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Press release from HOOOH, 8 October 2015, Attention: Immediate
World War 1 commemoration made ‘bargaining chip’ in hillfort housing bid
A major World War One commemoration is in doubt after being used as leverage for housing in the shadow of Old Oswestry hillfort, campaigners have revealed. English Heritage hoped to excavate WW1 practice trenches on the hillfort plateau in 2016 as part of a special programme of national events marking Britain’s First World War centenary. The project was set to research the relationship and activities linking Old Oswestry, Park Hall military camp and Oswestry-born, WW1 poet and soldier, Wilfred Owen, who was stationed at the camp in October 1916. It is thought that Owen trained on the hillfort’s practice trench network which replicated those used on the Western Front during the First World War.
But correspondence acquired through Freedom of Information by campaign group, HOOOH, reveals that the project hit problems during negotiations with the planning consultant and farmer behind the housing bid. Referring to the commemoration in a letter in November 2013, J10 Planning wrote to English Heritage’s estates manager: “My client would be delighted to support your aspirations, but feels unable to agree being positive until such time as he has managed to obtain support from your ‘whole’ organisation in respect of the development and betterment proposals. I trust you appreciate the difficult position my client therefore finds himself in.”
HOOOH understands that English Heritage will need the farmer’s permission to carry out the dig on the hillfort plateau which he tenants for cattle grazing. But according to latest information, campaigners say that the project remains on hold until agreement is reached.
Historic England (formerly English Heritage) has opposed two out of three proposed housing sites on farmland abutting the hillfort in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan. However, it has signed a statement of common ground with Shropshire Council agreeing development on the third site, known as OSW004, subject to master planning conditions. Campaigners are shocked and disappointed that the proposed housing appears to be standing in the way of a poignant and important WW1 commemoration that would reinforce Old Oswestry’s heritage legacy. John Waine of HOOOH said: “This is a WW1 commemoration project of national significance with the potential of bringing huge value for Oswestry and the deeper understanding of WW1 history. Sadly, it appears that without the farmer’s permission, Historic England remains unable to excavate a trench on the hillfort plateau. Should this kind of negotiation, bartering WW1 memories for profits, play a part in a supposedly transparent planning procedure? Does it not completely undermine the integrity of the process? We believe so.”
“The project has already been severely held back. If it’s going to happen at all, Historic England needs to crack on. HOOOH calls upon Historic England, the farmer and Shropshire Council to publicly state where they stand on this keynote WW1 project. We hope that common sense will prevail.”
HOOOH also points to recent press comments by Historic England underplaying the significance of views across land south-east of the hillfort in defending its acceptance of development at OSW004.
Rosie Ryder of Historic England said: “In the case of Old Oswestry, after careful consideration we decided that the views to the west, north and east make a greater contribution to its significance than views to where the council’s proposed site would lie, because that view looks directly towards the town.”
HOOOH says this rejects evidence it presented at the Inspector’s public hearing which clearly articulated the heritage significance of Old Oswestry’s relationship with the Iron Age tribal centre of The Wrekin to the south-east, and the ancient roads in this direction that Old Oswestry was located to protect and control.
Neil Phillips of HOOOH said: “You have to wonder whether Historic England might be taking this stance just to salvage the WW1 dig.”
The archaeological excavation of a section of the practice trenches was set to uncover both WW1 history as well as pre-history giving insights into the origins of the 3,000 year old hillfort. The last archaeological excavation on the hillfort was carried out in 1939-40 by Professor William Varley.
Old Oswestry’s network of WW1 practice trenches is one of few examples of its size and complexity that has survived complete. Even now, the trench layout can be clearly seen from aerial photography revealing its impressive scale and detail.
Based on other archaeological evidence, it is known that further extensive practice trenches exist elsewhere within the hillfort’s hinterland. The trenching catered for well over 4000 soldiers at any one time during the First World War.
*HOOOH: Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort
Kate Clarke on 01691 652918 or 07835 924069 or John Waine on 07972 113619
An open letter of objection by 12 leading British academics of archaeology can be viewed here: http://www.britac.ac.uk/news/news.cfm/newsid/1209
- FOI document can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/ppzd73e
- Recent press comments by Historic England here: http://tinyurl.com/psjl9jg
- HOOOH’s (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) evidence on heritage views can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/nmxju65
- Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action in November 1918, is believed to have written the poem ‘Storm’ while stationed at Park Hall Camp in the shadow of Old Oswestry.
- World War I sites are considered archaeologically significant, a view that is being reinforced as we mark the centenary of this most poignant period of world history.
- As part of the 2014-2018 Centenary, Historic England has initiated a major project to record the colossal ‘footprint’ left by the First World War on the fabric, landscape and coastal waters of England.
- HOOOH has been waging a two-year campaign against housing allocations in Shropshire Council’s SAMDev local plan that could open the floodgates to town growth into Old Oswestry’s ancient landscape.
- While two out of three sites were removed in February 2014, the largest for 117 houses (OSW004, off Whittington Road) remains following examination by government- appointed Inspector, Claire Sherratt. She is expected to submit her final report on the plan to Shropshire Council during October 2015.
- After objecting to OSW004 following public consultation on SAMDev’s ‘soundness’ in April 2014, Historic England has since signed a Statement of Common Ground with Shropshire Council agreeing to development subject to conditions mainly concerning design and layout.
- Campaigners have threatened a judicial review if Shropshire Council adopts SAMDev with OSW004 included, and is currently in talks with a planning lawyer.
- Situated just north of the Welsh Marches town of Oswestry, Shropshire, the Iron Age hillfort of Old Oswestry dates back to 1000 BC.
A guest article by Heritage Action member Jamie Stone.
Several years ago with fatherhood looming on the horizon, I had the great fortune to have to move to the Peak District to be near family. It’s not that I was lacking in prehistory in Somerset where I lived, living fifteen minutes walk from a hillfort and ten mins from the second largest stone circle in the country as I did, but the Peaks is something else. The eastern moors have mostly escaped modern farming leaving a landscape of bronze age fields, with associated barrows, cairns and stone circles, whilst the white peak’s more intensively farmed and mined landscape, still has several long barrows and many round barrows, not to mention a henge or two.
After a couple of years getting properly acquainted with the Peaks by myself, I started to look about online for similar minded local types to go for walks with and to bounce ideas and potential sites off and found very little unfortunately so I decided to start a group on Facebook; Peak District Prehistory. With a stated aim of a “Group to discuss prehistory in the Peaks; Sites we’ve been to, can’t find and/or organise meet ups.”, a bit of shameless promotion on a few prehistory website forums and 2 years on, we are a motley crew of just over 100 members. We natter a bit, share weird carved rocks and unusual sites we’ve encountered, delight each other with great pictures of prehistory in the Peaks and generally promote and protect the scarce and precious resource we share with the wider community.
Two weeks ago saw the latest in a series of organised bimbles or leisurely walks, sorted out via the medium of Facebook using the group. This time around was Gardom’s Edge, or more precisely the shelf between Gardom’s Edge and Birchen Edge, an area used from the Neolithic to the Iron Age and beyond, with evidence of Bronze age fields, standing stones, rock art, hut circles, an enigmatic row of pits and an equally enigmatic bronze age/neolithic horse shoe shaped enclosure. The walk took in most of that and more, with us chewing the fat over a 3 mile walk which took about 5 hours to complete including a lunchtime picnic next to a replica of the most impressive piece of rock art in the peaks.
If you have an interest in Peak District prehistory and would like to talk about it with like-minded types, please feel free to join our Facebook group. We have plans for many more bimbles over the next few years which we would love to see you on.
A recent gorse fire on Carn Brea, near Redruth in Cornwall, could provide an opportunity for further investigation of this interesting site. The fire – cause currently unknown, but arson is suspected – covered an area of around 3 hectares on the night of 26th May. The gorse (which burns easily and gives off a lot of heat – it was a source of fuel in past times) had grown quite high and dense in the affected area, and strong winds hindered firefighters attempts at controlling the blaze. I was actually in the area only last week, and Carn Brea is a well know landmark, providing good views on a clear day to an extensive section of the north coast of Cornwall, from Godrevy to St Agnes.
Carn Brea was first investigated in the early 1970’s by a team led by Roger Mercer, and their findings led to a new site classification: the Early Neolithic Tor Enclosure. Dating from nearly 6000 years ago, stone walls were built up between outcrops of the granite bedrock to form defensive enclosures around the top of the hill. Signs of early habitation were found, in the form of ‘lean-to’ buildings against the insides of the enclosing walls. In addition, up to 700 leaf-shaped arrowheads were among some outstanding finds – evidence of a past attack on the settlement. Nearby outcrops of rock suitable for manufacture as axes and edge grinding stones, blanks and incomplete and finished axes found on the site suggest the settlement was used for the manufacture and trading of tools. These investigations showed that the east end of the hill was the focus of most activity, whilst the fire was on the northwest flank, which was most heavily covered in vegetation. The hill displays evidence of human use almost continually since the Neolithic, with mining, quarrying and the building of a monument and a castle in more recent times.
Whilst gorse fires are dangerous, and damaging, the eco-structure tends to recover quite well from such events and the clearance factor can open up the landscape to inspection where before only vegetation was visible. It is to be hoped that the opportunity will be taken (once fire investigations have completed) to further survey the area in the weeks to come.
For more information about Early Neolithic Tor Enclosures, see Simon Davies’ excellent paper (PDF link)
Update (1st June): The blaze, which covered an area equivalent to 10 football pitches, destroyed gorse, heather and bilberry and it is estimated that the area will take ‘years’ to recover, according to the environment manager at Cornwall Council. Nesting birds, small mammals and reptiles were among the casualties of the fire, which was apparently started by a disposable barbecue.
Next month in Worcester there’s a Practitioners Forum on Prehistory and the National Curriculum. It is “An initial meeting open to everyone who is interested in supporting schools in delivering the the National Curriculum topic of Prehistory for Key Stage 2. This is a big leap for schools, especially since most teachers will never have learned prehistory themselves.” More prehistory in schools is a theme we’ve been banging on about since the day we were formed (see Reclaiming Prehistory which pretty much comprises our founding statement, written by one of our members in May 2004, almost 10 years ago) so it’s great to see some of the developments that have come about in the past few years (excluding PAS’s reprehensible resource showing kids how they can use a metal detector to grab stuff of course).
A few years ago in our Inside the Mind series we asked Julian Richards what he’d say to Parliament if he could address them for 30 seconds and he said “I would ask why school pupils in this country are taught nothing about their pre-Roman heritage”. At about the same time English Heritage’s draft Research Strategy for Prehistory explained how education about sites is key to their preservation ….
The same document also quoted the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group which noted that prehistory didn’t feature in the English school national curriculum and remarked that “the UK is the only European state to neglect prehistory in this way”. But now thank goodness things are changing and there are a number of initiatives connected with educating children about their local prehistory. It was interesting to see there were children amongst the attendees at Oswestry Town Council’s recent meeting about Oswestry Hill Fort and even the Council welcomed the fact. Maybe the Heritage Cycle is working!
There are also some great Prehistory teaching resources out there, things to excite kids of any age, including us. Perhaps the best is “a Teachers Index on Prehistory” called “Show Me” which says “We show you the FUN stuff from the UK’s museums and galleries”. Who could resist some of their news stories – “Woolly Rhino Skull Found In A Digger Bucket”, “Could Hobbits Have Been Real After All?” and “Should the setting of Oswestry Hill Fort be messed up?”.
That last one’s a lie of course, but it does beg the question, just how political should education about local prehistory be? English Heritage says education promotes preservation (“by understanding the historic environment people care for it”) so should the National Curriculum be actively promoting preservation or coyly skirting round the issue of whether building houses close to monuments is damaging them? Maybe the Worcester Forum will issue a closing statement on the question!
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
“Environment Secretary” is such an inaccurate term to describe Owen Paterson – for hardly a week goes by without him angling to damage it.
Just last week he was doing the dirty on Oswestry, despite it being his own constituency, refusing to get involved in the issue of whether the Hill Fort’s setting should be damaged and saying these things are best decided by local councillors. As if !
This week he has returned to his previous theme of biodiversity offsetting. But it’s a new and nastier form of it – he thinks there should sometimes be an option for developers to be allowed to destroy ancient woodland if they agree to plant many more new trees elsewhere….
Maybe we’re misjudging him, but isn’t it strange that every single decision Mr Paterson makes in defence of the environment involves opportunities for the Government’s developer-friends to make loads and loads of wonga!
PRESS RELEASE – THE SUSTAINABLE TRUST CARWYNNEN QUOIT
A LEG UP FOR THE GIANTS QUOIT!
Despite appalling weather, our relentless volunteer diggers arrived on Monday morning to start working the site at Carwynnen Quoit, prior to the restoration of the first stone. An eleven day community dig will expose the socket for the stone, and further investigate the area to the rear of the monument. A new trench is being opened further up the field. The excavation will be carried out in the same manner as the autumn 2012 dig, with a small Historic Environment team leading the volunteer team.
We have an official open day on Sunday 27th October, between 10.30 and 4pm where you can engage in a free guided tour, and see an exhibition of the work so far. There will be demonstrations of ancient technology and experimental archaeology with Sally Herriett. She looks forward to introducing you to her unusual world, and sharing her passion for all things Prehistoric, presenting artifacts and demonstrating Flint Knapping. At 2pm she will be describing her work especially for children.
We are trying to preserve the grass in the field for as long as possible, so it would be appreciated if you would park in the campsite next door, or walk over from Treslothan Church (15 mins). If you remember Carwynnen Quoit before or after it fell in 1966, come and share your memories with us. The film on our giantsquoit.org homepage made use of some recordings we made during the last phase of the project. A second film is in production and we welcome your contribution to our collection of local memories. On 31st, at around 10.30am, at Samhain or All Hallows Eve, we intend to restore the first upright stone and you are welcome to come and watch. In Spring we will continue the restoration. A time capsule will be buried. If you have any suggestions for its contents, let us know!
Pip Richards – email@example.com
Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology – do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.
This is the first of in an occasional series in which we ask members and readers (including you if you would like!) to give us a brief impression of their very earliest encounters with ancient sites. First up is Founder Member Graham Orriss…
I’m certain I’m not alone here, but as a child, I didn’t appreciate the wealth of ancient history I had access to. In fact I found the whole idea of “history” quite a boring one! I had no interest in it whatsoever. Which was a shame, as my friends and I were regular visitors to such amazing sites as The Five Knolls, on Dunstable Downs. My Dad frequently took us to the hillfort at Totternhoe Knoll for a run around; the chalk pit at Sewell, which houses part of the ramparts of Maiden Bower; Ivinghoe Beacon… I had no idea what any of these things were until long after I’d moved away from the area.
The trouble, as far as I can see, is that Dunstable (the town that I grew up in) was very important in Roman times, where it was known as “Durocobrivae”. Therefore, anything prior to the Roman’s arrival was pretty much glossed over in the classroom.I have vague memories of mentions of prehistory, but there was very little. Sadly.
I rarely have an excuse to go back there nowadays. I had a great childhood, running around these sites with no knowledge I was doing so. I’d love to see what I enjoyed as a child through adult eyes; see what I missed. Maybe it’s a good thing. I enjoyed them in my own way without hindrance, as I now enjoy them as an adult with respect.