Salon Archive

Issue: 36

Weekly meeting report

The title of this week’s lecture — ‘The Little House on the Prairie?’ — proved to be ironic in the light of the evidence presented by Gordon Barclay, FSA, and Ken Brophy when they described in detail the very large structure they had excavated in 2001 at Claish, near Stirling. Built of massive squared oak timbers with a complex series of internal partitions, it was debatable whether this was even a house, and by drawing parallels between this and a similar structure at Balbridie, near Aberdeen, excavated in 1977, the speakers convincingly argued for a ritualistic function associated with mortuary rites.

Balbridie had originally been considered as an early medieval hall — but both Balbridie and Claish were now securely dated to the late Neolithic, dating from somewhere between 4000 and 3350 BC. Few direct parallels existed in Britain and with no tradition of large timber structures in the Mesolithic it was possible that this type of structure was imported from the Continent as part of the cultural package that came with agricultural innovations.

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

Forthcoming meetings

28 November: ‘Urban Regeneration and Heritage Issues: the Gloucester Experience’, by John Pugh-Smith, FSA, Richard Sermon and Albert Williamson-Taylor.

5 December: ‘May Morris: author, artist and craftsworker in her own right’, by Linda Parry, FSA.

Fellows’ news

Lisa Elliott reports that all tickets for the mulled wine reception that follows the Miscellany of Papers on Thursday 12 December have now been sold.

We neglected to mention in last week’s account of prize winners at the British Archaeological Awards that Fellow Matthew Johnson’s book, Behind the Castle Gate: from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, received a special commendation.

Observant Fellows might have noticed that the Society’s new website now has a search facility. Typing a word or name into the search box on the right-hand side of the page in the Fellows’ area will bring up a list of all the items on the site that contain that word or name. This means that you no longer have to know where the reference occurs — whether in SALON, in a weekly meeting report, an obituary or Journal article summary — the search engine will find every occurrence for you. Having a simple and swift search facility will prove to be of increasing benefit as the volume of data on the site grows. Another recent change is that the list of committee members has now been updated, and very soon we will be introducing a new feature on the Library page — a list of all the books newly accessioned by the library in the preceding month.

A disarmingly candid obituary of our late Fellow John Frederick Ruggles appeared in The Independent on 19 November, in which Nicolas Barker paid tribute to John’s work as Libraries Adviser to the National Trust, but without airbrushing out of the story his struggles with depression and drink. John’s job was to create a catalogue of all the pre-1700 books held in National Trust libraries, and in compiling the catalogue he made astonishing discoveries, such as a hitherto unknown seventh-century Bible made for Abbot Ceolfrid at Jarrow. His enthusiasm for books and eccentric personality endeared him to everyone he met, but his bouts of vivacious wit alternated with hypochondria and manic depression — perhaps treatable with judicious use of drugs but not when his drugs regime was complicated by his own experiments. Nicolas Barker concluded the obituary by saying that it is rumoured that Fuggles died by being crushed under a heavy bookshelf that collapsed on top of him: ‘it was not true — but it was just such a story as he might himself have invented’.

Oldest house in Britain

Timed perfectly to coincide with this week’s Society lecture, staff at AOC Archaeology Group announced on 19 November that they had discovered Britain’s oldest known habitation. The circular hut was discovered at a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer site near Dunbar, on the east coast of Scotland. With a floor measuring 4.8m (16 feet) across, the tent-like structure was associated with 30,000 pieces of discarded flint, suggesting that the site was used by toolmakers. The structure had been burnt to the ground and survived only as a series of charred stumps. John Gooder, of AOC Archaeology Group, said that ‘the house was built of very flammable materials and the heart would have been in the centre. Such fires must have been a common occurrence’.

Save Guernsey prison

Fellows heard recently an account of the excellent work being done at Jersey's Mont Orgueil Castle. In another part ofthe Channel Islands there is not such good news. The States of Guernsey, the island’s parliament, has voted to demolish its 1811 prison in order to build new court facilities. The pending demolition would break a seamless run of graceful and dignified historic buildings ascending from the port to the top of the town.

Strolling from the seafront up Smith Street, you pass shop facades decorated with lace-like cast-iron window balconies (occupied by Germany during the war, St Peter Port retains all the iron work that elsewhere in the UK was sacrificed to the war effort) past the Royal Court House of 1803, now the seat of island government and administration, past the 1742 hospital and workhouse, now the police station, and up to St James’s, the Greek Revival church that now serves as the island’s principal concert hall. The prison represents a core part of this well-preserved late-Georgian and Regency assemblage.

There is an alternative. The architects MacCormac Jamieson Prichard have produced an excellent scheme showing how a new legal campus could be created within the prison walls, preserving the prison buildings with its arcades and the ‘dark black granite wall’ surrounding the prison (Victor Hugo’s words) with their rounded corners and the crown and initials of George III.

Stefanie Fischer, speaking for CABE, the UK Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, has said that the MacCormac Jamieson Prichard design was ‘head and shoulders above the other four schemes, in terms of its response to the scale and grain of St Peter Port and to the heritage issues raised by the development ... the quality of their thinking and their capacity to add value to the project exceeded all other contenders.’

The building is listed, and although the States have voted in favour of demolition and a new building, Guernsey’s Heritage Committee could still refuse to approve demolition. To encourage them to do so, everyone who cares about Guernsey’s heritage is encouraged to write to the States of Guernsey to express their misgivings about the unnecessary demolition of an important monument of Guernsey’s civic and architectural history: email messages can be sent by going to the States of Guernsey website — www.gov.gg/ — and selecting ‘Contact us’ from the menu bar.

Call for papers: English Gothic Art

A three-day conference is being planned to coincide with the major Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition, Gothic: Art for England c 1400—1547, which will be open to the public from 9 October 2003 until 18 January 2004. This will be the first time that an exhibition devoted solely to this period will have taken place and it encompasses works of art imported from abroad or commissioned from artists and craftsmen resident on the Continent, as well as indigenous output.

Professor Richard Marks, conference convenor, is now inviting submission of papers on art and architecture of the period c 1400—1547 produced for English patrons or the English market. Papers may be thematic, conceptual or on individual works of art. New discoveries or re-evaluations resulting from recent research and/or conservation are particularly welcome.
Further information can be obtained from Professor Marks, e-mail rcm1@york.ac.uk, or
Francis Pugh, Conferences & Academic Events Organiser at the V&A, e-mail: f.pugh@vam.ac.uk.

The Berger Prize

The first winner of the newly established William M B Berger Prize will be announced at a reception to be hosted by The British Art Journal in the Fine Rooms of the Courtauld Institute Gallery, Somerset House, London WC2, on Monday 16 December 2002 when the �5,000 Prize will be presented by Sir Roy Strong, FSA. The Prize is to be awarded annually by The British Art Journal in association with the Berger Collection Educational Trust of Denver, Colorado, USA, to an outstanding book, exhibition or exhibition catalogue, in any language, that has appeared in the previous twelve months.

The shortlisted entries include: Art on The Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836, staged by the Courtauld Institute Gallery and curated by David H Solkin; Fellow Eileen Harris's book The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors; the exhibition entitled Art in Exile: Flanders, Wales and the First World War at the National Museum & Gallery, Cardiff; Susan Sloman's book Gainsborough in Bath; Alex Kidson's catalogue and the exhibition he curated at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, on George Romney 1734-1802: British Art’s Forgotten Genius; William Beckford, 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent, edited by Derek Ostergard; Archibald Knox (1864—1933), by Stephen A Martin; and The Weiss Gallery’s 2001 catalogue A Noble Visage: Early Portraiture 1545—1660.

National Library of Scotland acquires rare early calotypes

The National Library of Scotland announced on 19 November that it had acquired an album containing 206 images by a group of pioneering Scottish photographers working in Edinburgh and St Andrews in the early 1840s, using a technique that is regarded as the forerunner of modern photography. The album contains calotype portraits and images of castles, churches and towns in Scotland, Italy, Belgium and Malta. A second album of 126 prints has long been owned by the Edinburgh City Library and the complete set of prints from both albums can be viewed on the NLS website at: www.nls.uk/pencilsoflight.

British Library acquires important musical scores

Thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund donation, the British Library has just acquired the Royal Philharmonic Society’s archive of musical scores after a year-long appeal that succeeded in raising �1 million from charitable funds, and private and corporate donations. The archive includes the manuscript score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with a dedication from the composer, the autograph score of Mendelssohn's First Symphony, and correspondence with many of the great composers and performers of the day, including Sir Edward Elgar. The purchase ensures that the archive, which significantly adds to the world's knowledge of music, will be available to researchers and music lovers from all over the world. The Royal Philharmonic Society will be using the funds raised to provide scholarships for young composers and performers and for a programme of musical education.

Camerino d’Alabastro to be recreated at the National Gallery

Made for Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and destroyed at his death in 1534, the Camerino d’Alabastro, or Alabaster Chamber, was a small but richly decorated room, hung with specially commissioned paintings of mythological scenes by Titian and Giovanni Bellini. So secretive was the Duke about his private room that the craftsman who made its gilded frieze was only allowed a quick glimpse of the interior through the door.

Now the National Gallery intends to recreate the room for its forthcoming Titian exhibition, to open in spring 2003, bringing together the surviving Titians for the first time in nearly 475 years. The National Gallery itself owns one of the paintings — Bacchus and Ariadne — and is borrowing the other two — The Bacchanal of the Andrians and The Worship of Venus — from the Prado in Milan. It is also hoping to borrow Bellini’s The Feast of the Gods from the National Gallery in Washington and a fragment of the original frieze from the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

The Titian exhibition will open in February 2003, and will include many of his greatest works.

Gibbs vaults to be revealed

The latest element in the plan to regenerate Trafalgar Square is likely to cause controversy, as plans were revealed on 24 November for a glass pavilion and light well to be built to the north of the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The scheme is being compared to I M Pei’s Louvre pyramid, and it involves demolishing areas of James Gibbs original vaulting of 1724 to create a glass-covered underground courtyard. Built for burials, the vaults currently house a canteen, shops, art gallery, day centre and a shelter for the homeless. Nicholas Holtam, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the instigator of the project, says that the church is working closely with English Heritage and the Georgian Society over the scheme, which will cost �20 million and will be subject to a Lottery bid. Planning permission being sought next summer.

Art Fund treasures for Hayward

Another blockbuster exhibition planned for 2003 — though much more eclectic in content — is the Hayward Gallery show to highlight the wealth of art that has been purchased for the nation through the National Arts Collection Fund — now known simply as the Art Fund. Some 500,000 object and paintings have been acquired for public museums and galleries in the UK since 1903 when the fund was founded. They include Michelangelo’s study for the figure of Adam in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Luttrell Psalter, Canova’s The Three Graces, Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, and an eighth-century Crucifixion from the Isle of Man.

David Barrie, the Art Fund’s Director, said he wanted the exhibition to raise public awareness of the charity’s work and boost membership from its current level of 90,000. ‘I want people to think of us as an absolutely essential organization, like the National Trust’, he said.

The exhibition will open on 23 October 2003 and run until 18 January 2004.

Funding for the Kabul Museum

Fellow Robert Knox, Keeper of the British Museum’s Department of Oriental Antiquities, is appealing for help from the Foreign Office and from other donors to assist in the rebuilding of Kabul Museum in Afghanistan. Robert says ‘I am now looking for funding for computers and scanners to help the museum create a database of information about its collections (now for the most part lost, smuggled out of the country or deliberately destroyed by the Taliban). Funding is also needed for scholarships to help people from Kabul to come to the UK to learn, and then to take back home the expertise needed to keep cultural matters alive in Afghanistan.’

Lord Thompson donates collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario

Staff at the Art Gallery of Ontario have hired the architect Frank Gehry to build a new wing to house the 2,000 or so works of art that Lord Thompson of Fleet, the former owner of The Times, has just agreed to donate from his private collection. Amongst the considerable collection of European art and sculpture that he owns is Ruben’s Massacre of the Innocents, and the Malmesbury Chasse, the twelfth-century Limoges enamel reliquary showing the Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty believed to have come from Malmesbury Abbey and to have contained a relic of Maidulf, the seventh-century missionary Scot.

Study tour of Early Christian sites in south-west Ireland

Fellow Niamh Whitfield is organizing a study tour to south-west Ireland from 17 to 25 June 2003. The aim will be to see a range of sites: a few prehistoric ones, but mainly those dating from the Early Christian period -- high crosses, round towers, Romanesque churches, early Christian monasteries — as well as latter-day pilgrimage sites and buildings in the Celtic Revival style, many of which are set amidst fine Irish scenery.

The cost depends on numbers but will be in the region of �650 to �750. The trip is organized through Morley College London, and the majority of those on the trip will be following adult education classes there. Some places are still available. To receive a detailed itinerary please e-mail niamh@whitfield.demon.co.uk.

Heritage Information Online

His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester (Patron of the Society) launched the new website of the Heritage Information Trust last week. This online resource includes information on every aspect of the conservation and care of buildings, parks and gardens. At the core of the database is a vetted register of people with conservation and craft skills, contractors, architects, surveyors, consultants, academics, products and suppliers, books and training courses to do with every aspect of care and conservation. To try the site go to www.heritageinformation.org.uk. Director Dorian Crone said of the site: ‘The goal is to provide a service that reduces time-wasting and the tide of damage to our historic buildings and gardens by offering everyone the right information to get the job done’.

Vacancy for a part-time freelance project co-ordinator

London’s Museums Agency is seeking a part-time freelance co-ordinator for its Black and Asian History Project. The aims of this imaginative, HLF-funded project are to raise the profile of London’s local history museums within the Black and Asian communities and to encourage the widest possible range of Londoners to consider how their histories could be better reflected in their local museums’ collections and services.

For further details please contact Caroline Reed, Development Manager, London Museums Agency, on tel: 020 7549 1714 or email: caroline.reed@londonmuseums.org.

Vacancy for Chief Executive, Historic Royal Palaces

Historic Royal Palaces, the body that is responsible for the conservation and presentation of the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House and Kew Palace, is looking for a Chief Executive to manage a staff of 500, and to carry through a programme of customer-focused modernisation. Six figure package. Closing date 11 December. Details from joanne Roberts at Whitehead Mann quoting ref 14445A by email from: joanne.roberts@wmann.com.

National Museums of Scotland: three senior posts

The National Museums of Scotland are recruiting a Director of Collections (job code UDKA/T), a Director of Finance and Resources (job code UDKB/T), and a Head of Human Resources (job code UDKC/T), all at what are described as ‘attractive salaries’. Closing date 19 December. Details are on the Saxton Bampfylde Hever website at www.saxbam.com/arc.

An antiquary’s view of global warning

A puzzling story appeared in all the broadsheet newspapers last week warning us, on the authority of the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society, that global warning would mean an end to English gardens full of spring bulbs such as crocus and narcissi and of summer borders bright with spires of blue delphiniums and lupins.

To an antiquary, the very names ‘crocus’, ‘narcissus’ and ‘delphinium’ suggest at least some link with the people and places of the Mediterranean world — why would Ovid write about an English flower? Anyone who has visited Crete (as far south as you can get in Europe) will testify to the abundance of crocuses and narcissi growing among the ruins of Minoan and Roman cities from autumn to late spring, and the fields full of wild lupins around abandoned medieval settlements in the early summer.

Perhaps we should not take the words of the doom-mongers too seriously — though the idea that grapes, apricots, nectarines, figs and olives might soon be growing here is not an entirely unwelcome one.