Salon Archive

Issue: 141

Forthcoming meetings

8 June: Architecture as Instrument of Dominion: public design in Canada after the Statute of Westminster, by Rhodri Liscombe, FSA

Architecture, whether through construction or associated terminology, has been tasked with the constitution of regime, and, in the modern era, the representation of nation. The compass of those roles compounded from the early eighteenth century in concert with a more instrumental and technical understanding of knowledge. That change was signified by the founding of the Society and coincident with strategic developments establishing Canada. Adapting Foucault'’s redefinition of the archaeological practices fostered by the Society, the agency accorded architecture will be examined with particular respect to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. This was the major federal commission completed in the wake of the Statute of Westminster which initiated the transition from Dominion to full independence.

15 June: Ballot with exhibits: The Chester Retiarius ─ a gladiatorial ‘southpaw’, by Tony Wilmott, FSA, and Sir Joseph Banks and his Halkyn Roman pots and pans, by Dai Morgan Evans, FSA

22 June: A Miscellany of Papers and the Summer Soirée: Jean Wilson, FSA, will give a paper seasonally entitled Anyone for Tennis? and our General Secretary, David Gaimster, will talk about plans for the refurbishment of the Society’s premises at Burlington House.

Kelmscott: summer visiting arrangements for Fellows

Tristan Molloy and Jane Milne, Property Managers at Kelmscott Manor, would like to remind Fellows that they are entitled to free admission on days when the Manor is open to the public (Wednesdays and eight Saturday afternoons in the season ─ see the Kelmscott Manor website for full details).

Funeral notice

The Society has been informed that the funeral of our late Fellow Anthony Baggs will take place on 15 June at 11.15am at the West Chapel, Cambridge Crematorium. Anyone wishing to attend should contact Co-operative Funeralcare for further details; tel: 01223 357046.

Letter from Trevor Rowley on The English Landscape in the Twentieth Century

Salon 140 made reference to the Sunday Times review by our Fellow Simon Jenkins of the new book ─ called The English Landscape in the Twentieth Century ─ by our Fellow, Trevor Rowley. Trevor feels that the review (and the Salon notice) did not give an accurate account of the themes and content of his book, so Salon is happy to publish his letter setting out what the book is really about.

‘You picked up on Simon Jenkins’s claim that I was an apologist for the twentieth-century landscape ─ in particular, the suburban sprawl that characterised the last quarter of the century. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simon Jenkins’s review took particular issue with the paragraph with which I conclude the Introduction: “It is my intention in this book to look at the contribution of the twentieth century to the English landscape, to use some of Hoskins’s methods of landscape analysis to look at many of the things which he found so distasteful, to try to understand what we have created and why. And suggest here and there that perhaps it isn't all quite as bad as we sometimes think.” However, he only quoted the second part of the last sentence, which enables him to get the wrong end of the stick and then to prod me with it. Jenkins accuses me of having a laissez faire approach to the landscape; in fact on many occasions I point out the importance of post-Second World War planning legislation ─ particularly development control in the countryside ─ which has so far prevented the excesses to be found in parts of the USA.

‘Throughout the book there are numerous examples of poor design and landscape disasters but I assumed the reader would be mature enough to recognise that by describing such problems I was not endorsing them. There are already a number of polemical works on the evils of the modern landscape and for the most part I don't take issue with them, but in my book I set out to try to record and interpret what happened between 1900 and 2000 as dispassionately as possible ─ surely the century of most profound change in the landscape ever. These changes were of enormous importance to the way we live now, and while my book could never be definitive it is intended as an overview of a so far under-investigated area of landscape history. It includes sections on “The Age of the Car”, “Taking Off”, “New Towns and Garden Cities”, “Suburbia and Metroland”, “The Impact of War”, “The Seaside” and “Sports and Recreations”, as well as an analysis of what happened in the village and countryside.

‘In Salon 140 you rightly point out that there is a long tradition of attacking the contemporary landscape, notably in the 1930s when the first excesses of ribbon development and other developments brought about by the motor car were first becoming apparent. Sir Simon has written a number of such pieces himself in recent years and he may have taken offence at my (neutral) comparison of one of his articles crying woe written in 2002 (“Rescuing England … its urban and rural landscapes … is the greatest challenge facing politics today”) with that of one by William Morris written in 1881 (“we have begun too late and our foes are too many … ‘tis a lost cause: in fact the destruction is not far from being complete already”). That, however, does not justify him in misrepresenting me as a champion of Mr Prescott's planning blunders!’

Anger at secret plot to demolish the Commonwealth Institute

A leaked letter revealed last week that Government ministers were plotting to demolish the Grade II* Commonwealth Institute (CI) in London by means of a short bill to be pushed through Parliament delisting what is considered to be one of London’s finest post-war buildings.

The letter, which was leaked to the Twentieth Century Society, said that the CI’s trustees believed ‘substantially greater value could be realised if it were possible to alter the building substantially or demolish it altogether’, but that trustees were ‘unwilling to rely exclusively on [listed buildings consent for demolition] because the unique conditions that arise in this case cannot be taken into account by the local planning authority’.

The letter was signed by Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, and Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, and sent to Ruth Kelly, the new Communities and Local Government Secretary, responsible for planning and housing. It concluded that ‘We would wish to bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity … we are today writing in similar terms to Jack Straw, Leader of the House, to advise him of how we would like to proceed. This letter is copied to the Prime Minister.’

At stake here are numerous issues: not just Government honesty and transparency, nor its failure to involve English Heritage, the Government’s statutory advisers on the historic environment, but also the questions of whether such an Act of Parliament would set a precedent (the Government argues not, saying this would be a unique piece of legislation designed to address the particular circumstances of the Commonwealth Institute, which is the only asset of an organisation that is owned in common by the fifty members of the Commonwealth) and whether the Government is right to believe that current planning law is incapable of dealing with the special circumstances of the Commonwealth Institute ─ or whether this is just a cynical ploy to guarantee the ‘right’ outcome.

Our Fellow Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, was in no doubt on any of these points: he issued an immediate and angry press release describing the proposed legislation as ‘a demolishers’ charter’ and saying that it ‘undermines the fundamental principle that the country’s best and most culturally valuable architecture is worth keeping’.

He went on to say: ‘This proposal to alter the law in order to make de-listing the Commonwealth Institute possible is not only muddled and dangerous but completely unnecessary. Listing does not stop a building being altered or demolished, re-used or sold for a profit. Wembley Stadium was listed but demolished within the law, and in line with our advice. There is already a constructive and democratic way of resolving cases like this. Forcing through a bill in the face of opposition would be an unacceptably rash destabilisation of the planning system. The future of this building should lie in expert consideration of how to get the best from the site through the normal planning process.’

Catherine Croft, Director of the Twentieth Century Society, to whom the leaked letter was sent, condemned what she described as the Government’s ‘betrayal’ of an architectural masterpiece and said: ‘If a Bill is allowed to de-list the Commonwealth Institute then no listed building will be safe. If the Commonwealth Institute trustees are allowed to demolish a listed building because their potential good works are perceived as being more important … then what is to stop other charitable owners of buildings asking to be given special treatment too? For instance, we could see every almshouse in the country demolished to make way for big developments on the grounds that raising money in this way would allow their trustees to house more people.’

Catherine’s point was echoed by Simon Thurley who said that: ‘Historically priceless buildings occupying valuable sites everywhere would be put at risk from demolition if it could be shown that maximum profit could be achieved for any good cause. Listed buildings like London Zoo, the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre or the British Museum could be at risk’, and he warned that: ‘To engage in a fundamental change to the law undermines the whole system of protection in England.’

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘DCMS ministers are looking forward to discussing the issues fully with English Heritage.’

Tower-block plans threaten St Katharine Dock

Ruth Kelly, who initiated her appointment to the post of Communities and Local Government Secretary with a speech declaring war on ‘NIMBY’ protestors who oppose housing schemes in their neighbourhood, is likely to face an interesting personal dilemma as a resident of the exclusive St Katharine Dock development. This haven of tranquillity, lying just opposite the Tower of London on the edge of the City, is threatened by a plan to construct a seventeen-storey block at the centre of the Dock. David Mellor, the former Conservative Culture Secretary, who lives with his partner, Penelope, Viscountess Cobham, in the nineteenth-century Dockmaster's House, is a leading opponent of the plan, which he says ‘isn't a case of just not wanting it in my backyard … this area is historically significant with listed buildings and it's next to the Tower of London, which is a world heritage site. It should not be ruined for something as architecturally negligible as this’.

Mr Mellor is one of 119 people who have written to Tower Hamlets council objecting to REIT Asset Management's plans. The company bought the site in 2004 for £238 million; it wants to demolish a warehouse and relocate and redevelop other buildings on the 22-acre site. Residents say the tower block at the heart of the plan will block their view of the Thames and the Tower of London. The developers say it will bring much-needed housing to the area and that some 35 per cent of the housing would be affordable and for key workers. As for the Secretary of State for Communities, her spokesman has said: ‘Ruth Kelly has not expressed an opinion on this proposal locally.’

Builders swallow up gardens for flats

Another issue burning a hole in Ms Kelly’s desk is that of so-called ‘garden grabbing’, which the Department for Communities and Local Government admitted last week now accounts for 15 per cent of all new housing as family homes in towns and suburbs are pulled down by developers and replaced with flats. Up to 20,000 new homes each year that ministers claim are going up on brownfield sites are actually being built in back gardens.

The figures add fuel to the campaign by Greg Clark, Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, to halt development of ‘beautiful, green, environmentally important gardens’. His private member’s bill, to be debated on July 14, addresses the dilemma faced by local authorities who are reluctant to turn down planning applications for flats built on gardens because ‘time and again they lose on appeal when the developers take the case to the department’. His Bill has cross-party support but will not proceed any further unless the Government grants it time. The bill will seek to increase the size of garden that can be considered for high-density development: at present any house with a back garden of 100ft long or more has the potential to be developed.

Maritime news

The report in Salon 140 concerning the rediscovery of Captain Cook’s Endeavour jogged the memory of Robert Merrilees, FSA, who recalls watching an Antiques Roadshow broadcast from Sydney, Australia, in which one of the items brought in for evaluation was part of the keel of that same ship. The owner claimed that the large chunk of timber had been taken from the ship as a souvenir before it was scuttled, and was well documented. It will be very interesting to see, when the ship is eventually recorded, whether there is indeed a gap in the hull corresponding to the missing lump.

Meanwhile the finder of the Endeavour, archaeologist Dr Kathy Abbass, Director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, has taken the unusual step of getting the Rhode Island Attorney, General Sheldon Whitehouse, to arrest and seize the vessels symbolically so as to prevent latter-day souvenir hunters and recreational divers from damaging the ship, which lies with twelve others at the bottom of Newport Harbor in Narragansett Bay. The ‘arrest’ is necessary because the law does not provide for historic wrecks to be preserved for research: water is regarded as a public property, and anyone can legally visit the wreck and take salvage in a private or commercial capacity. By taking the ship into custody it has now become state property. Abbass said this was the first time this procedure had ever used in the United States. ‘We're setting a precedent here that will hopefully benefit many people around the country,’ she said. ‘There are a lot of state preservation offices paying very close attention to what we've done.’

In England, the Culture Secretary has designated three historic wrecks this month, by the far simpler expedient of laying a designation order in parliament, using powers granted under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 to protect wrecks from unauthorised interference on account of their archaeological, historical or artistic importance.

On 18 May, David Lammy designated the wreck sites of Iona II, located to the east of Lundy Island, Devon, and the Royal Anne, situated at the Stag Rocks off Lizard Point, Cornwall. On 30 May, he then took action to protect another wreck, believed to be that of the 70-gun war ship Resolution, discovered last year on the seabed in Pevensey Bay, off the Sussex coast.

Iona II, which was made of iron and powered by steam, was the first ship under 150 years old to be protected when the wreck site was designated in 1989. This merchant vessel was allegedly acquired to run guns and supplies for the Confederate Forces in the American Civil War but was lost on its first trans-Atlantic voyage, only a year after it was built in 1863.

The Royal Anne was a fifth-rate galley which sank in 1721, twelve years after it was manufactured. The Royal Navy built only six such galleys; at her launch, the Royal Anne was described as the finest of the six.

The Resolution was built in Harwich in 1665─7 by the noted maritime architect Sir Anthony Deane. The ship sank during the Great Storm on 26 November 1703 and was set alight by French privateers in January 1704. Designation follows the rediscovery of the remains by local divers attempting to free a lobster pot. Archaeological contractors assessed the site in September last year, and said in their preliminary assessment that it is likely to be the wreck of Resolution. Substantial sections of the hull of the wrecked warship survive beneath a mound of ballast. Ian Oxley, head of maritime archaeology at English Heritage, called the ship ‘a crucial part of England’s seafaring heritage’ and said the wreck had the potential to be of great archaeological importance.

Another wreck may be on the designation list before the end of the summer according to the Independent, which reported on Sunday that three separate teams of divers from the UK and the US are looking for the Bonhomme Richard, the 42-gun frigate commanded by John Paul Jones, America’s naval hero, during one of the most ferocious sea battles of the American Revolutionary War. That battle was fought in the North Sea on 23 September 1779 as the daring John Paul Jones brought the battle right to the shores of his enemy. His aim, in attacking Royal Navy ships off the Yorkshire coast, was to draw British ships away from the blockade of American ports. In subsequent fighting, Jones won America’s first ever naval victory against a nation that had previously commanded the seas though Bonhomme Richard, Jones’s flagship, was so badly damaged that she was scuttled. Melissa Ryan, part of a team from the Naval Historical Centre in Washington and the Ocean Technology Foundation, whose scanning systems will be used to search for the vessel, said that the symbolic importance of the ship to Americans meant that its rediscovery would be more significant than the finding of the Titanic in 1985.

SS Great Britain wins Gulbenkian Prize

Adding to the many prestigious awards it has already won this year, the SS Great Britain has now secured the biggest of the glittering prizes for museums and galleries in the UK, the £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize. Built in 1843, the first ocean-going ship with an iron hull and screw propeller was the largest vessel afloat when she was launched. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose 200th anniversary this is, for trans-Atlantic voyages, she spent most of her working life as an emigrant ship, ferrying passengers between England and Australia.

Between 1855 and 1858, she was also used as a troop ship during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. In 1882 she was turned into a sailing ship to transport bulk coal, but after a fire on board in 1886 she was found on arrival at the Falkland Islands to be damaged beyond repair. She was sold to the Falkland Islands Company and used there as a storage hulk until the 1930s, when she was scuttled and abandoned.

It took £11.3 million to restore her after she was towed back from the Falklands in 1970. The original intent was to restore her to her 1843 state, but the philosophy of the project has changed over the years, and conservation of all surviving pre-1970 material is now the aim. Continuing corrosion of the hull in the humid atmosphere of the dry dock where she sits has been arrested by installing a ‘sea’ of glass sheeting at the level of her water line, above a giant humidification system designed to prevent further corrosion.

Robert Winston, chair of the judges, said of the ship: ‘It combines a truly ground-breaking piece of conservation, remarkable engineering and fascinating social history plus a visually stunning ship above and below the water line.’ Another of the judges described the hull as ‘visual poetry’. Internally, first- and steerage-class cabins have been restored along with the grand banqueting room. An exhibition tells the ship’s history.

The three runners-up for the Museum of the Year award, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, were London's recently renovated Hunterian Museum of medical history, the new Underground Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, and The Collection, in Lincoln, a new museum devoted to the archaeology and art of Lincolnshire. The latter was described by the judges as ‘a major new cultural asset for the city and county: a beautiful new building, presenting an imaginative conjunction of history and art, and conveying a powerful sense of the connections between people and place’.

Conservation? It’s all about car parks, stupid!

It is very difficult to persuade politicians that heritage is a vital part of the national economy. Even those who accept the argument in principle dismiss heritage as marginal and principally measurable in terms of tourist revenue ─ at which point any discussion is likely to break down in arguments about what proportion of tourist revenue should be credited to heritage professionals and what to the travel, hospitality, entertainment, retail, sports and cultural sectors.

But last week, Salon’s editor came across a group of politicians who were in no doubt that heritage was fundamental to their town’s economic prosperity. Your editor travelled to the south west of England as the tame archaeologist in a team of people who bid (successfully) to undertake conservation area appraisal, management planning and public consultation in a very attractive ─ but very run down ─ market town. Members of the team were then grilled by local councillors who wanted to know ‘what are you going to do to solve our parking problems?’ and ‘what will this town be like once you have finished your work?’.

To someone expecting to answer questions on the finer points of seventeenth-century slate-hung vernacular architecture, this was disconcerting, but also very enlightening. Quite reasonably, the councillors had already worked out that their heritage was very special; they have no intention of inviting developers to come and knock down half the town’s heritage in order to create modern retail space and the last thing they want is to become a clone town, with exactly the same shops as their bigger neighbours. They didn’t need us to tell them that their built heritage is the key to turning the town’s fortunes round, by attracting niche retailers and restaurateurs and prosperous consumers.

So for once there was no disputing the economic value of the heritage to the local community. Just one little problem remains to be solved: the town has a reputation for being a motorist’s nightmare: the town’s maze of narrow medieval streets makes parking difficult and leads to conflicts between pedestrians and cars ─ so people have got in the habit of going elsewhere to shop, leaving this town full of forlorn and empty buildings. There is a lot of hard work to be done in drawing up options and finding support from the community for a solution ─ but somehow that seems a slightly easier problem to solve than convincing politicians that it is conservation rather than redevelopment that can make all the difference between a living and a dying market-town economy.

Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism

Not that the heritage contribution to tourism should be ignored. According to a new publication launched last week by the Department for Communities and Local Government, tourism revenue (at £74 billion) accounts for 6.4 per cent of the UK’s total GDP and is the UK’s third largest foreign exchange earner after oil and vehicles. Tourism is the UK’s sixth biggest employer, with a workforce of 2.2 million people (7.7 per cent of the working population) and crucially almost 80 per cent of tourism jobs are located outside London within small and medium-sized enterprises ─ many of them based in English regions such as the south west and north east where employment opportunities are most needed.

These figures are contained in the report called Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism (which can be downloaded from the ODPM website, which aims to ensure that planners understand the importance of tourism and take this fully into account when preparing development plans and taking planning decisions.

Given how often Government policy papers disregard the heritage, it is a pleasure to see that this report fully acknowledges the interdependence of heritage and tourism, saying that: ‘Tourism depends heavily on the natural and built environment and can also be the key to maintaining and enhancing the environment’, by which it means that visitors to historic buildings, archaeology and landscapes provide the income that helps maintain and conserve such assets. The report does, though, place great stress on quality tourism, quoting as an example the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, which receives over 8 million visitors each year ─ and where tourism directly employs 6,000 people and generates an impressive £1/3 bn annually for the local economy.

Aerofilms to be sold?

Mark Horton, FSA, reports that unsubstantiated rumours are in circulation that the Aerofilms Library is to close and that the library’s historic stock ─ consisting of 2.7 million oblique and vertical aerial photographs dating back to the end of the First World War ─ is to be disposed of. Confirmation is difficult to find: Aerofilms was acquired in 1997 by Simmons Mapping (UK) Limited, whose website gives the impression that business is proceeding as usual, yet Wikipedia), the online encyclopaedia, states categorically that: ‘The company's photographic library (and associated photolabs) were closed in 2006, a sad end to over eighty-five years of history’.

Aerofilms was the UK’s first commercial aerial photography company, founded in 1919. The company pioneered the science of photogrammetry (mapping from aerial photographs) and its staff were co-opted into the war effort in 1940, forming part of the Photographic Intelligence Unit (PIU). The best-known example of their work is the title-sequence used for the BBC’s long-running soap-opera, Eastenders.

Headline of the year: ‘Culture Minister Defers Export of Learned Norfolk Cleric’

Kate Clark, FSA, spotted what has to be the headline of the year in a press release sent out by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport last week. It announced: ‘Culture Minister Defers Export of Learned Norfolk Cleric’. Wondering whether this was a case of embalmment (in the style of Jeremy Bentham, perhaps) or whether the market in Learned Norfolk Clerics had suddenly boomed at the expense of less reliable forms of cultural investment, such as antiques or works of art, Salon’s editor rushed to the DCMS website to find out more, only to discover that the headline lacked the vital missing word ‘archive’.

What our Culture Department has actually done is to place a temporary export bar on the archive of the Revd William Gunn, which consists of an extensive sequence of incoming letters from a variety of correspondents, and volumes of Gunn's diary of his Grand Tour in France and Italy in 1792─3.

During that Grand Tour, he officiated at the clandestine marriage of Prince Augustus Frederick, sixth son of George III, to Lady Augusta Murray in breach of the Royal Marriages Act (making him technically a felon), and the archive also contains legal papers relating to the marriage and to the subsequent claims of the Prince’s son, Augustus Frederick d’Este, concerning his claims to the dukedom of Sussex.

The press release says that the letters ‘provide an exceptionally detailed picture of Norfolk society, ranging from comment on Norfolk neighbours Lord and Lady Nelson and the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1790s to gossip about marriage and property transactions. They shed light on a number of correspondents including Gunn’s fellow antiquarians’.

According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Gunn was elected to the Society of the Arcadians in Rome and formed a lasting friendship with John Flaxman and his family there. His Grand Tour diaries recount details of his research in the Vatican and other Roman libraries, producing ‘extracts’ from sixteenth-century state papers relating to England, which he published privately in 1803. While burrowing in the Vatican Gunn also discovered a tenth-century manuscript of the Historia Brittonum, commonly ascribed to Nennius, which he printed in 1819 with an English version, facsimile of the original, notes and illustrations. His Inquiry into the Origin and Influence of Gothic Architecture appeared in London in 1819 and his most important work was Cartonensia, or, An historical and critical account of the tapestries in the palace of the Vatican.

A small part of Gunn's archive was used by Michael Riviere in his article, ‘A Norfolk Parson on the Grand Tour’, in Norfolk Archaeology, 1965, but the bulk of the archive has never been published.

The decision on the export licence application for the archive has been deferred until 22 July and may be extended until 22 October if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the archive at the recommended price of £83,050 is expressed.

Mary Beard: latter-day diarist

These days people not only keep diaries ─ they can also share them with the rest of the world by means of the web ─ hence the term ‘bloggger’ for someone who writes and publishes a web-log. Salon’s editor is grateful to Richard Reece, FSA, for drawing his attention to the weblog that Mary Beard, FSA, publishes on The Times newspaper’s website. Mary (who, as well as being a blogger, is professor of classics at the University of Cambridge and classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement) is one of thirty or so distinguished diarists whom The Times has invited to contribute an informal journal recording their daily activities and their reflections on life’s vicissitudes. The Times describes her as ‘a wickedly subversive commentator on both the modern and the ancient world’.

Clear evidence of her desire to subvert can be found in her entertaining description of the occasion on which she invited Richard Reece to meet some of her students. Salon will quote the weblog entry in full ─ edited extracts would not convey the full flavour.

‘So far exams here seem to be going ahead through the AUT boycott and “revision classes” are in full swing’, Mary writes. ‘These can be gruesome affairs. The students hang on your every word for a hint of what’s on the paper. You can’t give it away ─ but then you don’t want to punish them either, by only talking about things that aren’t going to come up. A good way to avoid this game of bluff and double-bluff is to give them a intellectual treat. Serving up the author of one of their key textbooks for a grilling usually works brilliantly. Key texts tend to be austere objects ─ 600 pages or so, squashed between the sombre covers of some university press. If the students get nothing else out of the encounter, at least they discover that the author is a human being.

‘But in a course I co-direct on Roman Britain (from Julius Caesar to Manda Scott) the textbook of choice is a flimsy paperback, privately published ─ part of no grand academic imprint. It’s almost as if some university course on the Modern British Novel focused on the product of a vanity publisher. The book in question is a slim volume called My Roman Britain, published in 1988 from “The Apple Loft” in Cirencester. Its author, Richard Reece (now retired from the Institute of Archaeology in London), came to meet his Cambridge student fans and critics last week.

‘The book was hardly ever noticed by reviewers (indeed Reece actively discouraged reviews). It is supposed to have been banned by at least one archaeology department in the country (which has, of course, done wonders for its reputation). And it proudly blazons its own idiosyncrasy. The Preface gives a taste of the style. There are no running page numbers, he explains, so that he can rewrite it whenever he feels like it. So there is no point in trying make any fancy footnote reference to it (“Just say ‘an idea I got from My Roman Britain’ and if editors niggle tell them to get stuffed”). And there is friendly encouragement to photocopy and distribute any bit you choose, “so long as you do not intend to make money out of the process”.

‘It carries on in this vein. In a faintly Platonic style, an imaginary interlocutor pops up in bold type from time to time to argue with the author. “That is silly” objects the interlocutor on page 95 (confusingly my own copy does have running page numbers!). “Yes I know it is silly,” Reece replies, “it was invented specially to be obviously silly…”

‘Quirky, yes. Irritating occasionally. But it’s high up on our reading list for good reasons. For all his quirkiness, Reece is one of the smartest arguers there is and he fearlessly demolishes scores of myths about Roman Britain that are still being peddled by historians and archaeologists. For most of our students it’s an eye-opener.

‘Take Fishbourne Roman “Palace” near Chichester. All the standard accounts (not to mention Lindsay Davis’s A Body in the Bath House, set partly in Fishbourne) settle for the idea that it was probably the official residence of an up-market native collaborator with the Romans, called King Togi- (or Cogi-) dubnus. Actually it’s “total fantasy”, as Reece is brave enough to point out. “There no evidence whatsoever that Fishbourne had anything to do with a named Briton.”

‘And plenty of other old favourites are also taken down a peg or two. In Reece’s hands Romano-British villas lose their illusory classical veneer (as if Pliny had taken up residence in the Cotswolds) and emerge as a much more debatable category: “TCV”s (“Things Called Villas”). “Towns”, another imposition from classical texts, get their come-uppance too ─ dubbed, on the same principle, “TCT”s.

‘Students love, and engage with, the swash-buckling. But for bloggers there’s another side to this book. It struck me after our class last week that My Roman Britain was born before its time. All Reece’s aims ─ a changeable text, free dissemination and running comment ─ are exactly what you now get online. As a blog, it wouldn’t have looked quirky at all.’

Boudicca buried in Birmingham

Suitably warned by Dr Reece to look at the archaeological evidence rather than basing their conclusions on preconceptions derived from historical sources, Mary Beard’s students are not likely to give much credence to the BBC News headline last week announcing that ‘Boudicca is buried in Birmingham’ ─ on a site scheduled for housing development next to a burger restaurant in Kings Norton, apparently.

To be fair, the claim was made by local councillors, not by archaeologists. Following the discovery of Roman remains on the site, Mr Douglas Osborn, a member of Birmingham City Council, announced: ‘We are hoping that there will be an archaeological exercise to uncover the possible last battle of Queen Boudicca and Seutonius Paulinus’.

Mike Hodder, Birmingham City Council archaeologist, warned: ‘There is no doubt that this is an important archaeological site, with remains which are probably Roman in date, but there is no evidence whatsoever of any link with Boadicea’, and our Fellow Dr Simon Esmonde Cleary of Birmingham University told the BBC that ‘we don't know where the battle took place; anybody's guess is as good as anyone else's. The last time we had Boudicca was in what is now Hertfordshire. We know the Roman Army was coming down from Wales. The battle could have taken place anywhere in between’.

So how did a Roman site in a Birmingham suburb become the site of Boudicca’s last stand? The idea seems to have originated with Cllr Osborn himself: described in follow-up newspaper stories as ‘a conservationist’, and as an ‘expert’ from Birmingham City Council he also seems to have a canny instinct for putting his home town on the map.

‘I find it very exciting to think we may unearth something so intriguing right here in Birmingham,’ he told reporters, adding that ‘It would be bizarre if it is discovered Boadicea's last stand was next door to a McDonald's, but the site does fit the only descriptions we know of. It is on the route to Metchley, the Roman fort discovered in Birmingham and, if only because of this, it represents a real possibility. It is even more encouraging when you consider the evidence and well-preserved remains unearthed from trial trenches. The location itself matches previous historical descriptions of the battle site in that it is a hilly area surrounded by trees.’

Malmesbury’s Saxon and Iron-Age defences

More reliably rooted in evidence was the BBC report the following day saying that Malmesbury’s claim to be England’s oldest borough (based on a charter of AD 880) has been reinforced by the discovery of a late Saxon (eighth or ninth century) rampart forming part of the town’s impressive multi-period defences.

Cotswold Archaeology (CA) has been excavating a section of the walls, with funding from English Heritage, as a preliminary to consolidating the remains. A CA spokesman said it was the first time that the defences had been examined archaeologically. When a collapsed section of medieval wall was removed, CA archaeologists not only found the Saxon levels, consisting of dumped material mixed with slag from iron-working, they also found substantial clay deposits almost 3m (10ft) high from the upper rampart of an Iron Age hillfort on which Malmesbury was later built, fronted by a stone wall, above a deep ditch. These impressive stone-built defences underlie part of a barbican, built to extend and defend the area of the former hillfort.

Shortage of diggers

The tactic adopted by politicians to defuse the prejudice inherent in the term ‘economic migrant’ is to claim that workers from low-wage economies in the new European Member states are necessary to fill skill gaps and labour shortages in the developed parts of the EU. How many of us realised that that also applies to archaeology? According to Yorkshire Today website, archaeologists from other parts of Europe have been recruited to excavate sites along the route of a 32-mile pipeline in east Yorkshire because of an acute shortage of qualified archaeologists in England.

Dave Evans, archaeology manager at Humber Archaeology Partnership, told Yorkshire Today that: ‘There's a national shortage of trained diggers. Most of the contractors are struggling to find enough diggers ─ they are working 69-hour weeks to try and keep up with pipeline construction’. So much has been uncovered on the route of the new Ganstead to Asselby pipeline that workers have been drafted in from all over Europe. ‘There are around fifty archaeologists working now from all over Europe’, Mr Evans said: ‘We have got Polish site supervisors, Irish excavators … and with more than 100 sites which need to be excavated before the end of June we are still desperate for people'.

Among sites found along the pipeline route are a previously unrecorded early Bronze Age barrow on a hilltop east of Hotham, with four burials, and around six cremations from later use of the barrow by the Romans. Near High Hunsley, a Roman roadside settlement has been discovered buried beneath hillwash, along with a masonry building with a mix of animal and human burials around it. Southwest of Beverley, a large Iron Age settlement has also been discovered, with seven or eight roundhouses and enclosures.

New archaeological recruitment agency

Promising to help solve the labour shortage in archaeology is a new jobs service launched at the start of June, called the Archpeople Recruitment Agency Limited. The ARA has ambitions to make ‘a positive difference to the world of archaeology and other associated disciplines by bringing recruitment industry standards and selection policies to the forefront of the archaeological sector in line with other professions’. Run by archaeologists for archaeologists and adhering to the Institute of Field Archaeology’s Code of Practice, ARA says it will ‘provide competitive rates of pay and promote archaeology as a profession to be proud of’. As members of one of the world’s least well-paid professions, no doubt all archaeologists will wish the ARA team all success in the achievement of their objectives.

Donne portrait saved for the nation

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, has declared the campaign to raise public funds for the purchase of John Donne portrait ‘the most successful public appeal the gallery has ever run and a triumphant outcome in its 150th anniversary year’. The poet John Donne is reputed to have commissioned the painting himself to woo an unresponsive lover. It certainly seduced the British public who have contributed nearly £300,000 in donations to secure the £1.4m needed to buy the work after an appeal was launched in January. The National Heritage Memorial Fund, the fund of last resort for national treasures, gave a grant of £750,000 and the Art Fund gave £200,000.

Donne, aged 23 at the time the portrait was painted (the artist’s name is not known), is depicted in a melancholy pose, his unlaced collar suggestive of his mind’s distraction through love. Our Fellow, Sir Roy Strong, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, called the picture ‘the most famous of all melancholy love portraits’.

The painting was put up for sale by Michael Ancram, the thirteenth Marquess of Lothian, to settle an inheritance tax bill following the death of his father two years ago. The Ancram family executors were thanked by the gallery for agreeing to reduce the gross price of the painting from £2.36m to £2m to facilitate the purchase. Tax concessions meant the gallery had to raise £1.4 million.

Transforming an anonymous painting into a lost Holbein

Sir Roy Strong, FSA, was in the news again last week, thanks to his power to increase the value of a painting from £2,800 to £3 million by identifying it as a long-lost masterpiece by Hans Holbein. Missing for 400 years, the painting depicts Thomas Wyatt the Younger, the hot-blooded Tudor courtier imprisoned for robbery and fined for eating meat on a Sunday and for throwing stones at church windows. He was executed at the age of 33 for leading a rebellion against Mary Tudor, leaving ten children. To establish its true history, the under-drawing has been studied by X-ray. Overpainting added some time after 1543 has been removed and experts at the Städel Gallery in Frankfurt authenticated it by comparing the rondo with a similar Holbein that it owns. Sir Roy Strong says of the Holbein image: ‘In terms of English portraiture, this picture is unprecedented, a major landmark in every way in the reception of the Renaissance ideals at the court of Henry VIII’. The painting is to be auctioned at Sotheby’s on 5 July and is likely to fetch £3 million, having been acquired by its present owner in 1974 for £2,800.

Two towers in the news

Hot on the heels of the reopening of Kew Palace, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, west London, have announced that the public is to be allowed to climb the octagonal ten-storey pagoda for the first time in more than a century. The Pagoda is the result of the eighteenth-century fascination with Chinoiserie and was built by Sir William Chambers, the architect of Somerset House, in 1762. At 163ft tall, it is just 20ft short of Nelson's column. Zha Peixin, the Chinese ambassador who performed the opening ceremony, dutifully cut a ribbon but politely declined the invitation to be one of the first to go up the 352 steps to the top gallery.

The Pagoda was intended as a ‘surprise’ for Augusta, the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of George II. But Sir Horace Walpole, watching its construction from his Twickenham home complained of the loss of his privacy and claimed that ‘In a fortnight you will be able to see it in Yorkshire.’ During the last war it was used to develop British bombs, which were dropped from the top to study their behaviour in flight.

The contents of a second tower were revealed last week when the Cambridge University Library said that it would soon be able to allow access to the 170,000 publications stored in the brick tower that rises from the centre of the library site. Used to store publications considered too populist and lowbrow to be of academic interest, the tower has inspired scores of apocryphal stories about the likely nature of its contents (rumoured to be pornographic), and of the levels of security in place to ensure that nobody is able to access the contents without permission from the highest authority. The reality is more interesting for students of changing cultural values: the roster of books and magazines considered beneath academic contempt include first edition novels by such populist authors as Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, along with cookbooks, illustrated books and penny dreadfuls.

The first online catalogue of these books is to be created thanks to a $1m (£536,000) grant from the foundation of the late American philanthropist Andrew W Mellon. Jim Secord, a professor of the history of science who has explored the contents of the tower, said: This big Stalinist building of eight or nine storeys [designed by Giles Gilbert Scott of telephone box and Battersea Power Station fame] turns out to have a mass of hidden history inside.’

The collection includes popular Victorian and early twentieth-century novels with beguiling titles such as Love Affairs of a Curate and Only a Village Maiden. First editions by Arthur Conan Doyle and the three Brontë sisters are also housed in the tower, where many of the unread books are in mint condition, their existence recorded only in illegible hand-written catalogues with no search facility.

Professor Secord said that one colleague who had been researching the Religious Tract Society, founded in 1799 for the dissemination of Christian literature, discovered everything that she needed for her work in the tower. His own research, investigating the nineteenth-century public's understanding of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, has been greatly assisted by a study of sermons, children's books and catalogues for zoos and fairs held in the tower. Professor Secord said: ‘If you like browsing in old bookshops then this is about ten times better!’

Wenlok Jug goes on display

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) announced last week that the celebrated Wenlok Jug has gone on display at Wardown Park Museum in Luton, following a collaborative project between the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Luton Museums Service to investigate crucial questions such as that of the identity of the Lord Wenlok inscribed upon the Luton jug, its date and its relationship to the other Royal jugs. The team is also using non-invasive X-radiography and X-ray fluorescence treatments to help with identifying the location of the foundry or foundries where this and the British Museum’s Asante ewer and the V&A’s ewer, which have significant similarities to the Wenlok Jug, night have been made, and their relationship to bell and cauldron-making.

Preliminary investigation suggests that Lord Wenlok was John, first Lord Wenlok, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chief Butler to the Royal Household and courtier to every monarch from Henry V to Edward IV. He was killed fighting for the Lancastrian side at the Battle of Tewksbury in 1471. The jug, cast in bronze in two pieces (possibly by a Norfolk bellfounder), is massive ─ holding six quarts in volume ─ and was probably made for ceremonial rather than daily use. Ironically, the jug was not among the possessions left by Lord Wenlok with the abbot of Glastonbury for safekeeping before the battle, though it appears to be the only one of his possessions to have survived.

Oldest altarpiece back in abbey

Another great medieval treasure has also gone on display: this time the oldest surviving medieval altarpiece in the UK, which has returned to its home at Westminster Abbey after starring in an exhibition at the National Gallery. Known as the Westminster Retable, and regarded as one of the finest pieces of Gothic art surviving in Europe, the retable was commissioned by Henry III in 1270. Having been reused to form part of a cupboard in the early seventeenth century, its true worth was recognised as early as 1827, when it came out of the closet and was exhibited, albeit rather inconspicuously, in a case in the south ambulatory of the abbey. It remained there until its recent visit to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for conservation, and will now be housed in the Undercroft Museum, off the cloister, at Westminster Abbey.

Historic Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit

As part of Historic Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit (a similar data-gathering exercise to Heritage Counts in England), Dr Ian Baxter, of Glasgow Caledonian University, has begun to put together a directory of data sources and will produce a report on data quality issues by early autumn 2006. The main part of the data-collection strategy is about to get under way, comprising a survey which is being emailed to organisations and individuals identified as holders of information relevant to the audit process.

Further information is available on the project website, and while recognising that there is never a good time to ask people within the sector to complete surveys (and particularly with a short deadline for completion) Ian hopes that organisations contacted for the research will be willing to spend a short amount of time completing the forms when they arrive. Ian stresses that ‘the future success of the audit process in Scotland relies on us understanding the state of the information resource as it now stands. It is further hoped that one of the outputs from the project (a Scottish Historic Environment data sources directory) will be a useful addition to the management tools of stakeholders throughout Scotland and elsewhere in the wider UK heritage community’.

Hobbits and stone tools

Salon 140 reported that a new study of the skeletal remains of Homo floriensis (dubbed ‘the Hobbit’ because of the hominid’s small stature) very strongly resembled those of microcephalic (congenitally small brained) humans. Now the supporters of the theory that H floriensis is a new species of hominid have hit back with a question: who made the stone tools? Adam Brumm, of the Australian National University in Canberra, argues that the stone tools found in association with the remains of H floriensis, and at various other sites on the Indonesian island of Flores, are too old (at between 700,000 and 840,00 years old) to have been made by Homo sapiens, and were too advanced to have been made by Homo erectus, leaving H florienisis as the only candidate. According to a paper published by Adam Brumm and his colleagues in Nature, the evidence negates claims that H floresiensis lacked the brainpower to make complex stone artefacts.

Early fig farming

The US journal Science has published an article arguing that fig trees could have been the first domesticated plant of the Neolithic revolution, preceding cereal domestication by about a thousand years. Our Fellow Ofer Bar-Yosef, of the Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, is one of three authors of a paper reporting the discovery of nine carbonized fig fruits and hundreds of fig fragments stored in Gilgal I, an early Neolithic village, located in the Lower Jordan Valley, which dates to 11,400 to 11,200 years ago. The authors suggest that these edible fruits were gathered from parthenocarpic trees ─ in other words of a variety that has no fertile seed and thus can only be propagated by means of intentionally planted cuttings ─ and that they more closely resemble modern edible figs than wild varieties.

Ofer Bar-Yosef said: ‘In this intentional act of planting a specific variant of fig tree, we can see the beginnings of agriculture. This edible fig would not have survived if not for human intervention.’ The figs were well preserved and found together with wild barley, wild oats and acorns. The team says this indicates the inhabitants of Gilgal I mixed food cultivation with the gathering of wild food. Figs are not the only candidate for the title of the first domesticated food: rice found in Korea, thought to date from about 15,000 years ago, has complicated the search for the exact origins of agriculture.

Columbus’s bones

A slightly different puzzle seems to have been partially solved, however, with the announcement from Madrid that Seville has the body and true burial place of Christopher Columbus, rather than rival claimant, the Dominican Republic. A forensic team led by Spanish geneticist Jose Antonio Lorente compared DNA from bone fragments buried in Seville with DNA extracted from remains known to be from Columbus' brother, Diego, who is also buried in Seville. Their verdict is that there is absolute match between the mitochondrial DNA from the two sets of bones.

The Dominican Republic claims that Columbus is buried beneath an ornate lighthouse monument in the capital, Santo Domingo, but they have refused to allow the tomb to be opened so that any remains can be included in the DNA tests. Juan Bautista Mieses, the director of the Columbus Lighthouse, dismissed the Spanish researchers' findings and insisted that Columbus’ remains have never left Dominican territory.

It is possible that both could be right. Although the Spanish team is convinced the bones in Seville are from Columbus, the explorer’s body was moved several times after his death, and the tomb in Santo Domingo might conceivably also hold part of the right body.

Columbus died and was buried in Valladolid on 20 May 1506. He had asked to be buried in the Americas, but no church of sufficient stature existed there. Three years later, his remains were moved to a monastery on La Cartuja, a river island next to Seville. In 1537, Maria de Rojas y Toledo, widow of one of Columbus’ sons, Diego, sent the bones of her husband and his father to the cathedral in Santo Domingo for burial in the Dominican Republic. They lay there until 1795, when Spain ceded the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to France and decided Columbus’ remains should not fall into the hands of foreigners. The remains were first shipped to Havana, Cuba, and then back to Seville. In 1877, however, workers digging in Santo Domingo cathedral unearthed a leaden box containing bones and bearing the inscription stating that they were Columbus’ remains. Dominicans have maintained ever since that these are the genuine remains and that the Spaniards took the wrong body in 1795.

Letter from Columbus up for sale

The Columbus Letter, or Epistola Christofori Colom, the explorer’s description of his first encounters with the natives of Hispaniola and other Caribbean islands, is being offered for sale at the Antiquarian Book Fair in London with a price tag of £500,000. The eight-page printed document is not only one of the first eyewitness accounts of America written by a European, it is also one of the world’s first printed books. It was printed in Rome on 29 April 1493, just six weeks after Columbus had landed from his trans-Atlantic voyage in Palos, Spain, on the orders of the Spanish pope, Alexander VI. Peter Harrington Antiquarian Books, which is selling the letter, describes it as a very early ‘papal press release’, because its purpose was to demonstrate Spain's expansionist superiority over Portugal and to justify Spanish rights, based on Columbus’ discoveries, to all lands west of a line 100 leagues west of the Azores. About 500 copies of the letter were printed, and only a handful survive.

SAVE’s 2006 Conservation Bookfair

Nothing quite so expensive will be on sale on 22 June at SAVE’s 2006 Conservation Bookfair ─ on the contrary, some bargains are to be had from the stalls of around twenty of the nation's leading architectural conservation organisations and publishers who will be gathering from noon through until 7pm at the Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street, London EC1 (opposite Farringdon tube station), to display and sell their various publications on conservation, architectural history and the reuse of historic buildings. Entry is free, refreshments will be available in the evening, and there will be an opportunity to view the exhibition, ‘Thirty Years of Campaigning, SAVE Britain's Heritage, 1975─2005’, previously on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum and now on show in the Cowcross Street Gallery.

Books by Fellows (and TV programmes)

Scarcely a night passes any more without at least one programme somewhere on UK TV concerned with some aspect of history, archaeology, art history or art, more often than not featuring Fellows in the role of presenter and/or expert guide, but Friday nights now feature two unmissable programmes one after the other: first Simon Thurley’s Channel Five programme, ‘Buildings that Shaped Britain’ (8pm), which this week looks at Gothic architecture ─ the so-called ‘national’ style ─ while over on BBC 2 at 9pm, Terry Jones reminds us in ‘Barbarians’ that that style was once named ‘Gothic’ because it was considered barbaric, uncouth and a falling away from the standards of ratio, harmony and proportion represented by classical architecture.

Terry Jones’s programme is a surprise: the ex-Monty Python comedian might have made a populist programme full of clashing swords and special effects: instead, he visits and talks to archaeologists all over Europe and asks intelligent questions, allowing the answers to speak for themselves instead of trying to twist them to fit a theme. And with such advisers as our Fellows Barry Cunliffe and Ian Stead, it is not surprising that the series is well-informed and highly watchable.

Back to more conventional academic media, and a warning from our Fellow Richard Tomlinson, who has published a report on the state of the ancient necropolis at the Greek city of Cyrene (a copy of which has been donated to the Society of Antiquary’s library). His report says that the destruction of large areas of the necropolis represents one of the most serious archaeological losses of the twentieth century and certainly the most serious loss to classical archaeology. Moreover, he reports that this destruction and tomb robbing is still continuing in the twenty-first century. The report presents records made over fifty years ago by Cassels and Tomlinson, and over the last fifteen years by James and Dorothy Thorn, which give details not only of the tombs that still survive, but of those that have been irretrievably lost, including tombs that were major monuments of Greek architecture, some of them on a scale comparable with Greek temples.

Alan McWhirr, FSA, writes to say that the Society of Antiquaries helped to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society by holding its out-of-London meeting in Leicester last November. Now as part of those celebrations the Society has published a volume on Leicester Abbey to which a number of Fellows have contributed. Leicester Abbey: medieval history, archaeology and manuscript studies is edited by Joanna Story, Jill Bourne and Richard Buckley. Copies of the book (hardback with dust jacket, 314 pages with many illustrations, some in colour) can be obtained from Dr Alan McWhirr, FSA, 37 Dovedale Road, Leiceste LE2 2DN, priced £25 (plus £5 p&p in the UK).


English Heritage: Senior Properties Historian
Salary c £30,500, closing date 26 June 2006

Among the most prominent aspect of English Heritage's work is the presentation of an outstanding portfolio of some 400 historic sites and ancient monuments. To ensure the completeness and accuracy of historical knowledge on these sites, and to convey that knowledge to the general public, a Properties Research Team exists within the Research & Standards Group. We are looking for a Senior Properties Historian to join the team to be responsible for identifying the historical significance of individual properties and determining the key messages and interpretative strands which are likely to be of interest to a wide range of visitors to English Heritage sites. You should have a degree in either architectural history, art history, archaeology, history (or a related discipline), and must have proven research and publishing experience.

For an application form, please email English Heritage and quote reference number R/38/06.

British Library, Director of Scholarship and Collections
Six-figure salary, closing date 16 June 2006

The Director leads the development of the Library’s work in support of scholarship, collections management and curation, providing services to the scholarly and research communities in the humanities and social sciences. Candidates are expected to have a strong understanding of the research library environment. Further information from

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Permanent Secretary
Competitive package, closing date 23 June 2006

Dame Sue Street, the former DCMS Permanent Secretary, resigned this April, denying that her decision to take early retirement was linked to investigations into alleged bribes involving Tessa Jowell’s husband. The Conservatives accused her of jumping ship from a department in chaos. She herself said: ‘This has been my dream job in Whitehall. Now, after nearly five years at DCMS, I want to go at the top of my game. I want to take up new opportunities in the private sector, while continuing my lifelong association with the arts.’ So anyone else who thinks this might be their dream job now has the chance to apply. The advert is full of the sort of jargon that they teach at business school (‘politically sensitive with a track record of building high performing teams that deliver (often through others) in a complex environment’). Heritage is part of the brief but probably isn’t seen as a priority by comparison with ‘delivering an inspirational safe and inclusive Olympics and Paralympics … ensuring the seamless transition to digital … implementing the Gambling Act 2005’. Further details from Whitehead Mann recruitment consultants, quoting ref 21134AA.