Salon Archive

Issue: 244

Forthcoming meetings

Thursday 18 November: ‘The Jewish catacombs of Roman Melite’, by Mario Buhagiar FSA

The Maltese city of Melite had, in common with other provincial outposts of the Roman empire, a diaspora Jewish colony for which there is eloquent testimony in a series of hypogea that prominently display the seven-branch menorah. One Greek inscription marks the burial place of a ‘gerousiarch’ and ‘lover of the commandments’, who might have been the head of the Council of Elders in the city’s synagogue, and of his wife Eulogia the Elder. The title ‘presbytera’ used in the text has a special significance and suggests that husband and wife held prestigious posts in the running of the colony. A second inscription commemorates a woman named Dionysia who was known by the ritualistic name Irene. Two other texts appear to be simple farewell messages but are of interest because they are accompanied by a boldly engraved sailing vessel that has the appearance of a Roman ship.

The lecture takes a close look at these and other archaeological evidence for Jewish presence and influence on Roman Malta. The hypogea are also discussed in the context of the Maltese culture of rock-cut burials, dating from the prehistoric period, and the special significance of the Romano-Punic tomb is discussed and its influence as a prototype.

Thursday 25 November: ‘Sir Hans Sloane: the accidental antiquary’, by Jill Cook FSA

Sir Hans Sloane was a physician, naturalist and collector whose own expressed interest was in investigating the natural world, especially plants and particularly those relevant to the practice of medicine. He is rarely spoken of as an antiquary, despite delivering to the nation the collection of books, manuscripts, prints, drawings and antiquities that were the foundation of the British Museum. Although research on his library and letters shows that he was a knowledgeable connoisseur, actively seeking rare or important items at the hub of a circle of men of letters, he was never a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and he published little of his own scholarship on antiquarian matters.

The exception is his work on a flint handaxe from Gray’s Inn Lane (renamed Gray’s Inn Road in the mid-nineteenth century) discovered with the remains of ‘elephants’. His investigations of these remains and others across Europe are among the first to deal with what is now called Pleistocene fauna and indicate that he was among those thinking about the age of the earth and periods when the climate was different. The papers also introduced the term ‘mammoth’ to a wider public and brought it into English usage.

Thursday 2 December: ‘Monastery to mansion: the London Charterhouse in the sixteenth century’, by Philip Temple

The Charterhouse, founded as a monastery in the late fourteenth century, has survived against the odds — in recent times as a school, medical college and now as an almshouse. This talk concentrates on the sometimes turbulent period before the almshouse came into being, new developments at the monastery from the late fifteenth century, the use of the buildings after its suppression in 1538 as lodgings and workshops for the king’s servants, their partial demolition and the creation of the great courtyard house that still exists today.

Thursday 9 December: Miscellany of Papers and mulled wine reception

Drawing on the knowledge gained through working in the Society’s library for thirty years, our Assistant Librarian, Adrian James, will discuss the Society’s wealth of early photographs, dating from the middle of the nineteenth century. Our Treasurer, Martin Millett, will then unveil a portrait of our former President Rosemary Cramp, painted by Beka Smith. Tickets for the mulled wine reception cost £10 and can be reserved by contacting Jola Zdunek, the Society’s Executive Assistant.

22 January 2011: ‘New insights into sixteenth- and seventeenth-century British Architecture’

This day-long seminar, hosted by the Society at Burlington House, includes the following speakers and papers: Martin Biddle on ‘Reconstructing Nonsuch: a digital analysis’, Kate Newland on ‘The acquisition and use of Norwegian timber in seventeenth-century Scotland’, Kent Rawlinson on ‘Household ceremony in the early sixteenth-century’, Emily Cole on ‘State apartments in Jacobean country houses’, Gillian White on ‘New light on Elizabethan Chatsworth’, Nick Molyneux on ‘Sir John Yonge’s house in Bristol: an architect identified?’, Edward Town on ‘Thomas Sackville and the transformation of Knole 1605—8’ and Matthew Walker on ‘The Wren/Hooke relationship re-examined’. For a booking form, please contact the organisers Claire Gapper or Paula Henderson.

Newly elected Fellows

At the ballot held on 11 November 2010, the following were elected to the Fellowship:

David Michael Brock, English Heritage Inspector of Historic Buildings responsible for central southern England, with specialist interests in the philosophy of conservation and in the history of thatching;
Robert Alan Parkinson, Historic Buildings Architect with English Heritage, International Secretary of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, with specialist interests in historic landscapes and conservation and the legacies of Morris and Rossetti;
John Joseph Wisdom, Librarian at St Paul’s Cathedral Library, with a deep knowledge of London, the City’s ecclesiastical history and the history of St Paul’s;
Danielle Caroline Schreve, Deputy Director of the Centre for Quaternary Research, Royal Holloway, University of London, a leading authority on the mammalian fauna of Pleistocene Britain and Europe and a specialist in the Palaeolithic settlement of Britain;
Simon William Gardner Davies, Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton, an international authority on the earliest Upper Palaeolithic occupation of Europe; co-editor of the ground-breaking volume, Neanderthals and Modern Humans in the European Landscape;
Frederick Peter Woodford, retired biochemist and civil servant, Editor of Camden History Society publications with a strong interest in local history, especially that of Camden;
Francis Peter Whitford, distinguished historian of the art and architecture of the German-speaking countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; curator of Royal Academy exhibitions and author of monographs on Kokoschka and Klimt, regular contributor the Sunday Times and TLS;
Linda Janet Hall, Secretary of the Vernacular Architecture Group, archaeologist specialising in rural and vernacular houses and author (with our Fellow Nat Alcock) of the standard reference work, Fixtures and Fittings in Dated Houses 1567—1763.

Feedback on the ‘Disneyfication’ debate

Not since the Stonehenge road scheme debate has Salon received such a volume of feedback as that which flooded in after the report in the last issue on the alleged ‘Disneyfication’ of historic properties by the National Trust. This is clearly a subject on which Fellows have strong views, and one that they regard as very important: in part because it gets to the heart of wider thinking about the links between heritage and tourism, with the inherent risks that heritage will be manipulated for commercial gain rather than valued for its educational and evidential value and that only those parts of the heritage that have tourism and revenue potential will be valued in the future.

On that point, one Fellow (who, like many of those who sent emails to Salon, asked not to be named) said ‘I would be less worried about letting children bounce on the double bed if I knew that behind the scenes the National Trust was furiously investing in conservation, but I am concerned this might not be the case because I have heard that curatorial and conservation expertise is at risk because of another round of re-structuring at the National Trust’. Another Fellow fears that the pursuit of new members, along with the high costs of marketing and brand development and of hiring a new breed of property managers to act as property impresarios, is likely to consume any extra revenue that is generated, so that the Trust’s strategy is in danger of becoming an end in itself rather than the means to an end.

Several Fellows said they strongly supported measures to make National Trust properties more accessible, but they were disappointed to read that the National Trust seemed to have opted for the ‘uncritical populism’ of bouncy beds and glimpses of the boudoir rather than the more difficult but worthwhile task of exploring and explaining stewardship and conservation. Today’s visitors expect to be able to interact and gain something from the experience of visiting a historic property, said one Fellow; gone are the days of passive tourism, when visitors were allowed to turn up and gaze on unlabelled furnishings and when room stewards had to be consulted if you wished to know the date of a painting. However, there are many ways of helping people to make sense of a house without adopting a simplistic approach. ‘The fact that Tate Modern is the most visited attraction in the UK suggests that people want to be challenged’, one Fellow said, adding that ‘archaeologists have managed to make intelligent and popular TV programmes that do not pander to the “treasure” instinct, so why cannot the owners of historic houses and gardens find creative ways to explain what makes their property special?’

Also anonymous was the leader in Country Life for 3 November 2010, though we can be fairly confident that it reflects the views of our Fellow John Goodall, since he is the magazine’s Architectural Editor and was one of the participants in the debate staged at the National Trust’s AGM. The editorial said that nobody would quarrel with the idea that it is a good thing to try and bring properties to life for visitors. What needed to be asked was whether the Trust’s ‘recent efforts and future proposals in this respect were worthy of it as an institution … lighting fires and letting people use the furniture do not inform the public or improve their understanding of buildings’.

The leader then went on to say that ‘hunger for information about the past’ has never been ‘keener or more discerning’, and that the Trust should respond by arming itself through fresh research with a better understanding of the riches in its possession, so as to present the past engagingly but appropriately. ‘The worry with the [Trust’s] ambitious and exciting plan [to increase membership from 3.8 to 5 million] is that fine art and architecture will be condemned as an old-guard and elitist preoccupation’, the leader concluded, calling on the Trust to ensure that in seeking new audiences it does not ‘destroy the enjoyment of the old’.

One Fellow was prepared to go on the record and be quoted. Melanie Hall says that she writes wearing several hats: ‘one as Director of Museum Studies at Boston University, the other as a board member (until recently) of a small house museum, the Nichols House, on Boston's Beacon Hill that is taking itself through the American Association of Museums’ accreditation process. To this end, I have chaired its Collections Committee and am currently chairing its Scholars Interpretation Committee. I am also a life member of the Trust, have been an “expert volunteer lecturer”, have written on the Trust’s origins, and am able to compare approaches to the presentation of properties having worked for English Heritage.’

In the USA, says Melanie, there has been a keen debate about the pros and cons of ‘edutainment’ or ‘eduleisure’ since these terms were first coined in the 1970s by Robert Heyman, the maker of documentaries for National Geographic, who pioneered the use of film formats that are designed to educate as well as entertain. Lessons have been learned since then that are pertinent to the National Trust debate. For example, many museums now encourage the handling of objects, but they distinguish between objects that would suffer through handling and towards which the museum has a duty of care and those that are robust enough to be handled or that have no intrinsic value. Just as importantly, museums recognise that they have an educational and professional responsibility to explain curation to the public and spell out the differences between objects that can be touched and those that cannot. ‘This is done very successfully at the ARC in York’, says Melanie, adding that ‘archaeologists in general seem to manage to explain their profession remarkably well and improve visitor engagement without dumbing down’.

‘If the National Trust is to be taken seriously as a professional organisation, then it needs to explain how and why it does what it does. It has charitable status and thus has responsibilities that make it qualitatively different from such organisations as Disney or the X-factor shows mentioned in the debate. The one is professional, voluntaristic and charitable; the others are purely commercial and are not subject to the same restrictions. While the Trust certainly has to make sufficient money to maintain its properties, it is not simply commercial. Otherwise, it might just as well turn the houses into hotels and host pop festivals in its parks and forget about any other disciplinary interests.’

Melanie feels strongly that instead of increasing its revenue by commercialising the heritage, the National Trust, and the sector as a whole, should be lobbying for American-style tax incentives for philanthropic support of the arts, medicine, educational charities, and so on (about which see the report on ‘Philanthropic giving and the arts’ below). To follow this path has many potential benefits in terms of engaging people in understanding conservation and interpretation work, including those wealthy figures in the community whose support for heritage does much to help promote the conservation cause. On the evidence of what is given to domestic charities in the United States, these fiscal incentives do work and British charities (including the Trust) that are currently reduced to having ‘American Friends of … ’ in order to get some of the benefits of the US system would benefit greatly, as would willing British donors who are currently denied such tax advantages.

In the American world of philanthropy, cultural organisations work hard to attract public figures as trustees who happy to support the organisation with their wealth and their advocacy but, says Melanie, ‘our Fellow Sir Simon Jenkins, as Chairman of the National Trust, would be obliged to lead the giving. The entire community of trustees, friends, fellows, associates (call them what you will) are all expected to give; only if an organisation can show that its members are giving (and that means over and above membership fees) is it likely to attract outside funding and the support of other wealthy patrons. Prospective donors scrutinised this sort of thing with great care, as indeed they scrutinise what the “professionals” do with anything in their care — whether new money or old furniture.’

What does it take to be a National Trust Property Manager?

With interest in the National Trust’s new strategy shared by the public at large as well as by heritage professionals, the Sunday Times ran a feature on 17 October 2010 in which journalist Giles Hattersley asked what it would be like to be in charge of Petworth House, with its staff of thirty and a volunteer force of 335. The Trust has so far failed to find anyone ‘up to the job’, and so the Trust’s Assistant Director for the Southeast, Maggie Morgan, agreed to put Giles through an interview in order to ‘raise awareness about a serious staffing issue’.

The interview lasted six hours, and included a working lunch in which Giles was expected to critique ‘the catering offer’, and a staff meeting where he was quizzed on his plans to improve the ‘visitor experience’, and how to ‘save a further £20k from the operating bottom line’. Early on in the day, Giles concludes that the job requires someone who ‘has a deep love and respect for conservation, architecture, art, ecology and the past, has already run a fair-sized company and is, above all, a brilliant fundraiser and commercial whiz who can turn Petworth into Thorpe Park without doing anything that will detract from the integrity of its history’.

However, as the day progresses, he begins to wonder why the Trust needs him at all: every time he comes up with an idea, it turns out that they have thought of that already and that there are ‘logistical reasons’ (and other reasons hinted at rather than specified) why, for example, Petworth cannot open for an extra day a week or why food cannot be served out of doors, or why the grounds could not be used for an international art fair.

In the end he decides that the job boils down to ‘working out ways to make more money’, because ,as well as the sheer cost of maintaining the property, new ideas need seed money. ‘The money is out there, but it needs someone with the right skills to go and get it’, the Acting General Manager tells him. As for the pay? ‘Around the late forties’ he is told but, when Giles wonders why any high-flyer would be attracted by such a small sum relative to what they could earn in the private sector, the Head Gardener, Gary Liddle, reminds him ‘this is not a job — it’s a way of life; nobody works for the National Trust for money’.

Arts, Buildings, Collections Bulletin autumn issue

That the highest standards of conservation work do prevail at the National Trust is amply demonstrated by the latest issue of the ABC Bulletin, edited by our Fellow David Adshead, the Trust’s Head Curator (copies can be downloaded from the Trust’s website). This issue contains a report by Trust archaeologists Guy Salkeld on the restoration of the Roman mosaics at Chedworth Roman villa, on the work that has gone into restoring Wordsworth’s birthplace in Cockermouth after the floods of last November, and an illuminating essay on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century country house guidebooks (many of them written by the FSAs of their day) by Oliver Garnett, the National Trust’s Property Publisher. Garnett reveals (perhaps tongue in cheek) that Sir Richard Colt Hoare was happy to allow visitors to view the ground-floor rooms at Stourhead, but that there were limits to his hospitality: visiting in 1810, Louis Simond records that: ‘One of the ladies and myself having sat down a moment to look at a picture more conveniently, a young girl who showed the house told us, as civilly as she could, that it was the rule of the house not to allow visitors to sit down.’

Who owns Britain?

Staying with Country Life (and the National Trust) this week’s issue analyses data from the Land Registry to answer the question ‘who owns the land in Britain?’, a contemporary version of the Return of Owners of Land in England and Wales 1873 that was mentioned in ‘Books by Fellows’ in Salon 243. Back in 1873, the British countryside was largely owned by the Church, the royal family and a bevy of aristocrats. Today, charities, businesses and the Government are the leading owners. Topping the table at just over 1m hectares is the Forestry Commission, followed by the National Trust (252,000ha), the Ministry of Defence, pension funds and public utilities (all owning around 250,000ha). The Crown Estate comes sixth, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury is the highest ranking aristocrat at eighth (100,000ha) and the Church is nowhere to be seen.

On the other hand, the aristocracy still own a goodly chunk of Britain: more than a third of the land is owned by the traditional landed gentry, Country Life claims, adding that a further 25 per cent could be in aristocratic hands as it has never been registered: registration is only compulsory if land changes hands or if it is mortgaged.

Forestry sales cause concern

Whether the Forestry Commission is still at the top of the list five years hence is open to doubt given that the Government announced at the end of October that it was looking at ways of selling 150,000ha of its forestry estate. The announcement, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that the aim was to reduce the role of the state and increase the role of the private sector and civil society in owning and managing England’s woodland and forest.

Environmental groups reacted with alarm to the proposals and warned that they would oppose any plans that that compromised woodland conservation. Local protests have taken place in the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest against the plans amidst fears that ancient trees will be cut down by commercial loggers and that holiday villages, adventure parks and golf courses will take the place of woodland. The Open Spaces Society has also pointed out that the public has a right to roam on 90 per cent of the freehold Forestry Commission land in England (an area the size of West Sussex); it has called on the minister to guarantee that those public rights of access will continue, regardless of ownership, and that the quality of those rights will be maintained.

Caroline Spelman, DEFRA Secretary of State, responded by saying that these fears were ungrounded and that the aim is not ‘a quick sale of some of our most valuable environmental assets, but the start of a new approach to making their protection more local and less central’. A consultation paper will be published shortly. Meanwhile, the Woodland Trust also called for money raised by such sales to be returned to the forestry sector to support the restoration and maintenance of ancient woodland and the planting of new native woodland to combat climate change.

As do plans to ‘reform’ English National Parks

But a consultation document published by the same department of state this week has done nothing to allay fears about the Government’s intentions. This time the issue is the Government’s desire to make National Parks ‘responsive to the concerns of their local communities’ by placing economic and conservation considerations on an equal footing, thus making it easier for housing estates and business parks to gain planning approval.

Neil Sinden, Policy and Campaigns Director for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that requiring National Parks authorities to promote economic progress would subvert the existing two objectives enshrined in the 1949 Act, of conserving the environment and landscape and encouraging public access. The Act also says that conservation should take precedence in the event of a clash. The Act of 1995 amended this to add the new role of ‘fostering the economic and social wellbeing of local communities’, although this has been always been considered secondary to the original core priorities.

Neglected ruins of Pompeii declared a 'disgrace to Italy'

Whatever the fate of England’s woods and National Parks, one cannot help feeling that they will be better cared for than Pompeii, which was declared ‘a disgrace’ by Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, following the collapse on 6 November of the Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani (‘the House of the Gladiators’), destroying the frescos of gladiators that gave the building its name. Corriere della Serra said the state of Pompeii symbolised ‘the sloppiness and inefficiencies of a country that has lost its good sense’.

The collapse has drawn attention to the scale of the task facing Pompeii’s custodians, the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Napoli e Pompei (SANP) and the Italian culture ministry. Our Fellow Andrew Wallace-Hadrill told the media that: ‘It is quite possible to spend tens of millions [on maintenance] and still not protect the site. It’s not that we have Roman houses in a pristine state, nor were they ever built or intended to last for ever. Ultimately these [structures] are so unique that we’re trying to get more out of them than they were ever designed to do.’

In its report on the collapse, the Guardian said that the Berlusconi government has made deep cuts to state spending on heritage spending, cutting maintenance budgets for the nation as a whole from €30m to €19m. Added to this is the habit of visitors of taking bits of Pompeii home as a souvenir. Faced with these problems, says Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, ‘it is insulting to suggest that Pompeii is being neglected by its custodians: these people are doing the best that they can in a difficult situation because they love the site’.

Italy’s Culture Minister, Sandro Bondi, has responded to the situation by announcing the establishment of a new foundation to assess the state of decay and deciding what action to take. Critics are concerned that Bondi favours the restoration of a select number of prestige buildings, rather than what they believe is necessary, which is a programme of continuous small-scale maintenance across the whole of Pompeii, as has been practised successfully at nearby Herculaneum, where the Soprintendenza, the Packard Humanities Institute, an American philanthropic foundation, and the British School at Rome have been working together on the largest private heritage sponsorship scheme in Italy.

Sarah Court, a British archaeologist working on the Herculaneum conservation project, says the aim is not to fix the odd ‘dodgy’ mosaic but to deal with the root cause. At Herculaneum that means tackling site drainage with the strategic placement of guttering and the use of pumps to remove rain and groundwater from the site. ‘Because nobody lives there any more’, she says, ‘there is nobody to do the necessary DIY on a regular basis.’

‘Save our Archives’ protest in Paris

In France the tradition whereby Presidents strive for immortality by building a monument that bears their name has caused staff at France’s National Archives in Paris to occupy the building and barricade themselves behind a wall of box files. They are protesting against Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to make them share their home in the Hôtel de Soubise with a new Museum of National History.

A new archive store has been promised elsewhere, and the Hôtel de Soubise is bursting at the seams, but staff at the National Archives do not wish to share their building with a museum that they see as promoting Sarkozy’s right-wing ideology for electoral purposes. The President wants work on the new museum to start in time for his 2012 re-election campaign, declaring that the aim of ‘his’ museum is to ‘reinforce national identity’. It will focus on a the great figures in French history.

The emphasis on ‘national identity’ has been attacked by academics as dangerous, inward-looking and risks excluding the country’s long history of migration, while telling the story of kings and emperors, not of the people. ‘We absolutely must fight to stop this project, or else totally transform it’, said Nicolas Offenstadt, a historian at the Sorbonne. ‘No historian can accept history being used to serve a political ideology, as part of a narrow, exclusive form of nationalism. There is no deep reflection on history or museography at play here, just a backward-looking project used to support a political ideology.’

Meanwhile staff have draped the exterior of the building with banners saying ‘Save our Archives’, and take it in turns to sleep in the foyer to protect the building and its contents, declaring that they will never give up.

The uses and abuses of history

On this side of the Channel, debate about the uses and abuses of history was sparked by the speech given at the Conservative Party conference held in October when Education Secretary Michael Gove said that British history would be placed at the heart of a ‘back-to-basics national curriculum’ under Government plans to ‘free children from the prison house of ignorance’. He went on to say that one of the ‘under-appreciated tragedies of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past’, and he announced that his department had asked Simon Schama, the historian, ‘to redraft our island story for twenty-first-century kids’, in a move to ensure all pupils learn Britain’s ‘island story’ before leaving school.

Last week, writing in the Guardian, Simon Schama gave a hint of what that updating might involve, accompanied by his list of ‘six key events no child should miss’. Schama insisted that historical enquiry ‘is not the uncritical genealogy of the Wonderfulness of Us, but it is, indispensably, an understanding of the identity of us. The endurance of British history’s rich and rowdy discord is, in fact, the antidote to civic complacency, the condition of the irreverent freedom that’s our special boast.’

In this he is echoing Margaret MacMillan, whose influential book on The Uses and Abuses of History argues that history should not be comfort food, but should open your mind, give you the ability to ask good questions and make you aware of alternatives. ‘Dictators don't do choice’ is her rallying cry for history done properly, rather than presented as nationalistic propaganda.

Schama is equally keen to present history as iconoclastic in spirit: ‘Kids need to know they belong to a history that’s bigger, broader, more inclusive than the subject they imagine to be the saga of remote grandees alien to their traditions and irrelevant to their present. A truly capacious British history will not be the feeder of identity politics but its dissolvent. In the last resort, all serious history is about entering the lives of others, separated by place and time. It is the greatest, least sentimental, least politically correct tutor of tolerance.’

He quotes from Historical Association debates chaired by our Fellow David Cannadine to the effect that not teaching history is socially divisive, creating two nations of young Britons: those who grow up with a body of knowledge that informs their lives and shapes their sense of community, and those who have been encouraged to treat history as ‘little more than ornamental polishing for the elite’.

How the change will be brought about is for teachers and politicians to work out, but what every child should learn, Schama says, is the thrilling conflict between religious, royal and secular ideas of law and sovereignty embodied in the persons of Thomas Becket and Henry II; about the Black Death, and the Peasants Revolt and how plague changed the balance of power between rich and poor; about the ‘terrifying epic moment in British history’ that led to the execution of Charles I; about ‘the Indian moment’, and how a country that ‘got kicked out of most of America came to rule an immense part of the subcontinent in two generations’; about William Gladstone, Charles Parnell and the Irish wars; and about the opium wars and China.

The response from professional historians has been supportive, though many wished to add the Industrial Revolution, enclosure, the two world wars and the rise of the working class to the list of important topics. Dr Sarah Ansari, Head of the History Department at Royal Holloway, University of London, speaks for many when she wrote to the Guardian thanking Simon Schama for putting the case for revitalising history teaching in schools so passionately and teaching ‘a long-term view of the past, rather than the series of parachute drops on discrete periods in existing syllabi’. She did, though, question the focus on our ‘island story’, characterising Anglocentric history as a ‘one-eyed view of the past … surely he will agree that schoolchildren need to know about the world in which they live and not just the country that they inhabit, and the need to understand history isn’t only about “who we are”, but also very much about who others are (and were), and how we differ from each other.’

New light on ancient Papua New Guinea

Maybe, just maybe, if we want students to understand who we all are and where we all came from, it is archaeology that should be the compulsory subject in schools, not history. What could be more absorbing than to learn about the evolution of the human species, our epic migrations across the globe and the development of all those characteristics that make us human? What could be more salutary than to place religion, warfare, empires, elites, industry, trade, art and even history itself into the long perspective of millennia rather than centuries, and to ask where all this is leading to?

With that in mind, we report on newly published research carried out by our Fellow Glenn Summerhayes and his colleagues in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that is throwing new light on early human migration from Africa to Sahul, the land mass that once joined PNG to Australia until rising sea levels turned PNG into an island about 10,000 years ago. Contrary to the idea that early human migration was based on adaptation to a purely coastal way of life, Glenn and his team have found evidence for early occupation in the much more harsh environment of the Ivane Valley in PNG’s western highlands at 2,000 metres above sea level.

Publishing their research in the journal Science, Summerhayes’ team reports finding seven ancient camps in the valley. Radiocarbon dates from one site, Vilakuav, put it at between 49,000 and 43,000 years old, with other sites dating from between 41,400 and 26,000 years ago. Material evidence includes waisted axes — which Glenn believes were used to clear trees and open up patches of forest to sunlight so that edible and medicinal plants could grow faster — stone tool-making debris, stone tools with yam starch residues, charred Pandanus nut shells and burned bone fragments from unidentified animals that could have included possums, tree kangaroos, bats, frogs, anteaters, lizards, snakes and birds.

‘This is among the earliest evidence of human habitation in this part of the world, or indeed any place outside Africa, India and the Middle East’, Glenn said, and it shows that early migrants were not restricting their activity to the lowland rainforests and savannas of the coastal plain, but were also heading for the hills and using the resources of the Ivane Valley, despite the adverse environment of thin air, cold temperatures and harsh habitat.

Archaeologist Dr Andrew Fairbairn from the University of Queensland, who worked with Glenn on the research, says this suggests early humans lived in small nomadic populations that moved up and down the mountains of Papua New Guinea in search of food and that were clearly very mobile. ‘It was a very cold period in history and these people were both resourceful and capable to be able to live at this altitude’, he says.

Commenting on the discoveries in a related article in the same issue of Science, our Fellow Chris Gosden says that ‘crucial survival skills in the intellectual arsenal [of these early migrants] included an ability to remember complex travel routes and to identify potentially edible and possibly lethal plants’. He also says that it is unlikely that early humans were living permanently in what is a ‘cold, difficult and uncompromising place’, but that they were probably visiting the highlands on a seasonal basis; starch grains from yams recovered in the valley appear to support this, having most likely been transported there from their natural sub-tropical coastal habitat.

Archaeology debated in the House of Lords

In the House of Lords on 11 November 2010, our Fellow Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Baroness Rawlings, Government Spokesperson on Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport in the House of Lords, whether the Government intended to review the definition of ‘treasure’ in the Treasure Act 1996 in the light of the sale at auction of the Crosby Garrett helmet. Baroness Rawlings replied that the DCMS did indeed intend to carry out a consultation and review, and that this would include the question of whether it would be appropriate to extend the definition of treasure to include items such as the Roman parade helmet found at Crosby Garrett.

Lord Renfrew also asked ‘where the Crosby Garrett helmet is now and who bought it; and whether the Government would consider reviewing the law on antiquities at sale by auction in favour of some transparency’? Baroness Rawlings replied that it would be a breach of the principles of confidentiality and data protection for information about buyers and sellers to be released into the public domain without their consent and that she was unable to tell him where the helmet is.

Lord Allan of Hallam referred to the ‘valuable work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in recording important archaeological information about finds under the Treasure Act, such as the helmet, and asked for assurances about the future funding and management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the light of the announcement that the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is to be wound up by April 2012. Baroness Rawlings said in reply: ‘I am pleased to confirm that the scheme will continue. Discussions are taking place about the best way for it to be managed and funded.’

In reply to a question about Government policy on the support of archaeology put by our Fellow Lord Howarth of Newport, Baroness Rawlings said that measures included in the Coroners and Justice Act to improve the treasure system will be implemented, though ministers are still considering the feasibility of a coroner for treasure and the DCMS and the Ministry of Justice are working together to assess the extent to which measures on treasure may be implemented within current financial constraints.

Planning consent for William Morris Gallery extension

Waltham Forest Council has given planning permission for a three-storey £3.75m extension to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, east London. The scheme involves adding a new exhibition gallery, tea room and specialist storage space, and it is hoped the extension will be open in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. The main building will also be refurbished to provide educational facilities and more exhibition space.

John Pringle, director of Pringle Richards Sharratt, the architectural firm that has designed the extension, said the main challenge was to design an extension in keeping with the Grade II* listed main building, which was built in 1740 and was the home of Morris between 1848 and 1865. ‘There was a wing on the side of the building that was demolished in about 1900’, he said, so the project was about ‘putting back a wing, but conveying something of its new use as a gallery’. The scheme is part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is providing £1.5m. The rest of the money is being given by a number of organisations, including the Monument Trust, the Friends of the William Morris Gallery and Waltham Forest Council.

Feedback

With reference to the suggestion in the last issue of Salon that badgers can be prevented from digging in churchyards through the use of ultrasonic electronic deterrents, Nick Kelly sounds a note of caution and says that the use of such devices ‘could easily fall foul of stringent wildlife protection legislation in place to protect populations of bats, which in many cases reside within churches. Bats enjoy equal levels of legal protection with built and sub-surface heritage and any scheme to mitigate the effects of badgers should be carefully designed and managed to avoid not only the punitive fines and custodial sentences that could result from disturbance to resident bats, but also any reputational injury.’

Fellow Adam Wilkinson responds to the report that ‘the US government’s voluntary contribution to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund was just US$694,100 in 2009’ by pointing out that the UK’s record in this respect is not proud: ‘the UK gives about US$200,000 and one suspects that HMG’s contribution won’t survive the cuts. The Fund total is £4m — so the USA’s contribution is probably the largest’. A better sense of who is supporting World Heritage Sites financially can be gained, Adam says, by looking at the Funds in Trust.

News of Fellows

Congratulations are due to our Fellow Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, who was appointed a member of the Order of Merit by Her Majesty The Queen on 4 November 2010. The Order of Merit was founded in 1902 by Edward VII, to honour individuals of exceptional distinction in science and the arts and admission to the order is the personal gift of the Sovereign rather than a ministerial appointment. The number of members is limited to twenty four; our Fellow Sir David Attenborough was appointed in 2005.

Christine Finn’s ongoing and evolving project bringing art and archaeology together through the excavation of her parental home is heading for Italy next week when, from 22 to 27 November, photos from four years of excavation and installation will be exhibited in the medieval village of Labro; more on this can be found on the website of Labro’s Art Monastery Project.

Philanthropic giving and the arts

Neil MacGregor is also busy preparing a report for the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, on the feasibility of developing endowments to support the UK’s cultural institutions. The study will help to inform the Government’s strategy of encouraging philanthropic giving. Ahead of the MacGregor report, the organisation called Arts & Business has published the results of its own survey — Arts philanthropy: the facts, trends and potential — to assess the potential for growth in charitable giving.

The report says that donations reached a record high in 2008, at £382 million. Since then there has been a slight decline to £363 million for the financial year 2008/9, the latest for which figures are available. Only 2 per cent of philanthropically active individuals in the UK give to the arts, and they contribute 8 per cent of the arts’ total income. The arts are not yet benefiting from legacies: only 8 per cent attract this source of income, though legacies are estimated to be worth around £1.9 billion a year to the charitable sector as a whole.

The report also says that people who support the arts tend also to be amongst the more affluent members of society and the most generous donors to charitable causes; the challenge thus lies in persuading those individuals to engage philanthropically with the arts, which they have perhaps viewed in the past as a consumer activity. Arts organisations need to offer more than tickets, gift-shops and cafes, and to engage more actively with their supporters through added-value friends schemes.

The report concludes that there is potential to increase charitable giving to the arts and that it is a long way from reaching a plateau but that this source of funds will never replace public funding, and should be seen as an additional source of income, which works best when it is targeted at specific goals, as we have seen recently in the campaigns to raise funds for the Staffordshire Hoard and Crosby Garrett helmet.

Lives remembered

Having asked for news of Fellow John Leopold in the last issue of Salon, it was sad to learn that he had died on 2 February 2010. Our Fellow David Thompson, of the British Museum, has supplied the following obituary.

‘Many years ago, I remember the keeper of Medieval and Later Antiquities here at the British Museum describing John Leopold as a “Renaissance Man”. He looked after the important Dutch silver collections in Groningen, he was without doubt one of the world’s leading horological historians as well as being a true polymath and linguist. He was fluent in Dutch, English, German and French and he had no trouble reading the daily newspapers of Rome from the time of Caesar to the present day. His translation and interpretation of the Almanus Manuscript written in medieval Latin in about 1480 remains a major contribution to our body of knowledge.

‘When Richard Good retired as horological curator in 1986, the post fell vacant and when it was finally advertised in 1988 both Jeremy Evans and I were pleased and honoured that John accepted the post. John certainly did come to the museum as that Renaissance man. Whilst his main area of expertise undoubtedly lay in the early history of clocks, he nevertheless had such a profound understanding of the subject in its broadest terms. He was at equally at home with a stackfreed watch as he was with the subtleties of electrical horology and always more than willing to share his knowledge with us all. When it came to epicyclic gearing, the more complex the nest of gears, then the more pleasure John would derive from unravelling its mysteries.

‘If John had one fault it was that perhaps he expected us all to keep up with him. He might refer to something like a reference in Huygens’ Oeuvres Complete and forget that not everyone has read the original Latin version and all thirty-seven volumes. But if you didn’t know something, he would say in answer to a tricky question, “Ah yes, I think if you look in (such and such a book) of (whatever date), there is a reference there about that”, and sure enough, there it would be.

‘Others will doubtless remember John’s passion for birds and we all remember how he would leave for his annual trip to Vlieland for two weeks of tranquillity and undisturbed ornithological diversion. He would announce with great delight that there was only one telephone on the island and that the number was a closely guarded secret. I personally owe a great deal to John as a generous teacher and a good friend who was never too busy to spare time to look at clocks and watches and to share his meticulous observations, or indeed to subject us to his dry and incisive wit. He is fondly remembered by me, Paul Buck, Jeremy Evans and Christopher Worseley, who all had the privilege of working with him. With his passing we all feel a serious loss and our thoughts, of course, are with his widow and our dear friend, Clare.’

Our sympathies are also extended to our Fellow Kate Pretty, whose husband, Professor Tjeerd Hendrik van Andel, earth scientist, died on 17 September 2010, at the age of eighty-seven. An obituary in The Times said that Tjeerd van Andel had a career spanning two continents and several countries, taking him from the ocean deeps to the depths of human prehistory. From working as a geologist in the oil industry he moved into academe, holding an endowed chair in oceanography at Stanford University, then returned to an earlier interest in archaeology to study human relationships with the evolving landscape, working with Michael Jameson and our Fellow Curtis Runnels, who were surveying in Greece and enlisted his help as a geologist.

When he left Stanford to come to Cambridge in 1988, van Andel became an Honorary Professor, a title just coined by the University, of which van Andel was one of the first recipients. He finally stopped teaching when he was eighty, having lectured for half a century. At the same time he was working on a final major venture, the multi-disciplinary Stage Three Project, which aimed to model the landscapes known to the Neanderthals. Van Andel was one of more than thirty eminent scientists who contributed their knowledge of everything from sea-levels and ice-caps to flora, fauna and human physiology to an international effort to model the Neanderthal universe. They demonstrated that ice-caps were smaller and tundra zones more wooded than had previously been imagined. The resulting book set new questions for future scholars to ponder and investigate.

We should also note the passing the death of Ehud Netzer, the Israeli archaeologist who spent his career in pursuit of Herod the Great, ruler of Judaea from about 37 BC until his death in about 4 BC, determined to show that the Biblical monster was really a man of ‘outstanding talent’. In excavating a series of monumental sites in the Holy Land, including the Herodion, Herod’s palace complex built on an artificial hill close to Bethlehem, Netzer was central in shedding light on Herod’s rule, presenting him as a visionary ‘builder-king’, whose architectural legacy has endured for 2,000 years. Netzer’s full obituary can be read in the Daily Telegraph.

Events

3 December 2010: Voice of the People: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Folksong. This performance by Coope, Boyes & Simpson, Fi Fraser, Jo Freya and Georgina Boyes of songs and carols collected by Vaughan Williams is a rare opportunity to hear the original sources of some of the composer’s best-loved music for church and concert hall. The concert takes place at 7.30pm in St Michael’s Church, Coxwold, York YO61 4AD, costs £10 and is in aid of the Laurence Sterne Trust. To book, contact the Trust.

9 December 2010: ‘Mapping the Silk Roads’, the ICOMOS-UK Christmas Lecture and Wine Reception is to be given by our Fellow Tim Williams, Senior Lecturer at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, at 6.30pm at The Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EL. For further information see the ICOMO-UK website.

As part of a UNESCO-ICOMOS project to identify and conserve potential sites along the Silk Roads as part of a World Heritage Site serial nomination, Tim Williams and Paul Wordsworth, UCL, have been commissioned by ICOMOS to develop a Thematic Study to put individual sites into context. Tim will talk about the outcomes of this study, which is beginning to provide for the first time an analysis of the profile, distribution and distinctiveness of the existing sites (cities, forts, caravanserai, temples and decorated grottoes, many of them built of earth and in a fragile condition) and how they might be seen as manifestations of shifting systems of power and patronage along the roads.

Throughout 2010 and 2011: Professional Training in the Historic Environment. Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education has a full programme of historic environment courses coming up funded by English Heritage as part of its capacity-building activities, in partnership with the Archaeology Training Forum (ATF), the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). Full details can be seen on the department’s website. The courses range from one-day training workshops on such topics as researching architectural drawings, mapping and interpreting aerial photographs, or getting to grips with such planning tools as PPS5 or conservation area appraisals and management plans, to five-day practical courses with a major fieldwork component, on the techniques of archaeological survey or on historic buildings survey and recording.

12 February 2011: Brasses, Effigies, Conservation and Humour: a Day to Celebrate the Life and Work of Claude Blair, to be held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London. As the late Claude Blair was the first President of the Church Monuments Society and the senior Vice-President of the Monumental Brass Society, the two sister societies are holding a joint meeting to honour his life and his work relating to the study of church monuments. Speakers for this event are Fellows Richard Knowles, Philip Lankester, Brian and Moira Gittos, Mark Downing, Sally Badham, Nicholas Rogers, Nigel Saul, Paul Cockerham and Julian Luxford. The cost for members of the Church Monuments Society and the Monumental Brass Society is £18 and for non-members £25. For a full programme see the Church Monuments Society website.

13 to 15 April 2011, Institute for Archaeologists annual conference call for papers. Papers are now being sought for the IfA’s 2011 conference, to be held at the University of Reading on the theme of ‘Understanding significance: the key to assessing, managing and explaining the historic environment’. Details of the session and workshops that will be held during the event can be downloaded from the IfA website, and the deadline for 200-word proposals is 6 December 2010.

29 April 2010, ‘Personal Histories of Ethology and Primatology’, with Professor Robert Hinde, Dame Jane Goodall, Professor Richard Wrangham and Professor Bill McGrew, to be held in the Babbage Lecture Theatre, Downing Street, Cambridge, from 3.45pm to 6pm. This event is already proving very popular so book early to reserve a free seat by sending an email to personalhistories2009@googlemail.com. More information can be found on the new Personal Histories blog.

Books by Fellows

Our Fellow Simon Jervis is typically modest when he writes of his latest book, British and Irish Inventories: a list and bibliography of published transcriptions of secular inventories (ISBN 9780903335157): ‘I would not feel in the least bit offended were you to draw attention to the work's soporific qualities or compare it with, say, a telephone directory or Beachcomber's List of Huntingdonshire Cabmen. It is not immortal prose, although some might find the introductory essay moderately amusing.’

In fact, this compilation of all known transcriptions of secular inventories published between 1721 and 2009 for Britain and Ireland is likely to prove an invaluable resource for anyone studying the materiality (apologies to those who are allergic to theoretical terms) of the domestic realm. This volume lists more than 12,300 transcriptions, ordered first by date and then by location within county, with references to a substantial bibliography of more than 900 entries. In addition, there are extensive indexes of names, locations, trades, professions, titles and institutions.

The inventories in the list range in date from 1278 to 1864, with a preponderance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and are mainly English, though numerous Scottish, Welsh and Irish examples, and a smattering from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, are also included. They throw light on the furnishings and artefacts used in the grandest palaces and in the humblest of peasant dwellings, and include the odd Masonic lodge, college and livery company.

Details of how to order a copy can be found at the bottom of the ‘Special Publications’ page on the Furniture History Society website. The 475-page book costs £23.95, which is a bargain in the light of the prices now being asked in the second-hand market for Simon’s first book for the Furniture History Society, his Printed Furniture Designs before 1650 (1974), now selling at £132 and US$375.

Similarly priced (at £24.99) is Fellow Jeremy Hodgkinson’s new highly illustrated book on British Cast-Iron Firebacks of the Sixteenth to the mid-Eighteenth Centuries (ISBN 9780956672605: Hodgersbooks), which, astonishingly, is the first book ever to be published on the subject of British firebacks, which began to be made in the first half of the sixteenth century. Jeremy, whose first book, on the Wealden Iron Industry, was published in 2008, describes their development and the variety of decoration to be found on them, showing that their motifs reflect the social history of their times, whether in the heraldry of royalty and the landed class, the religious and political turmoil of the Stuart period, or the beginnings of the Enlightenment and the rediscovery of classical literature.

Containing papers first given at a conference held at the Courtauld Institute in 2008, The Temple Church in London: history, architecture and art (ISBN 9781843834984; Boydell Press), is edited by our Fellows Robin Griffith-Jones (Master of the Temple) and David Park, with Fellows Christopher Wilson, Philip Lankester and Rosemary Sweet among the contributors. Again it is a surprise to discover that this important medieval building, architecturally innovative, standing at the crux of Romanesque and the earliest English Gothic, filled with exceptional effigies and the main church of the Knights Templar in England, has never before been the subject of a full-length study. On the other hand it has been much drawn and photographed and its effigies cast in plaster and so the contributors to this volume were able to draw on a rich legacy of antiquarian material, reproduced here in the form of numerous black-and-white and colour plates, illustrating the history of a church that was completed around 1160 and that has survived with all its power to instil a sense of awe intact, despite the traumas the church suffered during the Blitz of 1941.

Another book that is a joy to read and handle is the Royal School of Needlework’s Handbook of Embroidery of 1880, by Letitia Higgin, in a new edition with an extensive introductory essay by our Fellow Lynn Hulse (ISBN: 9780956645500; Royal School of Needlework). Lynn’s introduction looks at the early history of the Royal School of Needlework (RSN), the background to the publication of the Handbook, and the influence that it had on the revival of embroidery, reclaiming ‘the high place that it once held among the decorative arts’, and the development of art needlework in the UK and the USA in the last decades of the nineteenth century. What set the RSN apart from similar enterprises specialising in church vestments and furnishings was its dedication to secular needlework, and its focus on ‘modern’ embroidery, so that the Handbook incorporates designs by such leading artists of the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements as William Morris, Edward Burne Jones, Walter Crane and Fairfax Wade.

The Handbook was an enormous success, but there was no subsequent edition for reasons that Lynn’s introduction lays out in forensic detail for the first time, and that had to do with a dispute over who owned the copyright — Letitia (Lily) Higgin, the RSN’s Assistant Secretary, whose manuscript it was based upon, or Lady Marian Alford, who was credited in the first edition as the editor. Lynn’s account of committee meetings and judicial reviews, of letters to The Times and of resignations provides a fascinating insight into the world of publishing and copyright in the late nineteenth century and of the battle of wills between the two women: both ultimately fared well, Lady Alford publishing a separate work, Needlework as Art (1886), still one of the best histories of English needlework to be published, while Lily Higgin went on to be a best-selling novelist and guidebook writer, as well as the proprietor of a successful West End business, the Society of Associated Artists, specialising in embroidered costume.

Vacancy

National Museum Wales: President; closing date: 25 November 2010
The Welsh Assembly Government, in consultation with the Trustees of Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales, is to appoint a President to succeed Paul Loveluck who will be stepping down in September 2011 after nine years in office. The President chairs the Board of Trustees which has overall responsibility for the management of the finances and property of the charity and for the strategic direction of the museum, and leads discussion with Assembly Government ministers. The President provides support to the museum’s Director General in implementing the museum’s vision to become ‘a world-class Museum of Learning’. The President will also be involved in fundraising to support the museum’s strategic plan and, particularly over the next few years, for the development of St Fagans as the National History Museum of Wales.

For further information, please see the Welsh Assembly Government’s website.