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Yet another tomorrow, and more next week.

What will posterity say?

Following the news of the completion of the recent Verulamium Survey, a second “Archaeology in Hertfordshire” conference has been announced for November 26th, to be held in Hitchin Town Hall.

Their previous regional conference which we reported on in 2012 was a very interesting event.

The current outline of speakers and topics this year, subject to last minute changes, is as follows:

  • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews: Odd pots and foreigners: forgetting Romanitas, becoming Angelcynn
  • Isobel Thompson: New clues to the conquest: how Hertfordshire entered the Roman Empire
  • Andrew Fitzpatrick and Colin Haselgrove: Searching for Julius Caesar
  • Kris Lockyear and Ellen Shlasko: Surveying Verulamium
  • Emily Esche, Clare Lewis, Kris Lockyear and Tony Rook: Lower Rivers Field
  • Murray Andrews: Coins, commerce, and Christianity: money in late medieval Hertfordshire
  • Gil Burleigh: 118+ Tons of History: results from community test pitting and other fieldwork in Pirton
  • Karin and David Kaye: Roman Ware: A River-Crossing Settlement
  • Chris Green: Puddingstone querns from Hertfordshire and elsewhere
  • Mike Smith: The medieval manor of Wheathampstead

We’ve been asked to mention that tables will be available for local groups to have small displays (if arranged in advance via Kris Lockyear). There is no charge for a table, but the people manning it will need to have a ticket!

Full details including how to purchase tickets for the conference (£15, or £12 for WAS members) will be included on our Events Diary page when available.

Back in 2013, we reported upon a project with the lofty ambition to conduct a full GPS survey of the Roman town of Verulamium (modern St Albans).

Here we are, three years on, and the survey has now been completed! (well not quite – all the magnetomentry is completed, but there is still some I’d like to do some more GPR and resistivity to go, along with the magnetic susceptibility survey)

How about some numbers?  Well, Verulamium is the third biggest Roman town in Britain, after London and Cirencester.  It is, however, the largest Roman town in Britain which doesn’t have a modern settlement built over most of it.  We have surveyed 64.5ha of the total area of 81ha.  It has taken us 83 working days starting in the summer of 2013, but we didn’t do much at Verulamium in 2014.  It took 12,900,400 readings to cover those 64.5 ha.   That, of course, doesn’t include the grids we did twice because of frozen sensors or other problems. People pushing the cart walked about 322km, not including having to go back to the start for partials, getting to the squares in the first place, or laying in the tapes and strings.

Hearty congratulations go to all the volunteers who gave up their time to learn how to use GPS equipment and then walk those 322km, and to the project lead, Kris Lockyer. It just goes to show what a dedicated group of people achieve, with the right leadership and training.

Although the walking may be completed for now, and the overall picture is very impressive (below) the work of interpreting the results will continue for some considerable time!

Verulamium Survey

A second “Archaeology in Hertfordshire” conference is planned for November 26th to be held in Hitchin Town Hall, where no doubt the project will be presented at length.

It has been some time since we started our journey down the Neolithic M1. You may recall that we started at Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, and travelled down the Peddars Way to Knettishall Heath near Thetford. We then continued on the Icknield Way through Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the borders of Hertfordshire at Royston.

So we pick up our journey again in the centre of Royston, by the glacial erratic that gives the town its name. The Royse Stone once held a cross erected by a Lady Roisia. Royston sits at the junction of the Icknield Way and Ermine Street, the latter being one of the most important Roman roads in the country, leading from London to York. Not far from the stone is the entrance to Royston Cave, an enigmatic opening carved into the solid chalk below, discovered in 1742 when a shaft covered by a millstone was uncovered. The cave walls are covered in medieval (and possibly earlier) carvings, and are well worth a visit!

Royse Stone

The Royse Stone

A short distance west from the town is Therfield Heath which contains a barrow cemetery consisting of a long barrow, and several smaller round barrows.

Therfield Heath Longbarrow © AlanS

Therfield Heath Longbarrow © AlanS

The modern Icknield Way Trail diverts south here, following the high ground through the villages of Therfield, Sandon and Wallington toward Baldock. But north of the trail, there are several scattered tumuli, roughly following the course of the modern A505 road. This suggests that maybe the prehistoric way followed the lower ground at this point. The scant remains of a hillfort can be found at Arbury Banks, just outside Ashwell, one of 6 such hillforts spread along the northern Chilterns.

Reaching Baldock, the area contains a wealth of archaeology, including the sites of two known Neolithic henges at Weston and Norton.

Weston Henge

From Baldock, the Icknield Way continues west through Letchworth Garden City, crossing the River Hiz at Ickleford. The modern trail once again diverts from the old path and continues to Pirton, which has a motte and bailey construct. There is a current project, run by Reading University, to investigate whether certain mottes could have had earlier origins as Neolithic mounds, is the motte at Pirton a candidate, I wonder?

South-west of Pirton, the Knocking Knoll long barrow can be found. Although now damaged by ploughing activity, this was excavated by Ransom in 1856. Some 100 years later, in the mid-1950s farm labourers uncovered a chalk cist containing a crouched burial, which was presumed to have its origins in the ploughed E half of the barrow.

Rejoining the old path and continuing south-west past the Pegsdon Hills nature reserve, Ravensburgh Castle can be seen to the north. Finally, the trail passes the Galley Hill barrow cemetery before getting lost in the urban sprawl of Luton.

We’ll pause for a while once again here, and continue our journey anon.

We wrote a piece a few months ago about the heavy-handed management and ‘brandalism’ occurring in the name of ‘visitor engagement’ at Tintagel in Cornwall. Now, following recent archaeological excavations at the site, the BBC web site is proclaiming ‘The royal residence of 6th Century rulers is believed to have been discovered at the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.’

So, a known cliff castle site has uncovered evidence that it was used as a castle. Oh, and a medieval storyteller used the location as the setting for a story about the birth of a  mythical figure. Knock me sideways! Is there nothing English Heritage/Historic England (which name do we use these days?) won’t do to increase the cash flow at what is undoubtedly already one of Cornwall’s major cultural attractions? At what cost to the integrity of the site?


Thankfully, we’re not the only people thinking along those lines. Dr Tehmina Goskar, a consultant curator and heritage interpreter with over 16 years experience (we featured her partner Thomas in an Inside the Mind article a few years ago)  visited the Tintagel area earlier this year. Her critique of the experience makes for some interesting reading and raises some very pertinent points.

The key issues … are apposite not just to the situation at Tintagel but more widely concern methods of interpretation of Cornish history, medieval history, and the ways in which sites with multiple protective designations are treated by heritage agencies.

It’s a long piece, but for those of the TL;DR generation, there is a useful 10-point summary of the main points included at the start. We heartily recommend that anyone with any interest in site interpretation, Cornwall or tourism in general read the piece, and take home some of the lessons learned.

The arrival of the Welsh online resource for scheduled ancient monuments means that we can now see what is scheduled and what is not in England, Scotland and Wales. The new Cadw website shows us which parts of Wales are scheduled and provides some information together with reasons for the decision. Access to the various monuments is via an easy to use zoomable map and within a couple of clicks the information is available.


Compared to the Scottish and English sites the amount of information is very limited and a love of the copy and paste facility has unfortunate consequences.

Most worrying, however, is the phrase used to introduce each monument. In almost every instance the text starts “The monument consists of…”. This is a potentially dangerous choice of words as it implies that any archaeological features not mentioned in the text are not included within the scheduling.  Elsewhere in Britain the term “includes” is used and therefore ensures protection of any overlooked elements. This may seem pedantic but the effect maybe to seriously undermine the purpose of the legislation designed to protect our archaeology.

A second point of concern is the uncertain tone expressed in the documentation. Caveats abound in the descriptive text with for example the words probable and probably liberally scattered around. Whilst we all accept that uncertainty comes with the archaeological territory, these are primarily legal documents written to ensure the protection and management of important archaeological sites. In this context it is surely unhelpful to emphasise the uncertainties. After all a landowner reading that a pile of stones of stone on their land is only probably a Bronze Age cairn might think that it would probably be OK to remove it or at the very least take less care of it. Indeed the Schedule of Ancient Monuments should only include those sites considered to be of national importance, so why the constant insistence on emphasising the uncertainty?

Compared to the Scottish and English contributions this web resource does not compare favourably. It feels like a rushed job designed to meet a target and the large numbers of typos betray a lack of attention to detail. But please do not take our word for it. Have a look for yourselves:

Côf Cymru – National Historic Assets of Wales

Historic Environment Scotland

Historic England

This year’s Day of Archaeology will take place next week, on 29th July, and judging by the comments on their sign-up page will include many new participants this year!

For those that aren’t aware, the Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world. The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on the website.


The project is run by a team of volunteers who are all professional archaeologists, and taking part in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement!

The project has been running since 2011, and last year we documented some of our thoughts on the year’s events.  It will be interesting to see if anything has changed for this year’s coverage.

Volunteers team up with English Heritage on hillfort maintenance

Local love for a Shropshire heritage site is being put to good use through a progressive new volunteering initiative. 

Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, residents of Oswestry on the Shropshire/Wales border congregated on Old Oswestry hillfort in a symbolic hug of protection. Now they are turning their affection into hands-on support with the monument’s maintenance under the supervision of its national guardians, English Heritage.

Members of the HOOOH Community Group, which is promoting local engagement in Old Oswestry’s future, are recruiting volunteers to help English Heritage with landscape management and monitoring. Tasks will range from scrub clearance and pond maintenance, to taking fixed-point photos and supporting environmental initiatives to aid the hillfort’s preservation and upkeep.

(L to R): HOOOH Community Group volunteers Neil Phillips, Rob Baur and Katie Jones install a ‘No Bikes’ sign as their first task working with English Heritage.

(L to R): HOOOH Community Group volunteers Neil Phillips, Rob Baur and Katie Jones install a ‘No Bikes’ sign as their first task working with English Heritage.

English Heritage is also keen to work with other local organisations including colleges with expertise and interest in undertaking potential biodiversity and animal management initiatives on the fort.

The scheme is one of just a few in England involving local volunteers in landscape maintenance combined with environmental and wildlife initiatives at an English Heritage site. It is hoped that the success of the partnering at Old Oswestry will pave the way to more volunteering of this type, especially at unstaffed and more remote properties.

English Heritage is the charitable trust which cares for over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites across the country – it became separate from Historic England, the government service championing and offering advice on heritage, in 2015. As part of its mission as a charity, English Heritage is committed to including the wider community in its work and expanding opportunities for volunteers. Currently, around 2,000 people are involved with volunteering at some 50 of its 400 sites.

Volunteer involvement

HOOOH Community Group member, Neil Phillips, and heritage adviser, Tim Malim, recently met with English Heritage representatives to discuss the scope of volunteer involvement.

English Heritage has an established management plan in place for the hillfort, though recent wet summers have impacted on control of undergrowth, particularly around the ‘ponds’ or pits on the western side. New gates installed in 2015 have improved access for the landscape contractor. An additional log bench is due to be installed this year by the ‘floating’ path at the western entrance.

During a tour of the hillfort, plans were discussed for clearing overgrown areas, especially bracken, with minimal disturbance to wildlife. This would include an annual cutback of willow and woody growth in the winter, and control of bracken in the summer.

A newt and ecology survey was undertaken earlier this year to help assess what additional tasks can be tackled, and when, alongside regular grounds maintenance during the next 12 months. English Heritage will be updating its landscape maintenance plan to offer a range of opportunities for volunteers, including a programme of pond clearance this autumn.

Volunteers, with Maggie Rowlands and Tim Malim in the foreground, get to grips with locations for taking monitoring photography on the hillfort.

Volunteers, with Maggie Rowlands and Tim Malim in the foreground, get to grips with locations for taking monitoring photography on the hillfort.

Tim Malim said: “Managing the earthworks is a complex mission, with the need to balance several conflicting interests. Uncontrolled vegetation is a threat to the monument, and one of the best methods for managing this is through grazing the ramparts. But access to water and steep slopes make this difficult without unsightly fencing being introduced.

“Another balance has to be achieved between wildlife and the historic monument. There is a need to control the rabbit population and cut down scrub undergrowth and bracken, while maintaining habitats for newts and linnets at critical times in the year.”

English Heritage West is responsible for over 135 scheduled and listed sites across a substantial area stretching from the Scilly Isles to Cheshire.  The Charity is keen to involve local groups and volunteers as “outreach caretakers” to undertake maintenance tasks and site monitoring.

As a first task, HOOOH volunteers have installed ‘No Bikes’ signs to deter bikers from scrambling over the 3000-year-old scheduled earthwork and causing severe erosion scars. Help is also being sought with a fixed-point photography project to document the impact of on-going maintenance work.

Push-bikes are prohibited as a new safeguard against damage to the 3000-year-old monument which is known as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

Push-bikes are prohibited as a new safeguard against damage to the 3000-year-old monument which is known as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

Before leaving, the English Heritage team visited the Artists Hugging the Hillfort exhibition at the Willow Gallery in Oswestry. With over 60 art pieces, including work by local school children, they were impressed by the local pride and strength of feeling shown for Old Oswestry.

Volunteer Neil Phillips said: “As one of many local people that have been inspired by Old Oswestry since childhood, this is a constructive and rewarding way to be more closely involved in its conservation. The HOOOH Community Group is proud to contribute through the volunteers’ initiative, following the example of the town’s archaeology and history groups, as well as the hillfort landscape improvement project, which have long championed the hillfort.”

Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact Mr Phillips in the first instance on 07751 160576.


It’s always fascinating to see new entrants to the blogosphere, particularly those which focus upon heritage matters in geographical areas which interest me personally. The CornishBirdBlog appears to have been started earlier this year, and the About page tells us a little of the impetus behind the site:

After visiting 50 countries in 9 years I came home and realised that some of the best sunsets are found right on my doorstep. I want to share my walks around Cornwall and my thoughts with you. (And a little bit of local history too, the fun stuff I promise!) I should just add that I am not a professional historian, all the research is my own and I have formed my own opinions and stories from it – nothing should be taken as 100% fact.


In the few months since starting, there have been many interesting stories published on the site, from tales of shipwrecks, local folklore, treasure (the latest story tells of the Rillaton gold cup), lost Cornish kings, Roman roads and other ancient trackways, Cornish crosses, standing stones and other ancient sites, and some interesting historical Cornish characters. Yes, some of the stories are well known, but others are more obscure, and deserve a wider audience.

So if you’re interested in Cornwall’s history and heritage, why not pay the Cornish Bird Blog a visit, take a look around the archives, and leave a comment or two. Don’t forget to say we sent you!

The 26th Festival of Archaeology, which runs between the 16 – 31 July 2016, is rapidly approaching, so it’s time to make plans, take a look and see what’s on  in your area!

Co-ordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the Festival offers hundreds of events nationwide, organised by museums, heritage organisations, national and country parks, universities, local societies, and community archaeologists.


Now obviously we can’t listeverything that’s of interest to our readers here, but the random selection below gives a flavour of the range of prehistoric events (many aimed at families) available across the country – other time periods are available. If you’re looking for a great day out you could do much worse than search the list on the festival web site to see what’s happening in your area.

Many of the events in the festival will incur a charge and/or require prior booking, but many are also free, so please check before setting out for an event.

Enjoy the Festival!!


October 2016
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