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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.
By Dr Sandy Gerrard.
As part of the planning conditions imposed by the Planning Inspector at Mynydd y Betws he stated: “No development shall take place within the site until a programme of archaeological work has been implemented in accordance with a written scheme of investigation approved by the Local Planning Authority in consultation with Cadw”
In August 2010 the necessary approval was obtained with a Cadw Officer stating:
“I have read through this WSI and can conﬁrm Cadw’s agreement to what is a comprehensive programme of work linked to the appropriate professional standards.”
Please can someone tell me how can a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) which does not include any earthwork recording in a landscape which Cadw described in 2006 as having a “density of visible upstanding archaeological sites and monuments of many periods” be described as comprehensive?
Furthermore the Planning Inspector had already stated in his report when mentioning archaeological sites that “it would appear from the site inspection that some are not specifically recorded.”
So why did Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust not insist that at least these were recorded prior to destruction?
If they had perhaps a field system through which a road was driven would have at least been noticed before it was destroyed.
A press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign.
‘Hillfort Hug’ planned for threatened Iron Age monument
‘Show heritage some love’ say campaigners who will be joining arms in a protective hug at Old Oswestry hillfort (North Shropshire) as planners target its ancient landscape for housing.
The ‘Hillfort Hug’ takes place on Valentine’s Day, February 14, with organisers HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) calling it a peaceful family event. They are urging as many people as possible to take part and demonstrate their support for an iconic and nationally important hillfort.
It comes as a government Inspector decides whether fiercely opposed housing allocations bordering the 3,000 year old earthwork should remain in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.
Dr George Nash, an archaeologist and adviser to HOOOH said: “What happens at Old Oswestry is being seen as a test case that could open the floodgates to indiscriminate development exploiting heritage sites and areas of natural beauty across Britain.
“We have the short-sightedness of English Heritage and Shropshire Council to thank for putting this important Iron Age monument and potentially other parts of Britain’s ancient landscape in this state of planning jeopardy.”
HOOOH campaigner and Oswestry resident Neil Phillips said: “We are not against house-building and development. But the public wants to see it delivered in the right place, in realistic numbers and in tune with the community’s wishes.”
He added: “We hope people will feel moved to join the Old Oswestry hug in large numbers and show we are ready to protect our heritage and countryside against insensitive development.”
HOOOH says that a number of archaeological organisations have expressed an interest in networking the hug as a national event.
BBC Radio 4 visited the hillfort recently to record a programme for its new Making History series airing this spring.
Public opposition and campaign pressure has seen hillfort housing numbers proposed in SAMDev almost halved. But the developer is currently appealing for its original masterplan for some 200 homes to be reinstated.
The Inspector’s decision is expected later in February.
Those attending the ‘Hillfort Hug’ should meet at Gatacre playing fields in Oswestry at 1pm for the short walk to Old Oswestry. HOOOH is asking participants to sign up to the event page on Facebook, if possible, so that they can plan for likely numbers.
Volunteers are also needed to help steward the event. Anyone interested should ring 01691 652918 or message HOOOH on Facebook which has information on parking and other event details.
Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust, a body that is neither lapdog nor mouthpiece, has written to all the political parties with some questions that a lapdog or mouthpiece wouldn’t embarrass them with. Good. This one about Stonehenge will elicit some tricky wording no doubt (maybe even some classics of the politicians’ art if we’re lucky):
“Does your party support the short bored tunnel as proposed by the present Government which, if implemented, would contravene Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention? Do you have any objection to investigating the full range of options, including the long bored tunnel as proposed by the Stonehenge Alliance and supported by RESCUE and other heritage organisations?”
Oh dear, so what’s a poor political spokesperson to do?
Say they DO support the short tunnel as it won’t contravene the World Heritage Convention?
No, can’t do that because it does!
Say they DON’T object to investigating other options?
No, can’t do that as two of the parties have already ruled the other options out!
Say they DO object to investigating other options
..and thus go down in history as part of a here-today and gone-tomorrow vote-chasing gang who signed off on damaging a World Heritage Site for electoral advantage?
Well yes, that’ll be it, though not in such brutally honest terms. In fact we can anticipate some sidesteppy or reassuring responses, something like …. “We support the short tunnel providing any adverse impacts can be minimised”. Any bets? That has to be how it’ll be as it involves supporting the short tunnel in a “safe” way and thus gaining loads of votes with no risk of being accused of supporting destruction and no absolute proof that talk of minimising the harm is nonsense. Which it certainly is, for the landscape there is so full of archaeology that the damage caused by gouging a dual carriageway-sized trench through it to create access to the tunnel will be so massive that it will still be massive after it has been minimised! If you hear anyone saying otherwise (and you probably won’t, only subtly implying it) they’ll be politicians. Or lapdogs. Or mouthpieces.