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by Dr Sandy Gerrard
Today the glossy guide books that you can purchase at the “honey-pot” heritage attractions contain loads of perfect photographs accompanied by a few paragraphs explaining what there is to see and what it might mean. Such publications don’t tout controversy and are very much a product of establishment thinking. This was not always the case and in the “olden” days back in the 1950’s the authors of the so called “Official Guides” produced by the Department of the Environment sometimes used them as a vehicle to vent their spleen.
A wonderful example of this can be found in the “Ancient Monuments in Orkney” Official Guide published in 1952. The description of the Stones of Stenness stone circle on page 21 is remarkable and speaks for itself. “It consists of four erect monoliths together with a spurious dolmen-like structure which dates only from 1906 and is the result of an unfortunate ‘restoration’ of fallen stones by the then Office of Works, misled by certain archaeological ‘experts’ of that time.”
Fairly hard hitting stuff and not the sort of thing you are likely to read in today’s sanitised publications for the general public. Just goes to show that government experts don’t always get it right.
Following our efforts to persuade the BM to stop portraying metal detectorists as “citizen archaeologists” we’ve been òffered the title of Citizen Conservationists! (Paul Barford, “Victory for reason”). We accept! Not for ourselves but for the tens of thousands of people who visit, research and study archaeological and historic sites and keep to the mantra “take only memories, leave only footprints”.
A number of such people will be at our Megameet at Avebury Stone Circle this weekend. Not for personal gain and without any supportive infrastructure – no media savvy Whitewashing Department, no Culture Secretary saying they’re heroes and no team of Liaison Officers tagging along, emphasising the positive and spinning the negative! There’ll be nothing to spin at Avebury. Those people don’t visit archaeological sites to take bits of them home in a bag. Nor do millions of others. Maybe the BM should start promoting them?
Sue Brooke updates us on the latest threat to Caerau hillfort in Cardiff. This story was originally published on her own website.
Well, here I am again. Mrs Angry from Caerau has raised her ugly head once more. Over the last nine years or so I have bored everyone close to me to distraction about that triangular shaped field in Caerau. It’s important. I used to spend hours wandering around up there trying to figure out what all the lumps and bumps were about. I researched it and learned loads about what it all meant. I kept the whole thing as quiet as possible from the public domain so that the area would remain protected due to it being preserved mostly in public record at that time. Eventually I started to share some of this locally, working with the children and young people of the local schools. This was primarily to keep the crumbling remains of St. Mary’s Church as safe as possible.
Then along came Cardiff University. To be honest they were a little behind me in this research but, eventually and not without some fear I talked with them about it. They had lots of money that they were willing to invest in this area and they were able to engage with the public in far greater ways than me. Eventually this triangular shaped field of ‘mine’ was to be given a little bit of status as an Iron Age (at least) hill fort.
If you know about this then you will know that hot on their heels came Time Team. They came, they made a mess and a telly programme then they left. All stuff designed to give this little old lady in Caerau a little bit of the wobbles. I had massive reservations about all of this. I was accused of ‘selling out’ by allowing myself to become involved in this. Overall my fears were allayed and, although the area has been mucked about with by young ladies and young men digging holes, it has actually been really beneficial to the local communities of Ely and Caerau. Cardiff University formed the CAER Heritage Project and they worked their socks off in order to engage residents in the whole of their work. What Time Team did, on your 55 inch flat screen telly, was to tell the whole of Ely and Caerau what an amazingly valuable historical monument they lived alongside. Thank you for that.
The church of St Mary, long a victim of vandalism was now being looked after. There are people involved in this who have pursued Cardiff Council and persuaded them to help keep the remains of this historic building together. They have given up their time to tidy up the area, to log the graves and to generally give this church the respect it has so sadly been missing out on.
Overall the community has benefitted. The view from the hill fort is amazing when you look out towards Cardiff. The CAER Heritage Project believe this to be an area that would have been important to Cardiff itself. Of course, my endless research means I disagree with this – not entirely but my belief is and always has been that the hill fort would have been more better placed as part of what is now the Vale of Glamorgan and valued as such.
A few years ago changes began to happen. A solar park was to be built quite close to the site. It would be fine, we were reassured. This won’t be visible from the hill fort and will not detract from the beautifully serene surrounds one bit, they said. Unfortunately the building of this solar park caused some major issues for those living on the approach road. Let’s set this in to some kind of context. As you walk toward the track that leads from Caerau all the way to Michaelston le Pit you will need to walk underneath the A4232 Ely Link Road. Sadly, way back at the end of the 1970’s this road was built by cutting around the hill fort site. It’s no longer possible to walk up-and-over as we used to as kids, but hey, way back then we didn’t really know any better, did we?
This bit of Caerau is such an excellent resource for the local people. It’s usual to see dog walkers, horse riders, the footballing kids of the future and joggers all wandering along to make use of the area. Families wander through as well as groups of children and young people off to have fun on their own. I was one of these children once, having lived all my life nearby.
This lovely tree lined, although slightly narrow road, takes you from Caerau down toward the link road. The hill fort area is surrounded by beautifully managed woods, protected as a special area and inhabited by the most amazing birds and wildlife. Even slow worms like it in there. The homes along Heritage Drive, just off Cwrt yr Ala Road were built on the site of the old Caerau Isolation Hospital.
Sadly this was built within the banks and ditches of the Caerau hill fort. But hey, we didn’t know any better then, did we?
As I just mentioned a solar park was planned. Renewable energy they said. Yes, a few solar panels in the field and most certainly not visible from the hill fort. They actually forgot to mention that the construction of this amazing solar park would mean driving lorries, very quickly, in a dust raising, dirty and frankly quite dangerous manner along Cwrt yr Ala Road. That lovely quiet tree lined but slightly narrow road in the image above. Most residents took this on the chin. It was good for the environment wasn’t it, to get away from the smoking chimneys of the coal-fired power stations.
Everyone wants renewable sources of energy, don’t they? I’ve since learned from a friend that should you have solar panels on farmland then it’s wise that you keep animals out of the field as you can’t really sell them on later or even, it is my understanding, use the field for agricultural purposes for some years after the panels have been removed. I could be wrong on this or hey, maybe I just don’t know any better.
I was up at the hill fort only recently. It’s still so lovely up there but obviously, since the trees are now without their leaves, it is possible to see the Ely Link Road. And, surprise surprise, you can see the solar farm.
Now, and this is the bit that is really making me rather very angry, I have learned – via social media – that we are now going to have – guess what ? OK, that’s unfair, how could you know – I didn’t – a LANDFILL SITE. Yes, that’s correct. Now, this is not your black bag rubbish type tip, this is an ‘inert waste’ tip. What exactly does ‘inert waste’ mean? So, for the next 5 to 6 years up to 20 lorries, very quickly, in a dust raising, dirty and frankly quite dangerous manner will be driving along Cwrt yr Ala Road each day. That’s up to 40 journeys along this lovely quiet tree lined but slightly narrow road.
I’m really pleased to be able to say that the local Labour Councillor for the area is doing his level best to stop this happening. Indeed the Welsh Lib Dem AM for South Wales Central and spokesperson on Enterprise, Transport, Europe and Business has assured me that she will ‘look into it’ but in the meantime the Vale of Glamorgan Council has, in their recent report on this completely outrageous planning application – available online and therefore well within the public domain – given me the opportunity to give you some quotes. In fairness I suggest you check this out for yourselves but, in the meantime here are a couple of my favourites:
The site is located in open countryside and within the Cwrt yr Ala Basin Special Landscape Area as defined within the Unitary Development Plan. The site also lies within the boundaries of the derelict mineral site, the former Ely Brickworks. In addition it is noted that the Caerau Wood hill fort, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is located to the north of the site within the neighbouring Cardiff Council Local authority area.
In terms of impact upon Vale residents this would be very limited as there is no residential development, within the Vale, close to the proposed site. With regard to impact upon Cardiff residents, and any significant effect on the environment by virtue of the nature, size and location of the development this is a decision for the Local Planning Authority (LPA)
So, there you are then. To me that translates as – yes, we know it’s an important area and we acknowledge this but let’s quickly move on. The second quote means that there are of course housing developments nearby but, come on, they are in Cardiff, not the Vale of Glamorgan so that doesn’t matter to us. In fact, just so you know and I may of course be pointing out the obvious here, there are many property websites used by estate agents and prospective buyers who will pick up on things like transport links, schools and, obviously, landfill sites. I’m not sure but I worry that the residents of the very beautiful vale village of Michaelston le Pit may find out that this may also affect them – just by being in quite close proximity to this tip site. In fact I spoke with an established and respected estate agent only this morning who advised me that although this may not actually bring down the price of a property nearby immediately it will certainly not improve it. The advice was to consult further with a surveyor. That’s not really what I wanted to hear and I am sure that nearby residents won’t be happy to hear the financial implications upon their hard earned mortgaged properties should they decide to sell.
I would suggest that there will be major concerns from Cardiff Council and their residents once this very well kept secret becomes public knowledge. I really hope so. The enjoyment of all to access the area from Cwrt yr Ala Road towards Michaelston le Pit will be impacted on, most certainly. The right of the Cwrt yr Ala residents to enjoy their homes will most certainly be negatively affected, I know this as I lived through the delight of the solar park development. The access to the hill fort and the 12th century church for community groups will be restricted and, perhaps the work to preserve the tower of the old church could be seriously undermined by these vehicles shaking the living daylights out of it. That would be such a shame for all those who clearly care so much about it. What about Caerau (Ely) AFC – their ethos of ‘ Working With the Ely Community, For the Ely Community ‘ could be seriously affected by safety issues. I’m sure it won’t be safe to be toddling along there trying to dodge these vehicles for the next, what was it – 5 to 6 years?
So what can be done? I’m not too sure really. Perhaps we can suggest that the Vale of Glamorgan Council may want to consider other options for this ‘inert waste’ landfill site. Perhaps, let’s just think a minute – the residents of Dinas Powys would be happy for it to be placed just a bit further over.
That other hill fort area known as Cwm George has plenty of room. I bet not many people use this – just a couple of walkers, now and then – and the Woodland Trust won’t mind, surely? Or, perhaps, what about that stretch of beach adjacent to Sully Island? Hardly anyone goes there. The residents of Sully wouldn’t even notice. Yes, I agree that these are areas of special interest and so very important to the residents but isn’t Caerau of equal value?
There is just one little final quote that I will share with you. I visited Cosmeston Lakes Country Park today and went in to the little shop to buy a book on the history of this area. On the wall, right in front of me was this final quote from the Vale of Glamorgan Council. It read – and I quote ‘A sad chapter in Cosmeston’s history saw the quarry used for several years as a landfill site for household waste’. The little book I purchased for £4 completed this with ‘Permission to tip household rubbish on the west side of Mile End Road was granted to Penarth Urban District Council in 1964 (with some waster tipping already underway several years before that).’
So, please tell me – does this mean that the Vale of Glamorgan Council recognise that they really DO know better?
News reached us last week that The Portman Hunt had been written to by the National Trust amid claims it’s horses and hounds damaged Hambledon Hill after the Hunt “left the recognised bridleway and came across the hill”. A National Trust volunteer was even quoted saying “They have now twice been guilty of blatant and wilful damage to a scheduled ancient monument. What, I wonder will it take to make them actually take real notice?”
Lest the National Trust or others are unaware, wilful damage of a scheduled Ancient Monument is a criminal offence in this country. So why on earth are the National Trust pussy footing around with letters when they should be straight onto the police? A quick internet search shows the hunt isn’t exactly a paradigm of virtue so its explanation that they merely “left the track to round up some dogs.” should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
After all its not even as if its a first offence on this site, photographic evidence of Portman Hunt members bombing about the hillfort on quad bikes exists from a previous time as you can see below.
Those of you with long memories will recall we highlighted a different hunt last year who decided riding multiple horses over a barrow was appropriate. A trend of disrespect and contempt?
It’s fair to say that every area has it’s fair share of ‘Hollywood’ or tourist archaeology sites – those must see monuments that aficionados such as us hunt down and visit on a fairly frequent basis. But it’s equally fair to say that those same sites are only the tip of the iceberg as far as sites worth a visit are concerned. And again, there are probably as many more sites again where there is nothing to be seen at all – all the archaeology is buried, or covered in dense undergrowth.
Once again, I’m visiting West Penwith in Cornwall, an area many would argue is one big Hollywood site. It’s difficult to travel down any of the lanes there without being within view of at least one prehistoric monument. And yet, after 15 years of visiting the area several times a year, I am continually surprised to find yet ‘one more site’ I’ve not previously visited. In the early days I relied upon the Modern Antiquarian and Megalithic Portal web sites to find my way around – both excellent resources in their own right. And the Defra Magic web site allows access to information on many Scheduled Monuments (and numerous other data layers). But more recently I have come to rely on the Cornwall Council Interactive Map for my jaunts to the southwest.
The site works in a similar way to the Defra Magic application, whereby different layers of data can be activated or deactivated as required. I usually start with a standard set of layers activated; Leisure: Rights of Way and Right to Roam land, and Historical: Sites and Monuments Records and Scheduled Monuments.
There are many more layers of possible interest to choose from, but even with this subset, when zoomed in the map gets very busy! Sadly, there’s no way to filter based upon era, but the prehistoric sites are designated by red markers which are easy to see. Clicking on the map on a specific point (or area) will pop up a key panel with links to additional information – for the sites we’re interested in these links usually point to the Heritage Environment Records (HER), held on the Heritage Gateway web site. If clicking on an area which may be covered by more than one item, e.g. a settlement site within a Right to Roam area crossed by a Right of Way, the Key panel will show the first item it finds, but other items will be indicated in the header bar (“1 of 3”). The items can then be scrolled through using the supplied back/forward buttons.
The system is very easy to use, though the amount of information presented can be a bit daunting at times! Of course, it would be equally simple to use the Heritage Gateway to perform a more precise search, but using the map enables you to see where the selected site sits in relation to other HER records in the immediate area (and those all-important rights of way!)
Using the Cornwall Interactive Map and the Heritage Gateway I now have a plan of sorts and a list of targets to visit for my upcoming trip, some of which will no doubt feature in forthcoming articles.
The Heritage Gateway is an excellent resource covering the whole country, and I’m sure other counties will have similar facilities to Cornwall to explore their own areas via mapping – if you know of any good examples, please let us know in the comments.
If I have one small criticism of the Heritage Gateway, it’s that despite the initiatives for Open Access Archaeology, it’s just not possible to link through to the source documentation and reports. Sometimes (especially for us non-academics), a citation is not enough.
Try this test. Go to Stonehenge and deliberately tread on a Marsh Fritillary caterpillar. You’ll risk prosecution. Now jump around on the stones and the same thing applies as that’s against the law too. Yet you and hundreds of others can do it with impunity on 21 June. Why? Because there are so many people packed into the monument it’s impossible to exercise control. EH’s PR Department must cringe every year, especially on 22 June when they release a press release saying everything went well but the photographs show they weren’t in control.
But maybe a change is coming. We hear EH’s Historic Properties Director “has grasped the PR opportunity of picnics and kite flying and happy family gatherings” (which were OUR suggestions, see here!) and coincidentally some Free Access campaigners are also calling for a daytime picnic adjacent to the stones and they’ve been invited to a “private meeting” to discuss it!
Could this be the moment when the problem is solved? Yes, providing EH says instead of, not as well as. There’s no point in expanding the celebrations into the daytime unless there’s an end to the worldwide negative PR created by nocturnal overcrowding inside the stones and the damage and disrespect it brings.
So here’s our fantasy picture of ordinary people, all equal stakeholders having fun celebrating solstice near to but not within the stones (which is something no-one can show is less likely to be traditional than what happens now). They could start at dawn if they wished – the sunrise view from outside is much better and the place is now thought to have been designed to facilitate that – and if they were outside the stones there’d be no huge expense, no massive security, no litter, no graffiti, no damage, no stone-standing, no climbing on them, no “personal alcohol allowance”, no ejections, no endless moaning, no faeces, no crazy calls for unrestricted access, no arrests and no embarrassment and humiliation for EH and Britain! Isn’t that better?
We visited the Coldrum Stones previously, about 3.5 years years ago, so it’s time for a revisit as part of our occasional A-Z series.
The best preserved of the Medway Megaliths, Coldrum is a Neolithic Longbarrow, one of several in this part of the country. Recent radiocarbon dating of at least 16 individuals buried within the chamber at Coldrum, has shown that this particular monument was probably constructed nearly 6,000 years ago. This date from Coldrum makes it one of the earliest known monuments in the British Isles. Similar dates have been suggested for the Early Neolithic Long Hall buildings found during excavations for the HS1 railway, at the White Horse Stone site, on the other side of the River Medway.
The Coldrum monument now sits on the edge of a deep lynchet down which some of the stones, including the capstone, have tumbled. A rectangular enclosure of sarsen stones sits behind the monument to the west. it is this enclosure which led to the early identification of Coldrum as a ‘stone circle’, later rebuffed by Petrie, among others.
Flinders Petrie and Benjamin Harrison surveyed the site prior to the first excavations at Coldrum being undertaken by F. J. Bennet and colleagues in 1910, though some pottery finds had been unearthed in 1856.
‘No sooner had I put my fork in, than I at once turned up some human bones, under only a few inches of soil’.
Five skulls, and bones of up to 22 individuals were excavated, along with pottery sherds, and a flint ‘saw’. The finds were split between the Royal College of Surgeons, and Maidstone Museum. Bennet’s excavations were written up and published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 43 (Jan. – Jun., 1913), pp. 76-85. and can be accessed via JSTOR.
Folklore has it that an underground tunnel existed between the stones and the local church, containing ‘treasure’, and it may be that attempts to find this tunnel in antiquity caused the escarpment to collapse, as Bennet makes reference to a ‘cave’ in the slope.
The name ‘Coldrum’ comes from a farm lodge which lay nearby to the south, but which is now demolished. Using the National Library of Scotland facility to search older OS maps, shows that on the 1870 survey, the Coldrum site is marked as the remains of a stone circle.
On the 1909 map, two further stone circles are marked in the vicinity of the lodge, but by the time of the 1936 survey, these have been demoted to ‘sarsen stones’ whilst the monument itself is now in the care of the National Trust, having been purchased by the Trust ten years ealrier. The site is now dedicated as a memorial to Benjamin Harrison of the Kent Archaeological Society, who spent much of his adult life looking for evidence of Kent’s earliest settlers.
An excellent review by Paul Ashbee of the various investigations at Coldrum can be found in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 118 1998, available for download from the Kent Archaeological Society archives (pdf link)
by Sandy Gerrard
The Planning Inspectorate in Wales has recently rejected an application to erect three wind turbines at Bedlinog on the edge of an area containing a large number of multi-period archaeological sites. Most significantly the main reason given for the decision is the impact the development would have had on the historic environment. Indeed this concern is eloquently expressed so: “the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.”
Hooray. The landscape that is going to be protected is very similar in character to the one at Mynydd y Betws. Essentially it is a multi-period palimpsest some of which is scheduled. There are however also some important differences:
> The nearest scheduled site would have been 570m from a turbine rather than the 72m at Mynydd y Betws
> Three turbines were proposed rather than fifteen.
> The turbines were to be built on enclosed land near to the moorland rather than on the moorland itself.
> The turbines were to be built to one side of the archaeology rather than in its midst.
When the Planning Inspectorate considered the Mynydd y Betws proposal, where the impact of the proposed scheme was considerably more intrusive and damaging to the historic environment than at Bedlinog they stated:
“The turbines would be large man made features of far greater scale than anything which currently exists. However they would be, if allowed, by their nature a temporary feature with a permission for 25 years.”
“the effect on the setting of those Monuments within the site, whether they are burial cairns or more recent upland farmsteads, would not be unacceptably harmful.”
Hopefully this radical change of heart means that in just a few short years and on the back of the lessons learnt at Mynydd y Betws the desecration of irreplaceable archaeological landscapes is no longer to be tolerated. Certainly this decision should help those fighting to safeguard our heritage and should be warmly welcomed by everyone with an interest in our uplands.