It’s easily forgotten that Stonehenge is owned by the public alone and English Heritage is only licensed to administer it (or indeed, to have anything to do with it) until April 2023. That means English Heritage has the mandate to do no more than write a brief and inconsequential page in the long history of Stonehenge, not an enduring one.

And yet, it is trying to achieve a truly profound change in which Stonehenge will be hidden from tens of millions of travellers, not just until 2023 but forever!

What does this say about a heritage organisation’s understanding of the broad sweep of history beyond its own petty span and its understanding of the fleeting significance of mere quangos? Here’s a teeshirt we’re thinking of marketing that makes the point nicely. Anyone want one? £11 each. Proceeds to charity.

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Sir Antony Gormley has said he fears that planned improvements to the A1 south of Gateshead will have a “heartbreaking” impact on views of his sculpture the Angel of the North and that it would need to remain “100% visible” to retain its significance. In response, Highways England says it will try to “mitigate” the loss.

By contrast, the Stonehenge tunnel won’t merely have a heartbreaking impact on the view of the stones experienced by tens of millions of travellers, it will entirely eliminate it!

Plus, they insult the public by offering the silliest mitigation possible: “But it’s not the whole story. By removing the old A303, walkers, cyclists, and horse riders will be able to see Stonehenge whenever they like using a new dedicated public right of way being created along the route of the current road.” Yet walkers, cyclists, and horse riders already can see Stonehenge whenever they like so it’s ridiculous to offer that as compensation for the loss of the free view for tens of millions of travellers!

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This bit of nonsense, putting a mask on the Long Man of Wilmington, “as a joke” …

… has prompted lots of “official” condemnation.  It’s “an affront to those who maintain this heritage asset for the enjoyment of all” [The Police] and “We’re incredibly saddened that someone has deliberately damaged the Long Man of Wilmington” [Simon Dowe, chief executive of Sussex Archaeological Society}.

On the other hand, crass and unfunny though it is, it happens to be reversible whereas 20,000 detectorists not reporting their finds is also crass and unfunny but also massively damaging, and in every case entirely irreversible. So where’s the cacophony of official condemnation of THAT?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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by Nigel Swift

The UK is to revise the definition of treasure “to protect its rare artifacts“! That sounds like great news. But is it? People who keep and hide nationally important objects that belong in museums unless they are paid are to be offered even more ransoms? Wouldn’t “rewards” in such circumstances be better described as “Yobs geld” and the proposal to increase them as Yobs geld Extra?

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So the term “treasure reward” misleads. But there’s more: “Authorities hope that an expanded definition of treasures will prevent many amateur finds from being illegally sold into private collections.” Who told them to write that?

The reality is that nighthawks and those who wish to defraud farmers can now take an even larger range of criminally sourced important artefacts to metal detecting rallies and there legally “find” them, thereby laundering them by findspot description and claiming even more rewards from the taxpayer. See? Yobsgeld Extra will increase nighthawking.

And so our British talent for damaging our own interest continues. Anyone care? Anyone told DCMS or APPAG?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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We begin our look at the Cumbrian circles with one just across the border in Lancashire, that holds sad memories for me personally. 

Some 5km south of Ulverston, and just 0.5km from the coast, on the SE side of Birkrigg Common lies the Druid’s Circle. There are fine views from within the circle across Morecombe Bay.

The ‘circle’ is unusual in that it consists of two roughly concentric stone rings. The inner ring is some 8.5m across, and is made up of 12 stones. None of the stones are higher than 1m above ground level. The outer circle with a diameter of around 24m is much less distinct, composed of around 20 much smaller stones.

Excavations in 1911 identified that the area within the outer circle was paved with cobbles. Within the inner circle was a  second paved area, buried below the first.

Druid’s Circle plan, after Burl.

I visited this circle twice in 2005. The monument is easily accessible from the road, a fact which spoiled my first visit, around Midsummer. A family had set up camp, within the circle. Their van was parked within the outer circle along with their tent, and their family belongings were spread across the inner circle. Needless to say I didn’t stay, and in my naïveté failed to inform the authorities of the desecration. On my second visit in the October, the circle was clear, but there was a large bare patch in the centre with evidence of fire damage. Needless to say, the activities witnessed on both these occasions are highly irresponsible, and as the area is a scheduled monument, almost certainly illegal. 

It’s not just English Heritage that talks the public engagement talk while shutting down the public’s ability to engage (by hiding the “Turner View” of Stonehenge). It’s also that other tunnel-supporting public engagement pretender, the National Trust.

Here’s the very last image captured by the Avebury webcam on 5 May 2004. The camera had been mounted on the outside of the Old Chapel overlooking the centre of the circle in 2002 by Kennet council but was repeatedly vandalised. After a gap we were informed that it would be reinstated in the summer of 2005 and would provide new images every 10 seconds as well as a facility for live streaming if required. We suggested that if it was angled a little higher and 24/7 coverage was provided then moonrises could be observed.

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It never came back. But now The National Trust owns that chapel so there’s every opportunity to set it up again, inside the building, where it couldn’t be vandalised. Thousands of people all over the world would enjoy it and isn’t that the very least the organisation which owns the Avebury World Heritage site and which constantly boasts it is there “for everyone forever” should provide? Or is hiding Stonehenge AND Avebury from the wider public the Trust’s preference?


We first published this article in 2019 but since English Heritage hasn’t yet taken the bait we thought we’d repeat it. You can never embarrass them too much!.

 


 

TWO Stonehenge webcams to be set up?

English Heritage has placed a webcam in the centre of Stonehenge! As a result, as they say: “Celestial sun-seekers can now enjoy a personal Stonehenge sunrise all year round”. Bravo!

Also, they’re putting a second one at the very place Turner painted his iconic panorama of the stones within their landscape and beneath an enormous sky, to compensate for the fact that vista will be hidden forever from travellers by the short tunnel scheme.

Ed: That last bit is a lie. Did you really think a body blinded by its own pompous, elitist certainty would want to compensate tens of millions of ordinary people for the loss of the iconic Turner vista? Plus, putting a webcam where Turner stood would involve admitting they’re supporting the loss of an immensely precious and irreplacable cultural asset, and you’ll never, ever hear English Heritage, Historic England or The National Trust confessing to that.

 


 

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Not a view worth bothering about, eh?

 

(We also have something to say about a webcam needing to be provided by that other public engagement pretender, The National Trust. Watch this space later on this week.)

 

Despite the pandemic and the parlous state of national finances, expensive reforms to the Treasure Act are imminent and the public is being misinformed about them.

Here are four true headlines and one truth:

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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(First published in the Journal 10 years ago)

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“I stood with my feet upon the Stone Age and saw myself four thousand years away and all my distresses as very little incidents in that perspective.”

From The Secret Places of the Heart by HG Wells, 1923.

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