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It was good to see archaeologists debating the rights and wrongs of “brandalising” monuments recently on the BAJR forum as it’s an issue that needs resolving, once and for all. It was prompted by this at Cardiff Castle and the question “Anyone concerned about the ethical implications of this for the Roman sections?”

Cardiff Castle

It was very cleverly arranged so that it doesn’t actually touch the wall (and only the bits of wall at the bottom are original Roman) so it’s a useful discussion subject as it’s at the pretty harmless end of the spectrum. Consequently, most of the comments were positive – “Yeah its all good! No damage…just brilliant advertising!” and “it could be said to promote and integrate our historic culture and historic environment into our modern lives” and “I can’t even believe anyone might think this is a bad thing….”

However, others took a more cautious view: “As this is a Grade I Listed Building, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a registered Historic Park and Garden as well as a conservation area it would seem to be at odds with legislation, policies and guidelines. A new Historic Environment bill is currently working its way through the Assembly which will bring in tighter controls on the misuse and abuse of our nationally important monuments.” Another person suggested it was all a matter of context: “The setting of Cardiff castle is in the middle of a vibrant city centre with all sorts going on around it. if they’d hung a giant rugby ball off the top of Tinkinswood neolithic burial chamber it’d be a whole different story I am sure.”

It’s certainly the case that if it’s a bad thing at all, it’s a lot less bad at Cardiff Castle than Tinkinswood and that judged purely on it’s own merits it’s hard to see it as a bad thing at all at Cardiff. However, we can’t get away from our long held conviction (and campaign) that brandalising any monument should be avoided because of the danger of damaging copycatting elsewhere. We’re convinced that anything which erodes the sacrosanct nature of monuments in general contributes ultimately to vandalism at heritage sites. A while back Fathers 4 Justice spray painted the Uffington White Horse purple. They must have gained the impression it was fair game.

The protection of monuments is subject to a postcode lottery it seems. Up in SY11 Shropshire Council is leaning over backwards in it’s mania to damage Oswestry hillfort. Down in OX7 it’s different.

Let Shropshire Council and planners take careful note of what the West Oxfordshire planners have just said about a proposal to build an overflow carpark for the Rollright Stones. We don’t know the full merits of this proposal, such as how far from the stones it will be, but we do know it’s not a money grabbing exercise, it’s just to provide occasional overflow parking for school parties visiting their heritage (and not metalled parking at that, just reinforced turf that you’ll hardly notice). What’s more, the applicant isn’t a money grabber he’s George Lambrick, very long term head of the charity which look after the stones, a previous Director of the British Council for Archaeology and an archaeologist of great repute – someone who certainly wouldn’t dream of causing harm to the stones or their setting.

Despite all that, the West Oxfordshire planners are treading very, very carefully: “Introducing such an alien form, even with the landscaping, which indicates in itself that the development requires screening to be assimilated into the landscape, will detract from the very special and unique character of the stones.” It is now likely that the Trust will amend the application in a way which will satisfy the planners – see here, but the process will have been conducted as it should have been with Guardians guarding like tigers, even when both the application and the applicant are meritorious.  Do you see, Shropshire Council? Of course you do, as everyone knows. Yet you have the massive nerve to state that you don’t think a load of houses right next to Oswestry Hillfort will cause “substantial harm”.

Here’s an interesting thought: Oswestry Hillfort would be safe if it was in Oxfordshire (or probably any other county that wasn’t Shropshire). How does that make you feel, planners and councillors of the Independent and Aberrant Republic of Shropshireland?

Just posted on a detecting forum (and getting loads of support): “So, today we received the valuation for our 20 piece, 1kg, 1100 year old viking hoard of hack silver. Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each. I honestly am gutted. We dont do it for the money but lets be honest, there is no wonder so many finds go unrecorded to the flo. We knew the BM would rip us off but we didnt expect to be stripped naked….”


“We knew the BM would rip us off but we didnt expect to be stripped naked”

For the information of all likeminded crybabies, there are about 200,000 proper amateur archaeologists in Britain who don’t take money for their finds. Or complain. They see them as everyone’s, not someone’s and they do it for the love of history, see?

One of his colleagues has a theory:They are wishing to impose ‘austerity’ on valuations.” …. Er, no. But think of this: the treasure rewards and Ebay earnings that detectorists get are the only part of the heritage sector that hasn’t suffered massive cuts. So actually, detectorists are uniquely privileged. Anyone think being ungrateful and graceless is the best reaction to that reality?

Update 4 October

A comment from “Spencer”: “Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each”. So the poor old landowner only gets a third! How can that possibly be right? What if there were 9 artefact hunters poking around. Would the farmer only get a tenth?”



Yes you heard right, if you live in Ireland, pop along to your local garden centre and if you are lucky they might stock a bag of compost made by Westland Horticulture. These helpful chaps have been systematically destroying a unique bronze age trackway to make compost for the last ten years! Don’t worry about getting into trouble with the authorities, the Irish National Monuments Service haven’t issued a preservation order, or recorded it in the Irish Register of Historic Monuments, despite being notified in 2005. Yes you heard right again, this offer has been running for ten years with full government knowledge and no-one’s stopped it yet!!

Use the trackway to grow hanging baskets like these!

Use the trackway to grow hanging baskets like these!

Of course you’d hope common decency would have stopped Westland Horticulture from destroying our shared cultural heritage in the name of a quick Euro, but apparently not…

More here:

Following the point we raised yesterday that English Heritage and the National Trust have no business lobbying for a short tunnel at this early stage, before the Government has clarified some crucial questions, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon provided a statement in the Lords that absolutely hammers home the point:

Highways England is currently in the early stage of scheme development looking at options and to date have not sought the advice of the National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
“The Road Investment Strategy is clear that the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme involves a tunnel of at least 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometres). Highways England is in the early stage of scheme development, looking at options, including the length of tunnel. Consultation on options will take place in 2017 and will involve stakeholders, local residents, businesses, road users and interested parties.”

Against that background, for EH and NT to be seen to be supporting the shortest of the possible tunnel lengths still being considered by Highway’s England, seems bizarre. If the tunnel length is still under consideration shouldn’t they,  as heritage-friendly bodies, be campaigning really hard at this stage for the longest option not the shortest, since that inarguably would involve no damage to the World Heritage Site?  But the National Trust’s archaeologist has written this in the latest edition of Wiltshire Life:

SH Tunnel Wilts Life

Actually, if you want to inflict zero damage on the World Heritage Site, length IS everything, there can be no argument about that. Instead, it seems as if the National Trust is proclaiming to the public that it supports the “the longest tunnel possible” but is actually arguing for a shorter one that emerges well inside the World Heritage Site, with all the damage that implies.  Given the nature and historic role of the National Trust, that in itself is surprising, but coming at such an early stage such a stance seems astonishing.

Much has been written, especially by English Heritage and the National Trust, about how good it would be to have a “short tunnel” at Stonehenge. But last Wednesday and Friday Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb asked HM Government three very simple questions which make EH’s and NT’s certainty at this early stage look a bit ill-founded…..

Does the Government plan “to implement a tunnel for the A303 in order to avoid the entire surface area of the Stonehenge part of the World  Heritage Site?”
Have they “sought, or been given, the advice of the National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites concerning proposals for dualling the A303 through the Stonehenge part of the World Heritage Site; and if so, what advice have they received?”
Do they intend “fully to honour Article 4 of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World’s Heritage in respect of any future A303 dualling scheme at Stonehenge; and if not, whether they intend to withdraw as a signatory to the World Heritage Convention?”

Let’s see if the Government’s answers will be evasive – and if so whether English Heritage and the National Trust will persist in their present stance regardless. If that happens it will be hard not to conclude they’re pursuing a fixed agenda irrespective of the facts.

by Nigel Swift

There’s been another big row about which of two detectorists should get rewarded. It reminded me of a previous debacle…

Michael Darke and Keith Lewis who battled in 2010 over which of them should get £300,000 from you the taxpayer.

Michael Darke and Keith Lewis who battled in 2010 over which of them should get £300,000 from you the taxpayer.

This latest case interested me as they had been searching in fields I used to play in. My grandfather owned the adjoining farm and we village kids spent lots of time there. What’s eating me is how things have changed since those distant times in the fifties. I recall Jimmy Perks finding an artefact there (there’s a Roman road there) and all of us proudly processing, Cider-with Rosie style, to our headmaster’s house to present it to him “for the museum” (no-one thought there was any alternative). He made a big fuss about it – both in school assembly and the local press and sure enough it went off to the local museum, with full details.

For me that’s proper “community archaeology” – a village’s past revealed to the villagers and everyone benefiting. 60 years later those fields are subject to very different people and attitudes. For one churlish thing, if their forums are a guide, they are mostly people with far less spelling ability than the 1950’s village schoolchildren who preceded them – but that’s unacceptably snobbish of course and a separate matter the Government should explain. However, I am prepared to be snobbish about them if the word can be used in a heritage-friendly way, meaning “to appreciate those who engage in a shared learning process but not those who are non-sharing or personally exploitative”.

Actually, everyone should be snobbish about that since most detectorists fall into that latter category. It seems to me the authorities have been so anxious to be “inclusive” and avoid the first sort of snobbery that they’ve totally forgotten the importance of maintaining the second sort. So I hope that’s clear about my snobbism. I don’t mind a lot of them being, as PAS says, “challenged by formal education”  nor that they come all the way from Dudley to our little village of Claverley to do over “our” fields (much) but I do deeply resent the fact that statistically most of them won’t have reported most of their finds and that statistically more than 95% of them never renounce their treasure rewards despite all of them swearing blind they’re only doing it for the love of History. Shouldn’t everyone be snobbish about that?.

BTW, in the next county to Claverley is the similarly named village of Abberley. There, some excellent real community archaeology has just been happening, see below, just like we did in the fifties. Naturally, not one of the participants took any finds home or reckoned they should own them or sold them on EBay or claimed a Treasure reward or fought over who got one!




Someone has scrawled “AA 2015” on one of the stones of Britain’s third largest stone circle, Orkney’s Ring of Brogdar.


A spokesman for Historic Scotland said “Fortunately incidents such as this are rare, and we continue to work with the local community to educate people on the significance of these prehistoric sites.” All very well, but it’s a fair bet it was a visitor not a local and the locals probably need no educating on the subject. In any case, Historic Scotland and it’s predecessor bodies have been “educating” the public since 1885 and it doesn’t seem to have got through to the likes of Andy Alexander or whatever the little toe-rag’s name is.  So you have to wonder if more could be done beyond vague promises to educate people – certainly at the “Hollywood” sites where the sheer numbers of visitors increases the statistical likelihood of attacks. (The Nine Ladies stone circle has recently suffered similar vandalism).

“Punishment” is a form of education that shouldn’t be neglected. In Britain if you’re caught you can theoretically get up to 5 years in jail but of course no-one ever gets much more than a fine. Even bulldozing a circle at Priddy resulted in a non-custodial sentence. Abroad, though, if people are caught damaging particularly precious monuments the penalties can be much more severe. Last year a Russian who carved a letter K on the Colosseum in Rome (which is less than half the age of the Ring of Brogdar) was fined £15,800 and a couple of years ago a man was jailed for 18 months for urinating against the Alamo (a monument that’s one twentieth of the age of the Ring of Brogdar!)

PAS has launched an appeal for donations. They’re entitled to expect that detectorists, whose bacon they and the taxpayer have saved for 18 long years, will promptly respond. Surprisingly, just £3 a week from each detectorist would cover all their running costs!

However, there’s a lot of evidence that the “partnership” between PAS and detectorists is only platitude-deep with each side seeing praising the other as essential to their own survival. Thus, while most detectorists indubitably don’t report most of their finds to PAS they invariably claim they do – and PAS constantly ties itself in quite elegant linguistic knots to avoid admitting that crucial truth to the public. But now PAS seems to have inadvertently committed a big tactical error by asking for money instead of fine words – for so far, after three and a half weeks, there have been just 8 donations (and not all from detectorists) totalling £370. That equates to less than 10p per detectorist per week! Little more need be said.

Or does it? Were those in charge of “New PAS” quite so naive, or were they actually perfectly well aware of what the response would be and are using it to send a coded message to the Government? Is it all a way to demonstrate, without needing to say so themselves, that they see they have inherited a voluntary system which is not as it has long been portrayed? Who knows, but if so, someone is to be congratulated for they have arranged matters so that it is detectorists, no-one else, who are doing the demonstrating – in a way that simply can’t be denied or spun. The taxpayer has been giving £30,000 a week to support PAS and the voluntary system whereas detectorists have mostly abused the voluntary system and are now collectively giving just £100 a week.

I do hope “New PAS” has done this deliberately. My guess is that they have, for since they took over there has been a slackening of the selective “good news” propaganda and this latest development fits in very well with that change. Could this be the beginning of Britain shaking off it’s bonkersness and starting to move towards treating its portable antiquities like other countries do? “Regulation” is not a dirty word and is only opposed by those detectorists who have something to hide – literally. Let the rest of us voice it more openly.



It’s a fair question. How did we arrive at a situation where tens of thousands – perhaps millions of people don’t want the hill fort’s surroundings developed and a very small number – perhaps in single figures do, and the latter may get their way? It has been a multi-threaded process but here’s just one of the threads, lest anyone forget. Years ago someone spoke to us unfondly of Peter de Figueiredo who has provided an expert opinion for the developers, citing this. Not sure if any of that is fair, we’re not saying it is, but what we can do is refer everyone to his paid-for opinion on Oswestry Hill Fort and suggest they decide for themselves if it’s fair or otherwise.

We love Section 5.3.9 about “views from” ….

” The sense of detachment the viewer feels, however, comes from the elevated viewpoint and the otherworldly character
of the structure (as described in paragraph 4.2.16-17 above), rather than
because of the particular nature of the setting. Hence the view over open
fields and woodland seen to the west may be very attractive, but it
contributes no more to the significance of the hill fort than the view of pylons
and traffic passing along the A5 to the east. Indeed the view of modern day
activity as seen in the buildings and roads that are spread more densely
across the eastern side can help the viewer to understand the continuity of
human occupation on the site and the links with its hinterland.”

and Views To  (where he says it’s best viewed from very close, i.e. the only valuable setting is a very small one!) ….

“5.3.2 Distant views providing broad-ranging panoramas can be of particular
significance since they place the hill fort within its wider urban, rural and
topographical context. The relationship between the hill fort and its setting is
important to understanding the history of the area. Yet given the restricted
number of views, and the fact that many of them can only be glimpsed from
a travelling vehicle, their kinetic nature means that understanding of
significance relies on a matrix of views rather than a few static viewpoints.
This makes it difficult to model the potential impact of the proposed
development, since the setting changes in a dynamic sequence of vistas.

5.3.3 Localised views can provide more information about the hill fort itself, since
its form and structure is better revealed when the viewer is close to the

and this is just amazing …..

“A number of changes in the setting of the hill fort are identified. These have
been assessed in terms of impact on significance. Slight adverse impacts are
found in relation to kinetic views from the A5 by-pass and from a single
viewpoint on the B5069 travelling north. A beneficial impact is found in
relation to kinetic views from the B5069 travelling south. Other effects of
development are found to be either neutral or beneficial.
Mitigation measures are proposed in relation to archaeology; access to the
hill fort, car parking and interpretation; and landscape and ecology. These will
substantially offset the adverse visual consequences of development.
On balance this assessment finds that the consequences of development of
land at Oldport as proposed would have a neutral impact on the significance
of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort, providing that suitable mitigation measures are
taken. This would accord with Policy 134 of the National Planning Policy
Framework that states that where a development proposal will lead to less
than substantial harm to the significance of a designated heritage asset, this
harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal.”


October 2015
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