Salon Archive

Issue: 118

Forthcoming meetings

The final meeting of this academic year will be held on 23 June and will take the form of a Miscellany of Papers followed by the Society’s popular and sociable Summer Soirée, tickets for which can be obtained (costing £5) from Nina De Groote on 020 7479 7080; email: .

Obituaries

Salon is sad to report yet another life prematurely ended with the death of Professor John G Evans, who was a Fellow from 1974 until his resignation in 1994. John was widely known in British archaeological community and made a great impact upon archaeologists and archaeology alike in his own inimitable style and maverick way: anyone who frequented the London Institute of Archaeology in the 1970s will remember his office door: where other doors might sport a postcard or photograph to indicate the obsessions of the occupant, John’s door was decorated with a highly realistic snail trail (formed from UHU glue) which led to a tiny chalk-white shell — quite probably the erstwhile inhabitant had eaten its last meal some 4,000 years ago in a ditch near Stonehenge. It was in this office that John researched his PhD thesis on the use of land mollusca as indicators of the environment of ancient man.

His Land Snails in Archaeology (1972) established the study of snails as a standard analytical method in British field archaeology and generations of archaeologists have since been brought up on John’s other seminal works: The Environment of Early Man in the British Isles (1975), An Introduction to Environmental Archaeology (1978), Environmental Archaeology: principles and methods (1999; with Terry O’Connor) and, more recently, Environmental Archaeology and the Social Order (2003). John was involved in editing the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society from 1975 (vol 51) to 1994 (vol 60).

After completing his research at the Institute, John returned to his native Wales where he joined the Cardiff Archaeology Department, latterly as professor, before taking early retirement in 2002. John’s colleagues, Mike Allen, Charly French and Terry O’Connor, say that he will be fondly remembered for his individual style (‘including ejecting potted plants through opened pub windows because they were irritating to the eye’) but also for his guidance of and kindness towards the next generations of archaeologists. ‘His enthusiasm was infectious and anyone showing an interest in his work or challenging his ideas was in for a great experience of discussion, debate and banter’. John was, they say, ‘an old-fashioned field naturalist to whom nothing was less than interesting, and many things were a source of fascination and wonder. Working with John was seldom predictable, often exhausting, but always stimulating and mind-broadening.’

John’s funeral will be held on 28 June, at 2.15 pm, at the Thornhill Crematorium in Cardiff. There will be an informal reception afterwards to which everybody is very welcome.

With regret we have also learnt of the recent death of Lawrence Snell, FSA, local historian, who passed away on 3 June 2005, while on holiday in Lourdes.

News of Fellows

Our Fellow Stephen Harrison was awarded the MBE in recognition of his services to heritage in the Isle of Man in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Stephen is the Director and Chief Executive of Manx National Heritage (the Isle of Man’s statutory agency for heritage), a post he has occupied since 1984, having previously been curator of folk-life material at the Castle Museum, York, after working at the North of England Open Air Museum in Beamish, County Durham. Stephen said the award was a great tribute to the level of support that Manx heritage receives from the whole community, and that the preservation and promotion of that heritage has acted as a model for a number of other countries in Europe.

Stephen was the only Fellow to be honoured this year, but several other prominent heritage figures were also awarded honours: Lady Christian Margaret Smith, wife of our Fellow Sir John Smith, joint founders of the Landmark Trust, was awarded an OBE for services to heritage, and Kathleen Dalyell, lately Chair of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments for Scotland, received the OBE for services to the historic environment in Scotland.

Christopher Brooke, FSA, MIFA, has recently changed jobs. He is now the Deputy Director of Conservation and Property Services with the National Trust for Scotland but he also continues to be a Special Lecturer with the Department of History at the University of Nottingham.

Reactions, corrections and amplifications

Last week’s Salon ‘competition’ asked how many Fellows could identify the splendid enamelled quadrilobate harness mount that appears on the front cover of Vincent and Ruth Megaw's Early Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland (Shire Archaeology); internet gremlins were responsible for the wrong question being published: Vincent meant Salon to ask for ‘the find spot and current location of the cover subject’. The answers are Hambleden, in Bucks (not surprising, perhaps), and the Menil Collection, Houston, Texas (much more so). Mention of the popular and affordable Shire series allows Salon to recommend two other excellent and recently published titles in the series — Roman Villas by David Johnstone, and Irish Megalithic Tombs by Elizabeth Shee Twohig, FSA — and to mention that Prehistoric Astronomy and Stone Circles, by Aubrey Burl, FSA, will be published in Shire format very soon.

Back to the story about the bathroom at Bolsover Castle, featured in Salon 116: our General Secretary David Gaimster comments that a mid- to late seventeenth-century bathroom could not be called pioneering, as bathrooms (in a modern sense) are a Tudor introduction among the English elite and not post-Civil War. Excavations at Whitehall Palace revealed Henry VIII's bathroom with its sunken bath and ornate tile stove in the King's Privy Gallery (see D Gaimster in S Thurley, Whitehall Palace: an architectural history of the Royal Apartments 1240—1690, New Haven/London, 1999, pp 149—63) where the close combination of bath and stove suggests the creation of a hot steam bath. Continental emissaries to the court of Elizabeth I commented on the splendour of the bathroom at Hampton Court. William Harrison in his 1570s 'Description of England' remarks on the number of noblemen installing heated bathrooms 'to sweat in'. The blackened stone at Bolsover is perhaps related to a stove or hearth designed to create similar conditions, David concludes.

The final word on Babette Evans comes from Nigel Saul, FSA, who says that the proceedings of the conference to which she contributed her spellbinding paper ‘Litigation for proprietary rights: the case of the obstinate vicar’, mentioned in last week’s Salon, have now been published as St George's Chapel, Windsor, in the Fourteenth Century, edited by Nigel Saul (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2005, £45).

John Smith, FSA, wrote to Salon to say that his experience of obtaining a £306,000 conservation grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was not quite as daunting as Salon had led Fellows to expect in the last issue. He says that ‘our application took us a leisurely five years to prepare, and while I agree with the statement in Salon that the HLF application pack is intimidating, I do not feel it to be “combative”. Also, the intimidation of the pack was offset by an extremely helpful and encouraging input from the staff of East Midlands region of HLF and we had a slow but easy journey to success.’

John’s project involves the conservation of the archive of the Stamford Mercury newspaper, ‘arguably the oldest provincial newspaper existing in the country’. The paper was founded in 1712 and the archive has been maintained in the town ever since. There are approximately 600 volumes in the collection, most of them annual cumulations. The present owners of the Stamford Mercury, Welland Valley Newspapers Ltd, have donated the archive to a specially formed trust (of which John is the secretary). ‘The main work of conservation’, says John, ‘consists of re-housing the archive, on the same site, in a controlled environment, and carrying out work of conservation on the actual volumes. Rebinding will be kept to an absolute minimum and HLF has supported our minimum intervention approach. Future public access will be via newly purchased and commissioned microfilm, and we shall also be arranging tours and educational activities.’

Jean Wilson, FSA, wrote to say that she ‘does not see what relevance the number of her children has to the appointment of the new Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland’, reported in the last issue. ‘This sort of detail’, Jean writes, ‘is never given about men — please could we be spared it about women?’

Finally, Anthony Harding writes to point out that Salon misled readers by saying that the Nebra disc is on display in Halle at the moment; the Halle exhibition has now closed, and anyone who wants to see the disc will now have to wait until 1 July when a somewhat smaller version of the Halle exhibition opens at the National Museum in Copenhagen, remaining open until 21 October.

Archaeologists accused of being ‘droning experts’

Salon 117’s cri de coeur on behalf of the expert struck a cord with several Fellows who wrote to say how much they too regret the current trend to denigrate the expert. And yet there is another example of the very same trend in our own trade magazine, British Archaeology. The back page of the current issue carries an interview with Tim Taylor, producer of Time Team, who talks about the origins of the programme (a forgotten series of Channel 4 documentaries called Time Signs), acknowledges that the BBC’s Chronicle series pioneered many of the strands that make Time Team successful (such as reconstructions of ancient technologies) but claims that Time Team is unique because ‘we don’t let experts drone on’ and we have a ‘frisky attitude to information delivered from on high’. Instead of ‘boring experts’ we have Phil and Mick who ‘talk about archaeology in ordinary language’.

Salon’s editor thinks this does a grave injustice to the endless stream of articulate experts who appear in the programme week in week out, sharing their knowledge with clarity, lucidity and verve: Helen Geake, Francis Pryor, Neil Holbrook, Richard Reece, Guy de la Bédoyère, Tony Wilmott, Simon Thurley, Mark Horton, Jonathan Foyle, Lindsay Allason-Jones, Margaret Cox, Mike Parker Pearson — these are just a few of the experts who help to make Time Team the success that it is, almost all of them Fellows and not one of whom could be characterised as a ‘droning expert’. Quite a few of them were in action last week in the well-crafted Time Team Special on the Anglo-Saxon chamber tomb at Prittlewell (pity, though, about the programme’s title: ‘Prince of Bling’). Salon’s editor couldn’t help feeling sorry for the frost-nipped hero of the programme, Ian Blair of MoLAS, who dug the site so impeccably through horrendous winter conditions while the experts were all cosy and warm indoors. See more experts in action (and all of them equally gifted as communicators) when the Big Roman Dig comes to our screens from 26 June to 16 July.

Druids, rain, mud and Stonehenge — it must be midsummer

British Archaeology seems determined to be iconoclastic (and why not: archaeology is, after all, a subject that challenges accepted thinking); having taken Stonehenge as its theme for the July/August issue, the magazine has a provocative article by our Fellow Ron Hutton, Professor of History at Bristol University, on the history of mass gatherings for the solstice. These began much earlier than one might have guessed: the combination of cheap bicycles and the growing popular interest in astronomy resulted in large crowds turning up to witness the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge from the 1870s. The Druids put in their first recorded appearance in 1905 — so this year’s will be their centenary ceremony — but they were not the only religious group to claim Stonehenge as their temple: the Zoroastrian socialist George Macgregor Reid, founder of the Church of the Universal Bond (which later merged with Druidry), held rites in the circle from 1912, and clashed with police because they refused to pay the newly introduced admission fee.

Hutton sees archaeologists as the villain of the piece and as Jonnies come Lately, arguing that midsummer ceremonies at Stonehenge were well established before the Society of Antiquaries commenced excavation at the site from 1919 and began to claim Stonehenge for ‘scholarly orthodoxy’. Hutton accuses archaeologists of deliberately waging a war of propaganda against the Universal Bond, by alleging that the desire of the ‘Church’ to scatter the ashes of deceased members at the site would lead to the interment of whole bodies; they also began a sustained attack against Druidry and its claims to a special relationship with the monument.

To read the rest of his argument, you will have to buy a copy of the magazine (unless you already subscribe), but this is well worth the expenditure; amongst other absorbing articles in this issue is an insightful account by the editor, Mike Pitts, FSA, on the art of Alan Sorrell and his contribution to the image we have of Stonehenge, and several pictures of our Treasurer, Geoff Wainwright, looking like a latter-day Druid himself, hooded and wrapped against the Welsh weather as he surveys the bluestone quarry on top of Carn Menyn, in Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills, source of the dolerite and rhyolite pillars used by the builders of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge rebuilt

As well as being editor of British Archaeology, Mike Pitts is, of course, an expert on Stonehenge and in this capacity he is acting as consultant to the Channel Five project to build a full-size reconstruction of Stonehenge as it might have looked 4,000 years ago — what Mike himself calls the biggest piece of hypothetical archaeology ever seen! The replica, or ‘model’, is being made of 171 stones (made of polystyrene), painstakingly crafted in a Ministry of Defence hangar in Oxfordshire by a team of archaeologists. It will be transported to a Wiltshire location next week from where Channel 5 will broadcast two live programmes on 20 and 21 June at 7.30pm, including the staging of a solstice ceremony. Here are Mike’s own reflections on the project.

‘Having to answer the model-makers' many questions, such as what colour were the stones (who knows?), has reinforced for me how little the standing remains at Stonehenge have been studied. There is not even a chart of basic measurements, let alone a proper study of the carvings or the stone tooling (for which there is a variety of very interesting evidence). Are the lintels curved or straight on one side? Do the uprights taper by design? We just don't know. Given that the surfaces of the sarsens seem to be eroding (there are small spalls in areas of dense lichen growth), these are urgent questions that need addressing.

‘Yesterday around a dozen Stonehenge archaeologists met at the nearly finished model on the Wiltshire Downs, and vowed to do something about this research. We also took the opportunity to toast our friend John Evans, who died the night before (see Obituary above); John had initiated our understanding of the ancient Stonehenge environs with some key land snail studies.

‘All the megaliths are in place where I think they were, including a complete circle of bluestones but not, at least in sarsen, a complete ring of lintels. There is a half-size upright in the circle (stone 11) that has always been recognised but, apart from one drawing published by Edgar Barclay in 1895, never shown in any reconstruction illustrations. If it's an original part of the design (which I think it is: at the equivalent position at contemporary Woodhenge, amongst all the posts are two small sarsen stones) it cannot have supported any lintels. We came up with one possible solution — that has the advantage of being testable by excavation.

‘One of the people I brought to the Channel 5 film is Gordon Pipes, a Derbyshire carpenter with good ideas about how the stones were moved and erected. He's focussed on the sheer weight of the sarsens (around 30 tons, and 40 to 55 for the trilithon uprights) and reckons the popular rollers would not be possible. On Monday morning a review copy of Aubrey Burl and Neil Mortimer's new book arrived in my post: Stukeley's Stonehenge: an unpublished manuscript 1721—4 (Yale). To my great surprise, Stukeley described precisely the same method of moving stones as proposed by Pipes, what Stukeley called using “leavers [sic] in the nature of a galley oars”. We still have much to learn from old Stukeley, not least because his eyes were focused on the above ground remains that arguably we have overlooked since we started digging.’

English Heritage staff to go on strike

Stonehenge featured again in the news last week when the BBC reported that 500 English Heritage staff are to go on strike on 21 June to protest against job losses and what Prospect trade union official Dave Allen has described as ‘an imposed pay rise of 1.5 per cent’. Staff plan to walk out not only from Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall and other paid-for attractions but also from the English Heritage head office in London and several regional offices, including Swindon, York, Guildford, Cambridge, Newcastle, Manchester and Bristol. Staff based in northern England will leave their posts for two hours in the morning, while their southern colleagues will stop work between 2 and 4pm.

Battle cry from head of English Heritage

When those of us who attended the launch of the Heritage Counts audit last December heard our Fellow Neil Cossons tell the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that he profoundly disagreed with her view that a 5 per cent cut in the English Heritage budget was a good settlement, we all assumed that these were the brave words of a man about to exit from the job of Chairman, and who had nothing to lose (Sir Neil already has his knighthood). But Maev Kennedy, interviewing Sir Neil for The Guardian on 13 June, revealed that he is postponing his retirement and will stay on at least until the end of 2007. According to Maev: ‘One of the last actions of the Heritage Minister Lord Mackintosh, before he retired at the last election, was to persuade Sir Neil, a ferocious campaigner, to accept another half term as chairman, at the age of 66.’

The Chairman of English Heritage used the Guardian interview to expand in his belief that the mendacity of politicians is leading to ‘a dangerous situation, where many people feel alienated, cynical and convinced they are being lied to about major environmental issues crucially affecting their lives, including the proposed demolition of houses in the north of England. Popular suspicion, uncertainty, powerlessness and disbelief present a heady cocktail for protest and dissent, and a dangerous minefield for those who try to fashion public policy,’ Sir Neil Cossons said, adding that people now tended to view just about anything that this Government said in seeking to justify change as likely to be based on ‘doctrinal prejudice, falsehoods and faulty Treasury predictions’.

Sir Neil was being interviewed by the Guardian after a speech that he made last week in his capacity as President of the Royal Geographical Society, in which he spoke of ‘a new and crucial debate about the landscape of England, the outcome of which will determine whether the country remains civilised and habitable, and with good fortune improves, or declines into some alien environment offering none of the qualities of enlightenment that have sustained us for generations’. He said he intended his speech not as a prophecy of doom, but as a rallying call, adding that ‘I'm not a resigner. It's better to live and fight another day’.

Bulldozers move in on Liverpool

Last week saw a perfect example of the kind of falsehood to which Sir Neil referred in his interview. In the same week that a Government spokesman was to be heard on the Today programme denying as ‘scaremongering’ stories about the demolition of serviceable Victorian and Edwardian houses in the north of England, the Daily Telegraph reported that bulldozers had demolished homes in Hertford Road, Bootle, in an area of terraced streets built in the 1890s for the cotton merchants, doctors and master seamen of Liverpool. Officials said the demolitions were necessary ‘because criminals had been using the houses’, but the one remaining resident of the street, John Wilson, who lives at Number 32 Hertford Road, claimed the move was a deliberate act of intimidation. His house now stands alone in the street, flanked by two derelict houses left on either side for safety reasons. Mr Wilson is refusing to go until the Pathfinder scheme, set up to regenerate the area, offers him what he regards as a market rate for his house.

A further 320 intricately decorated Victorian terraced houses are scheduled for eventual demolition in the Queens Road/Bedford Road area of Bootle, despite the fact that the area has been designated by Sefton planners as being of local distinctiveness for architectural reasons. A report recommending the demolition of the area known as the Welsh Streets, including the house where the Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was born, has also been submitted to Liverpool City Council.

Mary Jo Joyce, a Bootle resident who has backed the families campaigning to save their streets, said: ‘The houses they are planning to build will have half the space at twice the price. They will look ugly and could have been built anywhere.’ Jo O'Connor, the chairman of Residents Against Demolition, said: ‘These are gorgeous houses. If you got one like them in London you would be talking about £1 million.’

Volunteer numbers: up or down?

Two summers ago Salon’s editor delivered a report to English Heritage warning that volunteering was in decline and that our dependence as a sector on volunteers meant that we needed urgently to counteract this trend by developing better practices for recruiting, motivating and managing volunteers. Mankind cannot bear very much reality, so when the report was eventually published, these challenging conclusions were turned on their head and the heritage sector was patted on the back for being rather good at recruiting volunteers. When the Home Office then published statistics last month showing that volunteering was at an all time high, the report’s author began to wonder why his research had led to such a different conclusion — though careful examination of the Home Office figures suggests that a rather creative definition of volunteering is being used that embraces anyone who might have offered to shop for an elderly relative or look after a pet while the owner was on holiday.

Now the National Trust has published a slightly more hard-edged and realistic report, called Vital Volunteers, which shows that volunteering is indeed facing a potential crisis, because fewer young people are participating: it says that only 4 per cent of current National Trust volunteers are aged under 35, and 59 per cent of National Trust properties say they are experiencing difficulty in recruiting new voluntary staff. The report is based on a survey of 2,000 of the Trust’s 43,000 volunteers and was designed to try and understand what sort of people volunteer, what roles they perform and how satisfied they are with their volunteering experience. Despite the concern about the potential decline in volunteer numbers, the overall picture is healthy: 43,000 volunteers already work for the Trust, contributing the equivalent time of 1,300 salaried staff, worth £16 million a year; 97 per cent of those who volunteer say they are satisfied with their experiences.

But Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, warned that ‘the issue of how to bring in younger audiences remains a challenge … it is clear where we need to commit more effort in the future. No volunteers means no National Trust and partnerships that can link to the wider community and create more opportunities to work with young people have to be a vital part of our strategy going forward. The National Trust is not alone in facing these challenges. As society continues to change, we need to keep refreshing our approach to volunteering to ensure future generations and people from all backgrounds play a role in their local community — enjoying its heritage and natural beauty.’

Skills shortages threaten England’s historic buildings

It is not only volunteers that are becoming an endangered species. According to last week’s report published by the National Heritage Training Group, England’s historic buildings are under threat because of a shortage of skilled craftspeople. Backed by English Heritage, the research found that over 86,000 people currently work within the built heritage sector in England, but nearly a quarter of contractors have outstanding vacancies. With the workload ever increasing, the industry needs to recruit an additional 6,500 people in the next twelve months just to meet immediate demand. Specifically, the current built heritage workload requires an additional 500 speciality bricklayers, carpenters and slate and tile roofers, 400 joiners, lead workers and stonemasons, 300 painters and decorators, 300 thatchers, 200 lime plasterers, around 140 wattle and daub craftspeople, over 100 glaziers, over 80 clay dabbins craftspeople, and almost 60 cob builders and dry-stone wallers. Worse still, heritage crafts are in such steep decline that smaller numbered and more vulnerable craft skills — such as drystone walling, thatching, millwrighting, earth walling, and flint-knapping — could disappear completely within the next twenty years.

As a response to these statistics, the National Heritage Training Group has developed a Skills Action Plan to address skills shortages and encourage more people into the sector. The main
aspects of the plan include: campaigning to raise the profile of vocational training and the built heritage sector and to attract more young people to pursue careers within it; securing funding for a heritage conservation qualification at NVQ Level 3 and adult apprenticeships; developing a rolling programme for ‘Training the Trainers’ to improve delivery of conservation, repair and maintenance at NVQ Level 3; supporting the development of an approved network of training provision based on regional training centres.

Commenting on the report, our Fellow John Fidler, Conservation Director at English Heritage, said: ‘Not only does it produce yet further evidence that heritage conservation skills are at risk, but uniquely it puts forward an action plan to tackle specific problems. The message is very clear: it is time for joined-up thinking and concerted action across the construction industry, the built heritage sector, educational establishments, careers organisations, funding bodies and government departments to tackle a vital issue that is at the heart of sustaining two things which people hold very dear in this country – beautiful historic buildings and the craftsmanship that maintains them.’

The full report can be downloaded from the National Heritage Training Group website.

School buildings under threat

The Government’s attempts to modernise schools in England could pose a threat to important historical assets, according to a new position statement published by English Heritage. The statement is a response to the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme, which aims to rebuild or renew every primary and secondary school in England within the next fifteen years. English Heritage rightly fears that this initiative will have a significant impact on buildings that ‘have long occupied an important cultural and usually very visible place in cities, towns and villages’. The paper goes on to offer guidance that, if followed, should ensure that the objective of providing better school buildings is not achieved at the cost of a school’s contribution to local character and identity, the core message being: repair, refurbish and reuse existing buildings; do not demolish and replace.

Draft code of conduct for the care of human remains in museums

A group of museum curators, chaired by our Hedley Swain, has published its first draft of a code of practice for museums holding historic and ancient human remains in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The draft code has been produced as a response to the Department of Culture’s report on the Care of Historic Human Remains, published last year, which called for the museum sector to establish a voluntary code of practice.

Amongst other considerations, the code gives guidance on handling requests for the return of human remains from UK museums, saying: ‘It is expected that in the majority of examples human remains would be returned to genealogical descendants, or that consent would be required from them for any further use by a museum of remains.' Claims based on cultural links, rather than genealogical descent, would generally be expected to demonstrate 'a continuity of belief, location, customs and language' between the claimant group and the community from where the remains originate before return would be considered.

The drafting group is asking for comments and reactions to the code by 1 July: a copy can be downloaded from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council website.

Museums Association publishes ‘Collections for the Future’ report

The Museums Association has sparked off what it hopes to be a productive debate about the future of museum collections in the UK by publishing a wide-ranging report full of ideas and proposals for changing the way that museums think about and use their assets.

In his introduction to the report, our Fellow, Charles Saumarez-Smith, the President of the Museums Association, writes: 'This report … shows that all museums can make better use of their collections … the time is right for substantial change in the way museums think.’

The document reports on the results of an eighteen-month inquiry into every aspect of collections management, with input from over 500 organisations and individuals. It looks at a range of solutions for getting more material out of museum stores and into the public domain. One proposal is that there should be many more loans, and many more temporary exhibitions in the UK outside of the major cities. Another is for museums to lend parts of their collections to community groups, such as prisons and schools; the Museum of Reading is applauded for sending out 20,000 objects in 1,500 ‘themed boxes’, ranging from ancient history to biology. A third idea, practised, for example, by the Museum of London, is to open up the museum store to public access storage, so that visitors can make an appointment to tour and study the museum archive and store.

Publication of the report is seen as the beginning of a process of exploring ideas for making more active use of collections, and this year’s MA conference will be devoted to the same theme. Many of the report's suggestions are based on existing practice, while others are described as needing further development. The MA hopes to secure funding to run a number of pilot projects to explore some of the report's more radical proposals.

Mark Wood, the Chairman of the Museums, Archives and Libraries Council, warmly welcomed the report, calling it a ‘timely and challenging analysis … the UK has some of the finest museum collections in the world, and people should be given every opportunity and encouragement to enjoy them. We need to get objects out of storage and on display. MLA will look at models to further increase museums' loans capacity — perhaps even, in the longer term, to extend loans to other public places such as libraries, schools, town halls or shopping malls. We want to make more opportunities for people to enjoy major exhibitions and national collections wherever they are, and will continue to liaise between national and regional museums to achieve this. Digitisation also has an important part to play in opening up museum collections to more people, and MLA is leading the drive for online access.’

He went on to say that MLA wanted to work with museums to consider collecting for the future, as well as preserving the past. ‘We need to develop and secure funding for sustainable long-term acquisitions strategies so that twenty-first-century treasures — contemporary art, entertainment, technology, biosciences — are preserved’, he said. ‘At the same time, however, we need a realistic approach to museums' existing collections and take a critical look at the objects we hold in storage, especially those which are unlikely ever to come to light or be used for research. MLA intends to review disposals policy, working with the MA on clear guidelines and processes for ethical disposal. This would help museums facing difficult choices about disposal and provide a national safeguard to ensure that the UK's collections are not compromised.’

For a copy of the report, go to the Museums Association website.

New Subject Specialist Networks for museums’ collections

One idea for making better use of museum collections has already found favour with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), which is making funds available for the creation of Subject Specialist Networks, which will pool resources and share artefacts so that they can be displayed in new and creative ways. Nearly £250,000 has been awarded in grants to projects that will bring together ancient Egyptian collections across the country, archaeological archives, sporting artefacts, collections of relevance to minority ethnic communities, rural life collections, ceramics collections and collections linked to theatrical productions and the history of theatre.

The lead organisation for the Egyptology Network is UCL’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (in association with the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, at the British Museum), and the project involves collating information about ancient Egyptian collections from some 200 museums. Sally MacDonald, Curator for UCL Museums, said: ‘We’ll be able to find artefacts excavated from the same site that have been split up and have ended up in collections all over the country. There’s lots of hidden treasure and some people don’t know what they’ve got. We will find out where the biggest collections are, where conservation work needs to be done and where there are a number of artefacts but no knowledge about them.’

The lead organisation for the Archaeology Network is the Society of Museum Archaeologists (care of the Museum of London), and the aim is to complete the Archaeology Collecting Areas Project, which will clearly identify which museums will have responsibility for which archaeological archives generated by fieldwork in England. The result will consist of a map to be used by museums and archaeological contracting units in improving clear communication between archaeologists and museums. Hedley Swain, Head of Early London History and Collections at the Museum of London, said the project is about ‘refining existing information to identify museum collecting areas’.

Grants have also been awarded to seventeen museums to enable them to explore other Subject Specialist Networks that could be funded over the longer term, including British cartoons, comics and caricatures, children's literature and illustration, screen heritage, public transport and medicine and healthcare. Further information is available on the MLA website.

An engraved Neolithic plaque from Leicestershire

Our Fellow Patrick Clay has sent news of the discovery of a Late Neolithic plaque engraved with a face from a pit that ULAS (the University of Leicester Archaeology Service) has been digging at Rothley near Leicester.

Patrick writes that ‘the plaque is made of finely grained sandstone, probably derived from the local Mercia Mudstone deposits. It was broken in antiquity, but enough survives to suggest the original design would have been symmetrical, with a stylised face set within a rectangular frame. The face motif was executed with near-parallel lines while the frame was of a slightly broader and deeper line. The eyes are formed by two double concentric rings with curving eyebrows that link to the frame, while the nose is formed by a slightly squashed lozenge with a linking chevron that forms the cheek. There are slight traces of a mouth, probably formed by another lozenge.

‘A preliminary examination of the associated pottery suggests that most of it is Grooved Ware of Woodlands style, including many highly decorated pieces. While there are examples of other engraved plaques with Grooved Ware associations — for example from Amesbury — figurative art appears to be unique. Eye and eyebrow motifs are paralleled on the Folkton drums, which also have the opposed bar chevrons and lozenge used on the face panels in the Rothley plaque.

‘In the same pit were several thousand finds, including decorated pottery sherds and lithics. Another small pit produced another placed deposit comprising calcined flint and animal bone, Grooved Ware from a single vessel, a large stone rubber and a ceramic ball (golf ball size). The lithics included a flint axe that had been completely calcined by intense heat to the point of exploding. Rothley is one of a number of Grooved Ware sites found in recent years in the East Midlands. The material provides further examples of structured deposition and intentional destruction — for example the deliberate breaking of the plaque, the burning of flint artefacts and animal bone, and the flaking of axes. These acts might perhaps be interpreted as an act of closure to the habitation role of the site.’

A Venetian victory for the Landmark Trust

Many Fellows will be aware that the Landmark Trust, SAVE and other UK heritage bodies have been campaigning against plans to build a new autostrada in the Veneto along a route that will severely compromise the setting of several Palladian villas. The campaign has, after more than a decade, finally reached a head with the ruling by the Veneto Regional Administrative Court that the proposal for the A-31 Valdastico Sud motorway violated established law and constitutional policy. The Venetian judges censured the road planners for failing to take cognisance of environmental impact surveys and the opposition of the Italian government’s own Department of Culture and Environment, and for basing their plans for the road on an ‘a non-existent district planning policy’, and on a flawed economic model.

The judgement has the effect of annulling all decrees relating to the road, and means that the planners cannot now go ahead with their intended compulsory purchase of land from more than 900 individuals whose property lies on or beside the planned motorway.

Environmental campaigners in Italy and in the UK were jubilant, saying that the judgement was ‘a genuine breath of fresh air for those who have the future of our environment and the law at heart’.

American Civil War submarine found

The English explorer, Colonel John Blashford-Snell, is reported to have discovered the half-submerged, cast-iron wreck of a unique submarine, which might have been the one that inspired Jules Verne to create Captain Nemo's vessel, the Nautilus, in his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. The vessel was built in 1864 by Julius Kroehl for the Union forces during the American Civil War. Called Explorer, she was never used in the conflict and was subsequently taken to Panama where she was used to harvest pearls.

She was ideal for this purpose because of a unique lock-out system, identical to the one in the Nautilus from Verne’s book, published in 1870. The lock-out system is a reversible air-lock that enables submariners to leave the vessel, harvest pearls from the sea-bed, then return to the submarine.

Blashford-Snell, who runs the Dorset-based Scientific Exploration Society, said the vessel’s whereabouts had been known for some twenty years, but until his team dived to examine the wreck nobody knew quite how old it was. The submarine measures 36ft by 10ft and is lying in under 10 feet of water off Isla San Telmo, an island in an archipelago known as The Pearl Islands, where it was abandoned after three years in the pearl industry.

Iron Age boat conserved in sugar

An Iron Age dugout canoe found buried in sediment at the bottom of Poole Harbour in 1964 is to go on public display at the Poole Waterfront Museum after spending ten years being preserved in sugar solution. The canoe dates from about 300 BC and is one of the largest logboats of the prehistoric period to survive. It was probably made for use in the harbour because the draft is too shallow for it to be used in the open sea and its length would have made it awkward to manoeuvre on local rivers.

The canoe was made by splitting an oak trunk measuring 32ft (9.75m) by 6ft (1.8m) that weighed up to 12 tonnes. The trunk was hollowed out and the bow and stern were then carved into it. It would probably have been propelled by paddle and is likely to have been used to ferry goods and passengers from sea-going vessels to the shore. It is estimated that it could carry two to three tonnes of goods and up to a dozen people. Trading ships are believed to have moored alongside a recently rediscovered causeway that linked Green Island to the mainland.

Fishy Antiquity

Eating shellfish in the wrong season makes you ill, but early people of the Andes seem to have courted the effects of oyster poisoning to gain out-of-body experiences, according to Mary Glowacki of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, who writes in the June issue of Antiquity about Spondylus, or the ‘thorny oyster’, highly prized by the Andeans as ‘Food of the Gods’. She argues that its potentially hallucinogenic effects may have been sought after as the ‘quintessential conduit to the gods through human spiritual vision’. Fish also feature in an article on East Timor, where Sue O’Connor and Peter Veth discuss the implications of a recently discovered shell fish hook that has been dated to about 9,700 years ago. It shows that a complex fishing technology had developed on East Timor at least 5,000 years before the Austronesian expansion through the islands of south-east Asia. For a full list of the contents for this issue, visit the Antiquity website.

£92m investment in Welsh industrial past

Good news comes out of Wales this week, where more than £92m is to be invested in transforming the industrial heritage of south Wales, from Carmarthenshire to Monmouthshire, over the next ten years. The plans were announced by Herian — Heritage in Action, a public and voluntary-sector partnership made up of thirteen local authorities plus Cadw, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and British Waterways. Herian has audited 230 sites which could be developed under the ten-year-plan; the aim is to invest in schemes which are designed to ‘unlock the economic and community value of south Wales's rich industrial past’. Examples include the redevelopment of abandoned railways and canals as walkways and cycle routes and the opening up of hundreds of currently unrecognised and largely unused sites for tourism. Jeff Pride, director of Herian, said: ‘this is all about telling the story of an era when Wales led the world’.

£4m Heritage Lottery cash to help two London mansions

Two key mansions in London parks have received funding pledges totalling almost £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Half of the money will go to the complete internal and external restoration of Grade-II* Valentine’s Mansion, Redbridge, and its Grade-II historical landscape. The other half will go to Grade-I Hall Place and Gardens, Bexley, which is also a scheduled ancient monument. Hall Place is already a popular heritage site in Bexley; the planned project will improve the site to develop a regional centre for heritage and environmental education, with displays highlighting key aspects of the history of the area from prehistory to the Second World War.

Roman mosaic 'worthy of Botticelli'

The Times reported last week that a Roman mosaic has been discovered in Libya that has been hailed as one of the finest examples of the art form to have survived. Mark Merrony, an archaeologist who specialises in Roman art, described the 2,000-year-old depiction of an exhausted gladiator as one of the finest examples of representational mosaic art he had ever seen — ‘I have examined hundreds of mosaics across the Roman Empire’, he said, ‘but I have never seen such a vibrantly realistic depiction of a human. The image of the recumbent gladiator is nothing less than a Roman masterpiece executed by the Sandro Botticelli of his day. The human expression is captured in a realistic manner hitherto unknown in Roman mosaics.’

Archaeologists from the University of Hamburg found the first- or second-century mosaic as part of the decoration for the cold plunge pool of a bath-house within a Roman villa at Wadi Lebda in Leptis Magna. The mosaic shows, with extraordinary clarity, four young men wrestling a wild bull to the ground, a warrior in combat with a deer and a gladiator in a state of fatigue, staring at his slain opponent.

The full story of the discovery is told in the July/August issue of Minerva, the international review of ancient art and archaeology, of which Dr Merrony is the deputy editor.

Chester Roman amphitheatre: exhibition at the Grosvenor Museum

Julia Midgley was Artist in Residence during the 2004 archaeological excavation at Chester’s Roman amphitheatre and her drawings now form a fascinating record of every aspect of the project from site preparation to briefings, from excavation work to the finds room, together with the people involved — archaeologists, historians, contractors, students, film-makers and photographers. Julia says: ‘these drawings describe in chronological order the everyday working life of the project, watching 21st-century archaeology at work’. Her work is now the subject of an exhibition at the Grosvenor Museum (open Monday to Saturday 10.30am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 4pm, admission free) until 4 September. The accompanying programme of events includes a lecture on recent discoveries at the amphitheatre on 16 August. If you are unable to get to Chester to see the real thing, a flavour of the exhibition can be gained by visiting the artist’s website.

Sacred Silver Conference at the V&A

This two-day international conference, to be held on 25 and 26 November 2005, will mark the opening of the V&A’s new Gallery of Sacred Silver and Stained Glass. Drawing on new research, the conference papers will examine how the use and status of silver vessels varies across a range of religious traditions, including Anglican, Roman Catholic, Nonconformist and Jewish. They will also address the sometimes exuberant, sometimes restrained relationship between faith and artistic expression and will focus on the continuing tradition of commissioning silver for the church and synagogue. It is intended that this forum and the new gallery will help revitalise interest in the subject and in other public institutions, such as cathedral treasuries, where sacred silver can be seen and appreciated.

Full programme details and booking information can be obtained from Clare Cotton.

Books by Fellows

Chris Miele, FSA, is the editor of From William Morris: conservation and the Arts and Craft cult of authenticity 1877—1939 (Volume 14 in the Paul Mellon Centre's Studies in British Art Series: see the Yale University Press website). The book looks at the late nineteenth-century origins and the influence of William Morris on the modern heritage movement. Chapters of the book address such diverse topics as the place of historic buildings in Morris’s thinking, the relation of the Arts and Crafts movement to Victorian ideas of heritage, the distortion of Morrisian ideals in early twentieth-century New England, and the emergence of an urban versus rural conservation culture.

Reviewing the book in the Summer 2005 edition of the Ancient Monuments Society’s Newsletter, our Fellow Matthew Saunders points out how well qualified Miele is to offer a critique of the conservation movement on both sides of the Atlantic as he is American-born and British-based, and because he is a practitioner (working successively for English Heritage, Alan Baxter and Associates and now for the environmental consultancy group, RPS). The list of other distinguished contributors includes Philip Venning, FSA, of the SPAB (that organisation’s splendid archive was heavily trawled for the material in this book), Neil Burton, FSA, and Peter Burman, FSA.

Forty years ago the civilised world was horrified by the destruction of much of Chester's Roman fortress baths during the construction of a shopping centre — one of the great archaeological tragedies of the early 1960s. Nevertheless, a great deal of valuable information was salvaged by the late Dennis Petch, then curator of the Grosvenor Museum. Combining this information with antiquarian observations going back to the time of John Horsley in 1732, our Fellow David Mason has just produced a detailed monograph charting the history of the building from the late first to the late fourth century and indicating its important place in the evolution of the public architecture of the Roman empire. Until the end of August this book — Chester, the Roman Fortress Baths: excavation and recording 1732—1998 is available at a special opening price of £10 (plus £2.50 p&p) only from Sarah Rodriguez, Grosvenor Museum, 27 Grosvenor Street, Chester CH1 2DD. Cheques/POs should be made payable to 'Chester City Council'. For other forms of payment, phone Sarah on 01244 402008.

Finally, Donald Logan, FSA, informs Salon that his book The Medieval Court of Arches has just been published by Boydell and Brewer as volume 95 (2005) of the Canterbury and York Society’s imprint series. This volume offers the first full-length study of the appellate court of the archbishop of Canterbury, the most important ecclesiastical court in medieval England, which sat in the church of St Mary le Bow in London (from whose Latin name (de arcubus) it took its popular name, the Court of Arches). The book’s introduction traces the court’s history from its first appearance in the records of the mid-thirteenth century to 1533, when the Statute in Restraint of Appeals altered its constitution, and describes how cases proceeded in the court from initial appeal to final disposition. It is followed by an edition of the essential texts governing the court — its statutes and its customs — as well as editions of treatises about the court's procedure, which were written by practitioners in the Arches. A list of the court's personnel, including proctors and advocates, and a discussion of the court's calendar complete the volume.

Vacancies

Bosworth Battlefield Survey Archaeological Project: invitation to tender
Closing date 11 July 2005; interviews 15 July 2005

Leicestershire County Council is seeking an archaeological consultancy to manage a multi-disciplinary three-year project, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, whose aim is locate and interpret the true site of the various elements of the Battle of Bosworth. Please contact Liz Kelly (tel: 0116 265 6905) for an application pack. Informal queries may be addressed to Peter Liddle.

Cresswell Heritage Trust, Director
Salary £32,000, closing date 29 June 2005

Another big HLF-funded archaeological project needs a visionary leader: full details and application form from the Creswell Heritage Trust website.

Kent County Council, Conservation Officer/Conservation Architect
Salary up to £37,860, dependent on experience and qualifications, closing date 15 July 2005

A dynamic, well-motivated individual is sought to join the Heritage Conservation Group to help protect and manage the rich and varied historic environment of Kent and in particular to provide specialist historic buildings input to all aspects of planning policy formulation and implementation, project development and design, and to advise on the maintenance of Kent’s historic buildings, including the supervision, care and repair of eight historic windmills. For an application form and job description email recruitment.line@kent.gov.uk.