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It seems that King Arthur Pendragon has “slammed” the Heritage Journal in the press (see here). Yet we’ve been very supportive of him over the years and have described him as “brave” here and “affable and amusing” here and “in his own way one of the sanest men in Britain” here.
But he has got it wrong in this case. He says “As for the Heritage Journal, calling for an end to managed open access, they’ve been doing that since they were formed in the first place.” Not so. What we’re against is damage and all we’ve ever wanted is an end to that by redesigning the event so it’s far less crowded and some proper protective control can be applied. Ten years of damage is witness to the fact we have a point and our pagan members all agree. If Arthur can stop the damage, fine, but if all he can do is tell the press “obviously we abhor the vandalism” then we’re entitled to propose measures that will end it.
There are a couple of additional points in support of our view. The latest research suggests the stones were designed to allow people to view the summer solstice sunset from outside the circle, not crowded inside it, so we’re surprised Arthur and others aren’t calling for the authentic re-enactment. It costs a couple of hundred thousand pounds to run the event in the current format and the attendees don’t pay a bean. So if most people stayed outside the circle they’d have a better view and a more authentic one and the rest of the population wouldn’t have to shell out ridiculous amounts of money to run the event. AND the damage would stop in a jiffy!
“He wasn’t planting potatoes” said one witness of a man seen at an Irish national monument at Carrig, Blessington, swinging a pick-axe and carrying loads of stones away in a wheelbarrow. Last Friday the Judge sentenced him. He got a €10,000 fine and an 18 month suspended sentence. So less than what it might have been (a fine of up to €10,000,000 or 5 years in jail) but a lot compared with over the water where it seems you can sometimes bulldoze stuff with not a lot of consequence.
That was literally true at Offa’s Dyke and it was also effectively true at Priddy where the culprit was so rich the fine and other costs were of no real consequence to him.
“No punishment for damage” is also the reality at Stonehenge where English Heritage recently revealed that the stones have been deliberately vandalised at almost every summer solstice celebration for the past ten years as well as at the latest winter one and we’re all waiting for a single one of the culprits to be punished, even by the gentlest of raps on the knuckles with a feather duster…
It’s probably best that the following account of vandalism at the winter solstice should be given a wider airing than to just 14 people at the latest Round Table meeting….
The bit about “it will be too expensive to have analysis done” is striking in view of the fact that each year up to 35,000 summer revellers aren’t charged (say) £10 each which amounts to £350,000 not collected. But be that as it may, since it has recently been revealed that apart from the above winter damage there has been vandalism at the stones during almost every summer solstice gathering over the past decade, would it be unreasonable to ask for something to be done to put a stop to it?
(So far as we know there was no vandalism during the lantern parade gathering so it’s clearly possible).
As National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins once said (in 2008) : “To accuse the Trust of being effete, a little bumbling and slow to embrace change is really to accuse it of being what its public likes it for being. ”
Quite. Slow to embrace change, that’s the ticket, the charm, the thing that keeps the money flowing in from 4 million members. It’s “Forever, for everyone” that hooks them, and until recently the Trust has delivered. As Sir Simon recalled more recently: “When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning” the Trust “pivoted to militant mode.” Their stance has been not far short of heroic. So it was all the more shocking when late last year they did a screeching Top Gear u-turn at our national icon. It was like finding Sir David Attenborough is a Russian spy. Wow!
So the Stonehenge WHS isn’t as well protected as everyone thought. Yes it’s full of scheduled monuments, yes it’s covered by a UNESCO declaration but no, it’s not protected from sudden winds of change – especially if two come along at once (in this case, a perceived electoral advantage corresponding with a key guardian having a temporary brainstorm). So do we need something more robust? I noticed that in America they have something which might fit the bill. Here’s an example -
That land is designated “forever wild” under Article 14 of the New York state constitution so it’s status can only be changed by amending that constitution. Imagine if Stonehenge had been in New York State and covered by a “Forever Sacrosanct” statute? Right now it would be – well, sacrosanct – unless and until lots of complex procedures and votes said otherwise. Trouble is, it’s in Wiltshire and a lapse by it’s key guardian and a fag packet electoral strategy plan has done for it in a jiffy. Sacrosanct, nah. Sacrificed, yes.
Not that Britain is devoid of “robust protection”, we invented it. Just last week the Conservators of Malvern Hills have said no to a cable car as they are forbidden to say yes by at least 5 statutory provisions including the Malvern Hills Acts of 1884, 1924, 1930 and 1995! (So no question up there of “but we’d get votes out of it” and “Oh go on then!”) Not that statutes are the only techniques – the Americans also have things called “forever wild deed restrictions” which owners can impose on their land. Presumably the Trust could place a “Forever Sacrosanct deed restriction” on their land all round Stonehenge. It might not hold the line against a compulsory purchase order but it would at least show they are staunch defenders of what they hold in trust forever, for everyone, not unreliable ones. Incidentally, at Malvern the vote was 21-0 against the proposed development with one abstention. What were the voting figures at the Trust? You don’t know? Why?
Before we add to our criticism of the National Trust’s recent stance at Stonehenge it’s only fair we pay tribute to how they acted until recently. This excellent piece by their chairman in The Guardian last Autumn says it all:
“When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning, a body that had minded its business displaying old houses and gardens pivoted to militant mode. It recalled its founding by Octavia Hill not to preserve the homes of aristocrats but to protect beautiful landscapes for poor city dwellers.
I was amazed at the gullibility of politicians to the spurious claim that recovery from recession lay in building executive homes in meadows, not in renewing Britain’s exhausted town and city centres. Even where there might be a case for more rural building, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, decided to let the market rip, be it for houses, warehouses, turbines or hypermarkets. Every county in Britain seemed under siege.
The result was not growth but war. My miserable duty was to be driven by planners round derelict urban acres, where factories, schools and shops were emptying while costly infrastructure was built by taxpayers in the surrounding country. David Cameron claimed this was sustainable. It was dumb.”
We forgot to add this to the previous update!
Jan 29, 2015
“Thank you for your e-mail. My last update on this project had been in November last year, when the archaeological contractor had confirmed that the reinstatement had been completed but final photos were needed. I hadn’t heard anything since and as I was in the area yesterday I visited the site to see how the reinstated bank now looks. I can report that it is in good condition with a thin covering of grass. It is currently fenced off to protect it until the grass is well established.
I am awaiting an update on the publication and will contact you with details once I know more. If you have any further questions please do contact me.
Mel Barge (Ms) | Inspector of Ancient Monuments