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We’re pleased to report that there is a new player in the site guardian arena. A new group has been formed to look after several sites on the Derbyshire Moors. We welcome GSSN, the Guarding Sacred Sites Network, who introduce themselves in the guest post below. We look forward to hearing good things about their work going forward.

There are many beautiful, ancient sacred sites on Stanton and Harthill Moors, in Derbyshire. Nine Ladies, Doll Tor, Rowter Rocks, Nine Stones Close, Robin Hoods Stride, to name a few. These sites are always under pressure of various kinds.

The damage at Doll Tor during lock-down didn’t go unnoticed as the images spread across social media sites. Although shared on Facebook, no one had reported it to the PDNPA, English Heritage, or the Rural Heritage Police. This is where our group began. We reported the damage and realised there was a lack of information about what to do if one witnessed or discovers damage at sites. We made a poster, set up a Facebook group, and became inundated with messages of hope and offers of help, from people across the country.

Since then we have created an adopt a site monitoring scheme which covers Stanton Moor and Harthill Moor. We have a monitoring form and some guidelines for volunteers to follow. We’ve listed the potential hotspots for rubbish and damage in the area and created a ‘How to report damage’ leaflet. Sites on the list have been monitored every weekend since we started the group.

Many of you will have seen the posts on Facebook about the recent and very busy solstice celebrations at Nine Ladies over the past weekend. Thankfully there has been a group of volunteers on the moor acting as unofficial stewards and collecting rubbish from the site, as well as educating people. At the time of writing this, I can happily say all the rubbish has been collected and taken off-site. Indeed, it may now be cleaner than many other spots in the area.

Organisations who are officially responsible for large numbers of archaeological sites, such as the National Trust and English Heritage, have recognised that one of the most productive ways to ensure their long-term survival and conservation is via a regular and systematic monitoring scheme undertaken by local volunteers. In this way, sites which might not be encountered that often by archaeological staff (e.g. due to their out of the way locations on moorland, farm fields, and cliffs) can still be visited regularly, and any actual or potential damage can be reported and acted on before it gets out of hand. This information is then fed into a database designed to record each site’s current state, including any problems and the subsequent response to them. By recording such information, the database becomes a tool with which to make informed decisions about the management of a broad range of sites, based on their type, construction, location, and so on.

Our second shared responsibility is to create interpretation material that informs visitors about the importance of the sites through an educational website, books, artworks, and so forth, that encourages a sustainable love and appreciation for our sacred sites. ‘Sacredness’ is not simply a matter of joy in experiencing a beautiful or historic place, but a component which motivates people in how they interact with places. Our network is a platform to explore ways that we can help to educate people through positive, informal, and relaxed experiences. Our goal is to help protect sacred sites in this area from any damage. Damage includes digging, rubbish, graffiti, fires within the circles or close to the stones, machinery damage, vehicle access, and other types of damage to the natural environment.

Stanton Moor, in particular Nine Ladies, is a contested space. Many people have very strong opinions about how it should be treated. How can the complexity of meanings surrounding a place, be represented, through formal management and interpretation? This question is difficult to answer. There is no easy solution, there are many. Each site has its specificity, each visitor, their preferences. Such issues are faced by environmental educators, archaeologists, heritage managers, landowners, those who provide information for others regularly.

If you would like to join us on our quest for preservation and education, please like our Facebook book, Guarding Sacred Sites Network, or email guardingsacredsites @ gmail.com.

The Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society are delighted to announce the completion of the first phase of their digitisation project.

After 174 years, the complete journals of one of the oldest archaeological societies in the UK are going online, for anyone to access free of charge.

Supported by a grant from the Marc Fitch Fund, the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, a registered charity founded in 1846, has worked with a professional document scanning company to digitise the entire contents of 44 volumes of its journal, Norfolk Archaeology – and make 1361 articles and images open access for scholars, researchers and the interested public. Numbers from 1848-2005 are live now, as well as three Society monographs, and numbers from 2006 onwards, as well as the historic minute books of the Society, will follow shortly.

Hosted by the Archaeology Data Service at the University of York, and searchable through the Society’s website, the articles, letters, reviews and notes cover all periods of the history and archaeology of Norfolk and include articles by world-leading experts, and important discoveries like Seahenge (Norfolk Archaeology 1999 43.2). Many are wonderfully illustrated, including magnificent hand-engraved Victorian plates and detailed drawings and photographs, including records of monuments which have since been lost or destroyed.

Dr Andrew Hutcheson, President of the Society, said, ‘I am really excited that Norfolk Archaeology is now online. The first issue dates from 1848 and ever since the journal has covered the rich archaeological heritage of the county. What an incredible boon to research to have it all at our fingertips!’

Explore Norfolk Archaeology online at www.nnas.info/NABackIssues.html

Following on from the shocking story of Doll Tor earlier this week, scanning through social media shows that there have been several such incidents of vandalism, desecration and sheer numptiness at various sites over the past couple of weeks. Examples include:

  • Doll Tor – as we reported earlier this week, stones have been uprooted and camping fires set within the circle.
  • Nine Ladies, Stanton Moor – picnicking rubbish strewn across the site.
  • Caerleon, Gwent – a series of vandalism events between March and May where stones were displaced and smashed, whilst access to the sites was closed.
  • Carn Euny, West Penwith – a group were videoed leaping around the stones in a ‘parkour’ like fashion, potentially damaging the site. Bear in mind that remedial work was done recently to the floors of the courtyard houses which may not yet have ‘bedded in’ properly.
  • The Hurlers, Bodmin Moor –  General litter strewn around the site, including several Nitrous Oxide canisters.

Add into this catalogue the recent mayhem (only word for it!) at Durdle Door and other beaches around the coast, and serious questions must be asked about the psychology of the people that act in this way.  Is it possible that lockdown and the isolation that many people have been under for the past couple of months has somehow reduced their sense of social responsibility? Or has it increased their sense of entitlement – “We’ve made the sacrifice so now we can act as we damn well please”? If you’ve partaken in such behaviour, we’d love to hear from you to explain how you can justify your actions – please see our contact page or leave a comment below.

As usual, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation across the country as the summer progresses (and lockdown eases). If you witness any irresponsible behaviour, or indeed any evidence of heritage crime, please report to the local police or other authorities with photographic evidence if possible. But under no circumstances should you put yourself at risk in gathering any such evidence! Be sensible, but socially responsible out there.

And so our series on Cornish Quoits comes to an end, with the last two (plus a small bonus) of our baker’s dozen in the extreme south-west.

 

12. West Lanyon Quoit

Half a mile or so from it’s much more famous neighbour lies West Lanyon Quoit. Only one upright and a collapsed capstone remain, after the quoit was dug out of an earthen mound (barrow) when the landowner directed his servants to remove the earth from the barrow for compost.

The cromlech was discovered in 1790, and the following account (by Rev Malachi Hitchins) was published in the Archaeologia in 1803 (Vol XIV, quoted in Cotton’s Celtic Remains p 37 ):

The gentleman who owns the estate of Lanyon happening to be overtaken by a shower took shelter behind a bank of earth and stones, and remarking that the earth was rich he sent his servants to carry it off when having removed near one hundred cart loads they observed the supporters of a cromlech from which the covering stone was slipped off on the south side but still leaning against them. This covering stone is about 13 feet long by 10 broad. The south supporter on which it still leans is 6 feet high and 5 wide, that on the west is nearly of the same height and about 9 feet wide. The east supporter, since cleft and carried away, was 10 feet wide and with the other two formed almost a triangular kistvaen with a space of about a foot at the north end uninclosed. As soon as the gentleman observed it to be a cromlech he ordered hismen to dig under it where they soon found a broken urn with ashes and going deeper they found half a skull, the thigh bones and most of the other bones of a human body lying in such a manner as fully proved that the grave had been opened before and the flat stones which formed the grave had been all removed out of their places. The cap stone and the two remaining supporters are in the middle of a hilly field two or three furlongs W of the much more frequented Lanyon Quoit.

Further information: 

Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society Transactions
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

13. Chun Quoit

Chun Quoit is the most westerly of the extant Cornish Quoits, and the end of our journey. Affectionately known as the ‘megalithic mushroom’ due to its appearance atop Chun Downs, Chun Quoit is structurally very simple, consisting of four inward leaning uprights, topped by a bulbous capstone. It is considered the most complete, but also the smallest remaining example. Like many other quoits, Chun sits upon a low stony mound or platform and may have at one time been buried beneath a mound of earth to form a tumulus.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

Bonus: Bosullow Quoit

Not a genuine quoit, but a piece of ‘farmer artwork’. This replica stands at a road junction on Bosullow Common, about a mile or so from both Lanyon and Chun Quoits. The capstone rests on three uprights, and the whole stands less than a metre tall.

An interesting distraction/tribute.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief visit to the Cornish Quoits.

Nearing the end of our series on Cornish Quoits, and nearing the end of the land, we continue with three more Penwithian quoits.

 

9. Mulfra Quoit

Well placed at the summit of Mulfra Hill, with excellent all-round views, before the capstone collapsed this would have resembled the box-like construction of Chun Quoit which we’ll visit at the end of our journey. The outstanding feature of the 3.2m by 3.0m capstone here is a chamfered ridge on the base which would have fit snugly inside the uprights to support the capstone. Only three uprights remain, it is unknown whether there would have originally been more.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

10. Bosporthennis Quoit

Pronounced ‘Bosprennis’, three of possibly four original upright stones survive. The capstone is somewhat damaged, having been removed and unsuccessfully trimmed for use as a possible millstone. The area around Bosporthennis is rich in antiquities, and a quoit in the area is mentioned in Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England:

In Bosprenis Croft there was a very large coit or cromlech. It is said to have been
fifteen feet square, and not more than one foot thick in any part. This was broken in
two parts some years since, and taken to Penzance to form the beds for two ovens.

This description does not match the extant cromlech in any way, so must refer to a lost monument. One wonders how many more have been lost in this way?

Correspondence in the Cornish Telegraph in 1871 confirms that the capstone of the existing quoit had fallen ‘long before the living memory of anyone in 1865’.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

11. Lanyon Quoit

Possibly the most photographed monument in West Penwith, Lanyon Quoit is sadly, despite appearances, possibly the most damaged of the Cornish quoits. The stones were (poorly) restored in 1824, after collapsing in a storm in 1815. The quoit was described prior to its collapse in Hitchin’s History of Cornwall:

At Lanyon… the incumbent stone of this monument is about nineteen feet long; but its thickness, which is not proportioned to its area, is rather irregular. In the middle, and on its eastern edge, it is sixteen inches; at each end rather less; but at the western edge it is full two feet. The two principal supporters of the incumbent stone were either not originally placed in a true perpendicular, or they have since been forced from it by the prodigious weight which they have been compelled to sustain. At present they have an inclination in their summits towards the verge of the incumbent stone, and consequently they recede from each other in the same proportion. There is however no danger of their ultimately giving way (sic). For as the stone by which they are pressed, has its under surface somewhat inclined towards a concave form, the weight must chiefly rest on the outward extremities of the supporters, and therefore prevent them from falling asunder, as much so as if the supporters had been exactly perpendicular, and the incumbent stone strictly flat and horizontal.

This monument, which is more elevated than anyone besides of this kind which the county can produce, being sufficiently high for a man to sit on horseback under it, stands on a low bank of earth, that is raised about two feet above the surrounding soil.

Given that the monument now requires anyone over 5’9″ to crouch when passing under it, it is clear that the reconstruction caused grave damage to the height of the supporting stones. As stated on Wikipedia (link below), on 19 October 1815, Lanyon Quoit fell down in a storm. Nine years later enough money was raised by local inhabitants to re-erect the structure, under the guidance of Captain Giddy of the Royal Navy. One of the original stones was considered too badly damaged to put back in place, thus there are only three uprights today and the structure does not stand so high as it once did. The reconstruction also placed the structure at right angles to its original position. There is a faint carving on one of the uprights, ‘1824’, the date of the reconstruction.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

We continue our series on Cornish Quoits, moving westward as we head toward West Penwith, with a brief look at three more quoits.

 

6. Carwynnen Quoit

In the space of the last 200 years, the Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen has collapsed and been rebuilt twice! Both times earth tremors were responsible for the collapse, the last happening in the 1960’s, resulting in the pile of rubble shown below, augmented by subsequent field clearance.

Carwynnen Before Restoration

The field in which the quoit is sited was purchased by the Sustainable Trust in 2009, and plans were laid to rebuild the quoit. During the excavation of the site, the “floor” of the monument, an intact stone pavement was found to be made up of “a narrow strip of compacted small stones which formed a hard-standing surface arranged in a doughnut-like circuit. At the front end of the monument, a fine narrow strip of the pavement extended well beyond the shelter of the capstone“. The full story of the excavation can be found on the ‘Giant’s Quoit’ link below.

Carwynnen After Restoration

Further information: 

The Giant’s Quoit
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

7. Sperris Quoit

Some 300m NE of Zennor Quoit (see below), Sperris is in a poor state, consisting of a single upright and three fallen stones. The capstone is missing, presumably used in construction of the dilapidated mine workings nearby. Despite it’s proximity to Zennor, this can be a difficult site to find, although recent clearance work by the Penwith Landscape Partnership has made it a bit more accessible.

Further information: 

Cornish Archaeology Soc. Journal 6 – membership protected
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

8. Zennor Quoit

In 1861 Zennor Quoit narrowly escaped destruction; more details are given in an extract from the Cornish Telegraph of 4th September of that year.

A farmer had removed a part of one of the upright pillars, and drilled a hole into the slanting quoit, in order to erect a cattle-shed, when news of the vandalism reached the ears of the Rev. W. Borlase, Vicar of Zennor, and for 5s. the work of destruction was stayed, the Vicar having thus strengthened the legend that the quoit cannot be removed.

We can be grateful to Dr. W Borlase (great-grandfather of the Rev. Borlase mentioned above) for a sketch of the quoit before the capstone had collapsed into its current position.

Zennor Quoit in 1769, drawn by WIlliam Borlase. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The local legend mentioned above states that the quoit possesses mystical powers and that any stones removed from the structure will soon mysteriously find their way back in the middle of the night. As related by C Taylor Stephens to Robert Hunt:

“I was in the neighbourhood of Zennor in 1859, and by accident came across the Zennor cromlech, and was struck with the mode of its construction (not having heard of its existence before), and thinking it bore some resemblance to the Druidical altars I had read of, I inquired of a group of persons who were gathered round the village smithery, whether any one could tell me anything respecting the heap of stones on the top of the hill. Several were in total ignorance of their existence. One said, ‘Tes caal’d the gient’s kite; thas all I knaw.’ At last, one more thoughtful, and one who, I found out, was considered the wiseacre and oracle of the village, looked up and gave me this important piece of information,–‘Them ere rocks were put there afore you nor me was boern or thoft ov; but who don it es a puzler to everybody in Sunnur (Zennor). I de bleve theze put up theer wen thes ere wurld was maade; but wether they was or no don’t very much mattur by hal akounts. Thes I’d knaw, that nobody caant take car em awa; if anybody was too, they’d be brot there agin. Hees an ef they wus tuk’d awa wone nite, theys shur to be hal rite up top o’ th hil fust thing in morenin. But I caant tel ee s’ much as Passen can; ef you ‘d zea he, he ‘d tel he hal about et.'”

The stones now seen in front of the quoit are the remains of the cattle shed subsequently built by the farmer mentioned above.

In 1882, another member of the Borlase family was mentioned in a report of a field trip to the quoit by the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society:

Mr. Borlase, one of the members, met with a man who had made a find beneath the Zennor Quoit. The man explained that about a year ago, finding that other people were searching about, he and his son thought they would have ‘a bit of a speer too.’ After removing some of the earth, they came upon a flat stone, which they ‘shut’ (blasted). They then removed more earth and came upon another flat stone, which they also ‘shut.’ Underneath it they found what Mr. Borlase said was an ancient whetstone, which no doubt was buried with the dead, in order that he might have something to sharpen his weapons with in ‘the happy hunting grounds’ to which he was supposed to have gone. Mr. Borlase had found similar stones, with urns containing the ashes of the dead, in different barrows. Under this quoit he found part of an urn. Mr. Borlase expressed a hope that there would be no more ‘shutting’ near the quoit, because it ought to be regarded as sacred as the grave of a father.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

We continue our series on Cornish Quoits with a brief look at the remaining quoits in the Bodmin Moor area.

 

3. Lesquite Quoit

As can be seen below, the quoit is collapsed, the capstone leaning against one of the two remaining uprights. According to local folk traditions, the stones were thrown here from Helman Tor by the devil while playing with them.

A small ‘salvage’ excavation in 1973, during the installation of a water pipe, revealed very little in the way of finds.

Further information: 

Cornish Archaeology Soc. Journal 15 – membership protected
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

4. Pawton Quoit

A massive capstone rests horizontally on three uprights with a further three uprights making up the rest of the chamber. Estimated at 14 tons, this makes it the heaviest capstone in Cornwall. The quoit sits atop a mound made up of small quartz pebbles. This may include field clearance detritus.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

5. The Devil’s Quoit (or Coyt)

Described in Gilbert’s Parochial History of Cornwall:

In the parish of Columb Major stands Castell-an-Dinas. Near this castle, by the highway, stands the Coyt, a stony tumulus so called, of which sort there are many in Wales and Wiltshire, as is mentioned is the ‘Additions to Camden’s Britannia,’ in these places, commonly called the Devils Coyts. It consists of four long stones of great bigness, perpendicularly pitched in the earth contiguous with each other, leaving only a small vacancy downwards, but meeting together at the top; over all which is laid a fiat stone of prodigious bulk and magnitude, bending towards the east in way of adoration (as Mr Llwyd concludes of all those Coyts elsewhere), as the person therein under it interred did when in the land of the living; but how or by what art this prodigious flat stone should be placed on the top of the others, amazeth the wisest mathematicians, engineers, or architects to tell or conjecture. Coit, in Belgic-British, is a cave, vault, or co[r?]n-house, of which coyt might possibly be a corruption.” –Gilbert’s Parochial History.

The quoit was destroyed in 1870, and commemorated with a plaque from St Columb Old Cornwall Society in 1980.

Further information: 

Youtube visit
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

Simply put, a quoit (in megalithic terms) is the Cornish name for what elsewhere would be called a dolmen, cromlech or portal tomb. There is a useful article on the etymology of the name on Wikipedia. Cornwall is blessed with several excellent examples of this monument type, being a construct consisting of several large stones placed upright to support a capstone or ‘table’, creating a chamber ostensibly used for burial practices in the neolithic period. There is some evidence that these may have been covered with mounds of earth, but most of the Cornish examples are now bare of any such mounds, and several are in a state of collapse.

In this short series over the next week or so, we shall take a brief virtual tour of a baker’s dozen of Cornish Quoits, moving in a line roughly N and E to SW across the Duchy: five in the area of Bodmin Moor, seven in West Penwith and another in between:

 

1. Hendraburnick Quoit

We start with a site that is called a ‘quoit’, but which is somewhat disputed. Hendraburnick ‘Quoit’ “is a long, rounded and flattened epidiorite stone, propped up and laid to rest upon a platform of smaller slate stones at one end, and naturally occurring slate bedrock on the other.

In other words, not a quoit at all. It is probably better categorised as a ‘propped stone’, of which several are known across Cornwall. It is, however, a site of interest as an investigation begun in 2013 uncovered a multitude of finds including flint arrowheads, a faience bead, and most spectacular of all, a plethora of rock art. Although the stone was known to contain a number of cup marks (which sparked the investigation), the number of cup marks (over 100!) plus the extent of other rock art carvings on the stone was a surprise to the investigating team, who came to a conclusion that the site may have been used for moonlight or nighttime rituals.

The ‘quoit’ lies on private land and cannot be viewed without the prior agreement of the landowners.

Further information: 

Tom Goskar’s Blog
PAST – The Prehistoric Society – see pp12-13
The PostHole
Cornish Archaeology Soc. Newsletter – membership protected
Time and Mind – paywalled (but see Sci-Hub 😉 )
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

2. Trethevy Quoit

The largest of the Cornish Quoits, Trethevy is an imposing sight, with the capstone seemingly defying gravity, resting at a jaunty angle on the uprights below it.

There have been discussions in the past around the fact that the quoit may not be as originally designed, but that it has undergone ‘reconstruction’. This has not been proven as yet. Another possibility is that the stones may have slipped at some point in the past. There is also an enigmatic hole at the highest point of the twelve-foot capstone – a photographic opportunity waiting for the sun (or moon?) to be in the right spot?

Owned by English Heritage, but managed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust, who now own the field in which it sits, an opportunity arose to carry out a geofizz survey. This identified a possible platform of stones around the quoit, particularly to the west side.

This platform, comprised of greenstone and extending some 20m by 12m, was confirmed by excavation last year. A preliminary report of the excavation was contained in the Cornwall Archaeology Society newsletter 151, October 2019.

Further information:

Cornwall Heritage Trust
Cornwall Heritage Trust Quoit Info Pack (PDF)
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

Press release from the National Trust

Avebury closed for Summer Solstice

The National Trust have today (Monday 18 May) confirmed that neither Avebury nor its land across the Stonehenge Landscape, will be open for this year’s summer solstice and are asking visitors not to travel to the area.

Avebury: South-west quadrant

The celebrations which take place every midsummer, on or around the 21st June, regularly attract in the region of 10,000 people to Stonehenge and surrounding areas including Avebury.

A spokesperson said: ‘Our priority is always to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff, volunteers, attendees and residents. This decision was made due to the on-going ban on mass gatherings, and the need to maintain social distancing – still the mainstay of measures to combat Coronavirus.’

English Heritage who manage Stonehenge have also announced that they will not be able to host the solstice at the World Heritage site, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all attendees, volunteers and staff.

The National Trust has consulted widely with its partners (English Heritage, Wiltshire Council, the Police, Ambulance services and Avebury village community).

The spokesperson said: ‘The National Trust recognise the spiritual importance and relevance of the summer Solstice and understands that this will come as a great disappointment to many but also not a huge surprise given the on-going pandemic crisis and a ban on mass gatherings. We hope that this announcement will be received with the understanding of everyone who likes to celebrate this important time of year and traditional acts of worship.’

Many other live events have either been cancelled or postponed this year due to the ongoing battle against the disease and to limit its spread.

The camping sites, the village pub, car parks and toilets will all be closed.

Each year the Trust works closely with partners through the Avebury Solstice Planning Group to manage visitors who come to Avebury for the Solstice aiming to ensure
the event allows peaceful access for celebrants and to minimise disruption to the village and neighbouring farms. We thank everyone for their understanding and hope to welcome summer solstice visitors back next year.

The latest Press Release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaigners:

– Historic England deals late blow to community’s 8-year fight to save the setting of one of Britain’s outstanding Iron Age hillforts from housing development –

Campaigners are up in arms at news that Historic England has relaxed its concerns over development in the historic landscape of Old Oswestry hillfort on the Shropshire/Wales border.

Illustration (c) John Swogger ‘With Friends Like These’

The government’s statutory heritage consultee is currently advising on a planning application by Galliers Homes for 91 houses in the near setting of the 3,000-year-old Iron Age monument.

The outcry comes as Historic England’s representation appeared on Shropshire Council’s planning portal just hours before the close of public consultation (on April 21). The current application is the third set of plans in 12 months to be submitted by Berrys, the planning agent, prompting floods of objections each time.

“Historic England’s response raises far more questions than it answers,” said campaign group, HOOOH, which has produced a 10-page document criticising the content. “They are sanctioning proposals that do not comply with their own criteria and guidance. This includes conditions in a Statement of Common Ground signed with Shropshire Council in 2014 that allowed this highly controversial site to be adopted in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.”

Campaigners say the heritage body is backing down on key requirements, including a northern development limit to ensure houses do not extend beyond the line of an adjacent factory.

HOOOH said: “We seek proper clarification from Historic England as to why they are not keeping to these criteria. The northern limit they stipulated for built development is a clearly defined threshold, not something to negotiate with the applicant on the basis that proposals achieve partial compliance.”

The group’s exposé also criticises a lack of rigour and transparency over archaeological evidence, heritage impact assessments and photomontages submitted by the developer.

HOOOH says that Historic England’s representation is a complete abdication of duty, summed up in the heritage body’s comment: ‘This latest proposal is an improvement on previous ones, partly because it more fully complies with the Statement of Common Ground.’ Campaigners are also concerned that pressure may have been put on Shropshire Council’s archaeology and conservation team, whose representation, published a week after the consultation deadline, essentially defers to Historic England’s views.

“This is just not good enough,” HOOOH said. “Historic England, whose remit is to safeguard our shared national heritage, has a duty to ensure that any proposal wholly complies with the agreed conditions. They should be far more rigorous: a unique hillfort and archaeological landscape are at stake here.

Campaigners say they are shocked that Historic England has failed to object to proposals that would constitute substantial harm to a scheduled monument from development within its setting, as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

“This has removed the main obstacle to planners approving the application, as it would be very difficult for Shropshire Council to justify approval against Historic England’s objection,” HOOOH said. “It is now up to our elected representatives on Shropshire Council’s planning committee to follow the democratic wish and refuse permission.”

Campaigners continued: ”Historic England has retreated from having serious concerns over the heritage impacts of the proposed development and is now parroting the developer’s statement about distances between the hillfort and proposed development, as if these are acceptable boundaries. They offer no explanation as to why these distances, which form no part of the Statement of Common Ground, are significant and carry weight for accepting development.

“This goes against Historic England’s own advice, principles and spirit of heritage protection regarding the setting of heritage assets, in particular those classified as designated heritage assets. It also goes against the principles for evaluating harm to heritage assets and their setting within the NPPF.

“Apart from the immediate damaging consequences for Old Oswestry, an exceptional type site for Iron Age understanding, this could set a very dangerous planning precedent for developers to ravage heritage landscapes integral to the story and experience of ancient monuments across England.”

HOOOH added: “Can we actually rely on Historic England to apply their own guidance on setting, which is a lifeline in protecting our fragile heritage? Throughout our campaign, HOOOH has witnessed double standards based on a weakened planning process that promises, but has scant regard for, public consultation and localism. It also appears to have allowed a statutory consultee to be manipulated during private meetings and by developer-led literature, which plays down the value of the heritage, that is, our heritage!”

Attention

Old Oswestry’s plight has attracted attention from around the world, prompting a 12,000-signature petition and support from national heritage organisations and leading academics including Michael Wood, Alice Roberts, Mary Beard, Dan Snow and Tom Holland.

The 3,000-year-old hillfort is widely referred to as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ for its unique design and pivotal importance together with its hinterland landscape for the understanding of Iron Age society.

HOOOH said: “The local community, which has fought so long and passionately to protect Old Oswestry, is distraught that its hillfort could be both the victim of and a precedent for a new age of legalised heritage vandalism. We have consistently pointed out how Caerau hillfort in South Wales has been surrounded by urban housing. We are desperate that the relevant authorities wake up to the real dangers that this application near Old Oswestry would bring to the setting of the scheduled monument.

“Historic England has let us down. During the long eight years of this campaign, we put our trust in them as our heritage protectors, even when at times their choices went against our instincts. Now, at the eleventh hour, we feel angry that they have not stood their ground as set out in their agreement with Shropshire Council that should only permit development if it meets all criteria. Instead, they have engaged in closed-door negotiations with the developer and Shropshire Council and, ultimately, their decisions could be the thin end of the wedge to the gradual destruction of Old Oswestry’s setting from long-term town expansion.”

The group added: “The hillfort land allocation was approved in SAMDev back in 2014 under the pressure of meeting over-ambitious housing targets and 5-year housing land supply and because, we were told, there were no other viable locations.

“Five years on, the planning imperative for this most unpopular of development sites has been substantially weakened. The County’s 5-year housing land supply is in surplus and housing numbers for Oswestry are being majorly scaled back in the local plan review to 2036, while many potential new sites have come forward including a project to unlock land for around 1000 homes.”

HOOOH says that local housing delivery has recently been boosted after the green light was given to 600 homes on the Oswestry Eastern Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE). The group also points out that the sustainability criteria supporting the allocation of OSW004 in 2014 have been seriously undermined by a change in legal status of the Cambrian Line to an operating railway, effectively preventing access across and along the track for pedestrian and cycle access.

According to Shropshire Council’s planning portal, objections to the hillfort site (as of 1 May 2020) have reached over 250. The planning application can be viewed by searching the reference 20/01033/EIA at: https://pa.shropshire.gov.uk/online-applications/

The public can still submit comments via email to: planning.northern@shropshire.gov.uk

HOOOH’s rebuttal can be found at www.oldowestryhillfort.co.uk


There is also an excellent analysis of the Historic England approval on the Pipeline web site.

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