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English Heritage have some explaining to do – missing from public view for five years, the plaque marking the re-dedication of the Airman’s Cross in 1996 has been found when a garden in Salisbury was being cleared by the property’s new owner.
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This story begins with Captain Eustace Loraine and Staff Sergeant Richard Wilson losing their lives, becoming the earliest military aviation casualties in the country when their Nieuport monoplane crashed during a training flight from Larkhill airfield near Stonehenge 5th July 1912. A year to the day later, in a ceremony attended by family and friends, the monument now known as the Airman’s Cross was unveiled near the scene of the crash. The monument was funded by the comrades of these two pioneering airmen and the staggered junction at which the Cross stood, where the A360 met the A344 and B3086, was known forever after as Airman’s Corner.
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In a further ceremony on 5th July 1996, a plaque was unveiled by the Friends of the Flying Museum, Middle Wallop, re-dedicating the Airman’s Cross. For almost a complete century the focus had always been on 5th July, the day of the accident, but just days before a century could be reached English Heritage oversaw the removal of the Airman’s Cross and the associated plaque on 25th June 2012, the Royal Engineers damaging the latter on two edges in the process.
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In August 2015, the Heritage Journal reported on the evolving nature of English Heritage’s care plan for the Airman’s Cross monuments. https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/stonehenge-questions-5-and-we-will-remember-e-h/
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Airman’s Corner is now a roundabout and relocated alongside the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre the Airman’s Cross has an ice cream van for company, the luridly liveried vehicle being connected to adjacent permanent wiring. The plaque marking the re-dedication 5th July 1996 was nowhere to be seen. This plaque reemphasizing the loss of the two earliest military airmen and maintaining the focus on the 5th July was replaced by a new re-dedication plaque alongside the Airman’s Cross unveiled on 1st May 2015 to ‘MARK ITS ACQUISITION BY ENGLISH HERITAGE’.
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Earlier this week the Heritage Journal received an email from a Salisbury resident, the plaque last seen tucked in a corner of a contractor’s site office in September 2013 had been found when clearing his garden. We salute the public spirit of Mr. M. of Salisbury, who cared enough to drive to Middle Wallop and return the plaque to the Friends of the Flying Museum. At least the plaque is now back in the hands of those that fully appreciate its importance. It is a mystery how the plaque ended up in this man’s garden, but the bigger mystery is why we allow our Stonehenge heritage to be cared for in this fashion.
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English Heritage’s license to care for our monuments comes up for renewal in 2023!

We’ve spoken many times on the Journal about the lack of sensitivity when it comes to local opinion at heritage sites – Stonehenge being the prime example. And last year we highlighted several issues at Tintagel in Cornwall where the heritage of the site seemed to be taking a back seat to the need for cash generation for English Heritage’s (EH) coffers, and to hell with the history.

Sadly, once again it seems that EH’s need for finance is over-riding any consideration for the actual history and heritage of the site at Tintagel, which was the seat for several kings of Dumnonia in the early medieval period – a fact apparently of no interest to the site’s guardians. Read the rest of this entry »

Each December, English Heritage (or Historic England as we must now call it – what about Pre-Historic England?) issue their annual Heritage Counts report.  Heritage Counts is an annual audit of England’s heritage, first produced in 2002. It is produced by Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum.

There are nine regions across the country, but this year only three have decided to issue a regional report. Well done to London, the North East and the South West! This compares to the total of five regions that produced a report last year. One can’t help but wonder if this is due to the ongoing financial constraints placed upon the organisation, and the need to become self-financing. Will there be any regions reporting next year, I wonder?

Why yowling moggy? Because a series of misrepresentations (5 so far) may suggest a concerted agenda….

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Last month we questioned why Historic England had invited lots of prominent archaeologists to discuss “developments in conservation” (see here). To associate them with the idea conservation has changed and driving new roads over the World Heritage Site is now valid? Perhaps, for the word was then dropped and they’ll now be talking instead about “research and the potential for further discoveries” (see here).


But it’s not just archaeologists being manoeuvered. ICOMOS has been wrongly characterised as pro-short tunnel (see here) and the public are being as well (see here). Historic England’s guidelines have been unilaterally changed to say destruction is OK if there are “important planning justifications” (see here). More recently English Heritage seems intent on misleading the public by offering free balloon flights (see here) “to get a sense of how the removal of the A303 from the landscape would transform the World Heritage Site” but not mentioning it would involve cutting massive new roads over another part of the site (the elephant in the landscape as Stonehenge Alliance calls it). We suspect doing that offends every conservation instinct of EH personnel but it’s up to them to deny it.


You may well feel 5 yowling moggies are now out of the bag, each one designed to further the Government’s wishes. Will there be more? Probably, since the plain truth is that massive new roads inside the WHS cannot be justified without further disreputable tactics by Britain’s main conservation bodies. Future historians may view this as a shameful era.

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[To see the others put Yowling in the search box.]

The Government says a 1.8 mile tunnel is all they can afford at Stonehenge. Conservation bodies English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust have said that would be OK and they’ll support it, even though a mile of massive approach roads will have to be driven through the UNESCO protected World Heritage Site. Logic suggests they CANNOT be right to do so but now there’s something happening to suggest that their stance is not only wrong but foolish. Britain is talking about building an 18 mile long road tunnel between Manchester and Sheffield –  that’s ten times longer than at Stonehenge!

Pennine tunnel

Someone in the Government is telling porkies about what can be comfortably offered at Stonehenge. By the same token, supporting the short tunnel there on the basis that’s all that can be afforded is going along with – and aiding – a falsehood.

And here’s a funny thing: the latest rumour is that Brexit may mean major projects including Stonehenge are cancelled. If it happens it will put English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust in a ticklish spot. Will they express regret about it, which will be ludicrous or will they welcome it, which will indicate their existing stance is ludicrous? We’ll see. They may yet come to ruefully reflect that supporting the Government is riskier than supporting what’s right – since the former may change whereas the latter never will.

Dear English Heritage,

I hear you’re looking for a Conservation Maintenance Manager at £38,000.

I’ve been reading about your policies, particularly your support for a short tunnel at Stonehenge. I think my previous experience makes me an ideal candidate for this vacancy.

Here’s me at The Great Wall of China.

eh recruit

If I’m unsuccessful could you forward this letter to the other organisations which share your conservation standards? I’m interested in The National Trust’s current vacancy for a Project Conservator or even Historic England’s vacancy for an Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments.

Regards,

Kung Fu Ken

Forget what you’ve heard, it is said that King Arthur, (the real one!), was born, lived and died in Shropshire!  There are King Arthur trails to real sites connected to stories surrounding him and one historian even believes he may have found Arthur’s actual grave in Shropshire  and wants English Heritage to investigate it.

No chance, we suspect. Inter alia, Shropshire being the “Arthurian County” would clash with EH’s promotion of a zero-evidence but money-spinning Arthurian myth at Tintagel! Dr Tehmina Goskar highlights the Tintagel issue perfectly: “Why were monumental artistic interventions chosen as a method of interpretation? Would EH countenance similar interventions at Stonehenge or at other multiple-designated sites they manage? If not, why at Tintagel?” Why indeed! And here’s a funny thing: they’ve erected a statue of Arthur at Tintagel based on a myth that he was born there, but at Oswestry Hillfort, (which is also in their guardianship) they haven’t erected a statue of Guinevere – who WAS born there!

Not that we advocate cheap tourist-trapping at Oswestry Hillfort, but we can’t help wondering …. if they had a bigger financial interest in it would they have been keener to protect its setting from housing developments? Incidentally, if they did go for brandalising at Oswestry, here’s a thought for them: being public guardians doesn’t give anyone a license to impose tat on the public’s assets.

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statue

English Heritage has reacted to our recently expressed concerns about it wanting to increase the maximum number of visitors it can transport at peak times. It has said it’s about efficiency not increasing attendance figures and its planning application statement said so – “The application is not intended to facilitate growth in visitor numbers.”

However, what it is intended to facilitate and what it will facilitate are not the same thing. We still feel that if you take 900 people an hour to the stones instead of 600 then that will mean 50% more people processing round the stones in the following hour – whether that’s what you intended or not.

Incidentally, it’s not just us who are concerned about this matter. See “UNESCO fears English Heritage will milk Stonehenge under pressure for cash”  and UNESCO’s specific warning: “Such pressure may result in lowering expenditure, such as specialized or expert personnel, maintenance, standards of archaeological curation, etc., and also in increasing revenues: by channelling in more visitors for shorter times….”

Some people opposed the imposition of parking charges at Summer solstice and say the whole cost of staging the event should be borne by English Heritage. They call EH “greedy” for thinking otherwise and accuse them of treating Stonehenge like a “cash cow”. Up to now we’ve been broadly on EH’s side on this – they are short of money (which has implications for the welfare of hundreds of heritage sites, not just Stonehenge) and the cost of financing the annual solstice party is a great burden – so why shouldn’t the attendees contribute? (A few dozen Druids maybe not, but thousands of party-goers, yes.)

However, the question arises: is there a limit to the amount of money that EH should extract from Stonehenge without becoming vulnerable to the accusation they are using the monument disrespectfully as a cash cow? It is prompted by this, their current planning application for improved parking: If approved, it is hoped that these changes, plus an improved drop off/pick layout at the Stones, will create a more flexible service, providing up to 900 visitor journeys in each direction every hour at peak times – compared to the current maximum of 600.

That implies that at peak times there will be 900 people processing round the stones every hour, an increase of 50%. Will that be just too many? Will the Stonehenge visitor experience be eroded to an unacceptable extent? If 900 is considered seemly, what if parking could be extended further, would 1,900 be OK? As guardians, shouldn’t EH announce what they think is a reasonable limit lest the jibes about Stonehenge being like Disneyland come true by incremental steps?

Is 50% more than this OK?

Not exactly “splendid isolation”!  Planned for next year: 50% more than this. And thereafter….. ?  Shouldn’t a definite top limit be announced?

Some say so (see Google!) and in April 2009 Stephen Bayley of The Guardian dubbed them “a muddled magic kingdom”. He cited, inter alia, the elaborate “recreation” of a garden that was built for a 19-day visit of Elizabeth I in 1575 which went ahead “on no sound scholarly basis” and was “more Walt Disney than David Starkey” which Simon Thurley nevertheless described as “a really successful experiment”. That sort of attitude, spending shedloads of other people’s money without listening because it knows it is right has become all too familiar, right up to the recent example at Tintagel.

The latest, and most eye-wateringly expensive debacle is the purchase and now abandonment of the Stonehenge land trains in favour of buses. The claim that they were privately financed seems rather economical with the actualité but it’s a fair bet we’ll never hear exactly how much money was lost. What IS absolutely true is that not a penny of it would have been if they hadn’t been so insistent that they were right and all those who said otherwise weren’t worth listening to. Less arrogance, more listening to the public seems to be the lesson to be learned (and we don’t mean “fake” consultation exercises!) As proof that listening can actually save money, here’s what we wrote in April 2010 which, by their actions, they now fully agree with:

So…. why not just use buses? These days there are as many environment-friendly innovations applying to them as to land trains – electric, hybrid, low-impact, you name it. And in addition, they are arguably just as or more flexible, inexpensive, safe, weatherproof, robust, long-lasting, reliable and easy to load – and they have a pretty small turning circle (hence require only a small footprint near the stones). Half a dozen of those and the job could be done – with no expensive, exclusive maintenance agreements with manufacturers, no equally expensive “custom built” elements – and let’s face it, buses are rather well-tested technology so they’d definitely give a high degree of reliability.

[More background from Tim Daw here]

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The clue's in the name....

The clue’s in the name….

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