Salon Archive

Issue: 34

Weekly meeting report

Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith shared with Fellows the lessons that had been learned from the computerisation of the 1901 census this week in a paper entitled ‘No Gain without Pain’: Putting the Heritage On-line. Dr Hallam Smith said that on 3 January 2002, some 30 million attempts were made to access a site that was designed to cope with 1 million users. The census site very briefly became the world’s number one website — more popular even than the pornographic sites that normally dominate the ratings. Today the system is up and running again and user reaction is very positive. Basic predictions of usage levels have proved sound — what made all the difference in January 2002 was the press coverage.

The PRO has learned that the internet offers the chance of reaching vast audiences if you capture the public imagination. Underlying the best websites is a desire to widen access, and to provide an alternative means of delivering services to those who cannot visit a library or research facility. It reaches out to non-traditional audiences who are much more at home with the internet than they are with books or documentary records — especially the young.

A full report of the meeting held on 7 November is now available on the Fellows’ side of the Society’s website at www.sal.org.uk.

Forthcoming meetings

14 November: ‘“The Golden Chain of Beauty”: Joan Evans, scholar and connoisseur’ by Dr Nicola Coldstream, FSA.
21 November: ‘“The Little House on the Prairie?” The excavation of a major Neolithic building at Claish, near Stirling’, by Gordon Barclay, FSA, K Brophy and G MacGregor.

Christmas is coming

As is traditional, the final meeting of the year on Thursday 12 December will be followed by a mulled wine reception. Fellows are reminded that numbers for the reception are strictly limited to one hundred and that there are now only twelve tickets left. Anyone who would like a ticket (cost �5) should contact Lisa Elliott: lelliott@sal.org.uk.

Kelmscott shop

Fellows will be able to purchase Christmas gifts at the 12 December meeting, but if you cannot wait until then to do your Christmas shopping you should visit Kelmscott Manor on Saturday 30 November and Sunday 1 December, when the shop will be open from 11am to 4pm on both days. The restaurant will be open for coffee and mince pies on both days, though the house itself will be closed.

William Morris’s Aeneid to be sold

William Morris’s Aeneid is to be auctioned by Christie’s on 27 November as lot 10 in a sale of Important British Art. Viewing is from Sunday 24 November. William Morris’s daughter, May, described the Aeneid as ‘the noblest of all his printed books’. A collaborative masterpiece, the Aeneid celebrates Morris’s finest calligraphy, completed by Graily Hewitt, with illustrations by Burne-Jones and Fairfax Murray. Sold to Andrew Lloyd-Webber in 1989, the book was last seen at the Morris exhibition at the V&A in 1996. The Society is fortunate to possess several of Morris’s unfinished calligraphic manuscripts from the same period (1869—75), and this item would make a spectacular addition to the collection, though sadly, with an estimated price in excess of �1.5 million, this is beyond the Society’s means.

Fellows’ news

Dr Arnold Taylor, our President from 1975 to 1978, was the subject of an obituary in The Independent on 8 November written by Andrew Saunders, FSA, who described Dr Taylor as ‘a conscientious servant of the Society’, and ‘a man of quiet wisdom and of well-argued views’, who ‘achieved the rare honour for someone outside university circles of election to the Fellowship of the British Academy’. Andrew Saunders said that Dr Taylor had spent much of his working life in the care of the nation’s historic sites and monuments, and as Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales in 1946—54, his study of Edward I’s late-thirteenth-century castles in north Wales led him to conclude that they were built by craftsmen from the Savoy region of modern France and Switzerland. From 1961 until his retirement in 1972, Dr Taylor served as Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings, and one of his lasting achievements was to establish the Ancient Monuments Laboratory.

War Memorials Code of Practice

The Home Office has just published a new Code of Practice aimed at preventing war memorials (of which there are more than 54,000 in the UK) from falling into neglect and decay. The code calls on all landowners and custodians of memorials commemorating those who have died in active service to register them with the UK National Inventory of War Memorials (which is managed by the Imperial War Museum and English Heritage). It is also recommended that they record all known facts about the memorial, undertake a physical survey of its state of repair, put in place a preservation plan to prevent accidental damage and vandalism, and identify a person or body to be responsible for its protection and conservation. Copies of the code can be downloaded from: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/ccpd/warmem.pdf.

New advice on caring for libraries in historic buildings

The National Preservation Office has recently published Managing the Preservation of Library and Archive Collections in Historic Buildings, the latest in its Preservation Guidance Occasional Papers. Copies are available from the NPO's website at www.bl.uk/npo/.

Prehistoric leprosy identified in Scotland

Julie Roberts, a biological anthropologist with Glasgow University's archaeological research division, has found evidence of leprosy in the bones of a child dating from between 1600 and 2000 BC. Ms Roberts said that: Although the diagnosis of leprosy cannot be confirmed until DNA tests are complete, the indications that this is leprosy are quite promising.

If confirmed, this discovery would pre-date the previously accepted arrival of leprosy in Britain by up to 1,500 years. Leprosy was thought to have been introduced to the Mediterranean region by the army of Alexander the Great on its return from India. The contagious disease then spread with the expansion of the Roman Empire. To find leprosy so early suggests that the disease took some other, so far unknown, route through Europe's early societies.

The child's bones were among fourteen skeletons from the Bronze and Iron Ages found near Dunbar in East Lothian in 1980. Rod McCullagh, Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments with Historic Scotland, said the child appeared to have been the focus of a complex burial ritual. By coincidence, the last indigenous case of leprosy recorded in the UK also occurred in Scotland, in the Shetland Isles in 1798.

The Elgin Marbles

A story in The Independent on Sunday (10 November) suggested that the British Museum was considering a plan to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens in return for a series of loan exhibitions featuring ancient Greek artefacts that would generate sufficient income from admission charges to wipe out the BM’s estimated �6 million deficit. On closer reading it turned out that the source of this idea was our own Fellow Anthony Snodgrass, Chairman of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures. The British Museum itself reiterated its position that it was ‘a truly universal museum, accessible to five million visitors every year free of entry charge. Only here can the worldwide significance of the Parthenon sculptures be fully grasped’.

Last timbers lifted from the Newport ship

The 80-ft long birch keel of the fifteenth-century Newport ship has just been lifted from the muddy banks of the Usk, as the excavation to rescue the ship reaches its final stages. The keel will now join the rest of the ship, whose timbers are being preserved in massive water tanks at the nearby Llanwern steelworks. The project team will complete its work by excavating a recently discovered wooden structure thought to have been a cradle used to support the ship.

Denise Dowdell, of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, said that: ‘the post-excavation stage involves more than 1,400 pieces of timber being identified, recorded and catalogued. The ship will need to be dried out and preserved before it is returned to the arts centre site.'

The plan is for the ship to be displayed under a glass floor in the basement of the new Newport arts centre, which is due to open in 2004, though the ship itself will probably not be ready for display until 2006. A spokesman for Newport Council, asked about the loss of parts of the vessel — including the prow and stern — said that this had to be accepted as an act of fate.

Three millionth member of the National Trust

Just in time for its AGM the National Trust announced last week that it had recruited its three millionth member and that it now has three times more members than all the UK’s political parties combined. This milestone makes the Trust Europe's biggest conservation organisation, and second only in the world to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, which has members in many countries. With three times more members than there are regular worshippers in the Church of England, the Trust is the third biggest membership organisation in the UK after the AA and the RAC. Weekend commentators picked up on these figures to say that the British bourgeoisie now worships at the twin temples of the motor car and the heritage — posing something of a dilemma for a conservation organisation committed to reducing the numbers of people visiting its properties by car. Asked what the founders of the National Trust would have thought of the soaring membership, the Trust’s Director General said: ‘They would have been delighted: they had a tiny organisation but a big idea’.

National Trust head office

In a busy week the Trust also announced that it had appointed Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects to design its new central office in Swindon. The headquarters building will provide 70,000 square feet of office accommodation for up to 450 staff, library and information facilities, meeting rooms, catering facilities, a retail shop and a public information area.

FCBa has previously designed office headquarters for Greenpeace UK in Islington. The selection panel included representatives from CABE and English Heritage. Their criteria stressed a commitment to apply high standards of design, sustainability and best environmental practice to the new building, which would be an exemplar of good practice throughout its design, procurement and use.

HLF grant enables National Trust to secure Nostell Priory

Thanks to a �4.2 million award from the Heritage Lottery Fund announced on 5 November, the National Trust will be able to secure the long-term future of Nostell Priory. The Trust currently owns the house and a central section of the garden at Nostell Priory, including the Upper Lake, which covers 9.7 hectares in total. The grant will go towards the purchase of an additional 148 hectares (346 acres) of historic Grade-II listed parkland and enable the National Trust to purchase important paintings, furniture and books from the Winn family collection, some of which have never before been on public display.

Future plans for the park include restoration of the pyramid-shaped Obelisk Lodge and Boat House, returning the parkland to pasture, restoring historic landscape views and re-planting trees to re-establish the mid-nineteenth-century landscape. The park and Lower Lake will be open for a limited period in summer 2003. Once restored, the park will then be open year round free-of-charge.

Two parts to ossuary inscription

The latest word on the first-century AD ossuary claimed to have been that of James, the brother of Jesus, comes from Israeli scholar Rochelle Altman and paleographer Ada Yardeni, who have concluded that the inscription on the ossuary consists of two separate parts: ‘There are two hands, two different scripts, two different social strata, two different levels of execution, two different levels of literacy, and two different carvers’, Altman said last week. The first half of the inscription (‘James son of Joseph’) records names that are very common in first-century Jerusalem. Altman believes the second part (‘brother of Jesus’) was added in the third or fourth century, while Paul Flesher at the University of Wyoming, an expert on Hebraicized Aramaic dialects, dates it anywhere between the second and seventh centuries.

Brunel leads TV vote for the Greatest Briton

Isambard Kingdom Brunel currently leads the pack in the BBC’s ten-week search for the Greatest Briton. 600,000 votes have been cast so far, with Brunel polling 24 per cent of vote, ahead of Princess Diana, with 22 per cent, Churchill, with 16 per cent, and Darwin, with 11 per cent. The six other contenders are Shakespeare, Nelson, Cromwell, Newton, John Lennon and Elizabeth I.

The vote coincides with the announcement by civil engineers checking the state of 160-year-old Clifton Suspension Bridge that they have discovered a dozen huge vaulted chambers supporting the piers from which the bridge is suspended.

A borehole investigation carried out in 1969 seemed to reinforce the traditional theory that the piers stood directly on top of solid limestone cliffs forming the sides of the Avon Gorge. Earlier this year, however, an electronic scan located a narrow shaft, just 3 feet in width. Abseiling specialists entered the shaft to discover a network of 35-foot high chambers built in two tiers from red sandstone.

Railway historian and trustee of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, David Dawson said that Brunel was one of the first civil engineers to exploit the benefits of voided construction, and that both Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads stations were supported by underground vaults, but the discovery of these cathedral-like vaults at Clifton was a complete surprise.

Special Honorary Fellows

This week’s suggestions for the title of Special Honorary Fellow have taken a literary turn. David Breeze has nominated Jonathan Oldbuck, the hero of The Antiquary (1816) by Sir Walter Scott. Jonathan Oldbuck is a man in his mature years who has left his passions in the past. As a young man, he had fallen in love with a young lady who jilted him for a man of greater wealth and higher social position. Oldbuck finds his only solace in antiquarian pursuits. David is not suggesting that this is typical of the life of most antiquaries — though the parallels to Scott's own biography are strong.

Lisa Elliott writes to say she would not vote for Lara Croft on the grounds that Croft seeks and destroys more than she digs and conserves. Instead she nominates the famous archaeologist and amateur detective, Amelia Peabody Emerson. Fans of the novels of American detective fiction writer Elizabeth Peters will know that Amelia and her Archaeology Professor husband, Radcliffe Emerson, use their forensic skills to uncover sinister human activities among the tombs of ancient Egypt.