Salon Archive

Issue: 229

Forthcoming meetings

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.

Friday 23 April: Anniversary Meeting

National Heritage Memorial Fund’s budget restored

The National Heritage Memorial Fund is to receive its full annual top-up of £10m for next financial year, despite fears earlier this month that the fund would only receive £5 million. Several newspapers reported that pressure from the Treasury had forced the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to reduce the £10 million previously allocated to the National Heritage Memorial Fund for next year to £5 million, of which £3.3 million is already committed to assisting the £50 million purchase of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon from the Duke of Sutherland, meaning that the NHMF’s acquisition budget for 2010 to 2011 was down to £1.7 million. The cut was confirmed by the Department of Culture and condemned by Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, as ‘disappointing, to put it mildly’.

News came late this week, however, that a top-up of £5 million was being granted to the NHMF for the current year (2009 to 2010), which, said Carole Souter, Chief Executive of the NHMF, ‘fully offsets the reduction of £5m in grant-in-aid in 2010 to 2011’. The statement went on to say: ‘We are extremely relieved and delighted at this excellent news. The NHMF understands the real budgetary pressures facing the DCMS and is grateful that they have taken this extraordinary step to safeguard the UK’s heritage, particularly in the National Heritage Memorial Fund’s 30th anniversary year.’

The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up in 1970 in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK as the ‘fund of last resort’ to save outstanding examples of national heritage. In the coming few months it expects to consider some major applications, including the Staffordshire Hoard and the Broadlands Archive, which includes the diaries of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801—85). The £300 million disbursed by the NHMF over the last thirty years has helped to keep The Macclesfield Psalter, The Mappa Mundi, Dumfries House, Tyntesfield, Sir Walter Scott’s manuscripts, Canova’s The Three Graces and Skokholm Island, in Pembrokeshire, in the public domain.

Quantifying the value of heritage tourism

A new report commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) reveals for the first time the scale of the heritage tourism industry in the UK, estimating its gross domestic product (GDP) contribution to be £20.6 billion.

This research establishes that heritage tourism makes a bigger contribution to UK GDP than advertising, car manufacturing or the film industry. Although many of those who work in the heritage sector deplore the instrumentalist notion that heritage investment has to be justified in terms of financial outputs, these findings nevertheless provide important evidence to support the argument that investment in culture and heritage yields a very substantial dividend and that they have an important role to play in the economy, not least at a time of low growth and recession.

Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the HLF said: ‘We now have the figures to prove that heritage packs a substantial economic punch. Last year, domestic and overseas holiday visitor numbers grew as the wider UK economy was shrinking. Our museums, historic sites and landscapes are proving to be an immense and essential attraction, bringing in new visitors and boosting local economies. As we all look to economic recovery, we must keep investing in heritage tourism so that it continues to flourish, bringing with it key economic benefits’.

The report — called Investing in success: Heritage and the UK tourism economy — was researched by Oxford Economics, who looked at the extent to which tourism visits and expenditure are motivated by heritage. It concludes that more than 10 million holiday trips are made by oversees visitors to the UK each year with four in ten visitors citing heritage as the primary motivation for their trip to the UK. Heritage tourism expenditure was taken to include not just the direct cost of entry to a historic house, for example, but also linked expenditure, such as money spent in hotels, restaurants and shops. The report found that the heritage tourism sector — including historic buildings, museums, parks and the countryside — directly supports an estimated 195,000 full-time jobs. The report also concluded that, unlike more mature industries in the UK, tourism has the potential to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy over the next decade, and that heritage will be vital to that growth.

Colchester campaign saves chariot track

Colchester Archaeological Trust has succeeded in raising £200,000 to buy a key part of Britain’s only known Roman chariot track. The money has been donated by individuals and businesses from around the globe and will be used to buy the Sergeants’ Mess and its garden, part of the city’s nineteenth-century army barracks. Excavations of the garden by the Trust in 2004 led to the discovery of the remains of all eight of the starting gates of the Roman circus — stone structures with wooden doors that would have unleashed the chariots at the start of the race.

In September 2009, the developers of the barracks — Taylor Wimpey — offered to sell the site to the Trust if the necessary funds could be raised within six months. Although the remains of the circus would have been protected in any new development, the local community felt strongly that the site should be displayed rather than simply being buried, and as a result donations to the appeal flowed in.

Our Fellow Philip Crummy, Director of Colchester Archaeology Trust, said ‘We have been amazed by the public response to the appeal and much heartened by the numbers of donations and messages of support and encouragement which we have received along the way. It just shows that a lot of the public think that heritage matters and that more should be made of these survivals of the past in the places in which they live.’

Philip warned, however, that the successful appeal was just the first step in a difficult process, in which the next challenge was apply for heritage lottery funds and other funding to open an interpretation area on the ground floor of the barracks building, while an imaginative display of the gates will be installed in the garden, which will then become the focal point for a long-term project to mark out and interpret the whole of the quarter of a mile-long building. ‘It’s a difficult project with lots of problems’, he said, ‘but the result will be fantastic, and we’re determined to make it work’.

First Treasure Act conviction

Kate Harding, aged 23, has pleaded guilty at Ludlow Magistrates Court to the offence of failing to report a Treasure find, becoming the first person in England to be convicted under the 1996 Treasure Act. She was given a conditional discharge, ordered to pay £25 towards court costs ordered to hand over the find, a rare silver, coin-like object known as a ‘piedfort’ dating from the reign of Charles IV of France (1322—8).

Our Fellow Dr Michael Lewis, Deputy Head, Department Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, said: ‘This is a landmark case and it sends a clear message to those who fail to report Treasure. It shows that the police and the coroners’ service give Treasure and archaeological heritage law a high profile and will take proactive measures against those that disregard it. We are delighted that the artefact, which has great historical significance, has now been handed over under the instruction of the magistrates.’

The convicted woman took the artefact to Ludlow Museum in January 2009 for identification and recording with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, saying she had found the item in her mother’s garden fourteen years ago. She was informed that she had a legal obligation to report the find to the coroner under Section 8 of the Treasure Act 1996. Ludlow Museum subsequently sent reminder letters and left telephone messages, but she failed to follow the advice given and did not report her find to the coroner within the statutory period of 14 days.

Michael Lewis said that: ‘The woman in this case was informed that the item had been identified as potential Treasure and told on numerous occasions that her find needed to be reported to the coroner. Unfortunately, she failed to follow the advice given and did not report her find to the coroner within the statutory period of fourteen days. However, we are delighted that the artefact, which has great historical significance, has now been handed over under the instruction of the magistrates’. The silver ‘piedfort’ is one of only three examples found in the UK, one of which was purchased by the British Museum in 2007 for £1,800. The exact use of piedforts is unknown: heaver and thicker than equivalent coins, they were not used as currency, though they might have been struck for use by mint workers to guide their work, or as a gift or souvenir.

Eggshell of extinct elephant bird unlocks ancient DNA

Our Fellow Mike Parker Pearson (who, by the way, was voted ‘Archaeologist of the Year’ by Current Archaeology readers and presented with the award at the magazine’s ‘Archaeology 2010’ conference held on 27 February 2010 at the British Museum) has been in the news again, and this time for something entirely different: his discovery of elephant bird eggshells in Madagascar has enabled a team of Sheffield university geneticists to extract DNA from the now-extinct bird.

The eggshell samples were collected by Mike’s research team because studying their chemical composition can shed light on Madagascar’s past environments; an added bonus was the discovery that eggshell up to 19,000 years old is an excellent source of ‘fossil’ DNA.

The elephant bird (Aepyornis) was the world’s largest recorded bird. Resembling an ostrich, it stood nearly 3m high and weighed half a ton; its eggs, also the largest bird eggs ever known, had a capacity of 11 litres (seven times as large as an ostrich egg). Mike’s team recorded former nesting sites among the coastal dunes of southern Madagascar and found giant eggs that had been re-used as containers.

The birds were already in decline by AD 1000, and human predation in the 11th to 13th centuries, when south Madagascar’s human populations flourished and grew on the basis of long-distance trade with Africa’s Swahili coast, the Persian Gulf and China, drove them to extinction. Early French colonists described the birds as living in remote places and difficult to catch, but there are no records after 1650. Mike believes the elephant bird was probably the inspiration behind stories told by Marco Polo and that feature in the Thousand and One Nights.

The genetic study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, involved researchers from the Universities of Sheffield, Oxford in the UK, Australia’s Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia, New Zealand’s Canterbury and Otago Universities, Colorado University in the USA and Copenhagen University in Denmark. Their work involved developing new techniques for extracting DNA from ancient shell; until now ‘fossil’ DNA (as distinct from DNA extracted from living organisms) has largely been carried out on ancient bone. The research team now plans to study eggshells from a number of archaeological sites in New Zealand to investigate how humans interacted with the giant moa bird, which was hunted to extinction 600 years ago

Archaeology on Madeira (the lack of)

It was sad to see last week that even a semi-serious newspaper like the Daily Telegraph was taken in by a hoax press release saying that ‘a nail dating from the time of Christ's Crucifixion has been found at a remote fort believed to have once been a stronghold of the Knights Templar.’ The Telegraph went on to say that ‘the nail was found last summer in a decorated box in a fort on the tiny isle of Ilheu de Pontinha, just off the coast of Madeira. Pontinha was thought to have been held by the Knights Templar, the religious order that was part of the Christian forces which occupied Jerusalem during the Crusades in the 12th century … The nail was found together with three skeletons and three swords. One of the swords had the Knight Templar's cross inscribed on it.’

Oh how they must have laughed on the Ilheu de Pontinha which, far from being a tiny islet off the coast of Madeira, is a fort-topped pile of rocks cemented into the harbour wall that protects the island’s main container port. The rock is run as a tourist attraction by the self-styled Prince D Renato Barros, who has declared the rock and its São José fortlette to be the headquarters of the Principality of the Pontinha, an ‘autonomous region of Portugal’. The Prince (who is also the Principality’s ‘Chief Spokesman in Archaeology, History and News’ also claims that the rock is where João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira first set foot on Madeira when they took possession of the islands on behalf of the Portuguese crown in 1419, though the fort is probably Napoleonic in date.

One can never be quite sure how far 'the Prince' has his tongue in his cheek when he makes his grandiloquent pronouncements (see his website), but his Dan-Brownesque press release drew a swift retort from our Fellow Brian Philp, who said ‘Formal excavations were carried out at the Forte São José in 2004—6 by trained Portuguese archaeologists. In February this year (2010) I conducted a two-week archaeological project in the fort. I can confirm that the iron nail came directly from the areas already excavated and that all the finds from both projects, including many similar nails, are in fact of eighteenth to nineteenth-century date. No skeletons, swords or ornate boxes have ever been found at the fort, but two replica swords hang on the wall for the benefit of visitors’.

Archaeologist Élvio Sousa of the Lisbon-based Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary Archaeology (CEAM) also dismissed the alleged discovery of three Templar skeletons and a crucifixion nail dating from the Roman era as ‘a fantasy … pure imagination, without accuracy and scientific credibility’. Sousa, who conducted the 2004—6 excavations, said the nail ‘is a common building nail from the modern era’.

Sadder still is the fact that Madeira is an island rich in real archaeology that greatly deserves serious study. As the centre of European sugar production for much of the fifteenth-century, the island has a historic landscape of outstanding importance for the history of Atlantic exploration and colonisation. As the island is modernised, and all its harbours and old towns are bulldozed to create marinas and shopping centres, that archaeology is in real danger of being eradicated, and though archaeologists including Brian Philp and Élvio Sousa are doing their best, the scale of the destruction demands a bigger response.

European Heritage

Given that Madeira’s capital, Funchal, is the first city to be founded by Europeans outside the traditional boundaries of Europe, one might think that it would qualify for the new ‘European Heritage Label’ that has been proposed by the European Commission as Europe’s equivalent to World Heritage Site status. That Funchal is not among the sixty-four sites in eighteen countries nominated by the governments of Europe for assessment under the new designation might have something to do with the way that the label is being interpreted: it is not being given to key sites in European heritage, but to ‘sites that played a key role in the history of the European Union’.

Perhaps that also explains why the UK, alone among the larger member states, has not nominated a single site. Instead, candidates, which were announced by Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou on 9 March 2010, include the Gdansk shipyards in Poland, birthplace of the Solidarity movement that was one of the catalysts to the eventual fall of the Iron Curtain and Poland’s entry to the EU, and the house of Robert Schuman, in Scy-Chazelles in the Moselle department of north-eastern France, the first President of the European Parliament (1958—60), who was awarded the title ‘Father of Europe’ at the end of his term of office.

Rather than their significance for history and culture, sites will be chosen according to their ‘European symbolic value’ and particularly their educational significance for young people, Commissioner Vassiliou explained.

Tongue in cheek, the Independent responded to the UK Government’s refusal to nominate candidate sites by suggesting some of its own: a very large field in Norfolk, to symbolise the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy on the landscape; Hadrian’s Wall, as the northern boundary of the first attempt to create a European Union (Scotland’s application for membership, the newspaper notes, was refused); Upholland, in Lancashire, the birthplace of Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the first EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Old Trafford, 100 years old this year, as the home of the first English football club to win the European Cup; and the Channel Tunnel, which finally brought the European continent, previously isolated from the rest of the world, into connection with the UK.

Boy Scouts and the Hitler Youth movement

Perhaps Brownsea Island, which hosted the very first Scout camp in 1907, also deserves a European Heritage Label in the light of pioneering attempts by Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, and Adolf Hitler, head of the Hitler Youth movement, to forge a greater union between Britain and Germany.

Newly declassified MI5 files released last week reveal that the Government was deeply concerned in 1937 by the growing entente between the two youth movements, which saw Scout troops playing host to Hitler Youth cycling tours. The security services of the day feared that cyclists were sent here on clandestine reconnaissance rides to assess Britain’s readiness for war.

The term ‘spyclists’ was coined by the Daily Herald when reporting on an item in the German Cyclist magazine which encouraged Hitler Youth members visiting Britain to ‘Impress on your memory the roads and paths, villages and towns, outstanding church towers and other landmarks so that you will not forget them … perhaps you should be able to utilise these sometime for the benefit of the Fatherland’. MI5’s response was to instruct chief constables to monitor German cycling parties and to note the routes they followed and the buildings that they were interested in.

Baden-Powell was himself monitored by the secret services who were concerned by his ‘gushing enthusiasm’ for a closer liaison between the Scout and Hitler Youth movements, and his meetings with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador, and Hartmann Lauterbacher, deputy leader of the Hitler Youth. When Baden-Powell left Britain to visit South Africa, an MI5 officer visited Scout leaders in his absence to warn them off the idea of closer ties.

‘Victoria and Albert: Art and Love’

A much more serious suggestion for a monument that celebrates closer European union might be Buckingham Palace, home to Queen Victoria, whose management of the marriages of her nine children and forty-two grandchildren into the royal families of the continent tied Europe together and earned her the nickname ‘grandmother of Europe’. Prince Albert too surely deserves credit for numerous achievements in forging closer ties between Britain and the continent in matters relating to science, manufacturing, education, welfare and culture.

Their marriage, and especially their shared love of painting, is the subject of the latest exhibition at the Queen’s gallery at Buckingham Palace, curated by our Fellow Jonathan Marsden (Director Designate of the Royal Collection, in succession to our Fellow Sir Hugh Roberts). On show are 400 items that were bought by Victoria and Albert for each other. ‘Art was their lifelong hobby’, said Jonathon Marsden at the private view, ‘and bringing these things together gives you a sense of how central art was to their lives’.

Victoria bought some 200 paintings for Albert during their two decades of married life. Some of her purchases give the lie to the image of a straight-laced monarch: they include Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s Florinda (1852), given by Queen Victoria to Prince Albert on his thirty-third birthday on 26 August 1852, in which a bevy of semi-naked maidens bathes in the grounds of Toledo castle while King Rodrigo watches from the bushes. Albert preferred sculpture and purchased over 100 examples, though he also acquired some very fine Renaissance works, including Apollo and Diana (c 1526) by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and one of the Royal Collection’s finest works, a Crucifixion triptych by the Siennese master Duccio.

The exhibition, which also includes some of Queen Victoria’s own paintings as well as furniture, book bindings, early photographs, textiles and musical instruments, opens officially on 19 March and is on until 31 October.

Strawberry Hill at the V&A

The legacy of Victoria and Albert includes South Kensington's Albertopolis quarter, where the ‘Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill’ exhibition has just opened at the V&A to great acclaim. Curated by our Fellow Michael Snodin, the exhibition celebrates the achievements of one of England’s grand eccentrics, remembered as the creator of one of the most famous buildings of the eighteenth century — Strawberry Hill, generally regarded as the first neo-Gothic dwelling — but also of a famous fictional building, The Castle of Otranto (1764), generally regarded as the first Gothic novel.

The exhibition explores several rooms from Strawberry Hill in detail including the ‘Holbein Chamber’ — the bedchamber intended to evoke the court of Henry VIII, where drawings by Holbein are displayed alongside copies by George Vertue of the famous Holbein portrait drawings in the Royal Collection — and ‘The Armoury’, the Gothic interior that greeted visitors to the house, filled with an array of arms including the spectacular golden parade armour that Walpole believed had been made for King Francis I of France.

Walpole was also a keen collector of contemporary painting and sculpture; the exhibition includes Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of the Ladies Waldegrave and pieces by the painter Lady Diana Beauclerk and the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer. Other objects reflect Walpole’s fascination with relics, such as a comb that Walpole believed to have belonged to Queen Bertha, the Anglo-Saxon saint, a lock of Mary Tudor’s hair and a hat that Walpole thought was once owned by Cardinal Wolsey.

A new film about the renovation of the house, commissioned by the Strawberry Hill Trust will be shown as part of the exhibition, which runs until 4 July 2010.

New searchable databases for medieval and post-medieval annual fieldwork summaries

Annual excavation summaries have formed an integral part of reporting in the journals of the Society for Medieval Archaeology and the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology since their founding (in 1957 and 1967, respectively). Accompanied by an index of period-based keywords, these brief reports have provided a resource for both researchers in the field and the general public. Today, many hundred summaries continue to be submitted each year by archaeological contractors, local governmental bodies and universities.

We must all be grateful then to our Fellow Dr Marit Gaimster, of Pre-Construct Archaeology, who is setting up searchable databases for these annual reports, hosted by the ADS. Already online is the database for 2007, and this will soon be followed by the database for 2008; in time, it is hoped that all the previously published round-ups will be added to database to create a rich period-based resource.

The databases can be accessed either directly through the ADS Online Catalogue’s ‘Archsearch’, where they can be found under ‘General Collections’ as ‘Medieval Britain and Ireland (fieldwork summaries)’ and ‘Post-Medieval Fieldwork in Britain and Northern Ireland (fieldwork summaries)’, or via the societies’ own websites: the Society for Medieval Archaeology, under ‘Medieval Britain and Ireland’, and the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, under ‘Review of Post-Medieval Fieldwork’.

A painted canvas funerary monument of 1615 in the collections of the Society

Less of a mystery now is what Fellow Sally Badham calls ‘quite possibly the most unprepossessing item in the Society of Antiquaries’ collection of paintings’, about which she has published a paper in the latest volume (XXIV) of Church Monuments, the journal of the Church Monuments Society.

Sally writes that ‘picture no. 104 in the Society’s inventory hangs in a dark corner behind a computer in the Museum Room. Bequeathed in 1979 by Francis Steer, the painting, which is in oil on canvas, is in a distressing state, with much of the detail either blackened with age or flaked off; plans to conserve the painting are imminent, thanks to a generous grant from the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, though that is unlikely to improve its appearance greatly.

‘The main part of the composition shows a family kneeling in prayer with seven boys and three girls behind their parents. A prayer desk in front of the father stands on a chest fastened by metal straps and standing on tiny bracket feet, which can probably be interpreted as a coffin. On top of the coffin is the skull and crossbones, a familiar symbol of death, which perhaps explains why the picture was previously described as a memento mori. However, the inscriptions show this label to be inaccurate. The inscription on the side of the coffin reads: “Her lyeth the body of Margery late wife to Siles [sic for Giles] Smith Clerke nowe pastor of Scampton eldest dovgter of John Purnel of Nibley in the County Glocester clother, who had seuen sonnes and three Douthers and departed this Life the 15 of February 1615 virescit post funere [sic funera] virtus.”

‘The phrase “here lyeth the body” makes it clear that this painting is actually a funeral monument. The message is reinforced by a motto at the top of the painting: “Watch and Pray”; funeral monuments commonly exhorted the Christian faithful to pray for the deceased. The current frame is evidently a later addition, but it is likely that the painting would originally have had a wooden frame, perhaps decorated with symbols of mortality.

Sally concludes that this is a unique and important survival of a portable painted funerary monument: though there are a few similar compositions that serve as parallels, these are all painted on stone, on wooden panels or onto plaster on the church wall. Speculating, Sally asks whether the memorial was deliberately made to be portable because of the threat of official or unofficial Puritan iconoclasm.

Archaeology in Wales and the IfA Yearbook

Our Hon Sec Alison Taylor writes to say that ‘the latest issue of The Archaeologist, the house magazine of the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA), concentrates on current and recent projects in Wales. These include Cadw’s work on battlefields, the castles of Welsh princes and twentieth-century military sites, and the Royal Commission’s amazing aerial photography programme as well as some of the field surveys it is sponsoring. Some outstanding rock art discoveries are featured, along with hill forts and early medieval cemeteries that are slipping into the sea.

‘The thoroughness of the pan-Wales surveys for numerous types of sites is especially impressive. A picture that emerges from these case histories is that archaeology in Wales is treated as a coherent whole, rather than being divided by commercial interests. Governmental and regional bodies (the Welsh Archaeological Trusts) collaborate in all aspects from discovery to presentation, without conflicts of interest, and commercial units and amateurs are involved whenever they are best suited to the work. The system seems to work efficiently and with less conflict than we English are used to. The magazine also includes an obituary for our Fellow and recent Council member, Sarah Jennings.’

‘The IfA Yearbook and directory, also just published, includes invaluable contact data for nearly 3,000 archaeologists, and hundreds of archaeological organisations and related agencies. More intriguingly it includes editorial which asks the question ‘What’s the use of archaeology?’ Apart from the obvious, there are some surprising case histories of exceptional benefit to society such as work with the homeless in Bristol (John Schofield, FSA), empowering the local community in the Sahel (Gerry Wait, FSA), integrating newly arrived immigrants into rural life in Lincolnshire (Tom Lane), training craftsmen in Cornwall (Nick Johnson, FSA), informing medical research, and identifying British and Australian dead and a sunken South African battle ship of the First World War.’ For more details on either publication, contact Alison.

NewsWARP on the web

The Wetland Archaeology Research Project (formed by our Fellows John and Bryony Coles twenty-five years ago as an informal world-wide network of archaeologists and others engaged in wetland archaeology) is to revive its newsletter, alongside the Journal of Wetland Archaeology. NewsWARP is a web-based newsletter, which welcomes wetland news reports and contributions concerning publications, new research and conferences.

News of Fellows

Our Fellow Martin Biddle is to be awarded the freedom of Winchester in honour of his contributions to the understanding of the city’s archaeology. The ceremony will take place at the annual council meeting at the Guildhall on 19 May 2010.

Professor Biddle was proposed for the honour by Cllr Therese Evans, who said ‘His work at Winchester has been nominated as one of the ten most important archaeological studies in the world. Before the 1960s very little was known of Winchester’s archaeology and early history. The Iron Age origins of the settlement had only been guessed at, only a few streets and houses of the Roman town had been uncovered, and nothing was known of the process by which Winchester, one of the principal cities of early medieval northern Europe, had developed. Martin Biddle brought in a new and pioneering approach to archaeology and investigated the whole history of the city which put Winchester on the archaeological map, and it is only fitting that the city should now recognise his contributions.

‘Probably his best-known achievement was the excavation of the Old Minster on the Cathedral Green where he and his late wife Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle achieved the first near completion of an Anglo-Saxon cathedral and changed perceptions of Winchester’s archaeology. His work showed the importance of this site in the history of the city and of the kingdom of Wessex. He also showed how the ruined Roman town was developed into a royal and ecclesiastical centre in the seventh to ninth centuries, and became the central place in a network of defended “burhs” that provided protection from the Danish attacks which had overrun much of the country.

‘The Winchester Studies volumes are recognised as the only comprehensive research of a British city from Roman times to the nineteenth century. His contribution to Winchester is one of which local people can feel justly proud, and other cities envious. I am delighted that Professor Biddle is to receive this honour.’

Lives remembered

The Society has recently been informed that our former Fellow, Robert Oresko, died on 15 February 2010 at the age of sixty-three. Many Fellows and colleagues were at his funeral, which took the form of a sung Tridentine-rite requiem mass.

Obituaries have recently appeared in The Times for our late Fellow Lesley Lewis and in The Guardian for our late Fellow Claude Blair. Copies can also be read on the Obituaries pages of the Society’s website, where you can also read an obituary for our late Fellow and Norwich GP, Dr Keith Knowles (1928—2010), who excavated the Roman town of Brampton, in Norfolk, and donated his collection to the Castle Museum.


The appeal for help in tracing the history of Chance, the London Fire Brigade’s dog, has yet to yield information about the whereabouts of the dog’s remains, if indeed they have survived, but within hours of the Salon’s publication, Caroline Shenton, who made the request, received offers of help from the London Fire Brigade’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services and from the staff of the Brigade’s museum. It has been established that fire brigades frequently used dogs as ‘barking sirens’ and to help with finding people trapped in burning buildings; they also helped to guard the horses and fire-fighting equipment from theft. Chance (whose precise breed is not known) seems to have become a firedog in 1828. He spent time with several different fire stations in London, and thus became known to many of the fire-fighters working in London at that time. They pooled together to buy him a collar inscribed ‘Stop me not, but onward let me jog; for I am Chance the London Fireman's dog’. It is said that Chance is depicted in William Heath’s picture of firemen tackling the blaze at the Palace of Westminster burning in 1834; after Chance’s death on 10 October 1835, several newspapers ran obituaries.

Neither has anyone yet managed to work out what the Salisbury cathedral text might say, despite the story now having gone around the world, with mentions on numerous blogs and websites. Everyone loves a mystery, but it would be good to have this one solved! Much time has been spent by many Fellows in the frustrating task of trying to read the text, which Fellow Christopher Whittick says he thinks is from the second half of the sixteenth century (c 1550—80) by analogy with lettering on contemporary brasses. He and our Fellow Stephen Freeth have tentatively suggested the following readings of some of the more legible text:

Line 3… And [or ende] … erthele [earthly]…
Line 4… synne [?He] that hath…
Line 5… And we are corr[upted]…
Line 6… Of the wicked…

‘Clearly this is a sermon, or series of aphorisms, closely based on scripture, on the subject of mortality, sin and judegment, that it could easily date from the reign of Edward VI or Elizabeth I’, they conclude.

Robert Merrillees says of the skulls said to be of Saint Birgitta and Saint Katerina that ‘we were once informed during an inspection of the reliquary in Vadstena that an old Swedish guide used to tell visiting pilgrims that one of the skulls belonged to Birgitta when she was young and the other, when she was older!

‘More importantly, there is a third skull, once considered to be that of Birgitta, which resided until 1959 in the parish church of Saint Pierre at Courson-les-Carrières, a village not far from where we live in Burgundy. It had been stolen in the sevententh century from the same reliquary in Vadstena by a French ballet master at the court of Queen Christina. He had entrusted it to the French Ambassador, the Comte de Courson, who smuggled it out of Sweden and had it deposited in the church of the village that bears his name. In the early 1950s it was examined by some Swedish anatomists who found that it too had nothing to do with Birgitta or Katerina. The skull was subsequently removed from Courson-les-Carrières, legally, and transferred to the Brigittine convent of Maria Refugie in Uden, Holland, where we saw it, devoutly re-assigned to Saint Birgitta.’

Apropos the report on the listing of the Abbey Road studios, Bob Kindred says ‘it would be interesting to know the background to the “fast-tracking” of a case submitted as long ago as 2003. One wonders what happened in the intervening seven years!’

Attempting to track down the answer, Salon’s editor found the following statement, made by a Department of Culture, Media and Sport press spokesman: ‘Abbey Road is among hundreds of buildings for which listing applications are under consideration, but there has been no urgency until now about reaching a decision. It has now become urgent and so will be given urgent attention.’

Which, as Bob says, still doesn’t explain how a listing application can take seven years, and begs the question what damage might be done to the buildings while the application languishes in a ministerial in-tray.


17 April 2010: Past Relations: different approaches to the dead over time is the theme of the annual conference of Cambridge Antiquarian Society this year. It will include talks by Fellows Sam Lucy (on interpreting Anglo-Saxon cemeteries) and Alison Taylor (on deviant burial in Roman Britain), as well as on work in Egypt, Turkey (Çatalhöyük) and Borneo. For details, contact Mark Hinman.

24 April 2010: The spirituality of Cluny, a day conference at the church of St Edmund the King, Lombard Street, London, celebrating the 1100th anniversary of Cluny’s foundation in AD 910, at which three of our Fellows will be speaking: Eric Fernie on Cluniac architecture, Neil Stratford on the sculpture of Cluny and Rose Walker on the wall paintings. Further information from the London Centre for Spirituality.

Books by Fellows

Fellow Mike Farley says that Buckinghamshire is rarely mentioned in Salon (in fact, the county has featured in 17 issues, though as often as not in association with bad news, such as the 2005 fire that destroyed the historic Quaker meeting house at Jordans and the threat to Slough’s handsome 1930s town hall, which last month the Department of Culture refused to list, despite an English Heritage recommendation that it should be, and that now faces probable demolition and redevelopment). Mike is keen to correct that with news of a Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society publication that he has edited, called An Illustrated History of Early Buckinghamshire. Launched on 6 March 2010, the generously illustrated 240-page paperback covering the period from the Ice Age to the Tudors, brings together seven authors with special knowledge of early Buckinghamshire and draws on many new archaeological discoveries made in recent years (see Publication coincides with an exhibition at Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury — Human: half a million years of life in Bucks — featuring key artefacts from the county’s history (on from 6 March to 11 July 2010).

We have not seen as much of Fellow Guy de la Bédoyère on Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ since his decision to retrain as a teacher. Having qualified in 2008, Guy now teaches History and Classical Civilisation at Kesteven and Sleaford High School, from where he writes an entertaining column for BBC History magazine about life on the educational front line. The new career has not stopped him from writing books: on the contrary, it has opened up new opportinities to fill gaps in the textbook market, which is what Guy aims to do with his latest work, Cities of Roman Italy (Duckworth: ISBN 9781853997280), a book designed for students taking A-level or university courses in Classics or Archaeology. The book is concerned with what we can learn about Roman urban life from the remains of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia.

Etruscan by Definition (British Museum: ISBN: 9780861591732) pursues the similar theme of cultural, regional and personal identity, but in this case of a more elusive and enigmatic people, D H Lawrence’s ‘subtly smiling Etruscans’. Edited by our Fellow Judith Swaddling, Senior Curator in the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum, and Philip Perkins, Head of the Department of Classical Studies at The Open University, this book comprises a collection of papers given at a British Museum conference held in December 2006 in honour of one of the world’s leading Etruscologists, Dr Sybille Haynes, and organised by Judith Swaddling and our late Fellow Francesca Serra Ridgway (Institute of Classical Studies). Those papers seek to define how the Etruscans saw themselves by examining characteristically Etruscan artefacts and buildings to see what light this throws on their lives and beliefs. They also consider the influence of Etruscan social and religious concepts and practices on other cultures and vice versa, and examine eighteenth-century concepts of the Etruscans and the latest evidence for their origins from DNA studies.

The British Institute at Ankara has just published Tille Höyük 3. The Iron Age: 1. Introduction, Stratification and Architecture (Ankara Monograph 41: ISBN 9781898249207), by our Fellow Stuart Blaylock. This is the first of two volumes of the final report on Tille Höyük, a mound at a crossing of the Euphrates in south-east Turkey that was excavated in 1979—90 by the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara as a part of the Atatürk Dam salvage project, and that was flooded in 1991. Lying on the fringes of the Mesopotamian world, and with contacts with North Syria, North Mesopotamia and the Levant, rather than with Anatolia or the Mediterranean, Tille casts vivid new light on the cultural and political history of the region in the Iron Age.

Much of the book is taken up with fully illustrated accounts of the stratigraphy and of the of the ten major structural levels spanning the period from the eleventh century BC to the sixth to fourth centuries BC (as well as earlier, Late Bronze Age, and later, Hellenistic, Roman and Medieval, remains). The earliest Iron Age occupation consisted of simple buildings among the ruins of Late Bronze Age structures, followed by a major settlement of the Middle Iron Age, when the Neo-Hittite kingdom of Kummuh was at its height (Levels IV and V). Most impressive architecturally are Level VIII, a large palatial building centred on a courtyard paved with a pebble mosaic, which was probably built after the Assyrian annexation of Kummuh in 708 BC and continued in use through much of the seventh century, and the excellently preserved Level X with many distinctively Persian architectural features (built in the latter half of the sixth or the early fifth century and lasting for a substantial time thereafter).

The structures and stratigraphy are also important as the context for volume two, which is in an advanced state of preparation and that presents the first rigorously established Iron Age ceramic sequence for this part of Turkey

Excavations at Baldock, Hertfordshire, 1978 to 1994 Volume 1: an Iron Age and Romano-British cemetery at Wallington Road has been published as North Hertfordshire Museums Archaeology Monograph 1, the first in a planned series that will examine the results of excavations carried out ahead of housing development at the Romano-British ‘small town’ of Baldock, in Hertfordshire. As well as throwing light on the settlement itself, these excavations, which included number of cemeteries that were dug in their entirety, have resulted in the largest assemblage of burials from a site of the period from the first century BC to as late as the sixth century AD in Britain, and their publication will add significantly to knowledge of Iron Age and Romano-British burial practices.

This volume, written by our Fellow Gilbert R Burleigh and Keith J Fitzpatrick-Matthews, concerns work at the Wallington Road cemetery, on the eastern periphery of the ancient town, discovered during building work in February 1982 and subject to salvage recording and excavation over the following two months. A great deal of high quality information was recovered, Gil says, despite the difficulties of the work, which was done almost entirely by volunteers. Specialist reports by Charlotte Roberts and Jacqueline McKinley deal with the human remains, and by Brenda Dickinson and Helen Ashworth examine the ceramics. The authors contribute an extended discussion and synthesis of the data.

Copies may be pre-ordered at the discounted price of £17.50 + £3.50 p&p until 1 5 May, after which the full cost of £20 + p&p will apply. For an order form and further information, email

Bloodline: the Celtic Kings of Roman Britain; Amberley; ISBN 9781848682382), by our Fellow Miles Russell, has an attention-grabbing title, which signals the author’s intention to look afresh at the history of Britain from the invasions of Julius Caesar (55 and 54 BC) to the arrival of the emperor Hadrian (in AD 122). Rather than seeing the assimilation of Britain into Roman Empire as a single and largely coherent story that begins with the Claudian invasion of AD 43, Miles presents the archaeological evidence form recent fieldwork, along with a fresh examination of the primary historical sources, to reassess the role of client kings and ‘native friendlies’. The result, says Miles, is ‘less an account of invasion and dogged native resistance, and more the story of a single, powerful British family and its often-troubled relationship with a Mediterranean superpower.

Deserted Villages Revisited (University of Hertfordshire Press: ISBN 9781905313792), edited by our Fellow Christopher Dyer and Richard Jones, has been produced by a clutch of Fellows and charts new ground in the study of what used to be known as DMVs, or Deserted Medieval Villages, though, as the editors say in their Preface, the ‘D’, the ‘M’ and the ‘V’ are all now known to be misconceptions.

In place of monocausal explanations of village desertion, such as the popular myth that it was all down to the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century, this stimulating and readable book shows that the phenomenon is spread over a long time frame and can be associated with a wide range of factors. Why some villages survive while others were abandoned is the question at the heart of these eleven essays, along with the over-riding question of what we can learn about life in the countryside from a study of the deserted sites, as distinct from the successful ones. The conclusion seems to be that it is very rarely possible to point to a single cause for a settlement’s decay, desertion or removal. Desertion is not evidence, as was once thought, of feudal society in crisis, but a process that is normal and that has occurred in every century.

Fellow Philip Priestley says that his fifth book has just been published in America by the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Inc., Columbia, Pennsylvania. Aaron Lufkin Dennison: an Industrial Pioneer and his Legacy (available from or from the author directly) outlines the life and times of an enigmatic and clever American watchmaker who, in 1850, helped start the first successful factory in America to make watches using mass-production and interchangeable parts. Later called the Waltham Watch Company, this was the forerunner of many other types of factory throughout the world, and was well ahead of its time, not least in introducing the Metric System in 1868, the first company in America to do so.

The book, the culmination of the Philip’s research over thirty years covers Aaron's early career as a watchmaker and parts supplier in America and his subsequent management role in the manufacture of watches in Roxbury and Waltham, Massachusetts. It then covers his watch-making endeavours in Zurich, Switzerland, and his final enterprise — the Dennison Watch Case Company, based in Handsworth, Birmingham — which Dennison embarked upon at the age of sixty-two. Aaron died in 1895 at the age of eighty-three, but the Handsworth factory continued in operation until 1967; sadly, the building burned down in 1999. Philip’s previous book, on Chester Gold and Silver Marks, reviewed here in 2004, was co-written with our late Fellow, the Revd Maurice Ridgway, though his earlier books all deal with the subject of watch making and watchcase making.


Warburg Institute, University of London: Director, Professorial level, closing date 22 March 2010
Applications for the post of Director are invited from scholars of international standing in areas of study relevant to the Institute, viz the interdisciplinary study of the classical tradition, exploring the abiding influence of the ancient world on the art, thought, literature, religion and social customs of Europe and the Near East. For further information, see the University of London website.

Museums Galleries Scotland: Initiatives Manager (Local and National Government); closing date 22 March 2010
Museums Galleries Scotland is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual with experience of partnership working and a good understanding of the policy context at national and local level in Scotland. Further information from the Museums Galleries Scotland website.

Lambeth Palace Library: Volunteer Exhibition Steward; closing date 31 March 2010
The main priority for this volunteer role is to help to deliver all front-of-house operations for this special exhibition, which takes place from 17 May until 23 July 2010. Further details can be found on the Lambeth palace Library website.

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts: Director, closing date 7 April 2010
A skilful strategist is sought with proven high-level advocacy skills within the wider museum and gallery sector and significant experience of development fundraising with national strategic and funding bodies within the UK’s higher education and cultural sectors. Further information from the University of East Anglia website.

National Museum Wales: Director General; salary c £100,000; closing date 12 April 2010
Following the appointment of the current Director General, Michael Houlihan, to head the Museum of New Zealand, the trustees of National Museum Wales wish to recruit a successor to develop the museum in ways that inspire learning and connect people with the past present and future. Proven ability to lead a multi-disciplinary multi-site organisation and an appropriate knowledge of the work of museums and galleries is required. Further information from the website of the recruitment consultants Odgers.

University of Leicester: Chair in English Local History, closing date 16 April 2010
A scholar of international distinction in a field of local or regional history form the early medieval period to the present day is sought to provide leadership for the Centre for English Local History. For further information, see the University of Leicester website quoting job ref: AHL00039.

Royal Society: Executive Director; closing date 26 April 2010
To support the Fellowship, oversee the administration of the Society, help represent the Society to academic groups, government and industry and work with the President, Fellows and Foreign Members to build upon the Society’s global scientific leadership. For further details contact search consultants Heidrick & Struggles.

The Royal Collection: Dal Pozzo Project Research Assistant, salary c £21,000, closing date 3 May 2010
The post-holder will be responsible for the preparation of draft catalogue entries for 1,300 drawings, mainly after Roman sculpture, for the Dal Pozzo catalogue series. The successful candidate will possess a broad and detailed knowledge of Graeco-Roman world and classical archaeology, especially Roman sculpture, and familiarity with the collecting history of classical sculpture, with particular reference to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy; a relevant post-graduate qualification (or equivalent) and experience of working within archives; fluency in English and an excellent reading knowledge of Italian, Latin and (ideally) German. To apply online please visit the Royal Household website.