Salon Archive

Issue: 204

New Year Honours

Our warmest congratulations to those Fellows whose achievements have been recognised in the 2009 New Year Honours List.

Heading the list is David Cannadine, lately Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Professor of British History at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, who receives a knighthood for his services to scholarship. Rosalind Savill, CBE, Director of the Wallace Collection, is created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the arts, while Anthony Bryer, Emeritus Professor of Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, is created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to scholarship, and Peter Cormack, lately Curator of the William Morris Gallery in Waltham Forest, is created a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to arts and heritage, as is Dr Peter Durrant, County Archivist, Berkshire Record Office, for services to local Government.

In the context of Peter Cormack’s MBE, it is also worth mentioning that Patricia Astley-Cooper, the Curator of the Wandsworth Museum, has also been created an MBE for services to heritage. There is a certain irony in this post-hoc recognition of the work of two people whose museums have been the subject of spending cuts, with the result that the Wandsworth Museum is now closed and the William Morris Gallery has restricted opening and lacks skilled curatorial staff (about which see ‘Fellows in the News’ below).

Also cause for congratulation is the well-deserved MBE for services to the conservation of ecclesiastical heritage given to Catherine Cullis, former Director of the Churches Conservation Trust, and now Churches and Cathedrals Officer for the SPAB, who has made a huge impact with the Faith in Maintenance scheme, providing training to help volunteers look after their historic places of worship.

Forthcoming meetings

15 January 2009: ‘Two Decades of Field Research at the Hominin Sites in Murcia, Spain, of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar and Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo’, by Michael Walker, FSA

22 January 2009: ‘Timely and Timeless: the first century of the Royal Commissions’, by Diana Murray, FSA, and Peter Wakelin, FSA

29 January 2009: ‘From Barrow to Bunker: integrating the historic environment with defence needs’, by Phil Abramson, FSA

5 February 2009: Ballot. The online ballot will open on 9 January 2009 and voting papers will be posted to Fellows on 12 January 2009

6 February: ‘Wroxeter 150: past, present and future’. You can book (£15) by credit card by telephoning Sue Bowen on 0121 414 7245 for this day school to be held at Burlington House from 9.30am to 5pm, marking the 150th anniversary almost to the day of the start of Thomas Wright’s excavations at Wroxeter (which began on 3 February 1859), to which Charles Dickens, at the end of April, was one of the first visitors. The aim of the day school is not so much to celebrate past achievements as to focus on future directions for Wroxeter in terms of its archaeology and what it has to offer to the development of archaeological practice; leading experts will explore how Wroxeter might be managed in the future and draw together a vision for what Wroxeter could become. For further details see the Wroxeter day school web page.

12 February 2009: ‘Getting to know the Society introductory tour’. Coffee in the Council Room from 10.30am, tour starts at 11am and ends at 12.30pm with a light sandwich lunch for those who wish to stay (and for which a charge of £5 is made). Numbers are limited to twenty-five Fellows per tour. To book a place please tel: 020 7479 7080 or email:

12 February 2009: ‘Italian Renaissance Ceramics: culture and collecting’, by Dora Thornton, FSA, and Timothy Wilson, FSA, marking the publication of Italian Renaissance Ceramics: a catalogue of the British Museum’s collection, a comprehensive scholarly catalogue of the British Museum’s collection of nearly 500 examples of Italian Renaissance ceramics, including pieces made for such eminent Renaissance patrons as Pope Leo X, Isabella d’Este and Francesco Guicciardini. The speakers will consider the relationship between ceramic art and the other arts of Renaissance Italy, the history of collecting, the role of the British Museum collection in developing the international study of the subject and the results of a programme of scientific analysis of the clays used by Renaissance potters.

Fellows in the News

Peter Cormack, the Honorary Curator for our Society of Kelmscott Manor, was the subject of an interview in the Winter 2008 issue of Cornerstone, the magazine of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Having been Curator of the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow since 1977, Peter lost his job two years ago (as did four other staff) when the local authority that manages the gallery decided to make cuts in funding and opening hours. What most angers Peter in the interview is not just the curtailing of the activities of a world-renowned gallery, but the ignorance of councillors — some of whom dismissed Morris when seeking to justify budget cuts as ‘just a white imperialist’. Morris’s biographer Fiona MacCarthy shares Peter’s sense of outrage and is quoted as saying: ‘The attitude of Waltham Forest council to William Morris is crazily ignorant; it is astonishing that a Labour council has done this … he was the least imperialist figure of the Victorian period.’

While the local authority remains unapologetic about what is described as ‘an attack on the liberal humanist egalitarian tradition that Morris did so much to create’, protestors have not given up the fight. Members of the Victorian Society recently gained media attention for the plight of the museum by dressing in white forensic police suits and cordoning off Walthamstow Town Hall with hazard tape and signs declaring this to be a ‘Heritage Crime Scene’. Local people have also mounted a vigorous campaign of support for the museum, which was opened in 1950 by no one less than the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. The issue, says Peter, is that councillors don’t seem to understand that the museum is not ‘some small-scale local resource; it’s on a much bigger scale, and they should take advantage of worldwide interest to maximise the gallery’s full potential … instead they simply want to shrink the gallery to the scale of their own very limited vision’.

The Friends of the William Morris Gallery are placing their hope for a brighter future for the gallery on a Heritage Lottery Fund bid: ‘We are trying to look towards the future … and we hope things will get brighter’, says Martin Adams, spokesman for the Friends.

Doing his bit too to fight ignorance and philistinism was our Fellow Sir Roy Strong, who was quoted in a number of newspapers over the Christmas period for his attack on the Government for what he believes is a deliberate strategy to foster ignorance among schoolchildren about the past. ‘This Government in particular has virtually wiped out the teaching of history in schools’, he said, adding that ‘people don’t know why we’ve got parliament, why we’ve got the monarchy, why we’ve got the Church.’ Sir Roy points to repressive measures of the last few years that would have sparked a revolution in times past, but that now just sail through parliament: ‘if you destroy people’s knowledge of the past, you can do anything you like with them’, he said.

Fighting the tide of ignorance is our Fellow Neil MacGregor, who was hailed as ‘Briton of the Year’ by The Times, which said: ‘In six brief years, MacGregor has rattled the prejudices of those who dismiss museums as cemeteries of the arts’ … his ‘charm and enthusiasm’ have had ‘a curative effect on the British Museum’, and transformed the institution into the country's most popular attraction.

The article went on to say: ‘Neil MacGregor is far more than just the highly successful administrator of an iconic national establishment. He is a committed idealist who, in a world in which culture is increasingly presented as the acceptable face of politics, has pioneered a broader, more open, more peaceable way forward.

‘Refocusing upon the founding ideals of the institution that was established by Act of Parliament in 1753 as a museum for the world, he has radically redefined the role that it can play in public life. By emphasising the importance of an international community of inquiry, of a “republic of letters” as it would have been called in its Enlightenment roots, he has helped to create a global society that is quite separate from others that constantly get caught up in the squabblings of government and politics.

‘Through this society he has managed, over the years, to create important cultural links with countries — including, perhaps most notably, China, Iraq and Iran — that have not enjoyed the warmest of political relations with the West. Helping to release the power that lies implicit in the world’s ancient artefacts, MacGregor has turned the British Museum into an arena in which some of our most fraught and contentious contemporary political debates can be approached with a freshened sensitivity and depth of understanding that can surely be a great help in fostering peace.

‘Most of all MacGregor is a teacher. His mission is to put across that moving human message that lies within our ancient historical artefacts. He wants to disseminate the wisdom of history. And next year we can look forward to two blockbusting British Museum shows, on Shah Abbas and Montezuma, both of which will explore the creation of national identity. They are about aspects of history with which we must engage if we are to have any hope of understanding the world today.’

Obituary: Colin White — historian and Director of the Royal Naval Museum

Salon has learned with great sadness that our Fellow Colin White died of cancer on Christmas Day 2008 at the relatively young age of fifty seven. Colin has featured in the pages of Salon on many occasions in recent years, not least for his appointment as Director of the Royal Naval Museum as recently as June 2006 and before that as Chairman of the Official Nelson Celebrations Committee, charged with co-ordinating the Trafalgar Festival in 2005.

At the same time, he was working at the National Maritime Museum as Director of Events for the bicentenary of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, including the museum’s ‘Nelson and Napoleon’ exhibition. During 2005 he gave no fewer than 300 public lectures, for which he was given the Desmond Wettern Media Award for being the most visible spokesman of Britain’s maritime interests.

Through all this busy period Colin also found time to publish much-lauded books on Nelson: the Admiral and Nelson: the New Letters, the latter based on the Nelson Letters Project, set up in 1999 by the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, which tracked down more than 1,400 unpublished letters. Of these, Colin wrote: ‘they enable us, as it were, to watch over Nelson’s shoulder at critical moments in his career in a sustained and detailed manner not possible before. Suddenly the “Nelson touch” springs to life and we can get a sense of what it was like to be present at one of Nelson’s briefings and share his thoughts. And to admire afresh Nelson’s urgency, humanity, wisdom and skill.’

Colin Saunders White was born in 1951. He went to Southampton University, then obtained an MA in War Studies at King’s College, London. He worked at the Royal Naval Museum from 1975, becoming Deputy Director and Head of Museum Services in 1995. As well as being a Fellow of our Society, he was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Vice-President of the Navy Records Society. He was awarded an honorary DLitt by the University of Portsmouth and was its Visiting Professor in Maritime History.

Obituary: Vivien Swan

Salon has also been informed that Vivien Swan finally succumbed to cancer on New Year’s Day 2009. Many Fellows last saw Vivien at the British Archaeological Awards, held at the British Museum on 10 November 2008, when her Lifetime Achievements were recognised with an award. Our Fellow David Breeze, Chairman of the British Archaeological Awards, said in his citation that ‘Vivien Swan was a member of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. While there, she produced, with Humphrey Welfare, FSA, a book on the Roman Camps of England. But her real interest was in Roman pottery. Such material had long been recognised for its dating value, but it took a long time for its wider use in offering information on supply, the Roman economy, diet, ethnicity, troop movements, and, through that, the history of Roman Britain, to be appreciated.

‘Vivien has played a pivotal part in helping us all understand the wider value of Roman pottery for understanding our past. It is never easy to be at the cutting edge of new developments and her ideas have not always met a receptive audience. But she has persevered and published and has had the pleasure of hearing the accolades from international audiences who realise that Vivien is leading the field throughout Europe. We will never see Roman pottery in the same simplistic way again.’

A fuller appreciation of Vivien’s life and work will be published in a future issue of Salon.

Green light for £6m development programme for the Sir John Soane’s Museum

Ambitious plans to secure the future of the Sir John Soane’s Museum have been given a boost by the award of a development grant of £196,000 by the London Committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The grant will enable the museum to advance its plans for ‘Opening up the Soane’, a major project of restoration and improvement works. Our Fellow Tim Knox, Director of the Sir John Soane’s Museum, says: ‘This is great news and goes some way to making up for our disappointment in June when the HLF turned down our request for funding for this project.’ The project will enable the museum to increase public access to unseen parts of the house and allow more of the collection to be displayed and eight interventions to improve visitor access and facilities.

It is estimated that this ambitious scheme will take four years to achieve at the cost of around £6 million. Tim Knox is appealing for financial help from ‘everyone who loves Soane’s strange and idiosyncratic creation and who wants it survive … the immensely generous response we have already received to our appeal shows how deeply people care about the Soane. It may not be large and trendy, but this most British and eccentric of all house museums has a very special place in the hearts of all who know it’.

Campaigning for Britain’s post-war murals

The Twentieth Century Society (C20) has launched a campaign to create an online photographic database of post-war mural art, with the aim of identifying the best examples and seeking listed status to prevent their destruction. The campaign has grown out of the threat to mural art that has seen some significant losses in recent years, including the burial of Plymouth’s Armada Way subway mural (1987—8, Edward Pond and Kenneth Clark) and the demolition of a magnificent mosaic by Ray Howard-Jones (1903—96), which had decorated Cardiff’s Thomson House since 1959 and was unceremoniously reduced to rubble along with the rest of the building in November 2008. The recent listing of a William Mitchell mural at Islington Green School, London, as a direct result of C20’s efforts, came too late to prevent demolition, which took place whilst the decision was awaited

The C20 Society says that mural art was given a huge boost in 1951 by the Festival of Britain, where around one hundred murals were shown at the South Bank Exhibition site alone. This increased critical interest in murals and encouraged artists to use a wide range of materials, including ceramics, metals, plastics, fibreglass, wood and concrete. Combined with the post-war building boom this produced a tremendously fertile period for mural art and at least a thousand murals were constructed between 1945 and the 1980s, the majority being commissioned for new schools, universities, civic buildings, offices and churches, as well as restaurants, shopping centres and subways. Their artists ranged from the internationally famous, including John Piper, Victor Pasmore, Mitzi Cunliffe, Ben Nicholson, Eduardo Paolozzi and Bridget Riley, to the relatively unknown.

No definitive record has ever been compiled and so the C20 Society is calling for members of the public to add records to the database, which builds on the existing database of post-war mural work begun by Lynn Pearson. To contribute and to see the range of art already on the database, see the C20 Society’s website.

Reinventing the camera

Atmospheric sepia-brown photographs of the Swindon Railway Village and of Paddington station, looking as if they were taken at the dawn of the photographic era, feature on the website of David White, a young photographer who has had a camera built for himself using reclaimed mahogany and brass and an original 1857 lens in order to understand how pioneer photographers went about their work. His website explains his research into the work of Robert Howlett, the photographer who took the iconic photograph of Brunel standing in front of the massive chains of the ocean-going steamship, the Great Eastern, smoking his trade mark cigar: Howlett worked closely with Brunel, taking pictures to show to clients around the country so that they could see how their projects were progressing. David White has copied Howlett’s camera techniques but draws the line at using mercury and arsenic for the development processes: exposure to those chemicals led to Howlett’s early death at the age of twenty-seven.

David has now turned his attention to early archaeological photographs; learn more about this at the Society’s colloquium to be held in June this year to celebrate Sir John Evans’s Somme Gravels lecture given to the Society of Antiquaries on 2 June 1859 (details of which will be circulated shortly).

Turkish dam halted but Hampton Court hotel and Burrup factories go ahead

Archaeologists and environmentalists rarely have much in common with insurance companies, but late last year they were delighted to learn that a consortium of German, Austrian and Swiss insurance firms had ordered a halt to the £1.1bn Ilisu dam on the Tigris near Turkey's borders with Iraq and Syria, after concluding that it failed to meet standards set by their governments and the World Bank. If it had gone ahead, the dam would have wrecked wildlife habitats, displaced 80,000 mainly Kurdish people without compensation and drowned eighty towns, villages and hamlets as well as hundreds of unrecorded archaeological sites, including the ancient Mesopotamia town of Hasankeyf, some of which are among the first settlements ever to have been built. For the German, Austrian and Swiss companies involved to agree to the project continuing, the Turkish Government must meet 150 World Bank conditions on the environment, heritage sites, neighbouring states and human relocation.

Sadly, no such intervention seems likely to prevent developments that threaten some of the world’s oldest rock art, dating from 10,000 years ago, scattered across the Burrup peninsula in the north west of Australia. Last year the mining company Woodside Energy won permission to move 170 pieces of rock art to a new site to make way for a liquefied natural gas plant. In 2009, Burrup Nitrates is planning to build an explosives plant on the site.

Opposition to the development is led by Robin Chapple, a British-born Green MP, whose seat in the Western Australian Parliament is the world’s largest at 86,000 square miles. ‘The Burrup has the highest density of carvings of rock art in the world,’ he said. He has criticised the decision to move some examples as being ‘like taking a couple of pillars out of Stonehenge and putting them somewhere else. If you do that, you lose the integrity of the site’.

And despite objections from local people and the heritage sector, planners have decided to grant permission for the construction of a four-storey hotel, housing and shopping complex on the opposite bank of the Thames from Hampton Court Palace. Our Fellow David Starkey described the hotel as ‘out of scale and out of character’, and a development that threatened the ‘magical riverside landscape’ of the palace. ‘It’s one of the top four or five most important historical structures in the country’, he said, and he criticised the Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, for not using her powers to call the decision in, and for leaving the decision to Elmbridge Borough Council. John Barnes, Conservation Director at Historic Royal Palaces, which manages Hampton Court, said the decision to allow the hotel would have been ‘inconceivable’ in other countries: ‘Imagine this outside the gates of Versailles’, he said.

For sale: one dodgy Viking sword

Our Fellow Alan Williams and Tony Fry, a researcher at England’s National Physical Laboratory, have discovered that Viking warriors literally took their lives in their hands as a result of medieval sword forgers who passed off fake Ulfberht swords made from iron mined in northern Europe as genuine Ulfberhts, made with steel imported from Afghanistan and Iran. The problem for the Viking warrior was that the difference would not be apparent until the sword was used: both bore the Ulfberht name in raised letters at the hilt, but one would shatter as soon as it was struck while the other would remain intact and sharp through many a battle encounter.

Dr Williams, archaeometallurgist and consultant to the Wallace Collection, and Tony Fry, senior researcher at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington, made the discovery as a result of trying to work out why some Ulfberht swords survive intact, but others are found as fragments on battle sites or in graves. Tests at the NPL showed that the genuine ones were made from ingots of crucible steel with a carbon content higher than that of modern carbon steel, whereas contemporary fake Ulfberhts were made of iron hardened by plunging the red-hot blade into cold water, which enabled a sharp edge to be given to the blade but left it brittle.

Export bars on Turner painting and historic giltwood stools

A temporary export bar has been placed on Turner’s painting of Pope’s Villa at Twickenham (1808), to enable a UK buyer to match the sale price of £5,417,250. The painting arose out of Turner’s admiration for Alexander Pope (1688—1744) and the distress he felt at the destruction of the poet’s villa, built beside the Thames at Twickenham in 1719 using the proceeds from his translation of Homer’s Iliad. Lady Howe, who owned the villa in the early nineteenth century, was so bothered by the tourists and admirers who still came to see it and its grounds that she had it demolished, for which act of vandalism she was widely reviled as ‘Queen of the Goths’. Turner’s notes on the painting have led this to be hailed as an early argument for the preservation of national heritage, and Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, said of the painting that it was not only of high aesthetic quality, ‘its call to prevent the senseless destruction of our heritage resonates down the centuries to our own time, and is as relevant now as it was then’. Further information can be found on the website of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

A temporary export bar has also been placed on a pair of important Queen Anne giltwood stools made c 1705 and attributed to Royal Cabinet-maker Gerrit Jensen. They originally formed part of a suite comprising a bed, two armchairs and six stools which was reputedly made for Queen Anne, and later given by George III to Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick. The stools exceptionally retain most of their original upholstery. Our Fellow Simon Jervis, Reviewing Committee member, said: ‘Upholstery has always been a poor relation of furniture studies because it is so fragile, and is so often altered. These remarkable giltwood stools are rare survivals of the highest quality, with a possible royal connection, and will add much to our knowledge of the history of upholstery.’ The price of the stools has been set at £337,250. Further information can be found on the website of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Site of unrecorded Roman battle found in north Germany

Archaeologists in Germany have found an battlefield strewn with hundreds of Roman artefacts dating from the third century AD in a part of north Germany (Kalefeld, about 100 kilometres south of Hanover) which the Romans were thought to have vacated after thousands of Roman soldiers were slaughtered in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, near modern-day Bremen, more than two centuries earlier.

Henning Hassmann, the Lower Saxony Conservation Department’s lead archaeologist, announced last week that 600 artefacts, including axe heads and wagon parts, coins and arrowheads, a hippo-sandal, sandal nails and spear points had been found on a forested hill called the Harzhorn. The site first came to light when local metal detectorists reported finds they had made back in 2000. Working with the detectorists, archaeologists found evidence for a battle fought over more than a mile of what is now dense forest, whose epicentre was marked by large numbers of ballista arrow points, 80 per cent of which were oriented in the same direction, indicating that the Roman attack came from the north, suggesting that they were on their way home from a mission even further into German territory. One arrowhead contained enough of the original wooden shaft to provide a radiocarbon date some time between AD 200 and 250.

The specialised artillery and hundreds of Roman sandal nails found on Harzhorn Hill is a good indication that the combatants were Roman, not barbarians using Roman weapons. Our Fellow Friedrich Lüth, head of the German Archaeological Institute’s Roman German Commission, said: ‘Roman sandals on German feet doesn't make sense, at least not in that amount’, and he added: ‘It's quite surprising to see them so far north’. Full-scale excavation is expected to start in March 2009.

Transactions of the Geological Society go online

The Geological Society, one of our sister societies at Burlington House, has put some of its earliest publications online. The Transactions of the Geological Society were published from 1811 to 1856, during which time they featured some 350 papers, including the first full description of a dinosaur, by the Revd William Buckland, who became the Society’s President in 1824.

Even so, Buckland still worked within a Biblical framework for the history of the earth, arguing in an 1821 paper that strata he recorded at Lickey Hill in Worcestershire were evidence of a ‘universal and recent deluge’. The Transactions also contain an early paper from the man who was to change all that: the five-page paper, ‘On the formation of mould’, outlines Darwin’s researches, carried out at the suggestion of his father-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood II, into the effects of the digestive processes of the common earthworm on layers of vegetable mould in fields around Maer Hall, Wedgwood’s home in Staffordshire. Darwin later devoted his last scientific book, published in 1881, to the same subject, in a work entitled The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits.


First, apologies to any reader whose copy of Salon 203 did not arrive: the computer that distributes Salon crashed mid-task, leaving an unknown number of recipients without their copy; Salon’s editor is happy to send back copies to anyone who requests them.

Immediately after sending out Salon 203, Salon’s editor read The Times blog of our Fellow Mary Beard, in which she chastised journalists for getting the figures wrong in their analysis of the Research Assessment Exercise: many, it seems, read as absolute figures what were really percentages. Oh dear, and so did Salon!

It was an understandable mistake, because the published RAE tables are not labelled (back to school: the first lesson we were all taught in maths!); in fact they start with a column giving the absolute number of people from each department entered for the RAE, and then a series of columns showing the percentage of that number graded from 4* (world leading) to 1* (nationally recognised). Salon, along with many other untutored commentators, read all the figures as absolutes, and so Salon reported that Durham, rated the top archaeology department, had thirty-five staff graded at 4*, while Reading had forty 4* researchers and Cambridge had thirty at that level. Salon should have said that 35 per cent of the 26.4 staff at Durham entered for the RAE were rated 4*, 40 per cent of Reading’s 19 staff, and 30 per cent of Cambridge’s 45.35 staff.

Knowing this does slightly alter one’s reading of the tables: in archaeology, for example, the ranking of Durham as the top archaeology department, Reading second and Cambridge third was based on averaging the scores of all the research staff entered for the RAE. But if, instead of averages, one looks at the number of top researchers in each institution, the UCL’s Institute of Archaeology comes top with 18.5 staff graded at 4*, Cambridge is second with 13.6, Oxford third with 12.4 and Durham fourth with 9 (for the full list of archaeology departments see The Guardian). No doubt every university will select the figures that reflect best on them; indeed, a criticism of the RAE is that universities have learned to play the system and some deliberately chose not to enter staff who they thought might score lower and thus bring down their departmental averages.

Another item that you will have missed if Salon 203 did not arrive was the report on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the UK’s first motorway (so much more important than the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, which seems to have gone almost unmarked by almost everyone, Salon included). John Prag did get his copy, however, and comments that it is nice to know that motorways — the source of so much archaeological discovery — are now themselves part of our heritage.

John continues: ‘you mention the fact that the M6 (Preston by-pass) had to be closed for repairs in 1959 very shortly after its opening because large areas of the road surface cracked up after a very hard frost followed by an unusually fast thaw. I wonder: while co-ordinating the Alderley Edge Landscape Project from the Manchester Museum and the National Trust I have learned another reason why that first part of Britain’s motorway network needed repairs soon after its opening, but you need to come south a little, into Cheshire.

‘In the 1860s the Alderley Edge Mining Company adopted Henderson’s acid-leaching process to extract the copper. This involved dropping the copper-bearing sandstone into vats of hydrochloric acid: the sandstone disintegrated and the copper was re-deposited on scrap iron placed into the vats. The acid was then drained off and re-used, and the sand collected into enormous heaps on the southern side of Alderley Edge, which, not surprisingly, became known as the Sandhills (tobogganing down the sandy slopes was a popular past-time for local children). The history and the process are described on the “Mines” pages of the website of the Derbyshire Caving Club, lessees of the mines from the National Trust.

‘In the years after the sale of the estate by the Stanleys in 1938 the area was acquired by a contractor called Nield whose activities included selling off the sand from the Sandhills. The story is that it was used inter alia for sandbags and in the construction of the runway at Manchester Airport — and for the first part of the M6. So acidic was the sand that the sandbags perished and the runway and the M6 soon needed repairs. On the other hand it is always safer to blame the unpredictable English weather rather than a dodgy deal!’

Let us then make some small amends for having failed to mark Milton’s anniversary by reminding ourselves of his defence of unlicensed publishing and the ‘liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience’.

In Areopagitica (1644), a reaction to the punishment of press-freedom campaigners such as John Lilburne, Milton compared book licensing (the equivalent form of censorship to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s proposal announced over the Christmas break to introduce an internet site ratings system) to ‘the exploits of a gallant man who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park gate’.

In a famous passage, Milton went on to say ‘for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve … the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them … as good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself’.

Ah yes, but surely Milton was only concerned about ‘good’ books. Not so, for he argues cogently that good or evil lie not in the book but in the mind of the reader: ‘to the pure, all things are pure … knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the will and conscience be not defiled’. For Milton the solution was not censorship but ‘vertuous education, religious and civil nurture’, for these are ‘the sustainers of every written statute, and these will bear chief sway in such matters as these when all licensing will be easily eluded’.

A first edition of Milton’s Areopagitica features in the British Library’s splendid free exhibition ‘Taking Liberties: the struggle for Britain’s freedoms and rights’, which was reviewed in the last issue of Salon, with the observation that it was ironic that the Ministry of Justice was one of the exhibition’s sponsors. Salon readers will perhaps remember the doughty (but ultimately unsuccessful) campaign mounted by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, with the support of many Fellows, to prevent the Edwardian furnishings of the Middlesex Guildhall from being removed in order to create a ‘Supreme Court’ for the United Kingdom. Now Lord Hope, the so-called ‘Deputy President’ of this unnecessary institution (we have a fully functioning ‘Supreme Court’ already, in the form of the House of Lords), has declared that, not content with wrecking the historic interiors, he wants the address to be changed as well. ‘We all feel’, says Lord Hope, ‘that Little George Street sounds ridiculous and doesn’t give the right message. If you take out the “little” it would be fine.’ Reporting Lord Hope’s ridiculous comments, the Independent wonders how he copes with being a mere Deputy; ‘Poor old Lord Hope’, the Independent’s diarist comments: ‘Some one change the name of his office to Big House in Big Street and give him a great big desk to sit behind.’

Going back to earlier editions of Salon, Alasdair Glass writes to say that ‘Tim Clough's comment on the Ely angels reminds me of the tale told about Michelangelo who, when the Pope complained he had not given an angel big enough wings, asked him if he knew how much an angel weighed.’

Several Fellows have also pointed out that Salon’s confident assertion that our newly elected Fellow, Katherine Barclay, is known as ‘Kay’ is wrong: Katherine is known as ‘Kath’, so apologies for that misleading assertion!

Finally, our Fellow Paul Stamper contributes another entry from the diaries of James Lees-Milne (Paul claims to be a fan but probably has his tongue in his cheek) concerning our Society. Dated Thursday 10 February 1949, it reads: ‘At 4.30pm to the Society of Antiquaries as a guest of Clifford Smith. Cliffy’s wife, that sweet, simpering old dear, and Lady Ashburnham of Ashburnham Place, also invited. The last, a simple shy lady to whom Cliffy deferred in the most subservient fashion. His snobbishness and sense of class is Austenian. [Tom] Kendrick lectured with verve on English Renaissance antiquaries, a dull subject enough. The lecture room filled with the dreariest crones imaginable, just what the ordinary person supposes archaeologists to look like — dry as dust. Rather splendid formality here, the Chairman with mace welcoming John Harvey as a new Fellow.’ How much has changed in sixty years: not least the public’s idea of what an archaeologist ought to look like!

What does your mantelpiece say about you?

At the other end of the spectrum from Lees Milne’s dusty antiquaries is our thoroughly modern Fellow, Christine Finn, whose latest project involves investigating mantelpieces, in the belief that they are like personal shrines, collections of apparently everyday objects whose associations make them precious for us — just like the shell beads or rare stones that are found in the graves of our Palaeolithic ancestors.

In an article in the Guardian, Christine describes ‘excavating’ the mantelpiece of her late parents' home and coming to the realisation as she did so of the significance of the mantelpiece as the modern equivalent of the lares et penates, the Roman household gods. ‘On instinct, I photographed it, and looking at the image weeks later, realised the bric-a-brac of china, photographs and dusty paper flowers was not just a collection of sundry bits, but a document. Here, in all its unique, mismatched glory, was the story of my family. Every object in the home tells a story, but the mantel is a place to perform, a paradise for people-watching’.

‘At the same time,’ writes Christine, ‘the mantel is a landscape of lost and random objects’ and the key to the meaning of any mantelpiece assemblage is, like much archaeology, only fully known to those who understand the private code. ‘How much can we read into the assemblage?’, Christine asks. ‘It's a long way from a pebble-dashed semi in Deal to Mongolia, but as I pondered my family mantel, I recalled the anthropologist Caroline Humphrey describing the interior of a yurt and the symbolism of the hearth. The hearth is a potent image, but what about random objects that get caught up in this domestic biography; the accretion of notes, receipts, odd buttons, broken jewellery, stamps, passport photos, lists, fridge magnets and half a dog chew? Given that the mantels in show-houses are invariably neat and almost bare, is a cluttered or a pristine mantel a defining place in the property search? Can it clinch or sink a choice of new home?’

Calling for Guardian readers to submit photographs of their own mantelpieces, with a short account of the objects on it, Christine says her own mantelpiece is ‘unconsciously or otherwise, Zen-like. What I put on it are temporary objects: stones, shells, driftwood, bleached bone. There is always a candle, flowers, a postcard of some art. Sometimes it seems to grow. But never enough for it to be excavated in quite the same way.’


6 February 2009: ‘Jack Tar: life in Nelson’s navy’, at the Theatre Royal, Bath, 12 noon
At this lunchtime special event, Fellows Roy and Lesley Adkins will give an illustrated talk on their best-selling and warmly reviewed portrait of the ordinary people who made up the backbone of Nelson’s Navy. Full details from the Theatre Royal website.

3 to 5 April 2009: The Medieval Chantry in England and Wales
Perfectly timed for Easter, this weekend school to be held at Rewley House, home of the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, looks at the many forms that the chantry could take, from a simple endowment for daily mass to be said for the benefit of an individual to something as complex as a college. Architecturally, chantries created explicit links between tomb, altar and chapel. This weekend draws together a number of speakers to examine the medieval chantry in England and Wales, with our Fellow John McNeill as Director of Studies and contributions from Fellows Clive Burgess, John Goodall, Kate Heard, Phillip Lindley, Julian Luxford, Linda Monckton and Cathy Oakes. Full details from the OUDCE website.

2009—10 day and weekend courses from the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education
‘The Medieval Chantry in England and Wales’ is just one of several courses on offer from the OUDCE in 2009—10, so tempting that one could easily spend every weekend in Oxford, studying ‘The Archaeology of the Holy Land’ (24 January), ‘The Archaeology of the Great War’ (28 Feb), ‘Towns in Britain AD 300 to 700’ (27 to 29 March), ‘Buildings and Farming’ (8 to 10 May), ‘Markets and Market Places’ (25 to 27 September), ‘Buildings for Worship in Britain: Celtic and Anglo-Saxon’ (8 to 10 January 2010), ‘Technical Innovation in the Country House and its Estate’ (7 to 9 May 2010), and many more, most of them featuring Fellows as Directors of Study or as speakers. Full details from the OUDCE website.

Until 26 April: G F Watts: Victorian visionary, Guildhall Art Gallery, London
The Society’s Collections Manager, Julia Dudkiewicz, was Assistant Curator at the Watts Gallery, Compton, near Guildford, for five years before joining the Society’s staff, so naturally she is a passionate advocate for Watts’s work, and she wants Salon readers to know that they don’t have to travel to Surrey to see Watts’s work at the moment — indeed, the gallery is closed for a £4.3m Heritage Lottery Funded restoration until 2010; instead the gallery has mounted a series of exhibitions and events in London, under the umbrella title of 'Watts in the City’. The flagship event is an exhibition at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery of more than eighty paintings, drawings and sculptures illustrating the career of the artist who was dubbed ‘the English Michelangelo’ by his contemporaries.

Books and websites by Fellows (and related matters)

Donald Insall’s Living buildings (Images Publishing) is a splendid book, packed with pictures (including ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of the attics at Kelmscott Manor) that is on one level a biography of the distinguished architectural practice that Donald founded in Bristol in 1958 (hence this volume celebrates the fiftieth anniversary), but on another amounts to a history of architectural conservation over the last fifty years, its philosophy, principles and practice, as exemplified by the work of Donald and his team.

Architects like Donald who choose to work with historic buildings face all sorts of challenges that do not trouble the designers of new buildings: they have, for example, to understand not just how building materials work when employed anew, but how they respond to the effects of time and weather and the stresses people place on buildings. Also, as Donald says he learned early on, you are working with buildings that have an inherent identity and character: seeking to recognise, understand, conserve or enhance those special qualities is what underlies all of the work that Donald and his team have undertaken — and sometimes it has taken a lot more than just technical knowledge: Donald writes about the intellectual battles fought in planning inquiries and town halls just to get planners to agree to ‘keep alive what is worthwhile’ against an instinct to sweep all away and begin anew. Conservation, Donald firmly believes, is not negative, backward or obstructive — it is the positive and imaginative process of releasing the vitality of a particular place or building, and page after page of this new book shows how it can be done.

Country Houses of the Cotswolds, by Nicholas Mander (Aurum Press), features Owlpen Manor, the author’s own very beautiful home, on the cover. Having rescued the house and its estate at great personal expense, Nicholas is alive to many of the conservation issues that Donald Insall raises, and worries about the way that the Cotswolds house has become a must-have trophy of the rich, with the result that many have been over-extended and over-restored to the point where their vernacular roots have become lost.

Reviewing the book in the SPAB Cornerstone magazine, our Fellow Michael Hill, formerly Conservation Architect at Cotswold District Council, has the answer: ‘Perhaps in order to save the Cotswolds we should return to the thoughts of J Arthur Gibb, who wrote in 1898: “To anyone who might be thinking of becoming for the time being ‘a tourist’, and in that capacity visiting the Cotswolds, my advice is “Don’t. There really is nothing to see”.’ And in one respect this does in fact remain true: many of the houses in Nicholas’s splendid book are private and cannot even be so much as glimpsed, nestling as they do at the heart of vast and jealously guarded private estates. This book, then, full of fine photographs from the Country Life archive, is as close as we polloi are ever likely to get.

From T P (Timothy) Wiseman comes an ambitious and intriguing book called Unwritten Rome (University of Exeter Press) that starts from the proposition that what we think we know about early Rome comes largely from anachronistic accounts written centuries later — albeit containing traditions and stories that contain some essence of the past. The author seeks to retrieve the true story of early Roman society, from the Bronze Age to the conquest of Italy around 300 BC, as much from the artefactual record as from the later literature of Livy and Ovid, and seeks the origins of later Roman literature and customs in the sixth century when the Romans first encountered the Greeks in southern Italy. ‘Wiseman rethinks the history of Rome and Roman literature’ says one reviewer.

TV viewers able to pick up BBC Wales broadcasts were treated to a series of five documentaries during November and December 2008 on the work of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales/Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru, which, like its Scottish counterpart, is celebrating its centenary during 2008 and 2009. Those of us unable to see these broadcasts can learn more about the work of the RCAHMW/CBHC through the accompanying publication, Hidden Histories: discovering the heritage of Wales, edited by Peter Wakelin and Ralph A Griffiths, which uses one hundred case studies to build a timeline of distinctively Welsh sites and monuments whose hidden histories have been revealed through the work of Commission staff, many of whom are Fellows of our Society, as indeed are many of the Commissioners. The range of monuments covered in this beautifully illustrated book encapsulates the way that the concept of ‘Ancient and Historical Monuments’ has changed over time, starting as it does with Palaeolithic Paviland Cave, and ending with steelworks and coal mines, slate quarries and sports venues, and poignant pictures of an abandoned Prestatyn holiday camp, once a byword for sunshine and summer fun, now surviving only as a record in the National Monuments Record for Wales. Copies can be ordered from Lilwen Jones at £24.95, including post and packing.

From Martin Biddle comes news that the Winchester Excavations Committee has just launched its ‘Winchester Studies’ website, to help promote existing volumes and to bring news of progress on the project, which intends to bring out eleven volumes in seventeen parts, of which six volumes in eight parts have already been published to universal acclaim. The half-way mark will be crossed when the next volume appears. This will be The Anglo-Saxon Minsters of Winchester by Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle and Martin Biddle.

Also online and accessible through the Archaeology Data Service is the archive of the London Archaeologist , consisting of all the articles that have appeared in the periodical between 1968 and 2005 (volumes 1 to 10). Published by the London Archaeologist Association since 1968, the periodical covers every significant archaeological discovery in England’s capital, including excavation reports, finds studies, environmental reports, exhibition and book reviews, news and commentary. More recent volumes can be obtained from the London Archaeologist website.

Fellows may well have discovered while browsing the net over the holidays that the CBA's website has a new look: gone is the functional appearance that we have all been familiar with for a decade, with a home page that never really did justice to the rich content that lay beyond, if only one knew where to look for it, and in its place we now have a clean, visually varied design that invites exploration. This can be addictive if you enjoy serendipitous encounters: clicking through the riches on offer in the ‘Blogs’ section, Salon’s editor found the ‘Archaeolog’ , hosted by Stanford University, which describes itself as a ‘collective weblog dealing in all things archaeological’. Checking out a contribution on ‘the posthuman’, it was difficult to tell whether or not the paper on ‘Polyagency: in-between the virtual and the actual’, posted by Johan Normark, was a brilliant spoof or deadly serious (the opening sentence reads: ‘Originally, the notion of polyagency pertained to the causative capabilities of materialities and intangibilities in more or less a humanocentric way’). Instructive in a different way is the paper called ‘Trashed Out’, posted by Ian Straughn of Brown University, who analyses the archaeology of disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and fires, or even of the repossession of homes by bailiffs, and asks what is it that people choose to rescue from the ruins of their old life as resources with which to build the new … sentimental mementoes or the practical things of every day use?

The CBA is, by the way, looking for responses to the new website: what do you think of the design, content and new features? What further new facilities or pages would you like to see? Are there any links to other resources we should include? You can provide feedback by filling in a short online questionnaire or by sending an email to Dan Hull, the CBA’s Head of Information & Communications.

A book by our Fellow Tim Clayton has just been given the Mountbatten Maritime Award for 2008, an annual prize made for a work of literature that ‘accurately portrays the influence of the sea on British history’. The judges described Tars: the men who made Britain rule the waves (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007) as ‘accessible, well researched, and a true literary masterpiece’. Tars is a vivid account of life in the Royal Navy during the Seven Years War, based on first-hand accounts of the captains, officers and men of two warships, the Monmouth and the Dragon.

Finally, news not of a book but of a publisher: Noel Osborne, known to many Fellows as the Chairman of Phillimore, publisher since 1897 of books on local, family and corporate history, and of the excellent Victoria County History England’s Past for Everyone series, is half way through his year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. ‘Fellows will probably be familiar with our Archives and Library’, Noel says, ‘and with the role we played in copyright protection before the various Copyright Acts, and beyond’. ‘Entered at Stationers’ Hall’ is a familiar legend in the preliminary pages of thousands of books, pamphlets and pages of sheet music.