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The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) is the only official, up to date, register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England – listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, and battlefields.

Sounds good, no? And in even better news, as recently reported by the BBC, the NHLE has recently had an update, with 17 new sites being added – including an industrial estate, a business park that “features circular forecourts following the turning circle of a car” and a Crown Court building which first opened in 1988.

Whilst we’re sure that these are all worthy in their own way of their place on the list, we can’t help but wonder about the omission of some much older sites, many of national importance.

Elizabeth Dale, a friend of the Heritage Journal, recently highlighted some of the very important omissions which are in danger of being lost to development on her blog: see “Our Defenceless Monuments.”.

And World Heritage Site status doesn’t afford any more protection to unlisted sites within the boundaries than to those outside of it. Blick Mead is a case in point within the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS area, it remains unprotected by scheduling and in danger of being damaged (if not totally obliterated) by the groundworks for the planned tunnel at Stonehenge..

Whilst, in theory, anyone can nominate a site to be scheduled, there does not seem to be an easy way for a member of the public to find how to actually go about this. For instance, searching on Google for Scheduled Monument Application brings up many links, most of which refer to Scheduled Monument Consent – which is something entirely different and is a way for Developers to apply for permission to work within and around scheduled monuments. But if an application is put in, to suggest scheduling and protecting an unlisted site, even nationally important sites are scheduled only if it is felt that this is the best means of protecting them!

And yet a “car turning circle” merits inclusion in the list! We sometimes despair…

Protected: Aztec West Business Centre, South Glocs.

Unprotected: Trevean Courtyard Settlement, Cornwall

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Where heritage and development collide - the odds are stacked against the archaeology

Where heritage and development collide – the odds are stacked against the archaeology

At Bancbryn the archaeological establishment set about trashing the idea that the alignment of stones separating two scheduled cairn cemeteries could be important. Before waiting to see any evidence, the possibility of it being significant was being privately and publically dismissed. Over the months that followed its discovery, various outlandish alternative interpretations backed by spurious “facts” were offered and then silently withdrawn. Important files were shredded, correspondence ignored, evidence avoided and reports buried. Interestingly the various organisations do not apparently see that any of this represents a problem.

Presumably, this is because this is simply business as usual. This whole mess helpfully provides an insight into the way Welsh heritage is regularly carved up by those entrusted with its care. No matter what camouflage is deployed; these organisations are primarily concerned with enabling the controlled destruction of the historic environment. Over the years they have cleverly created the illusion that they are in the protection and conservation game – however the facts at Bancbryn and elsewhere in Wales betray their true role. Cleverly worded reports and excuses are their stock in trade – all designed to ensure the controlled and unimpeded destruction of our archaeology. After all if the “expert” at Cadw says something is not really that important, then surely it must be true? Well no. The Cadw “expert” is very unlikely to have the necessary expertise to assess its importance properly, but on the other hand they are extremely likely to have the prowess to write the sort of report suited to the desired outcome. By these means archaeological sites are regularly sacrificed on the altar of progress and economic development.

To avoid any uncertainty or confusion, Cadw are part of the Welsh Assembly Government and are entrusted with the role of ensuring that the government’s development initiatives are not jeopardised by inconvenient archaeological remains. Cadw’s position within the Welsh Assembly severely limits their abilities to be the honest broker and instead their role is often to ensure the smooth and orderly destruction of the historic environment. To do anything else would be a risky strategy indeed. With all this in mind the Bancbryn debacle sadly makes complete sense and was inevitable.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

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On the island of Hoy in the Orkneys a massive sandstone boulder (8.5m long by 4.47m wide) sits stranded like a whale at the bottom of a steep cliff. This stone is called the Dwarfie Stane and at some time in the past a tunnel was cut into its western side and a small chamber formed inside the rock. Up until 1935 a broad consensus had emerged that the chamber had been formed to provide accommodation of some sort. However, during a visit to the stone in the summer of 1935 by Charles Calder of the Royal Commission and a Professor Bryce a brand new, a revolutionary idea was born… “that the Dwarfie Stane is the first and only example in the British Isles of a completely rock-cut tomb of the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age”. The evidence to support this radical departure from the established interpretation was two analogies from the Mediterranean, some parallels in “intervening countries” and “certain features in some of the monuments in Orkney itself.” The full justification can found here, but essentially comparisons were made with rock-cut tombs in the Mediterranean and with some of the much closer stone built tombs on Orkney. Calder emphasised the significance of the Dwarfie Stane saying at one point that it may even be more interesting than Maeshowe because it is “absolutely unique”.

The “Absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

The “absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

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Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

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Actual evidence to support this appealing interpretation is however wholly lacking, but despite this, the site information board boldly states “It was actually a tomb, related to the many chambered tombs found through-out Orkney”.

So in Scotland uniqueness is celebrated or at the very least acknowledged as existing, whilst in Wales anything perceived as not precisely fitting the mould is summarily dismissed. When I asked a Cadw officer what they thought the Bancbryn stone alignment might be, they provided no answer and instead stated that they did not believe it could be prehistoric because Welsh alignments “Are characterised by much larger, upright stones in significantly shorter lengths”. Even if this was true (and it is not) this is not a remotely sound reason for dismissing the alignment. Diversity is at the heart of archaeology and Cadw’s failure to recognise the possibility of differences in the character of the archaeological resource is truly alarming.

At Bancbryn we do not need to go as far the Mediterranean to find precise parallels – they exist on the other side of the Bristol Channel and to ignore them as Cadw have done is both astonishing and indefensible.

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Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

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Bancbryn (green) sits comfortably within the part of Great Britain where single long rows composed of smaller stones are found. It seems peculiar that Scottish archaeologists are happy to accept parallels from the Mediterranean to help them understand their archaeology, but Welsh ones struggle to recognise those on their own doorstep.

Reference

Calder, C.S.T. and Macdonald,G.,1936, The Dwarfie Stane, Hoy, Orkney: its period and purpose. With a note on “Jo. Ben” and the Dwarfie Stane’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 70, 1935-6. Pgs. 217-38.

Remember we said Oswestry Hillfort would have been safe in West Oxfordshire or West Sussex? Now  you can add East Sussex too: “the Secretary of State also agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion that the scale of development proposed would have a harmful effect by eroding the existing clear sense of separation”. “A clear sense of separation” – which monument doesn’t deserve that? The massive one at Oswestry, it seems, even though The Heritage Impact Assessment said otherwise: “the  most  important  physical  element of  the  setting  is  the  belt  of  agricultural  land  which  surrounds  the  hill  fort  and is  perceived  as  part  of  the  monument”. (Note: belt, not crescent.) But this is Shropshireland. A decent gap (or even a derisory one) is bloody inconvenient – for how can you build on it? 

So is that why the document then does a triple backward summersault? “Any  suggestion  that  development  per  se  is  harmful  –  that  the  view  would  be ‘spoiled’  –  is  untenable,  since  this  would  not  be  a  response  based  on  a rational  assessment  of  impact  on  significance” and “Development of  the  site  is  a  logical  extension  of  the  urban  fringe,  and  the  montage  shows that  it  would  create  a  positive  edge  to  the  land  which  surrounds  the  hill  fort.” See? Keeping a gap would be “untenable” whereas building on it would be “logical” and “positive”. Amazing eh?

Plus, (lest you doubt this is part of a deliberate Shropshireland act of monumenticide) see this from section  7.2.46: “At  night,  the  orange  glow  of  street  lights  is  the dominant  feature,  and  the  hill  fort  is  not  visible.”  Why mention the sun goes down? You can’t get more blatantly pro-development than by dragging up the fact the hillfort is invisible in the dark (and invisible monuments don’t need green gaps!)

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The hillfort at night (or with your eyes closed).

The clues that there’s something rotten in the state of Shropshireland have long been there. It’s not just the inconsistencies with other authorities. It’s the fact there were also early signs. Below is the Oswestry Town Plan from back in 2013 – “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people”. See how tightly it is drawn and ask yourself why it is offset so it’s more generous to the North and miniscule on the town side…..

oswestry-plan.

Then take a look at this, the subsequent development proposal. Oswestry Town Council opposed it. What a shame they didn’t realise earlier that the circle was so small it left a crucial gap – not for the monument but for the developers …..

oswestry-gap

[Finally, you might think that having realised the 2013 green circle was too small and had left a crucial gap for developers which they regretted, Oswestry wouldn’t have included the identical plan in their Town Plan 2020. But you’d be wrong. The implied open armed invitation to developers to come in and wreck the setting of the hillfort for grubby financial profit at public heritage cost is still there. Who was behind that convenient lack of change? No prizes for guessing.]

The Dismal Repugnate of Shropshireland eh? What an amazing place, so different from West Oxfordshire and West & East Sussex. Maybe the Government should take direct control?

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.]

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

The arrival of the Welsh online resource for scheduled ancient monuments means that we can now see what is scheduled and what is not in England, Scotland and Wales. The new Cadw website shows us which parts of Wales are scheduled and provides some information together with reasons for the decision. Access to the various monuments is via an easy to use zoomable map and within a couple of clicks the information is available.

CADWMap

Compared to the Scottish and English sites the amount of information is very limited and a love of the copy and paste facility has unfortunate consequences.

Most worrying, however, is the phrase used to introduce each monument. In almost every instance the text starts “The monument consists of…”. This is a potentially dangerous choice of words as it implies that any archaeological features not mentioned in the text are not included within the scheduling.  Elsewhere in Britain the term “includes” is used and therefore ensures protection of any overlooked elements. This may seem pedantic but the effect maybe to seriously undermine the purpose of the legislation designed to protect our archaeology.

A second point of concern is the uncertain tone expressed in the documentation. Caveats abound in the descriptive text with for example the words probable and probably liberally scattered around. Whilst we all accept that uncertainty comes with the archaeological territory, these are primarily legal documents written to ensure the protection and management of important archaeological sites. In this context it is surely unhelpful to emphasise the uncertainties. After all a landowner reading that a pile of stones of stone on their land is only probably a Bronze Age cairn might think that it would probably be OK to remove it or at the very least take less care of it. Indeed the Schedule of Ancient Monuments should only include those sites considered to be of national importance, so why the constant insistence on emphasising the uncertainty?

Compared to the Scottish and English contributions this web resource does not compare favourably. It feels like a rushed job designed to meet a target and the large numbers of typos betray a lack of attention to detail. But please do not take our word for it. Have a look for yourselves:

Côf Cymru – National Historic Assets of Wales

Historic Environment Scotland

Historic England

The army is building some new houses at Bulford, a couple of kilometers from Stonehenge and they’ve discovered a couple of 5,000 year old neolithic henges. The houses will still be built but a green space containing the henges will be left untouched.

By contrast, not far away and very soon, it is intended that bulldozers will dig out the entrance trenches to the “short tunnel” inside the World Heritage Site. There will be a host of archaeological sites in that area and you’ll have heard that the line chosen will minimise the impact on them. It’s important to understand though, that if two more henges (or ten, or anything else, no matter how precious) are found to be “inconveniently” placed, the line of the road won’t look like this….

fantasy

No, it will look far more like this, it’s a certainty. Any diversion will be marginal or impossible so “minimising the impact” means about as much as a politician’s promise.

actual

That in a nutshell is what the Stonehenge Alliance and others are upset about. So please sign their petition if you haven’t done already. The road lobby, you see, wearing the smiling professional face of EH, HE and NT, is likely to be far more ruthless than the army.

The Oswestry carve-up of the public’s heritage (courtesy of the developers, Shropshire Council and  English Heritage/Historic England) continues apace. The latest reminder of just why development shouldn’t be happening near the hill fort comes here, a list of no less than 14 reasons its setting should be sacrosanct. Each of them is compelling but we thought we should highlight one in particular. Dirty tricks are well known chez Shropshire but this one doesn’t even try to hide itself.

Oswestry carve up 3.

….. A “hub for artefact finds” with “over 100 findspots reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme” yet here’s a photograph of a man from the BBC and the leader of HOOOH and the Director General of the Council for British Archaeology contemplating a sign that now ensures no further finds will be unearthed until permission has been well and truly secured. How is that different from telling the police you’d rather they didn’t dig up your patio? Answers to Historic England.

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Oswestry carve up 2.

As if to prove the theory that graffiti begets graffiti, one of the stones in the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor has been carved into yet again. The damage was spotted on Wednesday by a local who has informed the Police.

May 2016 damage to a stone at Nine Ladies - Credit: Emma Gordon

May 2016 damage to a stone at Nine Ladies – Credit: Emma Gordon

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May 2016 damage to a stone at Nine Ladies – Credit: Emma Gordon

This is the third time in a couple of years this site has been targeted, yet again seemingly by an ignorant visitor to the site. Perhaps its time for the authorities to consider more proactive measures including cctv to stop such flagrant abuse.

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