Salon Archive

Issue: 125

Forthcoming meetings

6 October 2005: Building with Boldness: a Stonehenge for the twenty-first century, by Dr Kevin Brown.

13 October: Ballot with exhibits.

2005 Annual Meeting of the North American Fellowship

North American Fellows will be gathering for their annual meeting on 4 November 2005 at Boston’s Union Oyster House, when the main business will be to hear a paper by Professor Charles Higham, FBA, FSA, on The Origins of the Civilization of Angkor, followed by dinner. Fellows are welcome to bring guests. Further details can be obtained from Professor Norman Hammond, FSA, Secretary for the Americas.

Feedback and corrections

Salon 124 reported on the Heritage Research Presentation Award, designed to encourage archaeologists to communicate their research findings to a non-specialist audience in engaging and accessible ways, and described this year’s award as the first ever; Salon has now been informed that the award has already been running for a good four years.

Our friends at SAVE, while pleased with the report on the organisation’s thirtieth anniversary, have pointed out that Salon was over-optimistic in claiming that all the Smithfield market buildings had now been listed. SAVE’s Secretary, Adam Wilkinson, tells us that only the Red House cold store was listed last year, leaving the General Market, its annex (the former Fish Market) and the triangular lavatory block unlisted. Presently the developer is challenging the listing of the Red House while also applying for a certificate of immunity from listing for the General Market and other buildings, and has submitted an application to demolish the General Market — so the future of the market buildings are as uncertain as ever and SAVE fights on!

The note in Salon 124 concerning the Easton Neston model gave the impression that our Fellow Charles Hind had acquired the model for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Charles has written to clarify what he says is a common misapprehension about the relationship that the RIBA has with the V&A now that parts of the Drawings & Archives Collections are housed at the museum: the Collections remain the property of the RIBA and the staff of the British Architectural Library who maintain the Collections continue to be employed by the RIBA. All accessions to and purchases for the RIBA’s Collections are made by the Institute and it was the Institute that was given the money for the model, not the V&A.

Further apologies are due to our Fellow Justine Bayley, whose first name has been omitted in error from the Society’s autumn programme of meetings; Jayne Phenton says that she is having the programme card reprinted to correct the error and that the new card will go out with the next mailing to Fellows at the end of October.

Online balloting

Last week’s launch of the Society’s new online balloting system was not without its moments of humour. Hasty changes were made to the passwords of several Fellows, one of whom (quite rightly) objected to being matched (albeit randomly) with the password ‘shallowtiredperson’, though another Fellow was delighted to be given the password ‘zanystrangethesis’, which she thought was highly appropriate.

Mark Horton, FSA, suggested that an opportunity had been missed to maintain the heritage of balloting and asked: ‘Could not the designers have not got us to press balls, rather than mere buttons? Even better, could we not have moved these balls on the screen into an iconic voting machine? I hope that such modifications can be introduced, before the memory of the old system fades from memory and the old machine is sent down to the cellars!’.

Salon hastens to assure Fellows that there is absolutely no intention whatsoever of retiring the traditional ballot boxes, and for all those who prefer to vote the tactile way, in person, the opportunity will continue to exist (as required by statute) at ballot meetings such as the one to be held on 13 October, when Fellows will also be exhibiting a number of objects that have aroused their interest and scholarly curiosity.

News of Fellows

Our congratulations to Nick Merriman, FSA, who was elected President of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) at the CBA’s annual general meeting last week, in succession to our Fellow Francis Pryor.

John Prag, FSA, tells Salon that the publication of his work on the archaeology of Alderley Edge (see ‘Books by Fellows’) coincides with his retirement as Keeper of Archaeology and Professor in Archaeological Studies at the Manchester Museum, but that he will be continuing at the museum on a part-time basis, having been appointed Professor Emeritus in the Manchester Museum; he adds that there’s also that enormous publication backlog that we all have which needs tackling!

Ever at the cutting edge of technology and communication, our Fellow Andrew Fitzpatrick has been experimenting with blogs and podcasts during a recent Wessex Archaeology training excavation at Fellow Martin Green’s farm in Cranborne Chase. Blogs, he explains, are ‘web logs’ or on-line diaries, which enable participants in the excavation to record their views and impressions, accompanied in some cases by photographs taken by mobile phones connected to a laptop computer and uploaded on to the website each day.

Podcasts are radio programmes that can be downloaded from the web and played on computer or MP3 player (Podcast is an amalgam of the name of Apple’s popular iPod MP3 player and the term ‘webcasting’). Two podcasts, or ‘archaeocasts’ as they have been dubbed at Wessex, have been posted on the Wessex website.

According to our Fellow Sue Davies, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, the experiment has been a great success in making archaeology more accessible: ‘the website has had a large number of hits and, more importantly, very positive feedback’.

Institute of Archaeology database

Also from Nick Merriman comes the news that the Institute of Archaeology at UCL now has an on-line database of the archaeological sites it has in its collections. The Institute’s collections are fairly large (around 40,000 objects) but are comparatively unknown, despite having material from the excavations of such luminaries as Flinders Petrie, Max Mallowan, Kathleen Kenyon, Leonard Woolley and Mortimer Wheeler. Details can be found on the UCL website.

The database is part of an ongoing initiative to provide online access to information about all the UCL collections of archaeology, natural history, geology, art, ethnography and science. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology already has an online database of all 80,000 of its objects (with images) at


Our Fellow Polly Mander has informed the Society of the recent death of her father, Noel Mander, FSA, the renowned organ maker, while our Fellow Edward Impey has conveyed the sad news of the death of his father, Oliver Impey, FSA, former curator in the Ashmolean’s Department of Eastern Art.

The following extracts have been taken from Oliver Impey’s obituary, written by Andrew Topsfield, which appears in full on the Ashmolean’s website. Oliver Impey, who died on 7 September 2005 aged 69, was a leading authority on the arts of Japan. Oliver had many other varied interests besides, and was something of a Renaissance Man in his enthusiastic curiosity about art and nature and his keen eye for aesthetic quality. He was one of the Ashmolean’s most gifted, versatile, productive and colourful curators of recent times.

Oliver Impey was educated at Eton and Oxford, where he took his BA in Zoology. His doctoral thesis (which is to be published posthumously) was on the workings of lizards’ jaws. As an Orientalist, connoisseur and naturalist, he had heredity on his side. Generations of Impeys had served in India, going back to Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Bengal in the 1770s. He and his wife Mary were important collectors and patrons of Indian painting. Lady Impey, in particular, assembled a large menagerie of Indian birds and beasts and had them superbly depicted, often in life size, by her Indian artists.

Oliver served for a time in the Coldstream Guards, but had to retire following the onset of cancer. From this he recovered courageously, with the devoted support of his wife Jane, though his treatment left him with a persistent bone weakness, which he always bore stoically. Returning to Oxford, he rejoined the Zoology department and, with customary energy, finished writing his thesis on the daily train to London after he had started work at Sotheby’s. In Sotheby’s Furniture and Textiles Department, Oliver’s instinctive connoisseurship and remarkable breadth of knowledge began to develop fully, as well as his intimate knowledge of the art trade and his eagle eye for an unrecognised bargain. Oxford, however, reclaimed him two years later. In 1967 he was appointed Assistant Keeper for Japanese Art at the Ashmolean, and he was able, as a Sotheby’s colleague put it, to move “straight from the whorehouse to the nunnery”.

Oliver’s talent for befriending donors often led him beyond the normal call of duty. Many times he had to risk life and limb from Gerald Reitlinger’s erratic driving, or undergo the evening ordeal of asphyxiation by cigar smoke. On one occasion he was asked by the great collector to strip to his underpants and join him in cleaning out his swimming pool. Then came the tragic fire, which devastated Reitlinger’s house, with the collection still inside it, and hastened his death not long after. Equipped only with sleeping bags and wearing saucepans on their heads for protection, Oliver and another curator camped for days in the burnt-out and waterlogged ruin, carefully salvaging objects and collecting the sherds of broken pots for restoration. They thus saved some nine-tenths of the collection. Reitlinger’s famous Mughal drawing of St John after Dürer had fallen off a wall and Oliver tracked it down, buried under inches of wet ash but fortunately not much damaged.

Oliver’s contribution to the life of the museum went further still. In 1969, it was he and Ian Lowe who started that indispensable body, the Friends of the Ashmolean, and they led the first Friends’ tours to country houses. It was also Oliver, with Arthur MacGregor, who organised the major international conference on ‘The Origins of Museums’ for the Ashmolean’s Tercentenary in 1983. This gave rise not only to a classic volume of scholarly papers but the founding of the learned Journal of the History of Collections, which they co-edited.

A stream of scholarly books and articles poured from Oliver’s pen over the years, as well as a large body of lucid and accessible writing for a wider public. In the early 1980s he published ground-breaking articles on seventeenth-century Japanese export lacquer and on early Japanese painting. In 1996 his most important contribution to Japanese ceramic studies appeared, the masterly Early Porcelain Kilns of Arita. The first book on pre-export Japanese porcelain in a European language, it went deeper into the subject than any such work in Japanese, among other reasons because Oliver was the first person to go out and collect material systematically from the original kiln sites. The exceptional esteem in which ‘Impey-san’ was held in Japan for his scholarly contribution was marked in 1997 by the award of the prestigious Koyama Fujio Memorial Prize and Medal. This was followed soon after by the award of his Oxford DLitt.

When terminal cancer was diagnosed this summer, Oliver treated the news with his usual matter of factness and went on preparing his final publications. He even travelled to London to receive the Oriental Ceramic Society’s Hills Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to the Study of Oriental Art. This richly deserved award gave him great pleasure, and he made impromptu a characteristically witty and incisive speech of acceptance.’

Noel Mander, FSA, founder of Mander Organs, passed away peacefully on 18 September 2005 at the age of 93. The following extracts from his obituary are taken from the Daily Telegraph and from the Mander Organs website.

Noel Mander was one of the most important British organ builders and restorers of the twentieth century; during a career that stretched back to the 1930s he acquired a reputation for his sympathetic attention to detail, particularly when working on older instruments. The five-year restoration of the great organ in St Paul’s Cathedral, completed in time for the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, was perhaps his proudest moment. But it was just one of many successes that included the restoration of the Snetzler instrument in the chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge (1963); the repair and addition of a great cornet to the 1765 John Byfield organ at St Mary’s, Rotherhithe (1959); and the rebuilding of the Willis instrument in St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen (1973).

Noel Percy Mander was educated at Haberdashers Aske’s School, but disliked it and left at the earliest opportunity to join the publishing house A&C Black. He was unsuited to the strictures of office life, however, and, through a friend of his uncle, Mander found work with Ivor Davis, who had worked for Hill Norman & Beard, then the pre-eminent organ builder, which could trace its origins to 1755.

Having been a volunteer fireman in the Auxiliary Fire Service at the outbreak of the Second World War, Noel joined the Royal Artillery, and was posted to North Africa, where he found time during a lull in the fighting to restore the organ in Algiers Cathedral, which had been silent for many years. The diocese rewarded him with a bottle of finest Cognac. Invalided out of the Army while in Italy, he used his convalescence to restore a seventeenth-century instrument at Trani.

After the war he assisted the London Diocese in getting organs working again in bomb-damaged churches. He set up a workshop in an old butcher’s shop in Collier Street before moving, in 1946, into the old buildings of St Peter’s School in Bethnal Green, where the firm remains to this day.

Having been involved with the rebuilding of a number of large organs, he was awarded the contract to rebuild the organ in St Paul’s Cathedral in London during the 1970s. This project, lasting almost five years, was perhaps his greatest pride and was completed just in time for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations at St Paul’s.

After his retirement to Suffolk in 1983 his son John moved on to the organ stool, but Noel Mander continued to keep a watchful eye over the family firm. He particularly enjoyed its construction of an enormous 40-ton pipe organ for the Catholic Church of St Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue, New York, then the largest instrument to be constructed by a British builder. The sixtieth anniversary of Noel Mander Ltd was marked in 1996 by the publication of a collection of essays by admirers, pupils and scholars of his craft entitled Fanfare for an Organ Builder.

England’s heritage protection review: where next?

Last week’s Annual General Meeting of the Institute for Field Archaeologists, held at the Society of Antiquaries, was preceded by a seminar in which our Fellow Peter Beacham of English Heritage outlined progress towards a new Heritage Act for England, merging and modernising the systems for designating and protecting the historic environment. Peter reminded everyone of the major proposals: a new statutory definition of heritage assets; a new system for designating heritage assets, based on published criteria and public consultation; a new register with improved information about what is designated and why; one consent regime for all types of designated heritage assets, instead of the separate, complex and inconsistent systems that currently apply to buildings, places of worship, ancient monuments, protected wrecks, parks and gardens, battlefields and World Heritage Sites; a new statutory responsibility for local authorities to maintain or have access to Historic Environment Records; the introduction of new heritage partnership agreements for large-scale or complex historic sites under single ownership or management, based on an agreed strategic vision for the management of the site which also takes into account other forms of designation, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and other conservation regimes designed to protect and enhance the terrestrial and marine natural environments.

Peter also reminded everyone that all of these proposals had resulted from a two-year consultation process, that heritage professionals had largely welcomed them and that English Heritage was in the process of testing the practicalities of the new regime through a series of pilot projects. What had not been adequately addressed, however, was the issue of resources to ensure that the new regime could be delivered effectively. That issue remained problematic because the Treasury was not prepared to endorse legislation that required an increase in public spending unless that increase had been bid for and secured through the public spending review process.

As a first step towards moving that debate forward, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport had produced four discussion papers, one of which specifically addresses the issue of delivery, which will largely be the responsibility of local authorities. This fourth paper sets out a programme of research designed to find out what needs to be done to ensure a smooth transition to the proposed new system and what resources local authorities will need. The paper notes that there is a considerable degree of variation in public service provision and service performance, which is a legacy of the non-statutory nature of many heritage-related activities delivered at local and regional level, and proposes a comprehensive survey of the current delivery of historic environment services by local authorities in England to be conducted early in 2006.

The timetable for the Heritage Act assumes that a White Paper will be published in May 2006, with a three-month consultation period, after which DCMS will bid for the Bill to be included in the 2007 or 2008 parliamentary session. On the assumption that the bid is successful, the new regime will be implemented in 2010. Our Fellow Malcolm Airs has announced that the annual IFA/IHBC Planning and the Historic Environment Day on Friday 19 May 2006 in Oxford will be devoted to a consideration of the White Paper.

Peter also reported that the White Paper would be jointly published by DCMS and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), which he saw as a very important sign that the ODPM was supportive of the new proposals for the historic environment and recognised the need to embed them fully within the larger planning regime. Peter also believed that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would also lend its support, given the potential for a holistic approach to the natural and historic environments supported by farm stewardship subsidies.

In defence of NIMBYism

With a different perspective on the ODPM’s support (or otherwise) for the historic and natural environment, Country Life this week publishes a robustly argued defence of NIMBYism by our Fellow Simon Jenkins, in which he says that ‘not in my backyard campaigners’ have been derided by this Government as selfish, backward-looking types who want to pull the ladder up behind them once they have secured their own rural idyll. On the contrary, says Jenkins, they are the true touchstones of democracy, but their power to order the pace of change in their own communities has been take away by John Prescott’s 2004 Planning Act which removes structural planning responsibility away from elected council members and puts it in the hands of the ODPM’s own regional offices.

Jenkins believes that it will not be long before landscapes will be designated in the same way that historic buildings are, with the implication that any landscape not so designated will be available for development. He argues that all of this is so unnecessary, and that all economic development, properly planned, can easily be accommodated within existing areas of settlement.

The whole article is written with bravura and flair, but the best and most memorable bit is not by Jenkins, but rather takes the form of a quotation from the work of another of our Fellows, Oliver Rackham. Explaining why land-hungry, low-density development in the countryside is bad planning, Rackham says it merely ‘extends what is already commonplace at the expense of what is wonderful or rare or has meaning’.

The National Trust’s latest property attraction

Salon’s editor was mildly flattered last week to receive an invitation to visit ‘our new, much maligned’ National Trust Central Office in Swindon to discuss the issues raised in the last issue. Opening the pages of Country Life this week, he discovered that he was not alone in receiving such an invitation: the Trust’s Director General has written to the magazine to say: ‘We would be delighted to welcome any member to visit us at Heelis’. The papers sent out for the National Trust AGM go further and promise a shop and restaurant for visitors. All we need now is an annoying Ticketmaster booking system, guided tours and room stewards to turn Heelis into what could be the Trust’s most popular visitor attraction, a bit like a human zoo, with that extra ‘lived in, worked in’ feel that visitors complain is so lacking from many of the Trust’s historic properties.

Meanwhile Private Eye tells us that Heelis is named in honour of Beatrix Potter (one of the Trust’s most generous early benefactors, who became Mrs Heelis when she married the solicitor William Heelis in 1913), but that waggish Trust staff have been quick to coin ‘Hellish’ as an alternative name. In an article headed ‘Monumental blunders’, Private Eye says that disaffected staff delivered some home truths in a recent staff survey, which revealed that only 15 per cent of their number felt the organisation’s senior managers were in touch with what is happening at grass-roots level, and that only one in four staff believe that senior management and trustees are leading them in the right direction.

Private Eye went on to say that the Trust is still paying rent on its Queen Anne’s Gate office, having failed to find new tenants, but had rented another building five doors away in St James’s to house ‘the policy wonks who had declined to go to Swindon’. Meanwhile the membership magazine contains profuse apologies from the head of customer care for failing to process members’ subscriptions adequately, including gift subscriptions that people have bought as birthday and anniversary presents for their friends and family that have never been processed.

There is much, much more in the Eye that Salon’s editor (caring deeply as he does for the National Trust’s well being) finds too depressing to report. A fortnight ago, National Trust Council member Ronald Legg accused the organisation of behaving like the National Trust PLC; of course, if it were a true PLC, institutional investors would surely now be asking for heads to roll.

English Heritage: not only pub landlord, but also hotelier

English Heritage has also been in for criticism this week, with the normally tranquil Isle of Wight said to be engulfed in a row over plans for the future of Osborne House. According to The Independent, islanders are distraught to learn that ‘Sir Neil Cossons and his trustees are formulating secret plans to turn it into a hotel and conference centre’. ‘It’s not just the idea of desecrating a landmark building,’ one protestor is quoted as saying. ‘A hotel will surely lead to a leisure centre. What would Queen Victoria have made of it? It’s imperative that someone makes them see sense.’

Salon would not have lent any credence to such a story had not English Heritage announced last month that it was going into the pub trade with the purchase of the Abbey Inn, which stands in the grounds of Byland Abbey, near Thirsk in Yorkshire. Sure enough, the organisation’s strategic plan also mentions widening the range of catering activities that the agency will undertake in order to become less dependent on Government for its revenue. As for Osborne House, The Independent published the following statement from English Heritage: ‘We are in the early stages of exploring the possible development of the parts of the house previously used as a convalescent home into a small hotel. This follows the assessment of a number of development options … We are in the process of consulting with local partners, but much work is needed before these plans are developed.’

National Gallery’s grand entrance

Let us now turn to the much more cheerful news of the unveiling of the National Gallery’s newly refurbished entrance hall, restored to something like its original splendour after a £22 million campaign. At the official reopening of the new lobby, our Fellow Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the National Gallery, said that the cramped former entrance hall had ‘felt like a British Rail entrance way … not the grand entrance to a great public institution’. Now the hall has been opened out to create a roomy space supported by pillars clad in sea-green marble, newly revealed after decades clad in a layer of monochrome facing. Ahead lies the grand central staircase, decorated with salmon-pink marble from Tunisia, paved with Boris Anrep’s floor mosaics depicting Greta Garbo, Diana Mitford and Virginia Woolf as Muses, and Winston Churchill and T S Eliot as the personifications of ‘Defiance’ and ‘Leisure’, respectively, among the Modern Virtues. Overhead, the ceilings created by J D Crace in the nineteenth century, but painted over in the 1930s, have been recreated. From the top of the staircase, visitors can look out over Nelson’s Column to the Houses of Parliament, a view enhanced by the enlargement of the main glass door.

Edward Dixon, of Dixon Jones, the architectural practice that supervised the restoration, said he was ambitious to move on to the conversion of part of the Gallery’s west wing, currently offices, into exhibition spaces, but Charles Saumarez Smith said the Gallery now ‘needed a break from onerous fundraising’.

One reason why fundraising has been so burdensome was the refusal of the Heritage Lottery Fund to contribute to the work, which was not considered to meet HLF’s criteria for involving people in the heritage. This has not prevented the HLF’s sister body, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, from choosing the newly refurbished gallery for its special exhibition to celebrate the NHMF’s Silver Jubilee. The exhibition (which runs until 30 October) brings together a group of seven paintings acquired by the National Gallery with the support of the NHMF, including Holbein’s Lady with a Squirrel and Starling and The Triumph of Pan by Poussin. A similar special exhibition will open at the British Museum on 24 October.

The NHMF was established in 1980 as a memorial to those who gave their lives for this country and it continues to operate as a fund of ‘last resort’, focusing on saving heritage under threat. The Fund’s current budget is £5 million per annum, which comes from government grant-in-aid; this is due to double in 2007. Outstanding treasures that have been saved for the nation include the Becket Chasse, the Macclesfield Psalter, the Three Graces, the Mappa Mundi, the Sherborne Missal and the National Trust’s Victorian country house, Tyntesfield.

Lottery money for Ruislip Manor Farm and Strawberry Hill

Manor Farm, the group of former farm buildings that lends a village atmosphere to the north-west London suburb of Ruislip, is to be rejuvenated with the help of a £2 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The farm stands within the curtilage of Ernulf de Hesdin’s late eleventh-century motte-and-bailey, at the centre of what was the second largest medieval parish in Middlesex, bequeathed by Ernulf to Bec Abbey, in Normandy, and owned since 1541 by King’s College, Cambridge. Two medieval barns on the site were converted to public use in the 1930s, and the new restoration work will reveal original features hidden under modern additions. A new Interpretation Centre at Manor Farm House will give visitors a chance to explore the King’s College archive collection for the first time.

Horace Walpole’s ‘little Gothic castle’, Strawberry Hill, is to receive nearly £5 million in lottery money to help finance a long-awaited £8.2 million restoration project. The Grade I listed house, acquired by Walpole in 1747 and transformed over a forty-year period, is one of the most important and influential buildings of the Gothic revival. Strawberry Hill’s pinnacles and tracery, constructed of wood, stucco and papier mâché, are now in a perilous state of disrepair. Its vulnerability and uncertain future were highlighted in 2003, when the World Monuments Fund included it on its list of ‘100 Most Endangered Sites in the World’. The World Monuments Fund is backing the campaign to raise a further £3.5 million to ensure the project can go ahead.

Michael Snodin, Chairman of the Strawberry Hill Trust, commented: ‘This is wonderful news for the future of Strawberry Hill. We will now be able to work towards the restoration of the building and garden, bringing Walpole’s “little Gothic castle” back to its former glory and making it a place everyone can visit and enjoy.’ Completion is anticipated in 2010 to coincide with a major exhibition on Horace Walpole and his collections to be shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Yale Center for British Art at New Haven.

One month export bar on Viking treasure

A temporary export bar has been placed on seven pieces of Viking hack silver (cut from silver ingots) and a fragment of a stamped arm-ring found in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the export bar is to provide a last chance for the money to be raised to keep the silver in the United Kingdom (at the recommended price of £1,000) and it reflects the hack silver’s outstanding significance for the study of the development of the economy and society in the Viking age, when its use as a form of currency was widespread.

These pieces of hack silver, not much larger than a finger nail or postage stamp, are cut in the same characteristic way as similar finds that have been dredged up from the Blackwater river at Shanmullagh, County Armagh, since the 1990s, much of which are housed in the Ulster Museum. This hoard is unparalleled in the United Kingdom and of exceptional importance in its combination of Irish-Viking and native ecclesiastical metalwork. Only four silver hoards have been recorded as having been discovered in Northern Ireland and some of these were melted down in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Very little is known about Viking Age Northern Ireland, but the Shanmullagh hoard is evidence for the great diversity of items that were in circulation in that part of the country at that time.

Further details can be found on the website of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Commission.

Archaeologists stumble on brickworks of ancient Rome

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Italian archaeologists from Tuscia University have discovered the site of the brickworks that provided Rome with materials for such monuments as the Colosseum and the Pantheon. The site was found accidentally during fieldwork for another project when Professor Tizano Gasperoni and his team found an inscription reading ‘Iter privatum duorum domitiorum’ (‘the private road of the two Domitii’) at a site lying 50 miles north of Rome, near the village of Bomarzo, on the Tiber. The Domitii referred to are the brothers, Tullus and Lucanus Domitius, whose names are already familiar to archaeologists from stamps on the Colosseum and Pantheon bricks. The inscription led to the uncovering of two furnaces and thousands of bricks and floor and roof tiles, complete with the brothers’ half-moon imprint. ‘We have only just scratched the surface of the site and work is still continuing’, Professor Gasperoni said.

Statues of Athena and Hera found on Crete

A team of Italian and Greek archaeologists excavating the ruined theatre of Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, have found two near-perfect statues of the goddesses Athena and Hera. Anna Micheli, of the Italian School of Archaeology, said that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was complete, while Hera, long-suffering wife of Zeus, was headless. The goddesses, each standing 6.5 ft tall with their bases, were toppled from their plinths by a powerful earthquake that destroyed the theatre and much of the town around the year AD 367. ‘The statues fell off the stage, and were found just in front of their original position, yards from ground level,’ she said. ‘This is one of the rare cases when such works are discovered in the building where they initially stood.’

Kephalonia suggested as the home of Odysseus

Several newspapers reported last week that a British amateur archaeologist claims to have located the real site of Ithaca, the island kingdom described in Homer’s Odyssey as the home of Odysseus, which the wandering hero finally finds again after his epic ten-year search. Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant, believes that the name of the Ionian island of Ithaki is misleading: the true Ithaca was the peninsula of Paliki on the nearby island of Kephalonia. He said that geological and historic evidence suggests that Paliki was a separate island before earthquakes and landslides filled in the narrow sea channel separating it from Kephalonia.

Two British academics are backing Bittlestone’s theory and have contributed to his book, Odysseus Unbound — The Search for Homer’s Ithaca. James Diggle, professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University, said the hypothesis worked because it was a better fit with Homer’s descriptions of a low-lying land (Ithaki is mountainous), while John Underhill, professor of stratigraphy at Edinburgh University, provides geological evidence supporting Bittlestone’s theory, whilst adding that further research was needed to test sediments in a dried-up lake on the landfill area. If they were older than 3,000 years, that would suggest the area was not underwater in the Homeric period — thus disproving Bittlestone’s hypothesis.

Mesolithic finds in Sussex and Aberdeen

The BBC reported last week that archaeologists from English Heritage, Royal Holloway London University, Surrey County Archaeological Unit and WBB Minerals have discovered undisturbed Mesolithic deposits at North Park Farm, Bletchingly, Surrey, where more than 1,000 finds have already been uncovered from the multi-period site with medieval, Iron Age and Bronze Age remains. The site was found after a mineral company applied for planning permission to quarry in the area.

Another Mesolithic site has been located on the outskirts of Kintore, Aberdden, by Murray Cook of Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology, who told local papers that ‘we are looking at the earliest settlement in Aberdeenshire, if not Scotland. The whole of the Kintore landscape is of national significance. There are only three or four Mesolithic sites identified in Aberdeenshire.’ Excavations currently under way at the site hope to uncover round houses and metal works from more recent Iron Age enclosures. Mr Cook commented that ‘this excavation is among the largest and most significant ever undertaken in Aberdeenshire and certainly in Scotland as well. It is a very impressive and very significant landscape.’

Thornborough henges quarry decision deferred

Campaigners hoping that North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee would reach a decision on Tarmac’s application to extend its gravel extraction at Ladybridge Farm — close to the 5,500-year-old Thornborough henges, in North Yorkshire — must wait until next year to discover whether quarrying of another 2.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel is to be allowed near the Neolithic site. At a meeting held on 20 September, the planning committee was told that Tarmac had applied for a last-minute deferral of the decision in order to undertake further archaeological surveying of the Ladybridge site. North Yorkshire County Council issued a statement saying: ‘We hope to have a full report for members to consider in January.’

Members of the North Yorkshire County Council planning board visited the site in August and were recommended by planning officers to refuse permission. The Thornborough henges landscape includes what archaeologists have described as ‘the largest collection of Neolithic remains of this type so far found in the north of England’. Local campaigners have collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition opposing the plans, which would see major extraction work about half a mile away from the henges.

Tarmac has said the quarry extension is on farmland where, according to a recent study by archaeological consultants, there is only ‘thin and scattered’ evidence of prehistoric activity. Our fellow, Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology, commented that the 2 per cent of the site that had been examined was not enough to make an accurate evaluation of its archaeological significance, but that that was not the key issue. ‘It is our position that we do not believe further work will change our view that it is a site of national importance,’ he said.

Italy’s public art at risk from vandals

Art historians in Italy are calling for historic statues and monuments to be moved indoors and replaced with copies, following a recent spate of attacks on some of Italy’s finest monuments. A man snapped the hand of Ammanati’s sixteenth-century Neptune fountain in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria recently, while trying to climb it to have his photograph taken, while in Rome a stone bee was chopped off Bernini’s 1644 fountain. City officials in Rome say they are also waging a battle over the dozens of marble busts of famous Italians that stand in the Pincio Park and are constantly mutilated by graffiti or losing their noses.

Leading art historian Mina Gregori, a professor at the University of Florence, says there are many ‘sublime works of art in locations that are now unsuitable. Our streets are full of young people, many of whom do not respect culture and history’. As an example, she cites the bronze sculpture of the Greek hero Perseus holding aloft the Gorgon’s head, which has been restored and put back in the same location in Florence in which it has stood since 1554. ‘It is simply absurd that one of the greatest masterpieces in the world should remain exposed to bad weather, pollution and vandals,’ she says. ‘It should be taken away and put in the Bargello and replaced by a copy.’

Florence’s art heritage chief, Antonio Paolucci, believes that ‘The problem in Italy, like in all parts of the world, is that we are seeing a kind of tourism that does not have respect for cultural and artistic places. I think on the whole it is ignorance rather than deliberate badness, and so we must try to educate our children from when they are very young to have respect and appreciation for any country that has works of art.’ Paolucci favours tougher penalties for vandals. ‘At the moment,’ he said, ‘most transgressors get a fine, and I am in favour of custodial sentences in serious cases. But punishing people will not solve this problem. In the end, I believe education is the key.’

Fertility stone remains in place after women protest

The Times’s Scotland correspondent reported last week that a plan to move an ancient phallic stone said to contain the spirit of a Celtic god has been abandoned by councillors after locals threatened to stage a sit-in around the monument. Councillors confirmed last night that they had shelved a proposal to shift the Stone of Mannan just five yards from its site in the Scottish town of Clackmannan after furious opposition from local women. Harry McLaren, a local councillor who proposed moving the stone while repairs were made to an adjacent sixteenth-century Tolbooth, said that he had been astonished by the level of opposition to the plans and had shelved them indefinitely. ‘I’m afraid it kindled up a vast reaction, more than we’ve seen for anything for ages, and just about everyone was against this,’ he said. ‘We’ve now said that we won’t consider moving the stone unless there is very good reason for it.’

The Stone of Mannan, a whinstone boulder three foot long by two foot high, occupies pride of place in the town’s main street, where it has perched on top of a monolithic plinth since 1833. Although locals dispute how long it was at its previous location, near an old road by the River Forth, legend has it that the stone has played a role in the community since pagan times, when it was worshipped for supposedly containing the spirit of Mannan, a Celtic god of the sea and fertility.

Davina Armstrong, 74, who organised the protest meeting, said that people were worried that the stone might suffer damage by being moved. ‘We just didn’t want it shifted,’ she said. ‘All the ladies at the meeting decided that we would learn how to sing “We shall not be moved” and sit around the stone if it came to that. People have just got used to it being where it is, I suppose the women more because they are always in the village for the shopping. They didn’t see any sense in the council coming along and saying they wanted to shift it.’

Celebrating Britain’s first curry house

Much fun was had by the media last week following the unveiling of a plaque on the side of a 1970s apartment block to record the site of London’s first curry restaurant — and no, we are not talking 1950s here but 1809, in the midst of the Napoleonic wars and during the period in which Austen set Pride and Prejudice. The Hindoostane Coffee House was established by Sake Dean Mahomed, an Indian-born entrepreneur, as a purveyor of ‘oriental food of the highest perfection’ in Marylebone. Born in 1759 in Patna, in Bihar, east India, of a middle-class Bengali family, Mr Mahomed served in the East India Company army and married to Jane Daly, an Irishwoman. Moving to London, they hoped to cash in on Marylebone’s popularity with former merchants and servicemen who settled there after making fortunes on the Indian subcontinent.

The history of the Hindoostane Coffee House was researched by Peter Grove, who co-wrote Curry Culture — a very British love affair with his wife Colleen. ‘We were researching the book and I just wanted to know which was Britain’s first curry house’, he said. ‘We came across Mr Mahomed, who was a remarkable man. He was Britain’s first man of curry. His place would have been very different from most curry houses today. It was very posh and colonial and catered for a very genteel crowd. Unfortunately the venture failed, mainly because there was no culture of going out to eat at the time.’

Fighter Command’s stately headquarters to be sold

The Ministry of Defence is considering bids for the eighteenth-century Bentley Priory in Stanmore, Middlesex, which was the headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. The news has caused concern for the future of a building that the Battle of Britain Fighter Association considers to be as important a monument as HMS Victory is for the Navy. The Priory, perched on high land overlooking London, was the nerve centre of aerial defences. It was there that Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding directed his squadrons against the Luftwaffe’s relentless assaults throughout the summer of 1940.

The ministry has confirmed that the future of Bentley Priory was ‘under consideration’ as one of a portfolio of MoD properties now deemed surplus to requirements. A final decision will not be taken until next July. An MoD spokesman said: ‘Obviously there is a huge amount of history here and we are consulting with English Heritage, Defence Estates [the property arm of the MoD] and the London borough of Harrow as to how the site will be developed.’ The Priory is a Grade I listed building and the surrounding estate is on the national register of historic parks and gardens. A spokesman for English Heritage said there was no question of it being bulldozed or of homes being built on the site. Nevertheless, there were fears that the house, the interior of which was designed by Sir John Soane, might be turned into a hotel or retirement home rather than being saved as a permanent memorial to the 3,000 pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain.

A spokesman for the Battle of Britain Fighter Association said that the building could provide a permanent home for the association and a museum to remind future generations of the battle’s significance. The association and its supporters are working to establish a charitable trust to pay for building work and maintenance if the Ministry of Defence decides to hand the Priory over to the pilots. ‘The Few saved it for the nation,’ one of the organisers said. ‘Let the nation now save it for The Few.’

The Fellowship: the story of a revolution

The highly readable historian, John Gribbin, has just published a new book telling the story of the rise of science in England in the seventeenth century through the lives of the founders of the Royal Society. In many ways the story has echoes of our own history as a learned society. The theme of the book is the development of empirical methods for analysing and understanding the world. The silencing of Galileo by the Inquisition in 1632 seems to have had the opposite effect to that intended by the Vatican; instead of intimidating European philosophers into accepting the superiority of theology and revelation over their own observations, it seems to have galvanised them into rejecting religious orthodoxy in favour of ‘experimental philosophy’, looking (in the words of William Gilbert in his work on magnetism) ‘not only in books but in things themselves for knowledge’.

But as the title of Gribbin’s book — The Fellowship — emphasises, where Galileo strove alone and was kept isolated in his Florentine farmhouse, the members of the Royal Society, led by Gilbert, Hooke, Newton, Halley, Hobbes and Locke, had the advantage of belonging to ‘a voluntary congregation of like-minded enquirers’, which began meeting in Oxford from the 1640s. Something similar was happening in Paris at the same time with the formation of the Libertines, the group of free-thinking philosophers whose members included Fermat, Pascal, Gassendi and Descartes. Gribbin’s book does full justice to these giants of their age, but his numerous brief and entertaining biographies of their contemporaries does not neglect the important role of those many enthusiasts for science who were involved in the Royal Society and whose contribution was not discovery, but the necessary and important one of financial subvention!

Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’: what does it all mean?

Letters to The Times have recently debated the suitability of Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’, as England’s national anthem. The debate was sparked by a correspondent who felt that Parry’s tune was a fine one, but alleged that Blake’s anti-industrial sentiments made the words unsuitable as an anthem for a nation with a proud history of achievement in the technical and engineering fields. He also accused Blake of portraying England as a godless and irreligious land, asserting that the question of whether ‘those feet’ ever walked on England’s mountains green surely invited the decisive answer ‘no’.

Salon’s editor vaguely remembers from studying Blake’s work thirty years ago that this is all a misinterpretation. Blake not only believed that Christ did visit England, with Joseph of Arimathea, he built a complex personal mythology around this fact and passionately believed that Albion (his name for England) was the second Promised Land, so the first verse means ‘it scarcely seems true, but if Christ did visit England, then there is all the more reason why this country has a special claim to be the site of the New Jerusalem’. As for the dark satanic mills, Blake makes it clear elsewhere in his writing that he was not thinking of textile mills in Lancashire but rather unthinking religious institutions, which Blake saw as encouraging the mindless mass production of meaningless prayers.

But an attempt to substantiate these recollections using the internet has yielded nothing. Most sites dedicated to Blake’s poem are wildly unhistorical and subjective. Perhaps there are some Blake scholars amongst the Fellowship who might be able to explain this resonant but enigmatic work, and perhaps to settle the question of whether it really is something that the English should be proud to adopt as an anthem.

Conferences, lectures and seminars

‘What happened to Babylon? The Destruction of Iraqi Cultural Heritage’ by Dr John Curtis, FSA
Royal Geographical Society, Kensington Gore, London SW7, 28 September 2005 at 7pm

Our Fellow John Curtis, curator of the current British Museum exhibition, Forgotten Empire: the world of ancient Persia, will be giving a first-hand account of his missions to Iraq to assess the impact of the war on the country’s rich heritage. This lecture and discussion is hosted by the World Monuments Fund in Britain.

Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Annual Conference
Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth, 12 November 2005

The 2005 NAS Annual Conference is an opportunity to discuss research, review the archaeological activities of members and exchange ideas on managing our maritime heritage. Confirmed speakers include Anton Englert on the effects of the tsunami on maritime heritage in Sri Lanka, Connie Kellaher on the ongoing survey of the Spanish Armada wreck, La Trinidad Valencera, in County Donegal, Ireland, Lucy Blue on the archaeology of the Red Sea, Nic Flemming on submerged prehistoric landscapes and Jens Auer on the excavation of an Elizabethan merchantman in the Thames. Full details from the conference website.

Archaeological Diving Practices Seminar
English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London, 7 December 2005

English Heritage and the Institute of Field Archaeologists’ Maritime Affairs Group (IFA-MAG) are hosting a seminar on archaeological diving practices, stimulated by the increase in the volume of both developer- and research-led underwater investigations. The meeting will discuss the archaeological interpretation and application of the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 in relation to the Health & Safety at Work Act and archaeology. A full programme can be obtained from the English Heritage website.

Books by Fellows

Triggered by the discovery of a hoard of over 550 Roman coins secreted at the top of a disused mineshaft in 1996, the Manchester Museum and the National Trust together established the Alderley Edge Landscape Project, with the support of the Leverhulme Trust and other bodies, led by our Fellow John Prag, Keeper of Archaeology at the Manchester Museum. This multidisciplinary research project set out to investigate every aspect of the natural and human history of this remarkable part of Cheshire. The project was completed in 2005, and John has now published the results, with his co-editor Simon Timberlake, Director of Excavations for the Early Mines Research Group, as The Archaeology of Alderley Edge: survey, excavation and experiment in an ancient mining landscape.

Excavations proved that this is one of the earliest metal-mining sites in England (dating from around 1900 BC) and found the first Roman mineshaft so far known in this country. The book contains the first detailed analysis of the hammerstones that are a feature of Bronze Age mining sites, linked to chapters on experimental tool-making and smelting and followed by studies of the soils, groundwaters and geochemistry of this extraordinary site which has been mined for copper, lead and cobalt for four millennia. The book is available in two different editions: as British Archaeological Reports, British Series 396, or in a separate edition for local sales which is available from The Museum Shop, The Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, at £30 (plus £3 p&p; £1.50 for second and subsequent copies) or by phone on 0161 275 2635.


English Heritage: vacancies for Commissioners with expertise in places of worship and archaeology
Closing date: 14 October 2005

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is seeking two suitably qualified persons to appoint as English Heritage Commissioners: one must be able to demonstrate knowledge of a wide range of historic places of worship, along with their historical and liturgical development in England, and the other must be an archaeologist of international stature, able to represent English Heritage at the highest level in the archaeological community.

For both posts, application forms and the full role specification can be obtained from Mark Greenwood: Mark Greenwood.

War Memorials Trust: Conservation/Cultural Heritage Trustee
Closing date: 31 October 2005

The War Memorials Trust, formerly known as Friends of War Memorials, is seeking to recruit a cultural heritage expert to join its Board of Trustees. As an increasingly respected organisation within the heritage environment it is vital that the Trust ensures that its Board includes an individual with expertise and experience within the sector. Candidates are expected to make a time-commitment of a day a month to participate in Trust activities, including quarterly meetings.

For further information, see the Trust’s website.