Salon Archive

Issue: 210

Forthcoming meetings

2 April 2009: Ballot with exhibits: our former Librarian, Bernard Nurse, FSA, will talk about ‘Richard Tongue (1795—1873), painter of prehistoric monuments’.

You can now vote in the 2 April ballot on the Fellows’ side of the website; apply to Christopher Catling if you would like a password or a password reminder.

23 April 2009: Council Elections and Anniversary Meeting

30 April 2009: ‘John Gower and London’, by John Hines, FSA

30 April 2009: ‘Getting to Know the Society’ tour. This will include an introduction to Burlington House by David Gaimster, followed by a tour of the Society’s library and the services it offers Fellows, by Heather Rowland, Head of Library and Collections, a tour of the Society’s pictures and museum collections by Julia Dudkeiwizc, the Collections Manager, and a small display of items from the Library, by Adrian James, Assistant Librarian. The tour starts at 11am (coffee from 10.30am) and ends at 12.30pm, followed, for those who wish it, by a light sandwich lunch, for which a charge of £5 will be made. Numbers are limited to twenty-five Fellows per tour. Contact to book a place.

The birth of prehistory: commemorating John Evans’s Somme gravels lecture given to the Society on 2 June 1859

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species dominates the headlines and TV schedules, but 1859 is a pivotal year in the history of science for another reason, and one in which archaeologists and geologists played a central role: on 2 June in that year, Sir John Evans (1823—1908) gave a lecture to the Society of Antiquaries that presented evidence for a more remote human antiquity than had hitherto been imagined, following his visit to Picardy with his friend, the geologist Joseph Prestwich, to testify to the existence of stone tools and the bones of extinct mammals in the same geological strata.

The Society’s commemoration of that lecture on 2 June 2009 will include short papers from seven speakers, led by Martin Rudwick, FBA, the celebrated science historian, who will speak on ‘The background to the problem of the antiquity of man’, and by our Vice-President, Clive Gamble, who will set Evans and Prestwich and the discoveries of 1859 in context. Clive has also tracked down the artefact that Evans and Prestwich photographed in-situ in 1859 and recovered from the Somme gravels; this will be on display again at the Society for the first time in 150 years, thanks to the Natural History Museum in whose archive it was rediscovered in 2008. The Hoxne handaxes found in 1797, which Evans also rescued from forgotten obscurity, will also be on view.

Places at the event cost £20, and include tea and a wine reception. If you would like to reserve a place, please contact the Society. For the full programme and timings, see the Society’s ‘News and events’ web page.

Holiday closure

Burlington House and the Library will be closed on from Friday 10 April to Tuesday 14 April 2009 inclusive (re-opening on Wednesday 15 April) and Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 May 2009.

Robin Hood was not ‘loved by the good’ after all

One sure-fire way to hit the headlines, it seems, is to find out something new and controversial about a famous or mythical figure. Our Fellow Julian Luxford, of the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, did just that recently with his widely reported discovery of a previously unknown reference to Robin Hood in an English manuscript owned by Eton College (see Dr Luxford’s paper announcing the discovery in the Journal of Medieval History, Vol 35:1 (2009).

The reference occurs in Eton College MS 213, a copy of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon made around 1420. This manuscript is of particular interest to scholars because of its copious, and often unusual, marginal annotations, one of which, on fol 234r, is the reference to Robin Hood and his associates, probably inserted in the 1460s. The twenty-three-word Latin reference says: ‘Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies.’

In an interview posted on the ‘Medievalists’ website, Julian explains how he made the discovery, and what makes it significant. ‘What is most interesting and important about this inscription’, he says, ‘is the fact that it supplies an English historiographical perspective on Robin Hood, which is something we have not had before. The dating it suggests [for Hood’s activities] of 1294—9 [Edward I’s reign] is a useful piece of information to conjure with for those of us who still think there may have been an original Robin Hood — not because it is definitive, but because it is further evidence for medieval belief in his historicity, as opposed to his potency as a stock figure in parochial drama.’

Also significant is the ‘uniquely negative assessment of the outlaw’. Dr Luxford argues that the author of the reference was clerical, and probably monastic, which helps to explain his hostility towards Robin Hood: if, as Julian believes, the author was a member or associate of a charterhouse in Selwood Forest in Somerset, writing at a time when several religious communities in the West Country had been attacked by outlaws, ‘his environment as well as his vocation may have contributed to his attitude’.

Desperately seeking Shakespeare

The next iconic figure to be featured in almost every newspaper in the world was William Shakespeare, in the form of the Cobbe portrait, claimed by no less a figure than the Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells to be a portrait from life painted when Shakespeare was forty-six years old. The painting will go on show (from 23 April to 6 September 2009) at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in Stratford-upon-Avon; the fact that it almost certainly shows Sir Thomas Overbury (1581—1613) will not deter the thousands of people who will flock to Stratford to gaze upon the image which (in the words of the exhibition publicity) ‘has strong claims to represent the dramatist as he appeared to his contemporaries’.

Fellow Christine Finn set this latest ‘find’ in context in The Sunday Times with her report from the 27th International Festival of Films on Art, held in Montreal, which last week saw the premier of a documentary called ‘Battle of Wills’. This follows a retired Bell Communications engineer from Canada, Lloyd Sullivan, in his quest to prove that his family owns the only true Shakespeare portrait from life, the so-called ‘Sanders portrait’.

From Christine Finn’s description, the film sounds quirky and charming. Sullivan, now 76, has never visited England and he has relied upon ‘a self-trained historian in her early fifties, Pam Hinks, who lives in a modest house outside Worcester’ for his evidence. The two have communicated via thousands of e-mails and hundreds of phone calls, and Sullivan has sunk his life savings into proving the authenticity of the painting. Christine Finn is too kind to draw the obvious conclusion: that little separates academic and amateur in this peculiar obsession with Shakespeare’s appearance, and that both are equally determined to seize upon every scrap of ‘evidence’ to support their pre-determined position, ignoring every bit of evidence that does not fit.

Yet another supposed depiction of Shakespeare — this time the Folger portrait — was the subject of an article in the Art Newspaper claiming that conservators had wrecked this work by removing overpainting in order to get at the ‘authentic’ portrait beneath. Unlikely as this sounds, the author of the article claims that the work had been continually updated during Shakespeare’s lifetime to record his changing appearance, and that that record of ‘priceless insights into the changing appearance of Britain’s greatest playwright’ had been lost as a result of ham-fisted ‘restoration’, that will now ‘go down in art history as one of the biggest blunders on record’.

Arsinöe: the sister Cleopatra killed

More ‘rogue archaeology’ featured in a TV documentary — ‘Cleopatra: portrait of a killer’ — shown on BBC1 on 23 March 2009, in which a team led by Hilke Thür, of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, claimed to have found the remains of Cleopatra’s younger sister, Arsinöe, who was put to death in 41 BC on Cleopatra’s orders to eliminate her as a political rival. The programme claimed not only to have found Arsinöe’s tomb, in Ephesus, but also, on the basis of the shape of her skull, to have identified African characteristics, with the implication that Cleopatra herself must therefore have been part African, rather than Greek.

Fellow Mary Beard was having none of this; in her blog (‘A Don’s Life’) on The Times website, she punctured the story with a few well-aimed jabs. First, there is no archaeological evidence to link Arsinöe to the grand octagonal tomb in Ephesus in which the skull was found in the 1920s. Second, the crucial skull, on which the ethnic argument was based, does not survive: it was lost in the Second World War and the new conclusions (including a reconstruction of Arsinöe’s face) rely on the measurements of the skull left by the first excavators. Finally Cleopatra and Arsinöe were probably half sisters, the daughters of Ptolemy XII by different mothers — bang goes the argument for African ethnicity.

Roman jokes

But, Mary Beard concludes in signing off her blog, why should I be surprised at the hype around this TV programme, when a lecture I gave in Newcastle on the fourth-century AD joke book called Philogelos (‘The Laughter Lover’) attracted so much media coverage.

Being a don (and a Cambridge don at that), Mary was so unworldly as not to have realised that her lecture coincided with Comic Relief week in the UK, when large sums are raised for charity by using humour to persuade people to part with their cash. So Mary ended up lecturing on Roman jokes on Red Nose Day, and once the Newcastle University media team put out a press release promoting the lecture, the media was quick to spot the link.

The result was a torrent of phone calls from tabloid journalists who reported the story as if Mary had discovered a new and entirely unknown book of Roman jokes. The BBC was a little more intelligent in its reporting, and the interviews that Mary gave on the ‘Today’ programme and World Service centred around the unchanging nature of humour, and on the Roman fondness for jokes that play on questions of disputed identity (another link to Shakespeare!).

Of course every interviewer wanted to know Mary’s favourite ‘classical’ joke, so she gave them the following. ‘Three men — a scholasticos (an ‘egghead’), a barber and a bald man — went on a long journey and had to camp out at night. They decided to take it in shifts to watch over their luggage. The barber took the first shift but got bored. To pass the time, he shaved the head of the sleeping scholasticos — then woke him up to take his turn. The scholasticos got up, rubbed his head and found that he had no hair. “What an idiot that barber is,” he said: “he’s woken up baldy instead of me.”’

More Fellows on TV and radio

Readers of Salon who wish to hear the profile of Fellow Alan Garner that was broadcast on Radio 4 on 24 March 2009 have got just one day left to ‘Listen again’ to the interview, in which Alan talks about the influence of the historic landscape of Alderley Edge on his fiction. Growing up in a landscape that his great-grandfather, a stonemason, helped to create (he carved the inscription and face at the Wizard’s Well in 1850 and built many of the region’s dry-stone walls), and with tales told to him by his blacksmith grandfather in the semi-darkness of his forge ringing in his head, Alan knew that he was expected to ‘get a back of ‘em’, which is to say ‘do something better than the one before’. His road to betterment led first to Oxford to read Classics, but he quickly decided this was not for him; when he told his tutor he wanted to leave in order to write, his tutor struck a gentleman’s agreement: ‘go away and find out if you have an original mind; and if you discover that you have not, come back and devote your life to discovering those that had’.

Still in Oxford, two interviewees paid tribute to Alan Garner’s work: Philip Pullman, who ought to know, said: ‘he’s one of the very greatest writers of books that children read … written with clarity and rhythm, they convey the sense of surprise and shock at confronting something ancient in a modern landscape … basic, elemental, dark but also full of light and joy’; over at the Bodleian, meanwhile, where Alan Garner’s manuscripts, written in beautiful italic hand in black ink, but self-marked with red biro (‘muck’ and ‘tripe’) and with notes on source materials, librarian Christopher Fletcher said: ‘Alan Garner is a very worthy member of the club of great children’s writers’.

It is too late, however, to listen to Fellow Christine Finn taking part in the BBC Radio 4 travel programme ‘Excess Baggage’, in which she talked to presenter Sandy Toksvig about her interest in visiting places connected with the development of technology. She described the rapid transformation of Silicon Valley from a landscape of orchards and citrus plantations to a landscape of tarmac and office developments, and the unusually fruitful marriage of the free-thinking hippy movement of the San Francisco Bay area with the defence research of the US navy and such companies as Fairchild and Lockheed.

Despite their forward-looking technological modernity, Christine argued that computer geeks are very aware of their history: the garage in which William Hewlett and David Packard set up Hewlett-Packard (the world’s largest technology company) in Palo Alto just before the Second Word War is now a much-visited museum. Christine also described conventions in the US and Japan in which owners of early computers meet to show their treasured technological relics.

And still to come are Fellows Robert Hutchinson and Lucy Worsley co-presenting ‘Inside the body of Henry VIII’ on The History Channel, at 9pm on 20 April, plus Lucy Worsley and assorted other Historic Royal Palaces curators co-presenting ‘Inside the world of Henry VIII’ on The History Channel at 9pm on 21 April, all building up to the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession on 22 April; plus David Starkey’s new series, ‘Henry VIII: mind of a tyrant’, which begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on 6 April 2009.

National Trust debate on beauty

That people can see beauty in silicon and copper semiconductors is proof of the French phrase, chacun à son goût. Inevitably, then, if you mount a debate on the question of whether Britain has become indifferent to beauty, as the National Trust did last week, it is likely that the argument will largely centre around the highly subjective question of what constitutes beauty, rather than the question of indifference or otherwise.

This indeed proved to be the case when the debate pitted our Fellow David Starkey, partnered with Roger Scruton, arguing for the motion against Germaine Greer and Stephen Bayley. David Starkey quite rightly made the point that beauty is a lazy and meaningless word — the sort of word that litters travel writers’ puff pieces and magazines with titles such as ‘This England’. Though David would never say so, as he is a professed enemy of academic jargon, beauty is a highly contested concept; quite rightly, we antiquaries rejected ‘beauty’ long ago as a criterion by which objects, buildings and landscapes should be valued, in favour of more tangible concepts, such as historical, archaeological or architectural significance.

The opposition went for Bambi and little baa lambs: uncharacteristically, Germaine Greer sounded like a fourth-rate Japanese greetings card with her references to the ‘bloom on a child’s cheek, the fawn coming over the hill, the crozier of the unfolding fern, the sheen on the woodland that you can see now as the sap begins to rise, the first swallow … (enough of that; Ed) and Stephen Bayley seemed to think that consumers buying clothes in TopShop is evidence of a heightened aesthetic sensibility at large in the population (has he ever looked — really looked — at the way the English dress?).

Despite Roger Scruton’s strictures against sugary stereotypes, ‘kitsch’ and the ‘Disneyfication’ of art, he and David lost the debate: by so big a margin that (according to Bayley) our Fellow Simon Jenkins, chairing the debate, blinked in disbelief before reading out the result. If there is one lesson from this, it is that 700 guests are willing to part with £15 a head to hear four media personalities have a good argument: what Stephen Bayley described in his Observer column as ‘extreme sport for urban intellectuals’. Clever National Trust to have gained so much publicity for its ‘Quality of Life’ debates (there are more to come) and to have made ₤10,000 in ticket sales into the bargain.

What would you save from the architecture of the 1970s?

Further proof of the redundancy of ‘beauty’ as a concept relevant to conservation values, The Twentieth Century Society is campaigning to raise awareness of the 1970s architecture by asking which buildings from the 1970s deserve being listed by English Heritage. The rule that buildings must be at least thirty years old to be designated, designed to ensure an element of critical distance, means that by the end of this year, every building that survives from the 1970s is eligible for consideration. One building from that decade has already been listed — the former Willis Faber Dumas building (1975) in the centre of Ipswich. Richard Rogers’s Lloyd’s Building, in the City of London, was designed in 1978 but construction did not start until 1981, so it is not yet eligible.

Kicking off its campaign to raise awareness of 1970s architecture, The Twentieth Century Society has put pictures of a selection of buildings on its website, and is asking for comments and further suggestions. Browsing through the selection, which includes buildings that Salon’s editor watched being built (Robinson College, in Cambridge, for example), the overwhelming sense is that these are not typical 1970s buildings: several look as if they were built yesterday (Foster Associates’ 1971 IBM building in Cosham, Hants, for example), suggesting that the best of the decade’s architecture was, in fact, two or three decades ahead of its time; by contrast, Barley Splatt House, near Mount in Cornwall, designed in 1974 by the artists Graham and Annie Ovenden (Graham founded the Brotherhood of Ruralists in 1971) looks like something that Charles Rennie Mackintosh or William Morris would happily call home.

Meanwhile, the C20 Society is celebrating its success in securing Grade II-listed status for a house not very far away in date and geographical location from Barley Splatt: this one is the striking and dramatic Parkham Wood House, in Brixham, Devon, built by regional architect Mervyn Seal, which cantilevers out over a cliff edge overlooking the town and the bay. In its list description, English Heritage says that Parkham Wood is a ‘very interesting example of English domestic architecture that faithfully follows particular aspects of international 1930s architectural idiom and theory, as expressed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier’. The C20 Society says it is delighted, not least because ‘we have rediscovered and underlined the importance of a hitherto largely overlooked, regional architect … despite numerous awards for housing, Mervyn Seal has never previously been given any national recognition. Now that Parkham Wood, the earliest and best survivor of the four houses he designed in the Torbay area, is listed, the Society hopes Mr Seal’s national importance will be recognised’.

Neues Museum reborn in Berlin

Neither would anybody have been tempted to describe the sorry wreck of the Neues Museum in Berlin as ‘beautiful’ until recently: bombed to a charred wreck during World War II, neglected, unloved and lucky to escape the bulldozer after the war, it was left an empty shell for more than fifty years until a competition to restore the building was won in 1997 by architect David Chipperfield in partnership with our Fellow, the conservation architect Julian Harrap.

Against those who wished to see the building ‘restored’ to its exact pre-war appearance, with each gallery decorated in the style of the exhibits, whether ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman or Byzantine design, Chipperfield and Harrap have won plaudits for their ‘beguiling mixture of the restored and the new’. Harrap has renewed what survives of the murals, frescoes, mosaics, long-lost colour schemes and fine detailing, and where nothing survives to be restored, Chipperfield has designed bold new spaces, wrapped around the shell of the old building.

Architectural critics who have been given a preview (the museum does not open officially until October) are in raptures. One said that the main stair well is a ‘show-stopping space’, in which semi-derelict layers of old brick, render, paintwork and echoes of original frescoes blend into a modern palette of concrete and marble … the effect is powerful and painterly, a ravishing hub that visitors will return to again and again as they tour the museum’s connecting wings’. Another said that the building shows that an unapologetic modernist and a conservation architect can take a major historic building and bring fresh life to it ‘without losing the old fabric, its charm and its ghosts’; Chipperfield and Harrap both know better than to ‘pretend that an incident in a building’s history never happened. The best architecture can take damage and be enriched by it — so much so that many visitors will come to experience the building as much as its contents’.

Golden Dhow for Beatrice de Cardi

There have been plaudits too for Fellow Beatrice de Cardi, who returned from the United Arab Emirates earlier this month bearing a Golden Dhow, presented to her by Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Presidential Affairs, for her lifetime’s dedication to the cause of Gulf archaeology (see the website for a picture.

Beatrice was guest of honour at a conference in Abu Dhabi organised by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first archaeological excavations in the country — those carried out on the island of Umm al Nar, adjacent to Abu Dhabi island, by a Danish team in 1959, which uncovered the large collective burial sites of the Umm al Nar civilisation. Almost nothing was known then of the UAE’s role as a stepping stone in the earliest migrations out of Africa, or of the cultures that flourished from 7,000 years ago, with trading links into Central Asia and with the Indus Valley, and eventually by sea across the Indian Ocean.

Having previously excavated sites in south-east Iran in 1966, Beatrice de Cardi became involved in the UAE’s archaeology in 1968, when she and Brian Doe carried out a survey of archaeological sites in Ras Al Khaimah, looking for evidence of trade links between the Arabian and the Iranian sides of the Gulf. ‘I wanted to track down the [grey] wares to see where else I could find them in the emirates and the logical place to look was Ras Al Khaimah, because it is not far from the opposite side of the Gulf’, she told the Gulf News. Having gained permission to undertake a survey, she did not actually find any grey wares, but did discover the significant Shimal site. Only a number of years later, when a German team was excavating at Shimal site, was a tomb uncovered containing the grey wares that Beatrice had come to find: ‘there were my grey wares; it was very satisfactory’, she said.

Beatrice (now ninety-four years of age) has not done much survey work in the region since 1982, but she returns each winter for a couple of months to work with archaeologists at Ras Al Khaimah museum, to assist with the identification and registration of new finds. ‘I enjoy watching other people excavate and visiting sights; that is a bonus for me now’, she said.

Gold Medal for John Coles

Also returning from overseas bearing gold is our Fellow John Coles, who was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities on 20 March 2009, presented to him by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf at the House of Nobility in Stockholm. The medal was awarded for John’s long years of research on the prehistoric rock carvings of Sweden (about which, see John’s paper in the recently published volume 88 of the Antiquaries Journal), and for his donation of the resulting archive to the National Heritage Board of Sweden.

Horse domestication in Kazakhstan c 3000 BC

A multi-national team of archaeologists has uncovered evidence that the domestication of horses, both for their milk and for riding, developed some 5,500 years ago with the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, a country in which horse-rearing traditions run deep and where mare’s milk is still drunk, usually fermented into a slightly alcoholic drink called koumiss.

The team followed three independent lines of evidence for early horse domestication. Analysis of ancient bone remains showed that the horses were similar in shape to Bronze Age domestic horses and different from wild horses from the same region. This suggests that people were selecting wild horses for their physical attributes, which were then exaggerated through breeding. The team also used a new technique to search for ‘bit damage’ caused by horses being harnessed or bridled. Finally, lipid residue analysis was used to find traces of fats from horse milk in Botai pottery.

Our Fellow Alan Outram, of the University of Exeter, is the lead author of the paper published in the journal Science announcing the discoveries. He said: ‘The domestication of horses is known to have had immense social and economic significance, advancing communications, transport, food production and warfare. Our findings indicate that horses were being domesticated about 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. This is significant because it changes our understanding of how these early societies developed.’

Green Energy: a barrage too far?

In Labour party rhetoric, there is always a ‘right’ way to do things, which surprisingly also always happens to be the Government’s way. This week, lecturing us on the ‘right’ way to think was Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, who said that the Government needed to be ‘stronger in facing down local opposition to wind farms … the Government needs to be saying, “It is socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area — like not wearing your seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing”’.

This is the same Government minister who, on the ‘Today’ programme recently, said that it was his job to ensure that ‘planning laws don’t get in the way of what the Government intends to do’, so his views perhaps come as no surprise, but our Fellow Mark Horton, writing in the Spring 2009 issue of Rescue News, is not one to conform, and says we should be very concerned about the potential damage that ill-thought-out green energy schemes can have on the historic environment.

He is especially concerned about the threat posed by plans to construct a 10-mile tidal barrage across the River Severn between Brean Down, in Somerset, and Cardiff, in south Wales, which is still one of five major green energy schemes being actively considered by the Government. ‘We need to think of the Estuary as 150 miles of continuous archaeological landscape’, Mark writes: ‘The proposed barrages will have a catastrophic impact on this archaeology’, partly as a consequence of the construction work involved, and partly as a result of the impact on the river’s tidal range, which will leave parts of the inter-tidal range high and dry, to the detriment of a huge swathe of organically preserved material and deposits.

There are alternatives, Mark argues: ‘a range of new technologies are being developed, to harness the tide using underwater reefs, turbines and tide generators. These could be used, but the government is much less keen to explore these alternatives and none of them made it to their final shortlist. Clearly the big barrage is a highly attractive project to help to solve our renewable energy target by 2020, but the cost to the wider environment, both natural and historic, will be devastating.’


Also refusing to bow to current political orthodoxy is our Fellow Alastair Maxwell-Irving, who says that Salon’s regular reports on the practice of withholding export licences for nationally important cultural objects in order to allow a UK buyer to match the overseas buyer’s price always makes him see red. For years, Alastair says, he has been campaigning for a complete ban on the export of items of heritage, like that which prevails in several other European countries where there is ‘no danger of them losing any heritage of value, other than by criminal activity’. Attending antiques fairs in Florence, says Alastair, ‘non-Italian buyers are left in no doubt that under no circumstances may an item classed as “heritage” ever be taken out of the country. The benefits are twofold: first, Italy retains its heritage for all time, and, second, the value of such an item is determined by the domestic market and not by the international market.

‘Because Britain persists with a free-for-all attitude, our heritage has been haemorrhaging abroad on a massive scale for generations. As a result, we have to pay £50 million to keep Titian’s Diana and Actaeon in this country, money that could be better spent in a million other ways. At British market rates, the value might be £10 million at most, and whether the painting was bought by a public gallery or private collector (it belonged to a private collector until this year), it would still remain in Britain.’ Alastair suspects that the Government has an interest in the present system because it wants the highest value for tax purposes, and the owners want as much money as they can get for every item they possess. ‘The owners and the Government are cashing in on world demand for a heritage that is in short supply, and we, the British public, are paying the price’, he concludes.

In search of medieval Scotland

Three Fellows — Julian Luxford and Richard Fawcett (both of St Andrews University) and Richard Oram (of Stirling University) — are currently involved in an AHRC-funded project to identify how much medieval fabric survives in Scotland’s parish churches. The team set out to test the view that so much medieval ecclesiastical architecture has been lost since the Reformation that too little now survives for a detailed understanding of the pre-Reformation Scottish parish church. Selecting the dioceses of Dunblane and Dunkeld for their pilot study, they set out to create a corpus of historical and architectural evidence, together with a bibliography of the principal sources and illustrations of the existing buildings, with conclusions concerning the degree of medieval fabric that has survived. In very broad terms, the team concludes that very few churches survive in a recognisably medieval structural state, or even with a predominantly medieval fabric, but a large number have parts that are medieval, and collectively these provide invaluable information in helping us to understand the range of forms that would have been found in the medieval churches of the two dioceses.

The detailed results have now been published on the project website, and the team is keen to gather feedback from Fellows about a project that they hope to extend to other dioceses in coming years.

Hungate Medieval Art

The Hungate Medieval Art project at St Peter Hungate, Princes Street, Norwich will be formally opened on 2 April 2009. Conceived in 2007 by Kate Weaver (formerly of the Churches Conservation Trust) and Fellows Paul Binski, Anthony Barnes, Jeremy Haselock and Carole Rawcliffe, this project was established with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Pilgrim Trust to use St Peter Hungate Church in Norwich as a centre for celebrating the remarkable medieval artefacts to be found in Norfolk’s churches. The opening exhibition focuses on Norfolk’s rich legacy of stained glass. The church will be open to the public 10am to 3pm on Thurs, Fri and Sat (and to pre-booked groups on other days). Admission costs £3 (£2.50 concessions), but is free on 4 April 2009.

The Church Monuments Essay Prize

In 2006 the Council of the Church Monuments Society launched a biennial prize of £250 called the Church Monuments Essay Prize, to be awarded with a certificate for the best essay submitted in the relevant year. The aim of the competition is to stimulate more people, particularly those who are perhaps aiming to write on church monuments for the first time or who are not regular contributors, to submit material for the CMS journal, Church Monuments. The competition is therefore open only to those who have not previously published an article in Church Monuments.

The subject of the essay must be an aspect of church monuments of any period in Britain or abroad. The length (including endnotes) must not exceed 10,000 words and a maximum of ten illustrations. The prize will only be awarded if the essay is considered by the judges to be of sufficiently high standard to merit publication in the Society’s journal. The next closing date for entries is 1 January 2010. See the Society’s website for a copy of the rules and for the guidelines to contributors.

Obituary: Andrew Saunders, FSA (1931—2009)

Our Fellow Jonathan Coad has contributed the following tribute to our Fellow Andrew Saunders, who died of cancer on 13 March 2009, at the age of 77.

‘Andrew Saunders had an international reputation as the leading authority on the history and evolution of this country’s artillery defences from their tentative beginnings in the fourteenth century to the abolition of Coastal Artillery in 1956. He was a prolific author of well-researched and written books, articles and guide-books on these and related subjects. He managed to combine this with a busy professional career, culminating as Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings from 1973 to 1989.

‘Saunders’ family home was at St Austell where his interest in Cornish history led to him being made a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd at the age of seventeen. He spent most of his formative years at Oxford, first as a choral scholar at Magdalen College School and, after National Service in the RAF, at Magdalen College. Here he read history, played rugby, rowed for the college, and became President of the Oxford University Archaeological Society. His archaeological experience was furthered at the excavations at Kaupang in Norway before he was recruited into the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate in 1954 by the then Chief Inspector, Bryan O’Neil. Inspectors, in what was then a very small department within the Ministry of Works, were expected to develop a wide general knowledge of the tangible remains of Britain’s past, from prehistory to modern times, and were further encouraged to develop special interests within this broad framework. Their work focused mainly on the conservation and display of guardianship monuments in the ministry’s care and the scheduling of field monuments, but Saunders’ archaeological expertise at a time when archaeologists were in short supply rapidly led him to spend three seasons excavating a plough-damaged prehistoric settlement site at Castle Gotha, near St Austell, as a ministry “rescue excavation”.

‘O’Neil had pioneered the study of early artillery forts in this country, and he encouraged Saunders to follow in his footsteps. A seminal point in Saunders’ academic interests came in 1956 with the abolition of the Coastal Artillery arm of the army and the consequent obsolescence of a very large number of mainly nineteenth-century coastal fortifications. Saunders was asked to carry out a rapid assessment of these for the Ancient Monuments Board. His report was a model of clarity and for a long time formed the basis for judgements on their preservation, including decisions to take into state care the key exemplars of Forts Cumberland and Brockhurst and elements of the huge Napoleonic fortifications at Western Heights, Dover.

‘Always keen to promote the cause of conservation by sharing his knowledge and enthusiasms with a wide audience, Saunders published some of the results of this survey in 1960 in an article on ‘Palmerston’s Follies’ in the Journal of the Royal Artillery. A careful study linking Harry’s Walls, the remains of a Tudor fort on the Isles of Scilly, with documentary evidence in Hatfield House, enabled him to show that the fort was forty years older than had been supposed and had never been completed. This publication demonstrated his clear understanding of the importance of combining meticulous field- work with documentary and topographical research and setting his findings in a wider context.

‘Archaeological excavations, however, were only a small part of his professional work, much of which centred on the conservation of guardianship monuments, predominantly castles and monastic sites, working closely with architects and superintendents of works and the small teams of ministry craftsmen. This system could be bureaucratic, but at its best it achieved a level of care for the entire guardianship estate that has never been equalled by a later age more focused on promoting popular monuments and outsourcing skills. It also ensured that Inspectors gained a deep understanding of these monuments, sharing this with a wider audience when they wrote, as they were expected to, the accompanying ministry “blue guides”.

‘In 1964 Saunders’ talents were rewarded with promotion at an unusually young age to Inspector of Ancient Monuments for England, responsible for staff applying consistent standards of care, conservation and display over the entire guardianship estate of more than 400 monuments throughout England. He also approved every one of the repair grants offered by the ministry to owners of private monuments. Both tasks involved a heavy schedule of travelling and an ability to cope with a lava-flow of official files that at times threatened to overwhelm his desk. He also regularly prepared papers on a whole range of subjects for the Ancient Monuments Board for England, a distinguished and independent body whose advice ministers ignored at their peril. Although demanding, the nine years he spent in this post were probably the happiest of his professional career. Guardianship monuments were still regarded as being akin to documents in the Public Record Office, important elements of our national identity to be cared for accordingly. Further monuments were coming in to State care, and staffing levels were improving. Saunders was a kind and enthusiastic mentor to young colleagues, encouraging them to develop their interests, including directing excavations on guardianship sites as part of broader research and conservation programmes. His tours of inspection were always enjoyable and instructive, with wide-ranging discussions sometimes begun high on seemingly perilous scaffolding and continued in the evening over a convivial drink.

‘In 1973 Saunders succeeded Arnold Taylor as Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings, the fuller title reflecting his wider remit following the creation the previous year of the Directorate of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings. This amalgamated the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate with the listed buildings section of the former Ministry of Housing and Local Government within the new Department of the Environment. This was a period of growing public concern about the destruction of the country’s heritage from intensive farming, redevelopment or plain neglect. It saw the founding of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, concerned with threatened buildings, and Rescue, focused on endangered archaeological sites. To these growing external pressures were added those of welding together a new organisation better able to meet these and other challenges. Not least among the latter was the government’s subsequent decision to devolve its responsibilities and set up English Heritage. This inaugurated a further lengthy period of radical changes, many driven by sometimes-questionable reports from outside consultants. This would have been an especially taxing time for anyone in the role of Chief Inspector. For Saunders, an academic at heart, whose interests lay in applying scholarly and professional standards to the conservation of the nation’s archaeology and built heritage and in encouraging others to do likewise, seeking to retain the best of the old in this new environment was an onerous and largely thankless task. On his retirement in 1989 his post, first established for General Pitt Rivers in 1882, was abolished as part of the drive to transform the organisation into a management-led body.

‘Saunders found solace away from his growing administrative burdens by retaining and developing his research interests which were wide-ranging. His long-running annual excavations at Launceston Castle shed new light on this important western stronghold, and a steady stream of publications on a varied range of subjects brought his work to a wide audience. He founded and edited the short-lived but widely regarded quarterly publication Fortress and, in 1989, published Fortress Britain, still the best introduction to the world of artillery fortifications. His enduring interest in Charles II’s great military engineer culminated in 2004 in Fortress Builder, his magisterial and definitive biography of Sir Bernard de Gomme.

‘Formal retirement did not lead to a slackening of pace and Saunders was much in demand to serve on the councils of academic societies and official bodies. He was President of the Cornwall Archaeological Society [1968—72], a Vice-President of the Society for Medieval Archaeology [1977—81], and a Council member of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology. He was a founder member of the Castles Studies Group and a founder member, and later an energetic Chairman, of the Fortress Study Group [1995—2001].

‘For many years he served on the Council of the Royal Archaeological Institute. He co-ordinated and saw to publication the Institute’s research programme on early castles. Later, he was a distinguished and popular President, overseeing during his period in office from 1993 to 1996 the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Institute, attended by HM The Queen. From 1996 to 2002 he was chairman of the advisory panel on the Defence of Britain Project for the Council for British Archaeology, assessing the remains of Britain’s twentieth-century defences.

‘Saunders had an international reputation in his field, serving as Chairman of the International Fortress Council (1995—8) and as one of two British representatives on the Scientific Council of Europa Nostra (1989—99). It gave him well-deserved pleasure when, very shortly before his death, he was presented with the “Coehoorn-Mortar” award for his research work and for furthering international co-operation. This is the highest honour of the Stichting Menno van Coehoorn, the long-established society devoted to the study and preservation of Dutch military defences.

‘Many people beyond his immediate professional colleagues owe Saunders a great debt. A kindly man, seemingly shy and diffident on occasions, he was always willing to share his very considerable practical and academic knowledge and he gave quiet encouragement, help and advice to all who asked. He set high academic standards for himself and he expected the same from his staff, while encouraging it in others.’


15 April 2009 deadline: call for papers for a session on Burial in Prehistory: old issues and new techniques at the Fifteenth EAA Annual Meeting, Riva del Garda, Italy, 15 to 20 September 2009. The goal of this session is to bring together field archaeologists, bio-archaeologists and geneticists from different research centres who are currently working on aspects of prehistoric mortuary practices to discuss their respective fields of expertise. For further information contact Dr Krum Bacvarov, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, or Dr Gassia Artin, Université Lyon 2.

25 April 2009: Liturgy and Architecture, the spring conference of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust, to be held at Wolfson College, Cambridge, will celebrate the 900-year history of Ely Diocese with papers examining the links between building forms and the liturgy over nine centuries. Further details can be found on the Trust’s website.

7 May 2009: ‘World Heritage and Science’. This one-day workshop in celebration of 2009 International Sites and Monuments Day is to be held from 10am to 4pm at the Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4DA, to explore the wealth of associations between scientific milestones and World Heritage Sites in the UK, including Edinburgh and the Scottish Enlightenment, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the evolution of plant classification, Darwin and the landscape of Downe, the Dorset and East Devon Coast and the Giant’s Causeway and the history of geological science, Monkwearmouth and Jarrow and the early scientific ideas of the Venerable Bede, and Greenwich as a centre for the development of scientific thinking. Further information is on the ICOMOS-UK website.

9 May 2009: Late Roman silver and the end of the empire: the Traprain Treasure in context, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 22—26 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2PQ. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and National Museums Scotland are holding this conference to look at the role of late Roman silver, and particularly the Traprain Treasure, within and beyond the imperial frontier.

The Traprain Treasure is the largest and most spectacular of a series of late Roman silver hoards across northern Europe. These Hacksilber hoards — silver bullion made up of crushed, chopped and hacked-up vessels — are crucial to debates about the end of the Roman period in the West and the emergence of early medieval Europe. What processes brought silver beyond the frontier — plunder, diplomacy, bribery, trade? Was it broken up within the empire, or by the recipients, keen to reuse it? And what was it used for? Is this a major economic shift from coinage to bullion and barter, or was it primarily a way of dealing with barbarians, who had little use for coin? The wealth of early medieval jewellery from Scotland suggests Roman silver was a key raw material.

This conference will present the latest research on the Traprain Treasure and its context. It will look at the late Roman period in Britain, at other silver hoards of the period, and the thorny question of what it all means. Scholars from across Europe will gather for the first time to debate the role of silver in the end of the Roman empire. For information and bookings see under ‘Programme’ at

19 May 2009: Cultural Relations between London and Provincial England, to be given by our Fellow Robert Tittler, Professor of History, Concordia University, at 5.15pm, at the Senate House, Room N336 (North Block, 3rd floor), University of London; this talk is organised by the Centre for Local History in the Institute of Historical Research, which welcomes all those who are interested in the relationship between local and national history and who wish to share ideas, viewpoints and work in progress (to join the e-mailing list, please contact our Fellow Elizabeth Williamson. Also of potential interest to Fellows are papers on ‘Public parks as a catalyst for local development’, to be given by Dr Brent Elliott (Royal Horticultural Society) on 2 June 2009 and ‘Memory, custom and social conflict in early modern England’, to be given by Professor Andy Wood (University of East Anglia) on 16 June 2009. For further details see the VCH website.

30 May 2009: A Rajput Pleasure Palace: the art of Nagaur in context, 9.45am to 6.15pm, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN. Set on the edge of the Thar Desert, 85 miles north east of Jodhpur, Nagaur Fort is an extraordinary site covering 37 acres and protected by a ring of massive bastions. But its most remarkable feature is the complex of exquisite pleasure palaces constructed in the reign of Maharajah Bakhat Singh (1725—51), unified with gardens and water features in an elegant geometric plan. Its superb wall paintings — including depictions of women of the court bathing, dancing and picnicking — are closely related to contemporary portable paintings produced at Nagaur and Jodhpur, many of which have only recently been discovered. Results of recent research on both types of painting as well as their architectural and Rajasthan context will be presented at the conference, which is planned to coincide with the opening of the major exhibition Garden and Cosmos: the royal paintings of Jodhpur at the British Museum (28 May to 23 August).

Organised by our Fellow, Professor David Park, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, in association with the Department of Asia, at the British Museum, the conference will draw on the findings of the ongoing conservation programme on the Nagaur wall paintings by the Courtauld and the Mehrangarh Museum Trust (generously funded by the Getty Foundation and the Helen Hamlyn Trust) and will culminate in a reception at the exhibition.

For further information, see the Courtauld Institute website.

10 and 11 September 2009, St Wilfrid 1300th Anniversary Conference, St William’s College, York: to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the death of St Wilfrid (AD 634—709), this two-day conference (whose speaker list is made up almost entirely of Fellows) will be preceded by a public lecture in York Minster at 7.30pm on 9 September 2009 on ‘St Wilfrid: a European Anglo-Saxon’, to be given by our Fellow Professor Richard Bailey (Emeritus Professor of Anglo-Saxon Civilization, University of Newcastle). Full details can be found on the York Archaeological Trust’s website, including information on a separate seminar organised by our Fellow Professor Eamonn Ó Carragáin in Rome on 18 to 25 September on the theme of ‘Wilfrid, Acca and Rome’.

25—29 June 2009: Resorting to the Coast: tourism, heritage and cultures of the seaside to be held in Blackpool, and 4 to 7 July 2009: Emotion in Motion: the passions of tourism, travel and movement, to be held in Leeds. Two international conferences that will be of interest to Fellows involved in the heritage of coastal towns and seaside resorts. Further information is available from the website of the Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change at Leeds Metropolitan University. On the same website you will find details of the 2009 RAI Ethnographic Film Festival, to be held in Leeds on 1 to 4 July 2009, organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology (the study of humankind) ‘in its broadest and most inclusive sense’.

25 and 26 September 2009: Great Tower: the building and evolution of Henry II’s keep at Dover Castle. English Heritage is currently engaged in a major project aimed at the re-presentation of the Great Tower at Dover Castle, which will reopen to the public in August 2009. This conference will bring together the results of the recent research, fieldwork and other contextual investigation associated with that project, to shed new light on the building, development and function of this monument of international significance.

The conference will take place over two days at the Burlington House premises of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and will be followed by an optional third day at Dover, where delegates can explore and discuss the great tower in the company of the conference speakers. For further information, contact Maud Guichard-Marneur at English Heritage.

Books by Fellows

Several Fellows have contributed to a new series of publications on the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, which has the distinction of being a truly multi-national World Heritage Site that will eventually encompass monuments in Europe, Africa and Asia. Last year saw the publication in English, French, German and Arabic of Frontiers of the Roman Empire: the European dimension of a world heritage site, edited by Fellows David Breeze and Sonja Jilek, along with Andreas Thiel (a copy of which is in the Society’s Library). This has now been followed up by the launch of a series of books, each of which deals with one frontier. So far, booklets on Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary (by Fellow Zsolt Visy) and the Antonine Wall (by Fellow David Breeze) have been published (and, again, copies are in the Library). David is generously offering copies of the 72-page Antonine Wall booklet, which is packed with maps and photographs, to any Fellow who would like one (email:

Just over one-hundred years ago, in 1908, a dining club was formed to bring like-minded Fellows together ‘for the purpose of social intercourse among the members and promoting the interests of the Society [of Antiquaries]. Still nameless at the inaugural dinner (held at the Holborn Restaurant on 7 January 1908), that deficiency was remedied at the second (‘Christening’) dinner held on 3 March, when the names ‘Socantic’, ‘Exquiris’, ‘Sesame’, ‘Effesay’ and ‘Salic’ Club were all rejected in favour of ‘Essay Club’, which the minute books note as having been chosen on the proviso that ‘should a better name be subsequently discovered, the present resolution should be no bar to its adoption, it being felt that tho’ the ideal name had not been arrived at, the worst had been escaped’.

The name has not yet been bettered, and our Fellows Harry Cobb, Nicholas Cooper, Geoffrey Harris, the late David Johnson and David Robinson have now published an entertaining history of The Essay Club, noting (though without explaining the name; presumably used here in the sense of ‘putting to the test’) that the title has caused confusion on more than one occasion when a guest invited to share their passion for antiquity, has instead give a discourse on the subject of the essay as a literary form.

Like its older sibling, the Cocked Hat Club, the Essay Club has its rituals, including exhibitions, in which objects of antiquarian interest are shown and discussed in a manner combining wit and wisdom — sometimes pertinent to the occasion, as when snuff boxes, historic cutlery or (on Ladies Night) ‘fans and other objects of feminine interest’ were exhibited, and sometimes archaeological, numismatic, architectural or heraldic.

Although Nicholas Cooper warns in his Preface to the book that ‘this Centenary history has been derived from the (sometimes far from accurate) minute books of the Club’, historians must be grateful that a record of meetings was kept at all, for they are rich in social historical detail, from observations on the weather (flaming hot Junes seemed to be the norm in the years preceding the First World War), and on the food consumed (cold punch and ice puddings being substituted for hot according to the seasons), but especially on who associated with whom (the study of intellectual networks being a major strand in current historiographical studies) and what were the burning issues of the day: in the 1920s, for example, heated discussions on the desirability of admitting women as Fellows, on the proposed revision of the Society’s statues to permit postal voting; on whether the Society should create an Associate membership category, on the opening of the Society’s Library on Saturdays, but also, less parochially (and with a familiar ring), the impact of the war just ended on archaeology, the hostility of the Treasury towards archaeology, support for Colonel Hawley’s excavations at Stonehenge, concern at the impact of new Ministry of Health regulations on ancient cottages and almshouses, and Sir Banister Fletcher’s campaign on behalf of threatened London churches in response to a proposal to demolish those considered less ‘beautiful’ or ‘historic’ than the best.

Copies of The Essay Club were printed in a limited edition, primarily for its current members (everyone who has ever been a member is listed in the back of the book), but Bernard Nurse says he has a few spare copies; if any Fellow would like one, please send him a cheque for £20 (payable to Bernard Nurse) and he will supply one.

It must be gratifying when reviewers say of your work that it is engagingly written, full of fascinating anecdote, accessible, fascinating — all words used to describe Christopher Dyer’s Making a Living in the Middle Ages, which Salon missed when it was first published in 2002, but which has just been published in paperback (Yale £12.99). Christopher Dyer argues that the seven centuries covered in his book, from AD 850 to 1520, was a great formative period, witnessing the establishment of essential elements in the political, social and productive structure of today’s Britain, when the pattern of villages and towns that provide the place of residence and work for many medieval and modern people was established. He also declares his debt, as an economic historian, to archaeology and to landscape studies — in particular, noting how sharp are the contrasts between different regions and how profound an influence these differences in character (the size and layout of fields, the balance between wild and cultivated land, and between arable and grassland, the local road system, the size and distribution of settlements) reflect and influence the activities, social organisation and mentality of the inhabitants.

Arising out of the British Archaeological Association’s 2005 conference is King’s Lynn and the Fens: medieval art, architecture and archaeology, edited by Fellow John McNeill (published by Maney at £34). The fourteen papers collected in this volume cover a broad range of monuments and themes, including the fourteenth-century enamelled drinking vessel popularly known as ‘King John’s Cup’, the former Hanseatic ‘Steelyard’, the Red Mount Chapel and the oak furnishings of the chapel of St Nicholas, while the pine standard chest from St Margaret’s Church is assessed in terms of the importation and distribution of similar chests across England as a whole.

Outside King’s Lynn there are articles on buildings and landscapes at Kirkstead, the thirteenth-century architecture and sculpture of Croyland Abbey, the fourteenth-century parish church of St Mary at Snettisham, the tomb of Sir Humphrey de Littlebury at All Saints, Holbeach, the medieval wall paintings in the Prior’s Chapel at Castle Acre and the late medieval stained glass at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen.

Finally, there are three papers that look at particular aspects of the ways in which parish churches were financed, embellished and used across the region — in terms of late twelfth- and early-thirteenth-century patronage, the twelfth-century deployment of architectural sculpture and the types and arrangements of choir stalls that appeared at a parochial level during the later Middle Ages.

Boydells have just published Edward the Confessor: the man and the legend, edited by Fellow Richard Mortimer, consisting of papers given at a conference held at King’s College London in 2005, as part of Westminster Abbey’s celebration of the millennium of Edward’s birth.

This is a full-scale, up-to-date reassessment of Edward’s life, reign and cult, surveying the king’s life from his English childhood and Norman youth to the troubled politics of his reign and his intentions for the succession to the throne. There is a particular focus upon Westminster Abbey, and the major new discoveries and identifications that have recently been made there, including a door and decorated floor and wall tiles from the Confessor’s building, and the suggestions that the cloister layout and parts of the surviving buildings are pre-Conquest. Contributors include our Fellows Simon Keynes, Eric Fernie, Warwick Rodwell and Richard Gem.


The National Archives, Kew: Head of Advice and Records Knowledge
Salary up to £65,000, closing date 6 April 2009

Further information from the TNA website.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Department of Antiquities: Curator (Cyprus)
Starting salary £28,839, closing date 6 April 2009

Further information from the museum website.