Heritage Site. Why? This is our national icon and it’s WORLD heritage. Shouldn’t there be exhibitions elsewhere in Britain – and maybe in New York and Paris? Those people beyond Wiltshire and beyond Britain are entitled, are they not, especially as it is mostly foreigners who visit and pay oodles. This is an international issue isn’t it?
Could it possibly be that the Government, the Highways Agency, English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust are ashamed of what they are doing and are frit that the rest of the world will be appalled? We think so. Why else would the press have been given the line that UNESCO are supportive when it’s untrue? There’s one way to find out. Let the exhibition go on the road! And stop “fact finding” in the meantime else people will think the process is a complete farce.
We’d just like to say how much we agree with Professor Dan Hicks’ contribution to the short tunnel debate:
“Another old idea is being revived hand-in-hand with the tunnel – heritage restoration. The focus is the stones, not their landscape. Stonehenge is reimagined as a Stone Age exhibit untouched by modernity. The A303 would be grassed over at the stones while a new road twice as wide is cut across the World Heritage Site, but tunnelled within the paying visitors’ view. The aesthetics of this “Stonehenge Restored” are determinedly Georgian. A stately monument within rolling lawns from which shuttles run along a new coaching-road between Bath and London. That carriageway hidden from the monument, so customers can stroll an “authentic” landscape of the past, never glimpsing the present.
Hiding the road from the stones would hide the stones from the public. Some 1.3 m people will pass through the Stonehenge giftshop this year, but perhaps ten times that number will witness the monument from a passing vehicle. Those thrilling, often unexpected views may not be celebrated among the iconic experiences of global prehistory, but they are surely among the most democratic. Through these encounters, Stonehenge lives on as a public space. “
On the other hand we’d like to say how strongly we disagree with the alternative being served up to the public…….
Last week saw a new commemorative stamp issue from the Royal Mail in the UK, this time celebrating our ancient past.
The eight special stamps feature iconic sites and exceptional artefacts. The lineup is as follows:
* 1st Class – Skara Brae and the Battersea shield.
* £1.05 – Maiden Castle and the Star Carr headdress.
* £1.33 – Avebury and the Drumbest horns.
* £1.52 – Grimes Graves and the Mold cape.
The stamps are all enhanced with illustrations that reveal how our ancient forebears lived and worked. I plumped for the First Day Cover (postmarked Avebury) and the Presentation Pack. A useful and informative sheet gives details about each of the subjects. More information and ordering details can be found on the Royal Mail website.
Have you got yours yet?
Chances are you have never visited this stone circle or even heard of it. It is tucked away in a secluded spot in Mid Wales (NGR SH 9993 0010). For thousands of years it has stood within an unspoilt rural setting. This may be about to change.
Windfarm developers have set their sights on the hillside on which it stands and have drawn up plans to surround it in 130m high wind turbines. The developer’s archaeologists acknowledge that these industrial scale monsters “will certainly result in harm to the overall value of the monument”, but conclude that “the fundamental value of the monument, the heart of its significance will be unaffected”. Essentially what they are saying is that because the scheduled ancient monument is not going to actually host a turbine that everything will be fine. Acceptance of this position opens the doors to development right up to the edge of every scheduled monument in the country.
Visual setting for prehistoric monuments is particularly important and to dismiss it as insignificant betrays a lack of understanding of these so ever special monuments. In this instance it certainly ignores the crucial views towards the impressive Breidden Hill near Welshpool, betraying in the process a total lack of understanding of the sites significance and place within the landscape. Furthermore, the transformation of this rural landscape into an industrial one will inevitably also impact on associated physical remains. If this proposal proceeds, damage will result and no amount of mitigation or clever words will prevent this.
Butler, F. and Butler, J., 1978, ‘Y Capel: A stone circle near Cefn Coch, Llanllugan’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, CXXVII, 122-3.
Details of the proposal can be found here.
Given this presentation is here today gone tomorrow, lacks substance, and this unfit for purpose tunnel solution is being pushed as a single remedy for the WHS – those old wagons bearing snake oil posters come to mind: a short tunnel …“is good for everything a snake oil ought to be good for” …“good for man and beast”… “apply locally and liberally” …“cures all”!
We would urge everyone near and far to participate in the public consultation about the changes to the A303 at Stonehenge.
The tunnel comes with a flyover at Countess Roundabout that crosses into the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS), a raised section would tower 8 metres alongside the precious site known as Blick Mead, the road continuing to the barrow cemetery east of King Barrow Ridge and into a tunnel portal below the Stonehenge Avenue. Traffic having been speeded up, the noise and pollution on this stretch will affect everyone: from those walking the Avenue to Amesbury Abbey care home residents, and of course wildlife road kills increase with faster traffic.
Rare bats have been found in this area recently, and the effect on the wildlife inhabiting Vespasian’s Camp will be exacerbated. We should also be concerned at the effect on the River Avon and its tributary the Till, which are important for aquatic wildlife as Special Areas of Conservation.
At the other end of the tunnel, the location of the west portal threatens views of the winter solstice alignment from the stones and emerges alongside the RSPB’s special Normanton Down reserve, so the noise and pollution will ultimately ruin it and drive out the stone curlews. The new four lane western road affects Normanton Down barrow cemetery, including the famous Bush Barrow, and is imposed on the highly important group of Neolithic long barrows running from Normanton Gorse to Longbarrow Crossroads and back towards Stonehenge itself.
Whilst removing the whole of the A303 from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) would have some advantages, this short tunnel – of around half the width of the WHS but with both portals inside – would be devastating.
Only by making your opinions heard can this tunnel be changed!