We continue our, now long-running, ‘Inside the Mind‘ series with a peek into the head of author and historian Craig Weatherhill.
Craig is an author, historian, novelist, artist, and an authority on the Cornish language. He worked for many years as a planning officer for West Penwith and has undertaken a number of surveys for the Cornwall Archaeology Unit amongst others. He lives near St Just and plays an active part in many activities celebrating the Celtic revival of Cornwall and its people.
The Ten Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
When I was “discovering” prehistoric monuments on the West Penwith Moors at the age of eight, and finding that my school couldn’t tell me anything about them. I was the sort of kid who had to know, so I set out to find out. I never stopped!
How did you get started?
In 1971, the late Vivien Russell produced a catalogue list of known archaeological sites in the Land’s End peninsula (which is stuffed full of them). I realised that few of these sites had ever been recorded by means of accurate measured and drawn surveys, so I tasked myself with doing that. I surveyed over 300 sites, from large to small before professional archaeologists were ever appointed in Cornwall to do that. And they were paid to do what I was doing for nothing.
Who has most influenced your career?
The late Vivien Russell that I’ve mentioned, and the late Peter (P.A.S.) Pool, both outstanding local archaeologists and historians and who became close friends. I still feel very sad at losing them both in the 1990s. Peter was also a champion of conservation in West Cornwall, using his legal training to take on the mighty and win. Also, the work of Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, who I met for the first time recently. What a thoroughly nice man he is, too!
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
My survey of all (then) known Late Iron Age courtyard house sites, which are confined to the Land’s End peninsula, with a single example on Scilly. It had been called for in the 1930s and no one had done it. This sort of work was a spare-time pursuit, so it took me 4 years. Sadly, it was never published, but a copy can be found in the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth. It would now need updating and adding to.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
It sounds rather parochial of me, but it’s the courtyard house settlement of Bosullow Trehyllys, north-east of Chun Castle. It’s an amazing site, with such an atmosphere of peace which is so hard to find in the modern world.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
Never having been able to make archaeology a professional career. I couldn’t open doors: no letters after my name, you see. And I’d upset “English” Heritage. Several times. I was the old Penwith Council’s Conservation Officer from 1988-98, in charge of listed buildings and conservation areas, but that wasn’t the same.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
I’d abolish the national quango “English” Heritage which, in Cornwall, has been an ongoing disaster. It cares only for the “honeypot” sites it manages and for nothing else. It suspended all new scheduling in West Penwith in 1987, lied about that for years, and has never resumed to this day. In any case, there’s no call for a financially irresponsible two-tiers of administration in the heritage field. I would devolve all its responsibilities and funding to existing county and regional heritage agencies, on the grounds that you can’t do better than local knowledge and the deep love and respect for the sites and monuments that results. I feel exactly the same about the natural environment quango, Natural “England” which, like EH, has caused great damage to local landscapes and habitats in recent years – and to archaeology too. NE’s activities in West Penwith damaged the scheduled Tregeseal stone circle no less than 13 times in 5 years, with neither of the quangoes appearing to care.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
Exactly the same as I’ve said in my previous answer.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I’ve gloriously retired a year early from freelance architecture, but I never really had an archaeology/heritage career. So, I do what I’ve always done: research and write.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
My favourite relaxations include reading and playing music on a mellotron, that legendary, haunting keyboard instrument from the 60s and 70s, and made famous by bands like the Moody Blues. I finally managed to acquire one 3 years ago after decades of wanting one. They’re quite rare and difficult to play effectively. I’ve even played it on three songs recorded by others. The most rewarding relaxation I have comes from my lifelong love of horses and riding them on the moors and cliffs of West Cornwall. My current steed, Shogun, is a fabulous guy, a gentle giant who stands at 17.3 hands high and is truly amazing to ride and work with.
We’d like to express our thanks to Craig for being so forthright and passionate with his answers.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.