Stonehenge trip

Each day this week the Heritage Journal is asking English Heritage for transparency in relation to their management of Stonehenge. Today we ask English Heritage about safety at the site.

We understand that an ‘anti-slip’ surface is proposed for the pedestrian route between the Stonehenge Coach Park and the Visitor Centre, but we have also heard with alarm that visitors have suffered accidents and injuries including fractures at the site. It is then  appropriate to ask EH: what else are you  doing to combat health and safety issues that have arisen at the site? It is concerning, to say the least, that we even have to ask and we feel there is a degree of irony in the fact that human remains are conspicuously displayed at the site, against the wishes of many of the public, whereas contemporary accident and injury data remain conspicuous only by their absence. When can the public expect this anomaly to be rectified?

If you have a question you would like English Heritage to answer about their management of Stonehenge, send it in to the Journal, if publishable we will see what we can do!

For other questions put Stonehenge Questions in our search bar.

Stonehenge transport

Each day this week the Heritage Journal is asking English Heritage for transparency in relation to their management of Stonehenge. Today we ask about the transport arrangements.

Dear English Heritage, We see on 27 July you applied to vary the planning permission granted for the Visitor Centre (S/2009/1527/FUL), revising the drop off details “to facilitate use of buses in addition to land trains”. And yet back on 7 April EH, you are cited by the media as stating of the land trains: “They have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back. The land trains are being serviced and will be offsite for several weeks while we also take the opportunity to look at design improvements.”  The land trains were then replaced with buses months ago, unless of course they are set to make a return, and the introduction of buses was just about accommodating “increased visitor numbers” as your planning application states.

Perhaps then EH  could you make a few things clear please: we would like to know exactly how much the land trains cost in total, exactly why they were withdrawn, why they are now being stored off site, how much this is costing each month, who ultimately is picking up the tab, and are they being brought back or are you sticking with buses?

If you have a question you would like English Heritage to answer about their management of Stonehenge, send it in to the Journal, if publishable we will see what we can do!

For other questions put Stonehenge Questions in our search bar.

A tanker collecting sewage from the Visitor Centre

A tanker collecting sewage from the Visitor Centre

Each day this week the Heritage Journal is asking English Heritage for transparency in relation to their management of Stonehenge. Today we ask English Heritage – when are you please going to make a public statement about the toilet and sewage problems arising since the opening of the Stonehenge Visitor Centre?

The new Visitor Centre scheme was designed to cope with surface water and foul drainage, but on the very first day of opening there were problems apparently with the toilets. Recently a fleet of portable toilet trailers were installed alongside the Visitor Centre, in the wake of which it seems the toilets still smell and a local suggested that jet cleaning has been taking place.  The pong has otherwise featured in online commentary, and a regularly visiting taxi driver quipped it was induced by the shock of the entry fees. The whiff was even noticeable in the membership reception area after heavy rain, despite being off the wind tunnel admission area.

What then are these toilet problems and what has caused them? Are they exacerbated by increased visitor numbers and parking areas, and is it just after heavy rainfall? How are measures to tackle these problems being funded, and where has the foul waste been ending up during these difficulties? Indeed, is there a threatened impact on the River Avon Special Area of Conservation and the River Till SSSI that is legally protected under the European Habitats Directive?

If you have a question you would like English Heritage to answer about their management of Stonehenge, send it in to the Journal, if publishable we will see what we can do!

For other questions put Stonehenge Questions in our search bar.
 

Digger at work on the former A344 in daylight within sight of the stones top right.

Digger at work on the former A344 in daylight within sight of the stones top right.

Each day this week the Heritage Journal is asking English Heritage for transparency in relation to their management of Stonehenge. Today we are asking for a full and frank disclosure regarding the contaminated topsoil.

English Heritage (EH) has stated that topsoil contaminated with asbestos was recovered at night to overcome disturbance to the visitor experience in proximity to the stones, but what of the disturbing effects of the failure to openly inform the public? Had this operation not come to the media’s attention, would the public know even now? Was scrap metal such as barbed wire, and glass including broken bottles not also present in the contaminated topsoil? When are the public going to learn about the content and origin of this topsoil material?

The public deserve a full disclosure declaring the discovery, extent and content of the contaminated topsoil on the former A344, listing the nature and hazard posed by all materials that were present, whether the entire area was recovered, what remains, and exactly when and how long this operation took. May we have this please?

If you have a question you would like English Heritage to answer about their management of Stonehenge, send it in to the Journal, if publishable we will see what we can do!

For other questions put Stonehenge Questions in our search bar

digging at Stonehenge

Sunday 9 August 2015

Having maintained a silence for over a decade about damage to the stones at Stonehenge, it is in addition now known that English Heritage (EH) failed over the course of a year to inform the public about asbestos imported into the World Heritage Site. Compounding these long silences, EH somehow manages to avoid full frank public disclosure when confronted by the media. Which gives rise to various questions – not least why are EH inherently silent about the management of the site and what else are they being less than transparent about?

From tomorrow, Monday 10 August 2015, the Heritage Journal will be posing questions every day for a week – urging English Heritage to be transparent, issue full statements about matters of concern to the public and come clean when responding to the media.

(If you have a question you would like English Heritage to answer about their management of Stonehenge, send it in to the Journal, if publishable we will see what we can do!)

To see the questions put Stonehenge Questions in our search bar

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When at Stonehenge always use our Conservationometer.

When at Stonehenge always use our Conservationometer.

This week there have been two examples of why it’s important.

First, following the revelation that asbestos was dumped at Stonehenge, the Open Access to Stonehenge group has polled its members about whether the organisation should be “part of an official investigation into pollution of the WHS”. Hmmm. Every summer solstice Stonehenge is “polluted” with litter and sometimes far worse. It wouldn’t happen if OATS members and others weren’t resistant to calls for restricting numbers inside the stones so that adequate control can be achieved. Until they do so it seems a tad pretentious to be wanting to be part of an investigation into other forms of pollution.

Second, while the Stonehenge Alliance got their own message across in the press, (“anything shorter than a 2.7-mile (4.3 km) tunnel would cause “irreparable damage to the landscape”) somehow English Heritage and The Natonal Trust were portrayed as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them: (“English Heritage and the National Trust have also given their support to the option of “the longest tunnel possible”).” Er, not exactly. Those two bodies may well have said that, which suggests they too are supporting a 2.7 mile tunnel, but the dreadful reality is that they have both indicated they are also prepared to support a shorter, damaging tunnel!

Fact

Tinkinswood burial chamber, in South Wales, was built nearly 6000 years ago. The capstone, at around 40 tons weighs almost as much as a fully-laden 18-wheeler articulated lorry! The basic design of the site classifies it as one of the Cotwold-Severn group of burial chambers.

It was first excavated in 1914 by John Ward, Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, when over 900 human bones were discovered – it is estimated these were the remains of between 40-50 people. The vast majority of the bones had been broken, but the mix of ages and sex suggests use of the site by the entire community over an extended period.

The Tinkinswood of today is very different to that prior to the excavation, as extensive ‘restoration’ work was carried out at that time:

  • a brick-built supporting pillar was inserted into the chamber
  • the courtyard supporting walls were rebuilt, using a distinctive, and not at all authentic, ‘herringbone’ pattern to the brickwork.
  • the rectangular mound and external revetment wall have been trimmed and generally ‘prettied up’, allowing easier interpretation of the site by visitors.
  • the entire site would have originally been covered by an earthen mound so that no stones other than the courtyard entrance would have been visible.

Tink4

In 2011, a local community project undertook a further excavation to learn more about the monument and it’s setting. Their project blog makes interesting reading for those interested in more information about this fascinating site!

There’s a petition here  and a BBC report here In the words of the petition: “Purbeck District Council have said that the gorgeous woodhenge at Worth Matravers will only be able to stand until September 2015. This beautiful structure not only draws people into the area but is loved by the majority of people in the village. Think of it as a piece of art, a slice of our history or just a beautiful part of the stunning local landscape. We can make a positive difference to the local area by petiitioning Purbeck District Council to allow it to stand for longer.”

Worth Matrav henge

It’s a very British dispute. The petition is not calling for it to stay forever, merely for “longer” and the gentleman who built it is full of, well, gentlemanlyness: “It was a bit of fun”…. We used 35 tonnes of timber and made it as an installation, as a feature on the landscape. The council has not been unreasonable with me at all, when I asked if we could have a couple of months they agreed. I have no issue with them at all over this.” Most locals seem to love it and want it to stay longer. Tim Arnold, of the village’s Post Office Cottage bed & breakfast says “I think it is a fantastic thing to do, it is a piece of art as far as I am concerned. I don’t have an issue with the council but this is definitely a piece of art, a local sculpture, and that should be respected.  It is a shame for it to be pulled down. I’m not saying it should stay there permanently but maybe for a year or two.”

We agree. In a world where planning laws are flouted with impunity by greedy developers it seems a great shame that the regulations can’t be bent a bit for something that is self-evidently temporary and “gorgeous” and very popular.

A couple of years ago, we took a Heritage Drive through Herts, Cambs and Essex, on the way passing the Leper Stone at Newport, a short distance south from Saffron Walden in Essex. We recently had an opportunity to revisit the area and take a closer look at the Newport Stone.

The stone, which is the largest standing sarsen in Essex, is situated on a grass verge on the east side of the B1383, just north of the village of Newport. The River Cam flows just a few metres further to the east. I’ll admit up front that the origin and age of the stone is in some doubt – was it raised in prehistoric times, or  is it medieval? The St Mary and St Leonard’s Hospital was a lay establishment founded nearby by Richard de Newporte during the reign of King John (1199-1216) and was thought to have been a leper hospital, but no definite proof of this exists. Nevertheless, the stone is said to have been used as a ‘trading point’ for the hospital, where goods or alms would be left for the victims. There is a small depression on top of the stone where money may have been left washed in water or vinegar as payment, though it has to be said that many similar ‘plague’ stones with depressions in the top have identical stories behind them, many without any basis in fact. In this case, the hospital did exist, and stones from part of the old hospital can still be seen built in to the modern wall by the footpath.

Newport Stone from the south, showing the older blocks in the wall alongside.

Newport Stone from the south, showing the older blocks in the wall alongside.

There is of course no surefire way of dating the stone and its current setting, but the fact it is set upright (an unusual position for glacial erratics to come to rest) points to it’s having been purposefully placed. I can find no record of any excavation though it is likely that the stone has been disturbed, and possibly moved, not least when the modern road was laid. Perhaps it was originally placed as a marker stone for an easy crossing across the Cam? Unfortunately there is no mention of the stone on O.S. maps from the mid 1800’s up until at least 1923, though the site of the hospital is marked. So either it’s a comparatively recent placing, or the O.S. ignored/missed the stone and concentrated on the hospital site.

An interesting item in the Essex Field Club Journal from 1884 (v4 p95) suggests that the area exhibited signs of habitation, in the form of worked tools, from before the last Glacial period i.e. before the stone would have been deposited by the glaciers:

Mr. Greenhill thought, with those who had taken up the study, that there was no longer any question as to the comparative age of these implementiferous deposits compared with the Glacial period. During the winter he had travelled down by road to Saffron Walden, to examine all possible sections in the Lea and Stort Valleys with this object only in view, and at Newport, in Essex, he had found an implement which equalled in elegance of form anything that was upon the table that evening. It was now in the possession of the Head Master of Newport Grammar School. He (Mr. Greenhill) immediately went to the spot where this implement was obtained*, and satisfied himself that it had come from a position under what was there known as the Chalky Boulder Drift. There was plenty of proof that the men who used these implements were living, at least, in inter-glacial times, and, indeed, in pre-glacial times. The implements which he had brought to the meeting were entirely pre-glacial—that was to say, they dated before the last Glacial period.

I wonder whether the implement in question is still held at the school?

Newport Stone from the north.

Newport Stone from the north.

Speaking of marker stones, the village has another stone of note slightly further south near to the train station. In this case the stone is puddingstone, a conglomerate stone which was often used to mark crossing points at rivers. indeed there is the theory of a prehistoric ‘Puddingstone Trail’, set forth by Dr Rudge and his wife based upon their research into puddingstones in the 1950’s. They suggested that a “Puddingstone Trail” predating the Romans may have been waymarked stretching from Grimes Graves in Norfolk to Stonehenge in Wiltshire. More information on the Puddingstone Trail may be found on the Megalithic Portal web site.

INSULT

An Irish archaeologist has just responded angrily on an Irish “detecting forum” to someone posting details of a protected site: “For those of you who are unaware, metal detecting is an illegal practice in the Republic of Ireland, and an Garda Síochána and the National Monuments Service have been notified of your post. I, for my part, am engaging in regular study and geophysical investigations at this site, with the explicit granted permission of the landowner, as it is private property, and I will immediately report any suspicious activities to the relevant authorities. You have been warned…… I would strongly advise that you do not post Irish sites in this fashion again”.

Is that overkill? An insult to innocent amateur archaeologists? Well, here’s the case for saying it was: Irish metal detectorists aren’t breaking Irish law against metal detecting as they aren’t searching for archaeological  objects and the forum makes that crystal clear: “WE DO NOT DETECT FOR PROFIT OR ENGAGE IN SEARCHING FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL OBJECTS OR TREASURE OF ANY KIND”. Hence, if any of them unearths metal archaeological items while searching for metal items it’s purely by accident. Irish metal detectorists are all entirely innocent of lawbreaking and it follows that posting details of a protected site can’t possibly have negative consequences. Obviously.

Of course, on the other hand, you might not believe, but can’t prove, that they aren’t all only looking for Coke cans and tractor parts and that in reality ARE looking for archaeological artefacts, which would make them common criminals and bare-faced liars using a tricky smokescreen. (Some of them!) If that was so then it’s perfectly reasonable to think some of them would be prepared to do the same thing on a National Monument, in which case the archaeologist wasn’t wrong to complain. He was right. You decide (and that applies to the British archaeologists who have lent their names and reputations, wittingly or otherwise, to a video promoting the legalisation of Irish metal detecting).

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