Salon Archive

Issue: 227

Forthcoming meetings

Thursday 11 February: ‘“The castle, I am building, of my ancestors”: creating and collecting at Strawberry Hill’, to be given by Michael Snodin, FSA

Thanks to a famous attack by Macaulay, Horace Walpole’s reputation in the nineteenth century was that of a master of littlenesses, both in his letters and in his building and collecting. Since the 1930s, scholars — led by Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis and Yale University’s ‘Walpole factory’ — have re-established his reputation as an author and letter-writer, but it is only since the 1970s that his building, designing and collecting have come to be better understood. The current restoration of the house and grounds by the Strawberry Hill Trust and an exhibition focused on his collecting — at the Yale Center for British Art and the V&A — are throwing much new light on his building and collecting and their complex interaction. Walpole emerges as the creator of a unique fictitious historic environment, filled with objects reflecting several collecting traditions. They combined to create a carefully modulated account of history, combined with a mood journey as the visitor passed through the house.

Thursday 18 February: ‘The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS): today and tomorrow’, by Donald Hankey

Thursday 25 February: ‘From 1510 to 2012: the challenges of building a new museum for the Mary Rose’, by Christopher Dobbs, FSA

Thursday 4 March: ‘Sark: a sacred isle’, by Barry Cunliffe, FSA

Thursday 11 March: ‘The use and place of origin of the exotic stones employed by the builders of the Neolithic passage tombs at Brugh na Boinne, Co Meath’, by George Eogan FSA and George Sevastopulo

Wednesday 17 March: ‘Eerie Silence’, by Paul Davies, is the next lecture in the multi-disciplinary lecture series sponsored by all the learned societies at Burlington House. This talk will ask ‘are we alone in the universe?’ and look at the latest discoveries in the SETI project, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Tea and coffee are served at 5.30pm; the lecture begins at 6pm and is followed at 7pm by a short reception. Admission to the Geological Society’s lecture theatre is by free ticket, available from Alys Hilbourne. Further information can be found on the Geological Society’s website.

Thursday 18 March: ‘Sandwich, the “completest medieval town in England”: from its origins to 1600’, by Helen Clarke FSA and Sarah Pearson FSA

Sandwich is a wonderful example of a medieval town, little known outside east Kent. Its town walls, parish churches, court hall, school and streets — lined with thirteenth- to sixteenth-century houses — are testament to a once-thriving medieval port. This lecture will report on a project that has combined studies of the town’s archaeology, topography, buildings and documentary history to uncover its origins, growth and decline. The lecture will be followed by the launch of the book arising from the project.

Fellows’ tours of Burlington House

There are two places left on the introductory tour of Burlington House that takes place on 18 February 2010. Designed for any Fellow not yet familiar with the Society’s library and museum collections, the tours start at 11am (coffee from 10.30am) in the Council Room and will last about one and a half hours followed, for those who wish to stay, by a sandwich lunch (for which a charge of £5 is made). Places can be booked by contacting Jola Zdunek, the Society’s Administrative Assistant. Further tours can be booked now and will take place on 29 April and 24 June 2010.

Stonehenge road closure

‘The present situation at Stonehenge is unacceptable’, says the Society in its response to the consultation on the proposed closure of the stretch of the A344 that runs through Stonehenge, cutting off the stone circle from the Avenue. The Society’s response goes on to appeal to the Government to be decisive, to seek a resolution to the Stonehenge roads problem and to ‘end the current inertia surrounding the future of the monument and its immediate environment’.

Concluding that the planned closure ‘has our strong support’, the Society’s response argues that closing the A344 to motor vehicles ‘will go a considerable way to restoring Stonehenge to its landscape and deliver significant enhancements to public understanding and enjoyment of the monument. Specifically, the proposed TRO will achieve one of the eight long-term aims set out in the Stonehenge World Heritage Management Plan, which is to “reduce the impacts of roads and traffic on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site”.’

Individual Fellows can also play a part by writing to Wiltshire Council in support of the closure before the closing date of 15 February 2010. Details of the consultation can be found on the Council’s website and comments should be emailed to copied to Cllr Dick Tonge, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, and Cllr Jane Scott, Leader of the Council.

Petition to save Palaeography

‘Shocking … sad … worrying’ were some of the milder comments that greeted the news that King’s College London is to make our Fellow David Ganz redundant from his post as Professor of Palaeography (the study of ancient handwriting, and the practice of deciphering and reading historical manuscripts) at the end of this academic year. David’s is one of twenty-two posts in the School of Arts and Humanities that the university plans to cut (Byzantine Studies and several language courses may also be eliminated) but his post has attracted the most attention because it is the only such dedicated chair in the English-speaking world.

One blogger spoke for all in saying that ‘he represents our discipline to the world, he teaches students who then become the teachers for us all’. Or, as our Fellow Mary Beard put it on her Times blog ‘A Don’s Life’, ‘Once these skills disappear, you never get them back’.

What King’s calls this ‘strategic disinvestment’ is part of the university’s wider strategy (which Mary Beard and others also deplore) of creating ‘financially viable academic activity by disinvesting from areas that are at sub-critical level with no realistic prospect of extra investment’, which is university-management-speak for ‘no matter how intellectually important the work, we only care about whether it earns an income for the university’.

Students and scholars are now making efforts to fight back. A Facebook group — Save Palaeography at King’s London — has been started and has already gained more than 500 members. Fellows who wish to protest against the suppression of this chair should write to Professor Rick Trainor, The Principal, King’s College, The Strand, London WC2R 2LS, and send a copy of the letter to Professor Jan Palmowski, Head of the School of Arts and Humanities at the same address.

STOP PRESS: Salon has just learned of two more protest sites: the ‘Stop Classical Archaeology and Art Faculty Cuts at King’s College London’ Facebook group has been set up to raise awareness of plans to make the four existing staff of the Faculty of Classical Archaeology and Art apply for three jobs, so as to eliminate one of the posts, while the impressive contributions to the similar campaign for posts in Philosophy give some information on the broader context. In addition, the student newspaper ‘Satyrica’ (follow the link from the Archaeology Facebook) contains trenchant comment on the bland reassurances that King’s College students have been given in a letter, saying that the cuts would not affect them or the quality of teaching in the School of Humanities, and is aimed at trimming ‘excess capacity of staff’.

Ancient Roman law code rediscovered

By coincidence, two of David Ganz’s former students were in the news last week following their discovery of seventeen fragments of a late-Roman parchment bearing part of an ancient Roman law code. Dr Simon Corcoran and Dr Benet Salway, of the Department of History at University College London, were approached by a private collector with what he believed to be biblical texts in Greek, reused as packing material in the binding of another later manuscript.

On the basis of the calligraphic style, Corcoran and Salway recognised that the texts dated from around AD 400, and when they looked for parallel texts, they found an overlap with parts of the Codex Gregorianus, a work of reference published around AD 300 recording the legal pronouncements of Roman emperors from Hadrian (AD 117—38) to Diocletian (AD 284—305). Only parts of the Codex Gregorianus have survived, and the newly translated text contains much new material from a chapter on appeal procedures and the statute of limitations on an as yet unidentified matter (see the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s website for a podcast on the discovery and on the work of ‘Projet Volterra’, of which the study of the Codex Gregorianus forms a part).

Whither Britain’s universities?

The King’s College announcement is, of course, merely one piece of bad news to add to the tidal wave of recently announced measures that have led top universities to warn that the UK’s world-leading position in higher education is under threat.

In last month’s pre-budget report, the Government announced that it was planning cuts of £915m by 2013, including ‘efficiency savings’ of £315m that the Government has told universities to find by 2011. This amounts to an overall cut of 12.5 per cent. In addition, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has announced that it will no longer support historic university buildings to the tune of £40m a year, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that universities should plan for a further £1.6bn of cuts if national debt targets set by the Government are to be reached by 2013.

In this year alone, universities have to cope with a £398m reduction in funding compared with last year. The Russell Group (representing the UK’s top twenty universities) has responded by saying: ‘This is a defining moment in our country’s history. If politicians don’t act now, they will be faced with meltdown in a sector vital to our national prosperity. We live in a world where ideas, innovation and entrepreneurialism are key to prosperity and wellbeing. As bastions of knowledge and creativity, our universities are critical to supporting this agenda for the next 800 years.’

With four UK universities among the World’s Top Ten (Cambridge second, University College London fourth and Imperial College London and Oxford at joint fifth), the Russell Group asks how long it will be before our ‘gold standard’ system is reduced to ‘silver, bronze or worse’. ‘It took 800 years to create one of the world’s greatest education systems; it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees’, it says, warning that ‘cuts of this magnitude in overall funding will impact on the sustainability of our research and cannot fail to affect the UK’s international competitiveness, national economy and ability to recover from recession.’

It contrasts UK Government cuts with the additional investment of €11bn in higher education in France, of €18bn in Germany and US$21bn in the US. Meanwhile, Professor Richard Levin, President of Yale University (ranked third in the world), warned in a speech in Oxford last week that the UK would see a brain drain to China without investment in higher education. ‘Elite universities in the UK and US will be matched by Chinese universities’, he predicted, ‘within twenty-five years’, and ‘top researchers will increasingly be attracted to positions in cities such as Peking and Shanghai amid rising investment in higher education in emerging economies.’ Saudi Arabia, India and Singapore could also rival Oxbridge and the Ivy League in the US within a generation, he said. He added that, in order to do so, these nations would have to ‘embrace freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry’.

The political response

Despite the evidence that cuts in university funding are having a direct impact on teaching and research, David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, responded to the Russell Group statement as ‘surprising [and] misleading’. ‘Even after the efficiency savings and reductions in December’s grant letter’, he said, UK Government spending on higher education will grow between 2009—10 and 2010—11.’ He went on to say: ‘We are minimising the effect on the frontline by making savings on capital budgets, asking the sector for further efficiency savings and by asking the Higher Education Funding Council for England to look to reduce funding which will not impact on teaching.’

The Tory spokesman on higher education, David Willetts, said he could not promise to reverse the cuts if his party was in power. A Conservative government would encourage universities to reduce overheads by relying more on charitable donations, he said.

Historically the Liberal Democrats have been the only party to pledge investment in higher education (paid for by a 1 per cent increase in income tax) and to oppose the introduction of university top-up fees, though the party has recently said that such commitments may have to be postponed until the economy recovers.

Museums are in the same predicament

Further gloomy news is emerging from the museums sector, where national museums and galleries, such as the British Museum and the Royal Academy, are attracting record numbers of visitors, but smaller museums are under threat, principally from local authority spending cuts, though the diversion of Heritage Lottery Funds into the Olympics is also being blamed for a shortage of funds for the sector.

Museums are responding by reducing opening hours (Glasgow Council plans to shut five museums on Mondays to help save £60m, Bournemouth’s Russell-Cotes Art Gallery is considering winter closure to save £79,000 and Brighton’s Booth Museum of Natural History is contemplating a three-and-a-half-day week as part of the council’s £8m savings package), by selling assets (the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro is planning to sell two paintings to raise £3m), by making staff redundant, or by closing (the fate of the Peat Moors Visitors Centre, near Glastonbury, and the Lock Museum in Walsall, with the Aston Transport Museum in Birmingham also under threat of closure).

Further closures may now be inevitable. Salon has already reported on the tribulations of the Segontium Museum, near Caernarfon, and now Salon learns that Canterbury City Council is proposing to close its Roman Museum in Butchery Lane, move the exhibits elsewhere and use the space as a cafe. Such a use will fit ill with the fact that the museum is built around a scheduled monument, consisting of a fine mosaic from a Roman courtyard house excavated by our Fellow Sheppard Frere in 1945 and open to the public since 1946. Concerned Canterbury residents are asking whether Caerleon, Cirencester or Bath would close their Roman museums to save money.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, said that many museums ‘depended on public sector support’, while a Local Government Association spokesman said that local authorities faced declining income and increasing demand for services: ‘The cold wind of recession has hit councils in the last year. Undeniably difficult choices have to be made.’

Threat to the Musée du Cabinet des médailles et antiques

That chill wind is not just a UK phenomenon: in Paris, friends of the Musée du Cabinet des médailles et antiques are campaigning to prevent the closure of the museum, the oldest in France and the headquarters of the French Numismatic Society, located in a fine classical building at 58, rue de Richelieu. Dating from the seventeenth century, and born from the collections of the kings of France, augmented by material rescued from medieval cathedrals during the Revolution, the museum has 520,000 coins and medals, 35,000 gems, Greek vases, medieval ivories, bronzes, sculptures and inscriptions and a library of 80,000 history and archaeology books, and played a key role in the development of French archaeology.

The threat to the museum arises from a renovation scheme that will see the museum collection put into storage, and the space occupied by the museum turned into a ‘Treasures Gallery’ displaying a small selection of material. Various other indignities are planned, apparently, including the loss of an original staircase at the heart of architect Jean-Louis Pascal’s original scheme. Objectors have set up a website and are seeking international support for their cause.

New displays in Châtillon-sur-Seine and Perth

Let us balance the bad news with some good news about new museum openings: our Fellow Robert Merrillees reports that the new Musée du Pays Châtillonnais in Châtillon-sur-Seine is well worth visiting for the Vix Treasure, a group of exceptional finds from the late sixth-century BC tomb of a princess prominently displayed in the splendidly renovated former abbey of Notre Dame on the edge of the town, where a new gallery displays the finds and a reconstruction of the whole burial. ‘The only surprise for me was to be told by an attendant that the gold head ornament which I had long thought to be a diadem was in fact a torque’, says Robert, ‘but I find that this reinterpretation has become enshrined in the contemporary literature. A quick perusal of René Joffroy’s 1954 report on La tombe de Vix suggests that the desire to put the gold ornament round the lady’s neck instead of over her head is completely unjustified by the archaeological evidence.’

From our Fellow Mark Hall comes a report on the current archaeological exhibition at Perth Museum & Art Gallery: Skin & Bone: Life & Death in Medieval Perth is part of the ‘Perth 800’ celebrations, marking the 800th anniversary of the charter granted by King William the ‘Lion’ and confirming the town’s royal burgh status. The exhibition charts the archaeology and history of the town from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, including the history of excavation in the town, with archive footage of the Perth High Street excavations of 1975—7 plus significant loans, such as the Perth Psalter and the Perth Hammermen Book (both courtesy of the National Library of Scotland). The exhibition runs until 29 December 2010 and the museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, admission free.

No quick fix for arts funding

An incoming Conservative Government would introduce a ‘mixed economy’ for museums, according to speeches made recently by Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. ‘We want to lay the foundations of an American philanthropy culture’, he told a recent ‘State of the Arts’ conference: ‘We would offer five years of funding in return for a commitment to build up endowments, so developing a philanthropy culture.’

Museum and gallery directors have received the idea with caution, warning that ‘it doesn’t take five years to build up endowments; it takes twenty to thirty years of sustained effort and investment’. Arts and Business, which acts as a marriage broker between business sponsors and needy arts organisations, warned that there has been a 7 per cent fall in private investment in arts in the UK this year, and that an estimated 10,000 arts organisations have ceased operating over the last twelve months.

Modern Medici

The Sunday Times, in an article on ‘The Modern Medici’, pointed out that not all was gloomy: Sir Ronald Cohen’s love of the British Museum as a sixteen-year-old arriving in London penniless after the Suez crisis in 1956 led to his donation of £1m donation towards the renovation of the Ancient Egyptian gallery. Other examples of philanthropy cited by the newspaper include Paul Ruddock’s donations to the restoration of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Medieval Europe gallery at the British Museum and the contributions of Michael Hintze and Bill Bollinger to the V&A.

Asked to explain what motivated them, Paul Ruddock said: ‘People don’t do it for the glory — they are passionate about the institution.’ Michael Hintze said: ‘If anyone comes into this trying to get a peerage they will be rudely disappointed. There is an obligation to give back — it’s the right thing to do. I just want to serve the institutions that have enriched my life and my children’s lives.’

Sir Ronald Cohen said: ‘As a Jewish child I was brought up with the concept that you should give back a portion of everything you make.’ In the US, he said, ‘it is de rigueur to be visibly recognised for giving — if you are not recognised people assume you haven’t given.’

In America, meanwhile, all has not been easy. The Art Newspaper reports this week that last year was an annus horribilis for museum directors, some of whom had been through a ‘near-death experience’ as their endowments were drained to support day-to-day expenses. The newspaper’s survey of twenty-five leading institutions leads to the conclusion that museum directors are continuing to cut or freeze their budgets, but do see a slow recovery as stock markets begin to recover, well-invested endowments produce higher yields and donors feel wealthy enough to renew their financial support.

‘I’ll take the Elgin marbles’, please

Someone else with fond childhood memories of the British Museum is our Fellow Mary Beard who, as the guest on Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ last week, asked for the Elgin Marbles as the ‘luxury’ she would like to have with her on the island and for Marjorie Caygill’s Treasures of the British Museum as the book that she would like to find washed up on the shore. Mary explained that it was a visit to the museum that changed her life. As a five-year-old she could not see into the cases; spotting this, the gallery attendant opened the case for her and reached out a piece of desiccated bread from ancient Egypt.

The idea that something so fragile could survive so long, and the close and personal nature of the encounter, set Mary on a life of engagement with the past that led to her current reputation as ‘Britain’s best-known classicist’. Mary said that she could not imagine being married to anyone other than another academic (her husband being our Fellow Robin Cormack) because of the support that academics can give each other in a life that ‘get’s under your skin, is all-encompassing and is bloody hard work!’

Simon Jenkins reveals all

Today, of course, lifting that bit of bread out of the case to satisfy the curiosity of a five-year-old is probably a sackable offence under some newly invented rule that dictates that conservationists on TV now have to don white gloves every time they handle an artefact, even when it is as chemically inert as a quartz hand axe. It is exactly this kind of precious behaviour that Simon Jenkins objected to in his Guardian column on 21 January 2010, arguing that ancient artefacts are fast gaining mythical status, as precious relics that require priestly interpreters, drawn from the ranks of museum curators or such privileged BBC presenters as David Dimbleby.

As ever, Simon skilfully pursues his metaphor of artefact as relic, museum as cathedral and ‘the saintly MacGregor’ as archimandrite with great style and wit, but he does not proffer an alternative. For that one has to turn to the National Trust’s excellent ABC bulletin (ABC standing for Art, Buildings and Collections). This conservation newsletter features a conversation between Sir Simon (National Trust Chairman) and James Grasby (Wessex Region Curator), on the role of the curator today. Simon gets as much as he gives, because his offer to ‘leave money in his will for a Labrador and a pushchair for every Trust property’, to give the illusion that the family is still in residence, is firmly knocked on the head as a piece of illusion, an untruth — theatrical, perhaps, but still a deception. Worse still, it treats every National Trust property identically, and thus runs counter to Simon’s fundamental concern, which is to deal with the criticism often levelled at the Trust that all its properties are presented in the same way.

Instead of priests, Simon wants impresarios, capable of revealing the uniqueness of every property — indeed, the uniqueness of individual rooms. To achieve this he believes that curators have to move on from being ‘protectors of the Ark of the Covenant’ to becoming story tellers whose role is ‘liberating the spirit of a property’, so as to make it ‘a moving experience for a visitor walking through’.

Another way in which this might be done, Simon thinks, is to allow more physical contact with objects (or possibly with replicas): ‘at Snowshill, the public want to ride the bikes, play with the strange brass instruments, use the spinning wheels—and why shouldn’t they?’, he asks. Simon and James also discuss Alain de Botton’s controversial suggestion, published in a previous edition of the ABC bulletin, that National Trust properties should be run as hotels, because staying in them is the best way to get to know them intimately; though dismissing this suggestion, both hang on to the essential idea that visitors need to be treated more like guests, rather than intruders.

Implicit in the discussion is the assumption that visitors are intelligent and hungry for knowledge — curious in the best sense. Simon cites the example of visitors who are as fascinated by Sissinghurst’s bare winter borders as they are by their summer plenitude and he and James agree that visitors are as interested in the conservation process as they are in the final result, and that more could be made of this. ‘Most of our visitors are actually probably brighter than we are about these houses’, Simon says, concluding that the effort is worthwhile because ‘there’s a virtuous circle here: we open the houses more to the public, the public supports them more, and we use that support financially to conserve the houses’.

Cawdor Castle: telling it straight

Salon’s editor suspects that Simon Jenkins might approve of the way that the Thane of Cawdor presents Cawdor Castle to the public (my thanks to Fellow Hero Granger-Taylor for drawing my attention to the castle’s thoroughly entertaining guidebook). For example, there is no mistaking that this is a real family home when the room contents come with a monitory note to the visitor from the Dowager Countess Cawdor referring to ‘a family dispute’ that means ‘some objects that belong to the castle might be removed’ and a promise that ‘I will do my best to replace anything that is removed and hope that the next generation of the family will restore these objects to their normal place’.

Then the guidebook dismisses summarily any idea that the castle has links to the Scottish play. Instead of playing up the associations (surely the reason why many visitors come), it quotes the late Lord Cawdor as saying ‘I wish the Bard had never written the damned play!’ Describing later historians as ‘lending a deceptive sheen to frequently fudged accounts of the events in Macbeth’, the guide concludes: ‘As Cawdor was not built until the 14th century, it is impossible for King Duncan [died 1040] to have lost any blood or Lady Macbeth [fictional] much sleep in this particular house!’

Other gems include the observation that the door set in the first floor of the tower is ‘the perfect design to keep out tourists’, that the dungeon, well concealed, is ‘ideal for the cool storage of recalcitrant relations or meddlesome neighbours’ and that an ancestor, as well as being Chairman of the Great Western Railway, First Lord of the Admiralty and a Privy Councillor, loved nothing better than a rat-hunt in the kitchen when the housekeeper was out shopping.

V&A attacked over plans to close musical instrument collection

Salon’s editor shares with Simon Jenkins a desire to hear more music in National Trust properties: almost nothing is sadder than to see musical instruments locked behind glass, or notices requesting visitors not to touch. Almost nothing, because a worse fate is to be relegated to the reserve collection, which is the potential fate of the 260 historic instruments currently on display in Gallery 40 of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is to close for refurbishment on 22 February and reopen as a fashion gallery.

Well-known musicians, including soprano Emma Kirkby and cellist Steven Isserlis, have signed a Downing Street petition calling on the Prime Minister to ‘ensure that all members of the public have continued, free and open access to the complete historical and valuable musical instrument collection’, which is ‘unparalleled in the UK’. In response, the V&A says that some instruments will be exhibited in the new furniture gallery (opening in 2012) and in the Europe 1600—1800 galleries (2014). The museum is also in discussion with other organisations about long-term loans, including the Horniman Museum, which already has a larger instrument collection than the V&A.

Rediscovering Greece & Rome at the Fitz

From closing galleries to opening ones, let us celebrate the reopening of the Fitzwilliam’s superb Greek and Roman collection after a £950,000 gallery refurbishment, overseen by our Fellow Lucilla Burn, who gives a guided tour of the highlights of the collection on the BBC website. There is also a comprehensive illustrated account of the research and conservation work that went into the project on the museum’s website, which included (Sir Simon will approve) opportunities for the public to see work in progress. Study days enabled museum staff to talk to academics about the way the collection could be used to reflect some of the questions that are being currently asked about the ancient world (What did people do at drinking parties? How did they relate to their gods? How did they remember the dead?), and to reveal the recent history of the objects (How did they come to Cambridge, and what has happened to them since?).

‘Controlled chaos’, is how staff refer to some stages of the project, but our Fellow Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, hailed the result at the reopening as ‘a superbly redesigned space in which to display a collection of international significance that will offer many fresh insights, not only to new visitors, but also to those who are familiar with the collection’.

English Heritage calls for more school refurbishment

Newly published planning guidance from English Heritage (Refurbishing Historic School Buildings) says that old schools should be refurbished for modern use rather than being replaced. The guidance addresses long-standing concerns led by the Victorian Society, the 20th-Century Society and other campaign groups that money from the Government’s £50bn schools building and renewal programme is being used too often for new buildings, leaving older schools redundant and at risk. Figures published in Building Design magazine in January 2010 show that two-thirds of schemes delivered to date under the programme involved demolitions and new builds.

Not only is the refurbishment of existing buildings much more environmentally sustainable, says English Heritage, older schools often have more intrinsic character, contribute to the identity of a local area and provide a more inspiring educational environment than modern ones.

EH has also announced the addition of sixteen new schools to the register of scheduled assets: seven in Derbyshire designed between 1906 and 1936 by architect George Widdows, and nine Victorian schools in London (for the full list see Building Design online).

Our Fellow Elain Harwood, English Heritage architectural historian, said: ‘We have some wonderful school buildings in this country, many with beautiful architecture and valuable social history associated with them. They have served past communities well and, with imagination, most of these fine buildings can continue as schools, but they can also be put to a wide range of other uses. Demolition should be a last resort, and is a loss for us all.’

In her new English Heritage book on the subject — England’s Schools: history, architecture and adaptation — Elain Harwood quotes Sherlock Holmes in his description of schools as: ‘Light houses, my boy! Beacons of the future! Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.’

New nominations invited for UK World Heritage Site designations

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has announced that the UK will, in future, put forward fewer sites for consideration by UNESCO as potential World Heritage Sites, using a streamlined application system. Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said: ‘Bidding for World Heritage status carries a cost, and we want to be sure that public resources are well deployed. So, in future, we want a process that ensures that only sure-fire winners with outstanding universal value go forward. This means we will make fewer nominations, selecting sites from a new, shorter and more focused list.’

The Government will now draw up a new UK Tentative List. UK local authorities, Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are being asked to nominate new sites for assessment by a panel of independent experts. A new ‘Tentative List’ of candidate sites will then be drawn up for submission to UNESCO in 2011, with the first nomination going forward from 2012. Sites on the last UK Tentative List, drawn up in 1999, that have not so far gone forward for consideration by UNESCO will be able to apply again for inclusion on the new list. An application form will be published shortly with guidance on the qualities necessary for successful designation as a World Heritage Site. DCMS said ‘the selection process will be rigorous, aimed at discouraging, at an early stage, those applications which are unlikely to succeed’.

Evidence that Palaeolithic sailors reached Crete at least 130,000 years ago

Our Fellow Professor Runnels, of the Boston University Archaeology Department, is the Palaeolithic expert with the Plakias survey team whose newly announced finds are set to ‘push the history of long-distance journeys by sea back by more than 100,000 years, with implications for the dispersal of early humans out of Africa’.

Led by Professor Thomas Strasser, of the Department of Art and Art History at Providence College, USA, and Dr Eleni Panagopoulou, of the Greek Ministry of Culture, the survey team has found Lower Palaeolithic stone tools at nine sites on the island. Up to 300 pieces have been found at each site, and the geological contexts at five of the sites have allowed the team to date the sites to at least 130,000 years ago, though some of the hand axes, cleavers and scrapers could be much older as they closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by early hominins.

The presence of these tools on Crete, which became an island five million years ago, implies that pre-modern humans, such as Homo heidelbergensis, were capable of crossing the 200 miles of open sea that separates Crete from the nearest African coastline, in modern Libya. Modern humans had to cross the sea from Indonesia to reach Australia but these finds add to a growing body of evidence for much earlier sea journeys: tools that look Palaeolithic have already been found on the island of Gavdos, off the south coast of Crete, and the much earlier date of 1.3 million years ago has been proposed for occupation at Atapuerca, near Burgos, in northern Spain — perhaps the result of a relatively short sea journey across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Haitian libraries and archives

Funds and volunteers are needed in Haiti to help rescue the contents of libraries and archives destroyed or damaged by the earthquake of 12 January 2010. Many of the island’s national and university libraries have collapsed or are structurally weakened, and the archive materials that have survived are now exposed to the elements. These libraries are the main repositories of the island’s oldest collections (dating from the sixteenth century), including manuscripts donated by European missionaries, eighteenth-century diaries and letters and records of island culture, almost all of them unique. The organisation Bibliothèques Sans Frontières has set up an appeal for donations, while archivists, conservators, curators, librarians, architects and other experts with the skills to help on the ground and time to spare in the coming weeks and months can register with Blue Shield International.


Salon’s editor has been asked to correct the statement in the last issue that the restoration of Salon to fortnightly publication was being funded from the Marion Gilchrist Wilson Bequest. In determining how best to use this and other bequests, Council has decided that they should be used to support specific projects within the scope of the Society’s charitable objectives rather than for subsidising day-to-day running costs. Accordingly, half of this bequest has been invested in the Research Fund, the income from which (about £3,600 a year) will to go towards the Minor Grants programme, while the remaining half will be used for digitisation and publication free online of the Library’s subject card index and related resources; on picture research for the planned Henry VIII Inventory volumes; on colour photographs of the Society’s picture collection for the planned Picture Catalogue, to be published by Yale University Press; and for funding new publishing opportunities brought to the Publications Committee. The funds for restoring Salon were found as a result of a budget review.

Two further errors in Salon 226 need to be corrected: the project to study the remains of the Empress Ædgyth is being led in Germany by Professor Harald Meller (not Heller) of the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte in Saxony-Anhalt; and apologies to John Blatchly for the misspelling Blatchley!. Of John’s longevity anecdote in Salon 226, Fellow Richard Barber writes to say that he has ‘confused his sailings in favour of the history of Suffolk, which he champions so admirably: Edward III and the Black Prince did not sail in 1346 on the campaign which culminated in the Battle of Crécy from the Deben, but from Portsmouth. The Orwell and Deben estuaries were used for crossings to Flanders, as in 1338 — when the Black Prince was of course too young to accompany his father’.

Fellow Lisa French is pleased that Fellows now have remote access to some online journals through the ATHENs system and reminds Fellows that useful reference works are also available online simply by joining your local library, including the Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, Grove Music Online and Grove Art Online.

Fellow Percival Turnbull reminds us that ‘Martin Folkes may have had advanced notions about human descent but, rather than being proto-Darwinian, his ideas probably had more in common with those of the engagingly eccentric Scotch jurist and linguistic theorist James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714—99), often claimed as the true originator of the theory of evolution, a good seventy-five years before Darwin, as a verse penned by Charles Neaves, another Edinburgh judge, in 1875 reminds us:

Though Darwin now proclaims the law
And spreads it far abroad, O!
The man that first the secret saw
Was honest old Monboddo.

‘Though not of our own Fellowship’, says Percival, ‘he was an FSA(Scot)’ and if not the progenitor of evolutionary theory (if only because he thought that divine intervention was the means by which humans evolved from apes) he did argue that the development of language was linked to a procession of events from the development of tools to complex social structures and finally to language.’

News of Fellows

Fellow Mike Pitts has been busy recently making three programmes for the BBC. Later today, at 11am on Radio 4, you can hear Episode 1 of ‘The Voices Who Dug Up The Past’ in which Mike delves into the question of why different archaeologists can dig the same sites yet reach completely different conclusions by visiting Maiden Castle to relive two seminal digs that took place there in the 1930s and 1980s and to talk to Chris Sparey-Green and to Fellows Niall Sharples, Beatrice de Cardi and Ian Armit. In Episode 2 next week, at 11am on 15 February, Mike visits Sutton Hoo to talk to our Fellow Martin Carver and to Lady Clark (Mollie White) on her memories of visiting the 1939 excavation.

Too late now to listen live, but you can use the ‘Listen Again’ facility on BBC Radio 4 to hear Mike’s third programme, ‘In Pursuit of Treasure’, broadcast on 7 February, in which, according to the BBC website, Mike ‘delves into the sometimes murky world of the metal detector, from harmless amateur history buffs to criminal nighthawkers, and discovers how metal detecting is changing our national heritage. He hears stories of in-fighting within the metal-detecting community, bust-ups between landowners and detectorists and battles inside the archaeological establishment. Mike hears from the man who found a multi-million pound Saxon hoard and the farmer who has been threatened and attacked for the treasures beneath his farm.’

Our Fellow Peter Clayton, a Brother of the Essay Club, moves under many hats, one of which is Honorary Archivist of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, of which he is a Freeman and Liveryman. Peter was completely surprised when he was called forward recently to receive the Franklin Birch Memorial Award of the Farriers’ Company, a splendid 11-inch high silver-gilt statuette of the famous racehorse Desert Orchid.

The Award is made in memory of Franklin Birch, a long-time Clerk of the Company whose dedication and work for the Farriers was legendary. Instituted in 2001, it is presented annually to a Liveryman of the Farriers deemed to have most furthered the aims and objects of farriery. In presenting the Award to Peter, immediate Past Master of the Company, Carl Bettison, AWCF, said that it was in recognition of Peter’s work and commitment as the Company’s Honorary Archivist over recent years, especially in transferring a large quantity of archives privately held and stored, sorting them and categorising them, and placing them in London’s Guildhall.

Added to that, Carl said, was Peter’s recent work in editing and producing for the Company Barbara Megson’s book, The Farriers of London 1200—1674: the lost years (a copy of which is in the Antiquaries’ Library). The Farriers lost all their archives in the Great Fire of 1666, and much of that lost history has now been restored from research in wills and fines, etc, from when the Farriers were recognised as a Guild in the City in 1356 down to their Charter granted by Charles II in 1674.

The name of John Schofield has featured frequently in recent issues of Salon, for his radical and thought-provoking approach to the archaeology of the recent past, including recently conducted fieldwork in Bristol studying the archaeology of homelessness. John has now been appointed to the position of Director of the Cultural Heritage Management programme at the University of York, with effect from July 2010. John is currently an Inspector in the Characterisation Team at English Heritage and Head of Military Programmes, having joined EH in 1989. His recent publications include the Heritage Reader (Routledge, 2008), Aftermath: readings in the archaeology of recent conflict (Springer 2009) and Defining Moments (Archaeopress, 2009). Forthcoming works include a Heritage Handbook (Springer), Great Excavations (Oxbow) and After Modernity (Oxford University Press). Amazingly, John also finds time to be co-producer and co-presenter of a community radio music show, 'The Varmint Show’. York’s Head of Department, our Fellow Julian Richards, said: ‘We’re delighted to have secured someone of John’s range of heritage management experience and exciting range of research interests for this key position.’

Requests for help

Thank you to the many Fellows who responded to the request in Salon 226 for information to help Fellow Anthony Barnes with his research into the Cornish Manor of Brannel. Christopher Whittick — one of those who responded to say that a modern translation of The Caption of Seisin of the Duchy of Cornwall (1337) was published by P L Hull in 1971 (Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series 17) — now poses his own question: does anyone recognise this Romanesque church (see the Society’s website). ‘I’ll be happy to pass the original on to any public collection nominated by the identifier for a nominal amount’, Christopher adds.

The library has also received a request for help from a member of All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, who has ‘read references in several sources to “rammalation biscuits” and “ganging beer” in connection with Rogation Sunday traditions in England. He asks whether anyone has further information or recipes. Salon’s editor suspects that these are contractions or corruptions of ‘perambulation’ and ‘ganging [going]’ and probably refer to biscuits and (perhaps) ginger beer generally, rather than any specific recipe, but if any folklore-loving Fellow knows better, please do get in touch.


25 March 2010, In Memoriam 1959: Recollecting the making of The Buildings of England, Lincolnshire, at Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP, 6pm for 6:30pm, in which our Fellow John Harris recaptures a lost age as he looks back five weeks of recording the domestic architecture of Lincolnshire in the summer of 1959 in an age before motorways, of churches and houses with open doors, and of rural pubs unpolluted by corporate ownership. Places must be booked in advance by contacting Beth Walker, Head of Education at Sir John Soane’s Museum.

New websites

The UK National Commission for UNESCO has just launched a new website showcasing the work of the UK National Commission, with video, podcasts and news feeds from UNESCO and an interactive map of UNESCO sites and programmes in the UK, including sections on World Heritage Sites, and on the work of the Culture Committee, of which our Fellow Sue Davies is the Chair. Sue, a founder-director of the UKNC, has also been appointed Vice-Chair of the UKNC with effect from 1 February.

Also brand new is the Church Monuments Society website, redesigned as a result of the bequest of the Society’s late Honorary Secretary, Dr James Johnston, with a large and ever-growing county gazetteer of monuments, with pictures. Our Fellow Sophie Oosterwijk has contributed the ‘Monument of the Month’ for February, which looks at the ‘Stanley boy’ effigy in Elford, an engraving of which featured in the Society’s Making History travelling exhibition; Sophie dissects the legend that the monument commemorates John Stanley, who was ‘killed by a tennis ball around 1460’, and argues that it was probably a thirteenth-century heart burial later enhanced to fit the local tennis ball legend more convincingly.

Books by Fellows

Fellow David Breeze says that the Festschrift with which he was presented at the XXIst International Limes (Roman Frontiers) Congress held in Newcastle in August 2009 came as a complete surprise, a credit to the ability of his colleagues ‘to keep this quiet for three years!’ The Festschrift — The Army and Frontiers of Rome, edited by our Fellow Bill Hanson, was published as Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series no. 74 in September 2009, has twenty-two papers contributed by a long list of Fellows and has sections on army organisation and military installations, frontiers, military history, logistics and supply and Roman and native interaction in the north of Britain.

This year being the 1600th anniversary of a momentous year in history — AD 410, when Rome was sacked by Alaric the Goth, and by when Britain had probably ceased to be a province of the Roman Empire — a series of events has been planned to debate the character of fifth-century Britain (beginning with a two-day national conference at the British Museum on the weekend of 13 and 14 March 2010 jointly organised by the British Museum and the Roman Society). And if the events of that period are now slightly less dark, it is partly thanks to the steady stream of cemetery excavation reports that have appeared in recent weeks. While not exactly providing a decade by decade account of the events of the fifth century, they are at least providing some fairly clear clues as to the character of this period of transition from Romanised to Saxon culture.

Published by Museum of London Archaeology is Volume 3 in the Mucking Monograph Series. Volume 1 (by Ann Clark) consisted of the site atlas, while Volume 2 (by Fellow Helena Hamerow) reported on the Anglo-Saxon settlement excavated by the late Tom and Margaret Jones. This volume is concerned with The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries, and is in two parts: Part 1: Introduction, catalogue and specialist reports, and Part 2: Analysis and discussion. The principal authors are Fellow Sue Hirst and Dido Clark, but a majority of the specialist report contributors are also Fellows. Summing up 836 densely written pages is not easy, but like some of the other recent cemetery reports, Mucking presents us with two separate cemeteries, with different orientation patterns, one of them marked by an absence of Anglo-Saxon cremation burials. All sorts of hypotheses can be developed to explain this: the authors suggest that the evidence points not to two separate settlements (one of which has been found and excavated, the other yet to be discovered) but rather two populations with different burial traditions living in one settlement, but who developed separate settlement nuclei in the late fifth or early sixth century.

Alternative explanations for two contemporary (or near-contemporary) cemeteries might include the possibility of segregation by status. Such considerations are explored in Early Medieval (Late Fifth to Early Eighth Centuries AD) Cemeteries at Boss Hall and Buttermarket, Ipswich, Suffolk ( Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph 27), by Fellow Christopher Scull (likewise with contributions from a long list of Fellows). The book explores what is known about early medieval settlement in East Anglia in general and at Ipswich in particular, argues that the Boss Hall cemetery was associated with a number of small scattered farmsteads in the Gipping Valley, each populated by an extended family plus dependants, with no strong evidence for hierarchy or social or political differentiation. By contrast the Buttermarket cemetery reflects the changes that have taken place two centuries later, with the growth of Ipswich as a trading centre, the amalgamation of farms into estates, the concentration of wealth into the hands of magnates, and the association of lordship with luxury, display and largesse.

Chris Scull is also one of many Fellows who contributed to The Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery at Bloodmoor Hill, Carlton Colville, Suffolk (East Anglian Archaeology Monograph 131 ), already mentioned in Salon 224 but worth revisiting here because it reads like a continuation of the discussion of the Ipswich sites: the main authors — Fellow Sam Lucy, Jess Tipper and Alison Dickens — place the cessation of burial at Bloodmoor Hill shortly after AD 700 within the wider context of a ‘fundamental reordering of the social and symbolic worlds’. One explanation for this is the rise of emporia — production and distribution centres; another is the creation of a system of minster churches, which in turn attract commercial activity and settlement. In both cases, local control over production and consumption passes to regional elites: put crudely, this part of England saw a shift from subsistence-level economic activity to surplus production and specialisation, markets, long-distance trade, new settlements and new social hierarchies.

How much of this change in economic activity is a reflection of ethnic or cultural differences (whether real or adopted)? That highly contentious question is explored in Wasperton: a Roman, British and Anglo-Saxon community in central England, by Fellows Martin Carver and Catherine Hills and Jonathan Scheschkewitz (Boydell). As the title tells us, this cemetery of 241 burials spans the fourth to the seventh centuries, and is thus an ideal opportunity to ask questions about the transition from fourth-century Romanised farming communities (burying their dead in family plots, in graves oriented west to east and north to south, practising inhumation, cremation and decapitation, and furnishing their burials with neck rings, bracelets and hobnail boots) to fifth-century post-Roman (west to east burial without grave goods, but with one separate family enclosure that continues into the sixth century), then a group of post-AD 480 Saxon cremation urns with brooches, buried within an enclosure separated by a fence, then fifty-three early sixth-century Saxon-style inhumation burials with gender-specific grave goods and finally mid-sixth- to early seventh-century burial outside the enclosure, beneath reused or newly made earthen mounds.

Out of this intriguing sequence of diverse mortuary practices, the authors weave a convincing story of migration and acculturation, asking how indigenous Britons become Romanised and Saxonised and what degree of choice versus compulsion they experienced, and whether this involved conflict, apartheid, genocide and the replacement of one ethnic group by another or whether the archaeology reveals happy multi-ethnic co-existence and adjustment, with ‘no overarching national or international authority to enforce an orthodoxy’. You don’t have to agree with his conclusions, but Martin Carver’s final chapter discussing these issues (‘Wasperton in Context’) is a masterpiece that every archaeology student needs to read, no matter what their period of study, as an example of archaeological analysis and argument at its very best.

Giles Mandelbrote’s parting offering to the British Library before he leaves his post as Curator, British Collections 1501—1800 to become Librarian and Archivist of Lambeth Palace Library is a work called Libraries within the Library: the origins of the British Library’s early printed collections (British Library), jointly edited with Barry Taylor, with essays by quite a number of Fellows on the libraries of such former Fellows as Sir Joseph Banks and Sir Hans Sloane (this year being the 350th anniversary of the latter’s birth on 16 April 1660: see the Sloane 350 website for news of events to celebrate his life and achievements).

The Furniture History Society has just published John Stafford of Bath and his Interior Decorations (£6.95, post included, when ordered from, edited by our Fellow and former President Simon Swynfen Jervis. This comprises the full text and all eighteen of the enchanting colour plates of a notable discovery, a hitherto unknown Regency pattern book for window curtains and their accessories, including furniture, published in 1816 and dedicated to Thomas Hope, whose Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807) promoted a pure classical style. Its author, a Bath upholsterer, borrowed directly from Percier and Fontaine’s influential Recueil de Décorations Intérieures (1812). Simon’s illustrated introduction and commentary examines Stafford’s background and sources, and documents the later re-publication of some of Stafford’s plates by Rudolf Ackermann.

Before Salon could even mention it, Lost London 1870—1945, by our Fellow Philip Davies, has sold out, so warm have been the reviews. More copies have been printed and they are even now on their way to the UK from China, the author says (you can reserve a copy by going to the English Heritage website. While waiting for the boat to arrive, you can see some of the 500 pictures that feature in Philip’s book by visiting the Lost London exhibition at Kenwood House (to 5 April 2010, daily 11.30am to 4pm, admission free).

The pictures in the exhibition and the book derive from a London County Council decision in the late nineteenth century to create a historical record of buildings that were about to be demolished to make way for redevelopment. They include pin-sharp prints of the clearance of approach roads for Tower Bridge, opened in 1894, the construction of Kingsway, and the transformation of Regent Street as well as the slums of Drury Lane, Bankside and Bermondsey. Perhaps most striking of all are the views of doss houses whose dormitories are set beneath the plastered ceilings of the Earl of Sheffield’s former residence in Bow or up against the Jacobean panelling of remains of the Earl of Suffolk’s Southwark mansion.

Looking back over the nearly nine years during which Salon has been appearing, it seems that no issue passes without the mention of at least one book published by Boydell & Brewer. Antiquaries of all disciplines owe a huge debt to this publishing company (or rather, group of companies), which was formed in 1969 and that has just celebrated its fortieth anniversary with the publication of a short informal history by our Fellow Richard Barber (Group Managing Director), called Forty Books for Forty Years.

Richard’s introductory essay is a witty account of the trials and tribulations that have inevitably beset the publisher of small-print-run, highly academic books over a period during which news of the death of publishing (and of scholarly publishing in particular) has been prematurely announced on numerous occasions (despite this, Boydell remains in rude good health). The rest of the book consists of Richard’s recollections of the forty books or series that Boydell is proudest to have published. Needless to say, Fellows are well represented in his recollections, which kick off with an account of a memorable visit to Martin Carver’s Sutton Hoo excavations in August 1985 (‘distinguished scholars reclining on the mounds enjoying a glass of sparkling Saumur and pistachio ice cream’ — that’s the way to run a dig!) that led Boydell to launch an Anglo-Saxon list. Two years later this was followed by another visit to mark Boydell’s publication of Kevin Crossley-Holland’s illustrated Beowulf: ‘it was a wet October, and the skies only cleared at the last minute, to give us a spectacular red sunset with dark clouds as Kevin read first in Anglo-Saxon then in modern English. The audience was small because of the uncertain weather, and stood around braziers that burned brighter as the darkness fell … it was an extraordinarily dramatic and evocative evening.’


CBA London: Assistant to the group’s Trustees, £110 per day, one day a week, initially for six months; closing date 5pm on 17 February 2010
CBA London exists to bring together the many segments of London’s archaeological community in order to support greater public engagement with archaeology, encourage access to scholarship, and ensure protection of the capital’s historic environment. We are recruiting an assistant to work with the group’s Trustees, build on their contacts, expertise and experience, and equip the group with the knowledge base that will help it to flourish. Full details can be found on the CBA London website.

Society of Antiquaries: Collections Manager; salary: £25,747—£29,446; closing date 5pm on 26 February 2010; interviews to be held on 29 March 2010
Our own Society is seeking to recruit a Collections Manager to be responsible for all aspects of curatorial care for the collections of antiquities, paintings and prints and drawings at Burlington House and Kelmscott Manor. See the ‘Vacancies’ page on the Society’s website for a job description and background information.

Sussex Archaeological Society: Chief Executive; salary package c £50k; closing date 1 March 2010
The SAS is one of the largest county historical and archaeological organisations in the UK with over 100 staff and 2,000 members. It owns and manages eight historic properties open to the public and has an annual budget in excess of £1.5 million. The SAS is looking for a leader with the vision, entrepreneurship, managerial skills and marketing experience to take the organisation forward following the retirement of the present Chief Executive, our Fellow John Manley, later this year. Full details can be download from the Sussex Past website.