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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?
Can you guess who said this?
“I still find Stonehenge rather dull. When it comes to prehistory, I am more for picturesque Avebury or Brittany’s stupendous Carnac. Wiltshire’s henge is small and fragmentary, and I wish someone would replace the fallen lintels and fill in the gaps.
Another “Stonehenge sensation” this month revealed that the the henge had been a complete circle. Given its astronomical precision, why not put it back as intended by its builders? We do not leave sundials out of line or clocks without escapements. We know where the sarsens and bluestones came from. We rebuild churches and cathedrals. A reconstructed Stonehenge might make sense, and not just to archaeologists.
But there we go. Like Obama and the rest, I have communed too long and am probably going mad.”
Someone in long flowing robes, high on a hill, hands outstretched to the moon? No, it was the NT’s outgoing chairman, here just weeks before announcing he – and you – were going to support the short tunnel! But that was then and this is now and he has left and you haven’t.
If you feel that supporting a short tunnel conflicts with the Trust’s mission and spirit you’ll be pleased to know it has just invited its members to say how it can stay true to its core purpose (could it be asking you to urge it to change its mind?) You can tell them at email@example.com. If you like, you could mention that when they boasted on World Heritage Day that “we’re proud to protect eight World Heritage Sites” you think they should have said seven!)
You could also follow Dan Snow’s advice: “Great that the National Trust has given members a vote on the Stonehenge tunnel. Please help to Save Stonehenge“
We have been sent this message from someone who has attended several Stonehenge solstice events in a professional capacity. They have supplied their name but have asked that we don’t divulge it.
While we’re happy to agree with King Arthur and others that it is not true pagans or Druids that misbehave at Solstice, the account does suggest there is more than a small minority of other people, perhaps pagans-for-the-day or simply revellers, who do so. In addition it highlights the issue of “insults” to the monument i.e. behaviour that may not cause permanent damage but nevertheless shouldn’t be tolerated by the rest of us – and particularly by true pagans and Druids. Is not the unwavering insistence on a “cram-in” ensuring that the monument is grossly disrespected every year and shouldn’t pagans and Druids, of all people, be leading calls for reform, not supporting an indefensible status quo?
It seems that King Arthur Pendragon has “slammed” the Heritage Journal in the press (see here). Yet we’ve been very supportive of him over the years and have described him as “brave” here and “affable and amusing” here and “in his own way one of the sanest men in Britain” here.
But he has got it wrong in this case. He says “As for the Heritage Journal, calling for an end to managed open access, they’ve been doing that since they were formed in the first place.” Not so. What we’re against is damage and all we’ve ever wanted is an end to that by redesigning the event so it’s far less crowded and some proper protective control can be applied. Ten years of damage is witness to the fact we have a point and our pagan members all agree. If Arthur can stop the damage, fine, but if all he can do is tell the press “obviously we abhor the vandalism” then we’re entitled to propose measures that will end it.
There are a couple of additional points in support of our view. The latest research suggests the stones were designed to allow people to view the summer solstice sunset from outside the circle, not crowded inside it, so we’re surprised Arthur and others aren’t calling for the authentic re-enactment. It costs a couple of hundred thousand pounds to run the event in the current format and the attendees don’t pay a bean. So if most people stayed outside the circle they’d have a better view and a more authentic one and the rest of the population wouldn’t have to shell out ridiculous amounts of money to run the event. AND the damage would stop in a jiffy!
See also The View of a Senior Officer
“He wasn’t planting potatoes” said one witness of a man seen at an Irish national monument at Carrig, Blessington, swinging a pick-axe and carrying loads of stones away in a wheelbarrow. Last Friday the Judge sentenced him. He got a €10,000 fine and an 18 month suspended sentence. So less than what it might have been (a fine of up to €10,000,000 or 5 years in jail) but a lot compared with over the water where it seems you can sometimes bulldoze stuff with not a lot of consequence.
That was literally true at Offa’s Dyke and it was also effectively true at Priddy where the culprit was so rich the fine and other costs were of no real consequence to him.
“No punishment for damage” is also the reality at Stonehenge where English Heritage recently revealed that the stones have been deliberately vandalised at almost every summer solstice celebration for the past ten years as well as at the latest winter one and we’re all waiting for a single one of the culprits to be punished, even by the gentlest of raps on the knuckles with a feather duster…
It’s probably best that the following account of vandalism at the winter solstice should be given a wider airing than to just 14 people at the latest Round Table meeting….
The bit about “it will be too expensive to have analysis done” is striking in view of the fact that each year up to 35,000 summer revellers aren’t charged (say) £10 each which amounts to £350,000 not collected. But be that as it may, since it has recently been revealed that apart from the above winter damage there has been vandalism at the stones during almost every summer solstice gathering over the past decade, would it be unreasonable to ask for something to be done to put a stop to it?
(So far as we know there was no vandalism during the lantern parade gathering so it’s clearly possible).
Before we add to our criticism of the National Trust’s recent stance at Stonehenge it’s only fair we pay tribute to how they acted until recently. This excellent piece by their chairman in The Guardian last Autumn says it all:
“When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning, a body that had minded its business displaying old houses and gardens pivoted to militant mode. It recalled its founding by Octavia Hill not to preserve the homes of aristocrats but to protect beautiful landscapes for poor city dwellers.
I was amazed at the gullibility of politicians to the spurious claim that recovery from recession lay in building executive homes in meadows, not in renewing Britain’s exhausted town and city centres. Even where there might be a case for more rural building, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, decided to let the market rip, be it for houses, warehouses, turbines or hypermarkets. Every county in Britain seemed under siege.
The result was not growth but war. My miserable duty was to be driven by planners round derelict urban acres, where factories, schools and shops were emptying while costly infrastructure was built by taxpayers in the surrounding country. David Cameron claimed this was sustainable. It was dumb.”
We forgot to add this to the previous update!
Jan 29, 2015
“Thank you for your e-mail. My last update on this project had been in November last year, when the archaeological contractor had confirmed that the reinstatement had been completed but final photos were needed. I hadn’t heard anything since and as I was in the area yesterday I visited the site to see how the reinstated bank now looks. I can report that it is in good condition with a thin covering of grass. It is currently fenced off to protect it until the grass is well established.
I am awaiting an update on the publication and will contact you with details once I know more. If you have any further questions please do contact me.
Mel Barge (Ms) | Inspector of Ancient Monuments
In response to our enquiries English Heritage recently supplied us with this Press Statement outlining the latest position:
ENGLISH HERITAGE PRESS STATEMENT – Priddy Circle 1
“Given the national and international significance of the Priddy Circles, English Heritage felt it important that the damage caused to the monument should not be repaired without some archaeological investigation taking place. Therefore, a programme archaeological work was designed by English Heritage, focusing on the parts of the monument that had been either been damaged or disturbed. The work was commissioned to run alongside the evaluation phase of the reinstatement works, which was necessary to inform decisions on whether to restore areas of the circle that had been subject to earthmoving.
Over Spring and Summer of this year, English Heritage, together with archaeological contractors AC Archaeology, undertook a programme of assessment and evaluation, including a geophysical survey of the damaged parts of the site. The results of this work helped in the design of an archaeological excavation which was carried out in September and October 2013, and focused on an area of deep wheel-rutting caused by the creation of a track way through the site during the unauthorised works.
The fieldwork is now completed and post-excavation analysis and recording are currently underway, including the use of specialist scientific dating techniques by English Heritage at our laboratory in Portsmouth. The results will be published in due course, and it is hoped they will advance our knowledge and understanding of this rare and early monument type, in addition to helping inform management decisions for the Priddy Circles and similar monuments elsewhere.
The final part of the reinstatement works is due to take place early in the New Year, when some reconstruction of the bulldozed circle bank will take place. This is a limited piece of work with two objectives – firstly, to restore some of the form and legibility of the circle and secondly to cover over and protect important Neolithic archaeology which had been left exposed by the damage. When this work is completed, Mr Penny’s obligations under the Voluntary Agreement will have been met and the Scheduled Monument will once again be in a stable condition for posterity.”
If you are aware that the final stage, “reconstruction of the bulldozed circle bank” has taken place we should be grateful if you would let us know.