Salon Archive

Issue: 122

News of Fellows

How many times will Jeremy Paxman bark ‘no conferring’ or harrass our Fellow Philip Venning with his catch phrase ‘c’mon; I need an answer’? next Monday? All will be revealed at 8.30pm on 15 August on BBC2 when Philip captains a team from the Society for the Protection of Ancients Buildings on ‘University Challenge’ facing four members of staff from the Barbican Centre. How did the team do? We will have to watch to find out: all that Philip will say is that the SPAB team scored enough points that he will not need to blush when you next see him. Fellows have appeared on ‘University Challenge’ many times before, but batting for a different team. Perhaps the time has come for the Society to put up its own intellectual athletes and show that a learned society has nothing to fear from Paxo’s withering put-downs.

Radio 4 has recently broadcast an inventive and entertaining series, called ‘The Old Bill’, written and presented by our Fellow Richard Foster. Each programme looked at a set of historical bills or accounts to discover what they could tell us about the people who kept them and their times. The five programmes featured the election expenses for the Tory candidates' campaign in the 1774 election for the City of Westminster, the accounts of an eighteenth-century harpsichord tuner in Hertford, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century churchwardens' accounts from Prescot Church in Lancashire, the parish constable's accounts from the Manor of Manchester in the early seventeenth century and the fee book of a seventeenth-century doctor in Ireland. Pure antiquarian heaven — and the best bit is that, if you missed the programmes first time around, you can hear them again online via the 'listen again' link on the Radio 4 website at .

BBC2’s ‘Coast’, which features our Fellow Mark Horton among its specialist presenters, is a bit like an Open University programme: earnest and plodding, with one or two presenters who talk like excitable teachers addressing a class of not very bright school children. It is the sort of programme where you are sometimes tempted to turn off the sound and just enjoy the wonderful pictures. Yet viewing figures just published by the BBC say that it has been the surprise hit of the season, with regular audiences in excess of three million (which is good for the summer), more than programmes deliberately targeted at a mass audience, such as ‘Big Brother’ and Ricky Gervais’s new series ‘Extras’.

The series has spawned acres of media coverage along the lines of ‘Britain’s Best Beaches’ (see last week’s Country Life, for example) and a cri de coeur from Janet Street Porter — ‘why oh why does everything in the modern world have to be reduced to a Top Ten list?’. It is also credited with persuading people to stay at home this summer and enjoy being a tourist in their own country, something for which the National Trust has been campaigning for several years.

It is with perfect timing then that English Heritage has just published a nostalgic look at Seaside Holidays in the Past, by Allan Brodie, Andrew Sargent and Gary Winter, using pictures from the National Monuments Record to celebrate an innocent age of donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows. It isn’t a TV programme yet, but the book contains lots of recent social history of the kind that would make an enjoyable documentary. It tells how railways transformed sea bathing from an activity for the privileged few (stage coaches brought 50,000 visitors to Brighton in 1837) into a mass leisure activity (in 1850 trains brought 73,000 visitors to Brighton in just one week). It also shows that seaside holidays were boosted by the introduction of bank holidays in 1871, and paid holidays in the 1930s. Benign employers (such as Bass and Bournville) played their part by organising mass works outings. In 1919 the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners Federation took 100,000 people to Blackpool by 135 trains.

Finally, our Fellow Roland Harris has just been appointed to succeed our Fellow Roberta Gilchrist as the Cathedral Archaeologist for Norwich Cathedral. Roland is looking forward to the prospect of significant archaeological investigations at the cathedral in advance of the proposed hostelry development, on the west side of the cloister.


The Reverend Professor William Frend, who has for many years been the generous donor to the Society of the Frend Prize and Frend Medal, died last month at the age of 89. The following edited extracts come from the obituary published in The Daily Telegraph on 11 August 2005.

William Hugh Cecil Frend was born on 11 January 1916 and won scholarships to Haileybury and Keble College, Oxford. After taking a First in History, and writing a paper on the Donatists (fourth-century Carthaginians whose ‘heresy’ prompted St Augustine to formulate aspects of his own theology), he won a Craven Scholarship, which enabled him to study under Professor Leitzmann, the Early Church historian, in Berlin, then to go on to North Africa to study antiquities in Tunisia and Algeria.

On returning to England he was given six months to finish his thesis, then joined the War Office as a finance officer. War Office staff were less interested in his accountancy skills than in his collection of photographs of North African dams and bridges, which were greeted as ‘gold dust’. Later in the war he worked at Woburn Abbey, where his job was to fabricate two rumours a day for inclusion in reports that were intended to be intercepted by the Germans.

After the war, Frend won a research fellowship at Nottingham University, then became a Bye Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, before becoming university lecturer in divinity and a college Fellow. As director of archaeology, he used to take Prince Charles and other undergraduates out on Sunday afternoons to dig a Roman site near Godmanchester railway station.

On moving to Glasgow University as Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Dean of Divinity, Frend became a popular lecturer, thanks to his large collection of slides which he would show with a wealth of personal anecdote, and to his habit of slyly inserting gross heresy, which his respectful hearers would realise only gradually.

His published works from this period include Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (1965), dealing with a wide canvas of sources from pre-Christian Jewish texts until the fourth century; The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (1972), a study of the opposition to the Council of Chalcedon, which defined the doctrine of the Incarnation in AD 451; and The Rise of Christianity (1984), covering the first six centuries of the Church, which remains the most substantial work of its kind written by a British scholar for more than half a century.

Disappointed not to have been invited to become a member of the British Academy's Tunisia committee (‘a serious error’, in his view) when he was elected a Fellow in 1983, Frend was glad to be asked by Ann Arbor University, Michigan, to join a team at Carthage, where he collated evidence and helped to save an early baptistery from disappearing beneath a car park.

Frend had an unquenchable appetite for reviewing and joining committees. He also set up and financed a Frend Medal, which is awarded by the Society of Antiquaries for contributions to the study of early Christian archaeology. He was ordained and, for six years, served as priest-in-charge at Barnwell, Northamptonshire, where he enjoyed digging for Roman remains and astonished his parishioners with his liberal theology.

When he retired from this, he became a regular correspondent to The Daily Telegraph. His subjects ranged from Labour's tax plans to French beef, and from the Europeans' lack of a long parliamentary history to Germany's wartime plans for a single European currency. When the Ministry of Defence declared that it could not risk a serviceman's life to prevent the bombing of antiquities during the first Iraq war, he pointed out that Sir Mortimer Wheeler headed a special monitoring unit with the Eighth Army during the Second World War; the policy was soon amended.

Would you save The Maze?

Somebody (was it Harold Evans?) once said that you sell newspapers by challenging people’s assumptions, not by reinforcing them. If so, our Fellow Mike Pitts has produced a best seller with the September/October issue of British Archaeology, with its stark grey cover shot of H-Block 4 at The Maze. Inside, Laura McAtackney writes eloquently about the debate in Northern Ireland over the future of the prison that the Government would like us to think of as the Maze Regeneration Site, but which the people of Northern Ireland call Long Kesh/Maze — the duality in the name recognises its use as a detention centre for both sides in the thirty-year Northern Ireland conflict.

Laura explains that the Northern Ireland community is (understandably) divided over the future of the huge (360-acre) site where 30,000 people were jailed at some point during the conflict. Nationalists want significant parts of the site to be retained (particularly the parts associated with the 1981 hunger strike); Unionists don’t want it to become a republican pilgrimage site. To resolve the deadlock, a Maze Consultation Panel was set up with representatives from all the main political parties in Northern Ireland and its report, delivered in February 2005, proposed that 15 acres of the site be preserved as part of a new International Centre for Conflict Transformation, with archive and conference facilities, that part be transformed into a ‘shared and inclusive’ Sports Zone for staging international football and rugby matches, Gaelic games and equestrian events, that part be developed for light industry and that the remainder (100 acres) should be ‘cleaned and decontaminated’ and set aside for future use in fifteen or twenty years’ time.

Laura argues that the underlying theme of the report is a clear desire to ‘rid the site of its tainted history and negative associations’, to ‘rebrand the site and cast off old connotations’, which she argues is wrong headed and likely to be subverted by the public. She would prefer that the troubled history of the site be recognised, studied and understood, not swept under the metaphorical carpet of a bulldozer. Given that there is no pressing need to redevelop the site, she says that archaeologists should be allowed to study what is still a high security site, with no public access. We know too little about the Long Kesh/Maze prison; we need to record what is there, and capture the oral histories of prisoners and officers to create a multi-dimensional counterbalance to the official record. Only then can informed judgements be made about the significance of the buildings, artefacts, murals, graffiti and other material remains at Long Kesh/Maze, and what might or might not be preserved.

Before reading the article, Salon’s editor was convinced that to save the Maze/Long Kesh came dangerously close to justifying the actions of those who were imprisoned there; by the end of the article, he had changed his mind. The question now is whether a calmly reasoned but eloquent article by a PhD student at Bristol University published in what some would see as a ‘mere’ archaeology magazine can have the power to change public policy on a deeply contentious issue in Northern Ireland.

Spotlight on the UK’s management of World Heritage Sites

Two weeks ago, the future of plans to improve the environment around Stonehenge were placed in doubt to the consternation of many archaeologists. Our Treasurer, Geoff Wainwright, in his capacity as Chairman of Wessex Archaeology, spoke for many in his message to the Government, saying that ‘Stonehenge is the litmus test for how we care for our heritage and we have failed to make the grade. We are now no nearer to achieving a solution than we were in 1984. It is an absolute tragedy that the heritage site for which this country is internationally renowned will still be a public disgrace after over twenty-one years of debate and that the plans agreed in 1999 will not now be implemented.’

Geoff went on to say that ‘One way out of this chaos is for Government to fund the magisterial research framework for Stonehenge and its landscape recently written by Professor Tim Darvill on behalf of English Heritage. Whilst we will lack an appropriate physical context for the site for the foreseeable future, we could at least improve our understanding of our national heritage icon.’

Two weeks later, it was the turn of our Fellow Peter Fowler to speak out on the state of Hadrian’s Wall. Blaming a surge in tourism for serious deterioration in the condition of some stretches of the Wall, Peter called for immediate action to prevent further damage, telling The Times that ‘By immediate, I mean this week, today — now. Very little is being done to stop the destruction of such an important World Heritage Site. The situation is desperate.’

Peter’s report says that nearly 80 per cent of the trail needs some remedial treatment, but that 40 per cent of it needs immediate attention. ‘Erosion, once established, accelerates. The deterioration needs to be reversed.’ He pointed to the stretch from Gilsland, north of Brampton, to Chapel House as an example: ‘It’s very alarming. The trail at Limestone Corner is on the stones that have fallen down from where the wall was. People are walking on archaeology — the stones from the Wall itself.’

Peter was called in to report on the state of the 73-mile frontier after an article in the May/June 2005 issue of British Archaeology, edited by our Fellow Mike Pitts, highlighted serious erosion resulting from the popularity of the Hadrian’s Wall Long Distance Footpath, which has attracted more than 400,000 walkers in the last two years, rather than the 20,000 per annum expected when the trail was planned in the early 1990s.

Professor Fowler was critical of the bodies responsible for the management of the trail, saying that ‘the commitment by the Countryside Agency and the highway authorities “to manage the trail effectively” was not apparent on the ground. And if the Agency does indeed see the trail as a “significant contribution to, and essential part of conserving and managing Hadrian’s Wall in ways that matched its international profile”, it appears to be looking through the wrong end of the telescope.’

Peter’s views received support from a number of experts. David Ronn, National Trust Regional Director for the North East and Yorkshire, said: ‘Peter Fowler is eminently placed to make judgments about Hadrian's Wall and the Long Distance Trail, and he is articulating the concerns of many about the balance between tourism and conservation … a modest increase in the management of the Trail on the ground would considerably reduce the amount of wear and tear to the monument and its surroundings’. Our Fellow Peter Stone, who sits on the Hadrian's Wall management committee, told the BBC that one option might be to move the route of the path slightly to divert walkers away from the most vulnerable areas of the Wall. Paul Dancer, an estate manager in Northumberland, wrote to The Times to say that people in the region needed the path because of the tourism revenue that it generated, but that while ‘much funding was available to set up the trail … there appears to be insufficient revenue to maintain it to a robust standard’, adding that ‘I believe the erosion problems are best dealt with by the employment of rangers in the vicinity of the main pressure points to keep people off the archaeology’.

The Countryside Agency, meanwhile, is saying nothing, other than that it will study the report.

Wild Westerners damage Great Wall

It could be worse. At least Hadrian’s Wall does not suffer the indignity of damage by drunken drug-taking party-goers, unlike the Great Wall of China, which has been the venue for summer raves for the last eight years, according to the China Daily newspaper. Apparently the Jinshanling section of the wall in Hebei province, about 100 miles from Beijing, has been leased by the government to a company that hosts outdoor parties and barbecues, mainly attended by young westerners working and studying in China. Dong Yaohui, of the China Great Wall Association, says the behaviour of the westerners at these parties amounts to a blasphemy against an important national symbol. The Chinese police, who crack down hard on Chinese nationals found guilty of drug use, are too nervous of diplomatic ructions to arrest the mainly young American party-goers.

Stretching nearly 4,350 miles across the northern plains, the Great Wall is managed by various local authorities. Two years ago the local government in Beijing introduced a law to protect its 373-mile-section, but there is as yet no legal protection for the rest of the World Heritage Site.

Pub shuts on St Kilda

Yet another World Heritage Site was in the news last week when visitors to the remote archipelago of St Kilda (situated 64km west of the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland) discovered that they were no longer welcome in the Puff Inn, the pub on the main island of Hirta. Located in a 1950s prefabricated building, decorated with a mural of puffins and a ceiling covered with graffiti, the pub caters for Ministry of Defence staff working at the island’s Radar Tracking Station. The MoD has now decided to close the pub to the public, citing heightened security in the wake of the London bombings as a factor.

One of those who will no longer be able to drop into the cliff-top pub for a restorative dram after the 17-hour sea journey to St Kilda is our Fellow Robin Turner, who, as Head of Archaeology with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), has worked hard to see the islands’ archaeology properly recognised. Thanks to a thorough survey prepared by the NTS, with support from Historic Scotland, and presented to UNESCO by the UK Government, St Kilda has become one of only two-dozen global locations to be awarded World Heritage Status for both its natural and its cultural significance. Previously listed as a World Heritage Site for its natural heritage (marine and terrestrial), the St Kilda inscription will now also include the cultural landscape left by thousands of years of human occupation.

When the dual status was announced by UNESCO, meeting in Durban last month, Robin Pellew, Chief Executive for the National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘What makes St Kilda so significant in cultural terms is that it provides evidence of how people have lived and evolved since prehistoric times. It helps us to understand how people survived in extremely difficult and remote conditions over thousands of years’. Robin Turner added that ‘By investigating the many layers of undisturbed remains, we are constantly making important discoveries about how these people lived, worked and died … we have been able to show that the cultural heritage of these islands truly is unique. Some places share some of St Kilda’s outstanding characteristics, but nowhere comes close to matching them all: there is nowhere in the world like it.’

Photographs, documents, artefacts and diaries from St Kilda, dating from the late 1800s to the 1930s, are being exhibited in the NTS Gallery at Wemyss House in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, during August to mark the 75th anniversary of the islands’ evacuation. The last native St Kildans, thirty-six in number, were evacuated at their own request on 29 August 1930, ending 4,000 years of island life. Attracted by the conveniences of twentieth-century life on the mainland, the islanders had debated long and hard over abandoning their self-sufficient way of life, based on sheep rearing and harvesting seabirds and their eggs. They finally made the collective decision to leave following the death of a young pregnant islander, prevented by a storm from seeking medical help on the mainland, who suffered a burst appendix. Today around 1,750 people visit St Kilda every year, including NTS volunteer work parties who have, since the 1950s, restored a number of the historic buildings and assisted with archaeological excavations that have found evidence of Bronze Age, Iron Age and early Christian communities.

Darien settlers' letters return to Panama

A collection of three historic letters from a Scottish settler called George Douglas, sent from the fledgling colony at Darien in Panama in 1699 to his brother, the Laird of Strathendry in Fife, are to be loaned by the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh to the International Canal Museum in Panama to form the centrepiece of an exhibition on the Darien settlement there later this year.

The letters describe the hopes, concerns and difficulties that the 1,200 settlers encountered on their arrival in the New World in July 1698, hoping to establish Scotland’s first colony abroad. They arrived in eastern Panama on the Caribbean coast in November and called their settlement Caledonia Bay. However, the territory was already claimed, although not occupied, by Spain and several violent skirmishes followed. Neither were the settlers prepared for the miserable climate, and once the rainy season began the following April, malaria, yellow fever, typhoid and scurvy took their toll.

In one letter, dated 10 April 1699, Mr Douglas wrote that ‘Half the men in the colony are all sick at present with the great heats, for April and August are the two hottest months in the year here’. Within seven months of arriving in Panama, the Scots abandoned the colony. The Darien disaster, in which it is estimated a quarter of Scotland’s wealth was invested, virtually bankrupted the country and led directly to the 1707 Act of Union with England, in which Scotland was paid £400,000 by England to help to repay those who had invested in the unsuccessful project.

George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: ‘These letters embody the hopes, the drama and ultimately the heartbreak of the Darien expedition [and] are the authentic voice of the past. I am delighted we are lending them to this important exhibition marking a historical connection between Scotland and Panama.’

British Library operations manager gets top post at National Archives

Natalie Ceeney, a thirty-four-year-old general manager with a degree in mathematics and politics, has been appointed as the new Keeper of the Public Records at the National Archives, in succession to our Fellow Sarah Tyacke.

Miss Ceeney, a graduate of Newnham College, Cambridge, is currently the operations manager of the British Library, where she has radically modernised its commercial enterprises. Previously, she worked for McKinsey, specialising in the pharmaceutical and retail sectors, and before that was a manager in the National Health Service.

Miss Ceeney has a reputation for taking a robust, commercial approach to what she calls ‘the knowledge industry’, which has not been well-received by some users of the archive. Sir Max Hastings, the historian and journalist, said: ‘to end the tradition of appointing experienced scholars and archivists and start putting management consultants in their place sounds exactly the sort of thing one might expect from this Government’. Our Fellow, Geoffrey Martin, a former keeper, said: ‘It sounds a very drastic step. Thirty-four is extremely young. For somebody to be appointed simply on managerial grounds is a new departure.’

In a recent newspaper interview Miss Ceeney said that libraries and archives needed scholars and specialists, but they also needed general managers like herself: ‘If we didn't have any librarians we would lose our way,’ she said: ‘If we only had librarians we would lack a business perspective.’

Bring back traditional signposting

English Heritage wants to turn the clock back and restore traditional finger posts to our rural roads. A joint Department of Transport and English Heritage leaflet, Traditional Direction Signs, is to be sent to local authorities urging them to take good care of existing finger posts and install new ones. Philip Davies, of English Heritage, explained that: ‘Traditional direction signs enrich the countryside wherever they are found. Many still survive, but are in urgent need of repair and restoration.’

No one has carried out a complete audit of traditional signposts, but the oldest, located in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, dates from 1699. Many were erected by turnpike trusts from the mid-eighteenth century, but the responsibility passed to local authorities in 1903. Although based on a common model, local authorities have considerable discretion over design, which led to a rich variety of styles. Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall had red posts with white lettering, while others had finials in the form of discs marked with county names and grid references or, in the case of Bedfordshire, with the Festival of Britain symbol.

Many were removed after a new international signpost style was launched in the 1960s, but pre-1964 signs remain legal. The main threat now comes from councils' failure to maintain them. English Heritage is calling for fingerposts to be regularly maintained as part of councils' maintenance budgets in local transport plans. It also argues that new signs can be introduced as part of a village design statement, parish plan or quiet lane designation.

VAT refunds for museums

Museums, libraries and galleries across England have been told that they can reclaim the VAT they have paid on their running costs so long as they continue to offer free admission to their permanent exhibitions to the public without appointment for at least 30 hours per week. University museums and those run by such institutions as the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Surgeons of England will be the main beneficiaries. The measure is in part a response to the report published last year by our Fellow, Sir Nicholas Goodison, called Securing the Best for our Museums: Private Giving and Government Support. This argued that museums were handicapped from reclaiming VAT if they abolished admission charges because they no longer generated enough income to register for VAT refunds. The Government announced the measure on 10 August as part of its campaign to ‘widen access to our cultural heritage and progressively eradicate entry fees’.

The future of Silbury Hill

English Heritage has announced the latest stage in the process to repair and preserve Silbury Hill. Since the collapse in 2000 of infilling to a shaft at the top of the Hill, research has been taking place into the condition of the hill and the best way to ensure its long-term stability. As a result, English Heritage has decided to re-excavate the tunnel dug in 1968/9 when Richard Atkinson led a televised exploration of the hill, and then refill the tunnel and other voids within the hill with chalk to the same density as the surrounding mound material. The refilling would work backwards from the centre of the hill, thus enabling contractors to remove any temporary supports left by previous excavations. Archaeologists will investigate and record all re-exposed parts of the hill to understand its construction better. All this comes with an important proviso: the £600,000 estimated cost of the work has yet to be found.

Beaker people’s bones to be analysed

Answers to the age-old debate about cultural diffusion might be forthcoming in the near future thanks to a £530,000 project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council looking at the origins of ‘beaker’ people from grave sites in different parts of the UK. The skeletons of twenty-three men and women in the care of Aberdeen University who died in what is now the north east of Scotland during the early Bronze Age will be analysed to see what can be learned about their origins and lifestyles. The pendulum has swung back and forth between the nineteenth-century view that the appearance in Britain of burials with beakers marked the arrival of continental migrants around 2400 BC or whether these are indigenous people who adopted the so-called 'beaker package' of material culture. The pendulum began to swing back to the immigration theory when isotope results from the skeleton of the Amesbury Archer, found near Stonehenge, indicated that he grew up in Continental Europe.

These skeletons have been in the university for more than a hundred years and they have been chosen for study because of the size of the collection, and the quality of the preservation and documentation. Our Fellow Mike Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University, who is leading the research, said: ‘The long tradition of research on the beaker people in Aberdeen, and the quality of the collection makes it the perfect one to start with. The project will include the analysis of strontium, oxygen, lead, sulphur, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen isotopes in teeth to study the movement of people during their life as well as their diet.’

Fifth-century mod cons in Colchester

BBC History magazine reports that the Colchester Archaeological Trust has unearthed part of what appears to be a mansio, a substantial complex of Roman buildings catering for Roman government officials and wealthy civilian travellers, offering accommodation, bath and spa facilities and a restaurant. The impressive complex, built over an area of 3,000 square metres, has been discovered complete with surviving stone furniture, just inside the old Roman city wall, within 300 metres of the West Gate and the road to London. Having a sumptuous mansio in Colchester would suggest that imperial government officials were visiting the city and that it retained political and commercial importance until a relatively late date in the Romano-British period.

Last year, a chariot-racing stadium was discovered in the city, adding to the picture built up over the years of Colchester as a centre of Romanisation, with an imperial temple, two theatres, a church, two monumental arches and large number of houses and shops.

Export of gold coin deferred

Culture Minister David Lammy has placed a temporary export bar on a gold coin issued during the reign of Coenwulf, King of Mercia (796—821). The coin was discovered in 2001 by a metal-detector user alongside the River Ivel at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. Despite written evidence for the use of gold coinage, only eight indigenous English gold coins survive, of which this one of Coenwulf is the latest and most spectacular discovery, being of very fine quality in an exceptional state of preservation.

The reverse of the coin carries the inscription ‘DE VICO LVNDONIAE’. Numismatists have deduced that London was a major mint in the eighth and ninth centuries, but no other coin refers to the vicus or wic (trading settlement) of London. Such official endorsement on the royal coinage emphasises the importance of the London wic, which makes the coin especially significant for the early history of London.

The simple geometric daisy pattern on the reverse of the coin can be found in other forms of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, for example engraved at the centre of the large bowl and on the chalice from Sutton Hoo.

The deferral will enable purchase offers to be made at the recommended price of £357,832 (excluding VAT) until after 2 October 2005 with the possibility of an extension until after 2 February 2006 if there is a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase.

Westminster Abbey door pre-dates Norman Conquest

Dendrochronology tests carried out on a door from Westminster Abbey have shown that it was made probably made in the 1050s from five huge planks of English oak from a tree that grew between AD 924 and 1030. The timber, which might have come from the abbey forests in Essex, is very similar to that used to make another Saxon door at Greensted in Essex.

The 6ft 6in by 4ft door has been hanging in its current location in the outer vestibule leading from the octagonal chapter house to the abbey cloisters since the 1250s. Our Fellow Warwick Rodwell, the abbey's consultant archaeologist, believes it was the door to Edward the Confessor's chapter house. ‘We know from the joinery and the scars on the ironwork that it was cut down from 9ft by 4ft 6in, and the fact that it is doubled-sided — a highly unusual feature until much later — suggests it must previously have been placed between two spaces of equal importance’, he said. Warwick believes that the door was then used to protect the room where Edward's relics were kept while Henry III rebuilt the church in 1245. The door then became a sacred relic in its own right, ‘a ritually symbolic element of the Saxon abbey’, hence its adaption and reuse. ‘Henry III had plenty of money and did not need to use old doors. No expense was spared and so the alteration and re-use of the door must have been a symbolic act to preserve it in use’, Warwick Rodwell explained. Dr Rodwell’s interest was inspired by the late Cecil Hewett, who had suggested in the 1970s that the door could have been ‘very early’ because of its unique construction, unlike that of Norman and later doors, of which there are quite a few around the country.

Medieval wall paintings found in Norfolk

Builders at St Andrew’s Church in Ilketshall St Andrew in Suffolk have discovered fourteenth-century wall paintings depicting the Wheel of Fortune. Conservator Tobit Curteis, who was brought in to examine the find, said that the figures were well preserved, probably dated from the 1320s and showed the figure of Fortune turning a wheel with an uncrowned king being pulled up, a crowned king at the top and another king being cast down, with his crown knocked off. Behind are trumpeting angels and below the wheel the devil waits for his latest victim.

Turner’s abbey identified

According to The Daily Telegraph, scholars have been trying for decades to identify the picturesque ruined abbey in a work by Turner without success, so curators at the Tate have simply named the painting ‘The ruined tower of an abbey with a water gate’. Then last year Tim Harker, a casual visitor killing time before going to a meeting, recognised it as a sketch of St Mary's Abbey, in his home village of West Malling, Kent, complete with its picturesque water cascade.

Until Mr Harker made his visit to the gallery, curators had thought it could depict the ruins of St Augustine's Monastery in Canterbury. The watercolour's catalogue entry said: ‘Turner trained as an architectural draughtsman, and most of his work during the 1790s featured historic buildings. This watercolour, which was made during these years, seems to have been torn from a sketchbook. It combines an interest in the “picturesque” elements of run-down rustic buildings with the historic interest of old ruins.’

Andrew Wilton, a visiting research fellow at the Tate, and an authority on Turner's work, said the artist was known to have made many of his drawings in Canterbury, which was why the guess was made. Mr Wilton added that Turner might well have passed through West Malling on his way to Canterbury, 20 miles away.

As Raphael arrives, Titian leaves

Pity our Fellow Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the National Gallery, who worked so hard to secure the £22 million required to buy Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, only to learn that the Earl of Halifax has decided to take back and sell Titian's Portrait of a Young Man, which had been on loan to the gallery since 1992. According to a statement from the gallery: ‘Exhaustive discussions have been held between representatives of the earl and representatives of the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland, with a view to a joint purchase’, but they were unable to come up with an offer to match the likely value of the painting on the open market. Charles Saumarez Smith told The Guardian newspaper that ‘There has been an incredible risk since the Duke of Northumberland sold the Madonna of the Pinks that other owners would take the opportunity to sell paintings that were on loan to us, since they can raise such enormous sums.’

Oxford boatyard wins temporary reprieve

Maev Kennedy reports in The Guardian this week that British Waterways and its development partners have been told by a planning inspector that their plans to build new houses and a restaurant at Castle Mill boatyard in Oxford amount to ‘an over-dense and inappropriate use of the site’ and cannot go ahead.

British Waterways says it is determined to resubmit revised proposals in the near future, but if they do eventually win planning permission to develop the site they will have to evict over 100 squatters who have moved in to protest against the closure of a working boatyard that has changed little since the Victorian heyday of the Oxford Canal.

Located at the end of a back street in the Jericho district, the ramshackle boatyard features in Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy as the home of the ’gyptians, a group of boat owners who befriend and shelter the main character, Lyra Belacqua. Castle Mill’s real-life ’gyptians say they will have to travel miles along the canal system to find another yard where their boats can be serviced and repaired. They point to an earlier campaign to save one of the oldest and best-preserved boat workshops on the Oxford Canal at Banbury: this is now a shopping centre with a museum that, ironically, celebrates the heritage of the lost yard.

The squatters believe the site could be economically successful as a working yard, with a café, launderette, short-term accommodation for boat owners while repairs are done and a small museum and they are puzzled at the attitude of British Waterways for appearing to put development profit before the well-being of the canal network. After the planning inspector’s rejection of British Waterway’s plans, the mood amongst the squatters was cautiously optimistic: ‘It’s still too early to open the champagne,’ they said, ‘but this is a significant step’.

Ancient Egypt provides key to storing nuclear data

Archaeology has inspired the UK Atomic Energy Authority to reject twentieth-century methods of record keeping and to return to something much more ancient: records written on papyrus scrolls. The authority is in the midst of a programme to dismantle twenty-six reactors and bury the waste, which will remain dangerous for thousands of years. Records explaining what has been done and warning of the dangers of handling the waste cannot be kept on computer media, because they will be outmoded and probably unreadable within a decade. Paper cannot be used either because of its high lignin acid content, which will cause the material to rot over time. So acid free papyrus will be used instead because, stored in the right conditions, the scrolls can preserve readable records for millennia and will not deteriorate or discolour. In order to replicate the dry, airless conditions of the Egyptian desert the papyrus documents will be vacuum-packed into copper-impregnated bags and stored in long-life archive boxes.

David Gray, who led the project, said: ‘Our successors must have access to detailed and reliable records of the stored radioactive waste as part of its long-term, safe management. For this reason the authority carried out a thorough study of all the options before deciding on the papyrus solution. We hope that it will now be adopted across the industry.’

Ancient phallus unearthed in a German cave

A 28,000-year-old stone object, 20cm-long and 3cm-wide, is being claimed by German archaeologists as the earliest representation of a phallus yet to be discovered. The sculpted and polished stone was found in the Hohle Fels Cave near Ulm in the Swabian Jura. At some stage the stone was also put to practical use for knapping flints, according to Professor Nicholas Conard from the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology at Tübingen University, who told the BBC that the stone had scars typical of that kind of use, but was also shaped and etched with a ring around one end that left little doubt about its symbolic nature. The dig site has already produced thousands of Upper Palaeolithic items, including a 30,000-year-old avian figurine crafted from mammoth ivory and one of the earliest representations of a bird in the archaeological record. The evidence suggests that the Swabian Jura of south-western Germany was one of the central regions of cultural innovation after the arrival of modern humans in Europe some 40,000 years ago.

Archaeology at Butrint

The Washington Post ran a lengthy feature on 18 July about the work of our Fellow Richard Hodges, of the University of East Anglia, who is leading a team of one hundred archaeologists from nineteen nations, plus sixty Albanian undergraduates and dozens of local labourers in a two-month exploration of the Roman colonia at Butrint, located on the Vrina Plain, a flat marshland between steep mountain ridges on the coast of the Ionian Sea in southern Albania.

Team members have reconstructed the way that the Romans settled the plain by centuriation, dividing up the landscape into land holdings, street lines and building plots, and it has identified a fallen aqueduct that brought water from a spring about four miles away. They have also excavated a site containing a large Roman dwelling and the apse of a 5th-century Christian church that appears to have been continually modified and rebuilt until the city faded into oblivion after the fourteenth century, becoming a silted-over hillside where shepherds grazed their sheep.

Butrint is described as ‘Troy in miniature’ in Virgil's Aeneid; legend says the city was founded by Trojan exiles. In fact, Butrint appears to have been settled between 1000 and 800 BC as an outpost to provide food for the large settlement on the nearby island of Corfu. Its strategic location close to major trade routes enabled the city to grow; it was in turn Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman. Its heyday was in the fifth century AD, when as many as 20,000 people lived there.

Richard Hodges is quoted as saying that a project on the scale of the Butrint Foundation's is rare these days, as many countries simply won't support big foreign missions. But as an impoverished Albania emerged from Communist rule, the nation sought outside help and financial backing from the wealthy donors who started the Butrint Foundation to help preserve the landscape and the cultural heritage associated with it. Hodges says the most gratifying part of the experience is in doing something that helps Albania. ‘We're not digging for loot,’ he said: ‘we're digging with an idea of creating assets for the place — intellectual, on library shelves, tourists, identity and so on.’

Massive grave site discovered in Cyprus

The Turkish Cypriot Cyprus Times newspaper reports that a major archaeological discovery was made recently at the Monastery of St Barnabas, in northern Cyprus, after the wheel of a tourist bus disappeared into a hole, revealing an underground chamber. Archaeologists from the Antiquities and Museums Department at Famagusta have uncovered a massive complex of limestone catacombs forming interconnecting chambers, dating from the Hellenistic period and extended by the Romans. Items found in the catacombs include bronze jewellery, beads, tear-shaped perfume bottles and vases, oil lamps, terracotta statues and many pottery items including a large bowl still containing the remains of a meal left for the deceased to eat in the afterlife. A spokesman said that excavations of this multi-period historical grave site will continue for many years due to the sheer size of the project, thus adding to the already rich history of the St Barnabas Monastery complex.

Plan to rescue the Protestant cemetery in Florence

In a city of so much heritage, a visit to the Protestant Cemetery in Florence is not high on most people’s list of priorities, but those who do take the trouble to come here will find a romantic spot where the crumbling tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning lies amidst those of numerous other nineteenth-century British, American and Swiss artists, writers and exiles. Now, however, the cemetery is in danger of closure because the Evangelical Reformed Swiss Church, which owns the site, says it can no longer afford the necessary repairs and maintenance.

A rescue mission is being mounted by Sister Julia Bolton Holloway, an English nun who edited Elizabeth Barrett Browning's work for Penguin and who now lives in the cemetery's gatehouse, having been granted permission to open a library there five years ago. Sister Julia estimates that about £175,000 is needed for immediate preservation work, although Timothy Collins, who is setting up a foundation in Britain to help, believes a figure of up to £2m is more realistic.

Lord Collins said he fell in love with the cemetery the moment he first saw it. ‘It's the most magnificent piece of Victorian England in the middle of Florence. It's not just a graveyard. Virtually every grave is a monument of immense importance and complexity,’ he said. Amongst early supporters of the foundation are our Fellow, Sir Roy Strong, Lucinda Lambton, Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, Franco Zeffirelli, who shot part of his film Tea with Mussolini there, and Dame Judi Dench, who starred in the movie.

Andrew Motion said it would be ‘absolutely awful’ if the cemetery were lost. ‘It would be just wrong, not only for the sake of the unknown dead but, more conspicuously, for the sake of people who are owed honour like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I can't think she is without admirers who can put their shoulders to the wheel,’ he said.

In a series of meetings with the church and local government officials last week, Sister Julia’s proposals to fund the restoration were tentatively accepted. Sister Julia believes it might be possible to sell new burial plots to ease the funding crisis. Such plots would no doubt have a high value: how much would people pay to bury their loved ones in one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world? Among 1,400 graves already there is one designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt for his wife, Fanny, and another to Frances Trollope, the mother of the novelist Anthony and author of an early travel guide called Domestic Manners of the Americans. Walter Savage Landor and Arthur Hugh Clough, both British poets, and Beatrice Shakespeare and Claude Shakespeare Clench, regarded as the last descendants of William Shakespeare, are buried there, as are illustrious Americans including Hiram Powers, the sculptor, and Theodore Parker, a leading anti-slavery campaigner.

Conservation workshops at the Ironbridge Institute

Following on from the successful practical conservation workshops held over the summer, the Ironbridge Institute is now offering two-day workshops (starting in October 2005) covering ‘Basic Concepts In Conservation’, with speakers from the National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cadw, English Heritage, SPAB, SAVE and many others providing up-to-date information on the theory and practice of conservation of the historic environment. The workshops can be taken individually or combined to achieve an MA or Postgraduate Diploma in Historic Environment Conservation. Practical workshops, including the use of lime in historic buildings, and the conservation of metals, stone and timber in construction, will be available from April 2006. For further information and a course timetable contact Harriet Devlin.

Books by Fellows

Anyone planning a summer stroll among the Malvern Hills might like to invest in a copy of Mark Bowden’s illustrated book, The Malvern Hills: an ancient landscape (English Heritage, ISBN: 1873592825). To illustrate just how old that landscape is, Mark tells the story of the ‘Shire Ditch’, also known as ‘Red Earl's Dyke’, a boundary earthwork that runs along the crest of the hills. According to the history textbooks, the accepted story is that this earthwork was built by Gilbert de Clare, the ‘Red Earl’ of Gloucester, in about 1287, during a boundary dispute with the bishop of Hereford. Careful examination shows that part of the ditch is cut by the prehistoric hillfort on Midsummer Hill and must therefore be of earlier origin, possibly dating to the late Bronze Age (about 1000 BC). The ‘Red Earl’, it seems, refurbished an existing boundary earthwork, rather than starting from scratch. On the other hand, the ‘British Camp’, always assumed to be pre-Roman, is now interpreted as a late-eleventh-century ringwork, possibly built as a hunting lodge and in connection with the establishment of the hunting forest of Malvern Chase. Read all about these and other discoveries on the English Heritage website at .

David Miles has been garnering favourable reviews from the (political) left, right and centre for his doorstopper of a book on The Tribes of Britain (Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated, ISBN 0297830864), though reviewers seem to have come to puzzlingly contradictory conclusions about what David actually says. Some adopt the little Englander view that we are a proudly independent island race, and that invasion by Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans has made little difference to the genetic characteristics of most white Britons, which have not changed substantially since a few thousand hunter-gatherers migrated north westwards immediately after the Ice Age and were then cut off from mainland Europe as rising sea levels turned the UK into a series of islands. Subsequent invaders from mainland Europe might have been dominated the islands politically and culturally, but not genetically.

Others interpret David’s book in quite the opposite way. According to The Independent’s review, ‘Miles's copiously fascinating account proves that the British are a mongrel people from everywhere … one of the most mongrel nations on Earth … the product of the multiply confluent genetic rivers that have poured into these islands from prehistoric times onwards, as if we were the pooling point of a human irrigation system flowing first westwards from all quarters of Europe, then more latterly from all quarters of the world.’ The Independent concludes that ‘Britain's history as a perpetual land of immigrants is, on the whole, an optimistic one’, with positive implications ‘for today's second- and third-generation Muslim youth’.

Salon’s editor has not had the privilege of a review copy and so cannot say whose interpretation is correct — but he thinks it is remarkably clever of David to have written aa book that can be interpreted in such different ways!


Kelmarsh Hall Estate, Northamptonshire, Access and Learning Officer
Our Fellow Gerald Cadogan says that the trustees of the Kelmarsh Hall Estate (of which he is one) are developing all sorts of new initiatives with Leicester University for which they require an imaginative educationalist whose job will be to administer and shape the learning opportunities offered by the large house and its 3,500 acres of country estate (which was the venue for this year’s English Heritage Festival of History). A team player is needed for twenty hours a week with the experience and liveliness of mind to facilitate academic research and promote appreciation of the diverse aspects of the estate, which include ecology, archaeology, garden history and country-house studies. For further details please contact 01604 686 543 or or see the trust’s website.