Salon Archive

Issue: 39

Weekly meeting report

May Morris succeeded in carving out a life for herself while living in the shadow of her more famous parents, Dr Linda Parry told Fellows at the meeting held on 5 December 2002. As well as being the very effective manager of the profitable embroidery section of Morris & Co when she was just twenty-three years of age, she also became an authority on Coptic textiles and English church embroidery, and was a gifted embroidery teacher, whose skills were in demand at art colleges in England and internationally.

At the Society’s 12 December meeting, Fellows were shown a remarkable 3.5-metre-long aerial photograph of the area around West Heslerton in Yorkshire and heard Dominic Powlesland, of the Landscape Research Centre in the Vale of Pickering, and David Miles, FSA, Chief Archaeologist with English Heritage, talk about the results of their hugely ambitious 220-hectare geophysical survey. Paul Robinson, FSA, Curator of the Devizes Museum, gave a very entertaining overview of ‘Stonehenge in Modern Fiction’ illustrated by a series of lurid and exotic book-jacket illustrations for romantic novels and science fantasy.

A full account of both meetings can be found on the Fellows’ side of the Society’s website at www.sal.org.uk.

Forthcoming meetings

16 January: ‘Chasing the Shadows: some field studies of south Scandinavian rock carvings’, by Professor John Coles, FSA.

23 January: ‘Ten years at Butrint, Albania: archives, surveys and excavations of an Adriatic port, c 800 BC to AD 1990’, by Dr Richard Hodges, FSA.

Fellows’ news

At the weekly meeting on 12 December, the Society’s Librarian, Bernard Nurse, and the General Secretary, Dai Morgan Evans, explained the background to the forthcoming court case that was featured in The Independent newspaper two weeks ago. They explained that the Government was seeking to register its ownership of Burlington House, which was not in dispute, but also to register the five Learned Societies who have occupied Burlington House since 1875, as tenants-at-will. The Society believes that this change in status to tenants-at-will would be detrimental, as tenants-at-will have no security of tenure and this fact alone would seriously jeopardize the Society’s ability to raise funds for long-term projects, such as the Library. In addition, the Treasury has made clear its intention to levy tax on Government tenants (including the national museums) at six per cent of the capital value of their property assets.

The Government has decided to test its case in the Court of Chancery and the five Learned Societies are sharing the costs of their legal defence. The Societies’ Counsel has advised that there is substantial evidence for believing that the Society has a form of equitable interest in the Burlington House premises, and that the Society cannot be moved except through the provision by the Government of alternative premises. The Society is further protected by estoppel – the legal concept that past patterns of behaviour establish precedents that cannot arbitrarily or unilaterally be changed by one party without the consent of the other.

No date has yet been set for the hearing, but Fellows will be kept fully informed of any developments. In the meantime the President of the Society has asked that Fellows do not take premature or unco-ordinated action, but wait for the Society’s Council to decide, if and when necessary, on an appropriate response.


Library accessions now on the Society’s website

New accessions to the Society’s Library are now listed on the public side of the Society’s website. The new accessions list will be updated at the end of every month. To see the latest accessions, go to www.sal.org.uk, click on the ‘Library’ tab, and then on ‘New accessions’.

Launch of Heritage Link

‘In years to come, we could look back on this day as one of the most significant in the history of the heritage’. With these words, Sir Neil Cossons welcomed the official launch of Heritage Link, a new national charity set up to provide the rallying point for championing the aims and values of the historic environment sector. Charles Nunneley, Chairman of the National Trust, said that Heritage Link ‘represents an unprecedented opportunity for the sector to work together ... to create one Lennox Lewis out of a gymnasium full of flyweights.’ Minister of Arts Baroness Blackstone, though unable at the last minute to attend the launch, sent a message of support, saying that there were many policy challenges in the year ahead and that ‘as a collective voice you can influence the way we manage the historic environment in the future. It is down to you as members of Heritage Link to make it work’.

Representatives of some 150 heritage organizations came together for the launch, held at Wilton’s Music Hall, in the East End of London. Members elected Tony Burton (National Trust), Jennifer Freeman (Historic Chapels Trust), Honor Gay (Wildlife Trusts), George Lambrick (Council for British Archaeology), John Sell (Joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies), Philip Venning (SPAB) and Richard Wilkin (Historic Houses Association) as Trustees.

Members voted to undertake a review of the needs and potential of the voluntary sector within the heritage and to come up with a plan of action for resolving the issues are that are of common concern to all members. In addition, Heritage Link will set up working groups on funding, the land-use planning system and education/inclusion.

Sir Neil announced that English Heritage would make �138,000 available to Heritage Link to support its work over the next three years. Seedcorn funding is already being provided by the National Trust. In addition, the Society of Antiquaries is providing office and meeting accommodation, and the Council for British Archaeology is hosting Heritage Link’s web pages (for address see below).

According to the new organization’s mission statement, Heritage Link was set up to ‘bring people together who care about our heritage to formulate policy, influence opinion and achieve change on issues of common concern’. Heritage Link also acts as a hub through which information is shared between members. For further information on Heritage Link, its work programme and its membership criteria, see www.britarch.ac.uk/heritagelink or contact Christopher Catling (chris.catling@dial-house.co.uk).

Stonehenge tunnel

There were mixed reactions to last week’s announcement by Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, that the Government had opted for the short bored tunnel to carry the A303 away from Stonehenge. Some were relieved that a bored tunnel had been chosen, rather than the much more damaging cut-and-cover version, but others were disappointed that the tunnel would only be 1.3 miles long. The National Trust is just one of the many bodies that have said the archaeology of Stonehenge would be better protected with a tunnel twice as long.

Our Treasurer, Geoff Wainwright, said: ‘This is a much better deal than the cut-and-cover tunnel – the thought of gouging that massive trench across such a precious landscape just brought tears to my eyes’. The Council for British Archaeology questioned why the Government baulked at the �400 million cost of a 2.5-mile tunnel when it had been prepared to spend far more on the Millennium Dome. Kate Fielden, Secretary of the Wiltshire Archaeological Society, said: ‘At least they have got the message right about the method. Now we must go into battle all over again to get a sensible length’.

Thumbs up for new Avebury dig

In a textbook case of how to involve the community in its archaeology, Mike Pitts last week sought the approval of Avebury residents for a series of investigations that he hopes will answer fundamental questions about the henge, which has seen no substantial excavation in modern times.

Mike has still to obtain Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) for his work, but he decided to consult Avebury residents before embarking on the SMC process, and says that he would not have proceeded to the next stage if they had said no.

In fact, last week’s parish council meeting gave unanimous support to the new excavation, despite concerns about the impact of added visitors following the inevitable publicity (especially on public toilets and parking, which villagers have been saying for many years are inadequate) and potential disruption to Avebury’s peace and atmosphere.

Having been curator of Avebury's museum for five years, followed by sixteen years as an Avebury restaurateur (and resident), Mike is sensitive to the complex issues surrounding a proposal like this. A substantial body of opinion, expressed from both within the community and outside, believes that archaeologists have not always been respectful of Avebury in the past, and that the stone circle needs to be seen as a religious site, not just an academic record of past times.

With the unanimous support of villagers, Mike now hopes to obtain Scheduled Monument Consent for a complete section through the earthwork. Mike explained that ‘Geoff Wainwright’s excavations at comparable earthworks at Marden, Durrington Walls and Mount Pleasant (Dorchester) all suggest that such “superhenges” were the site for all sorts of structures and events, for which we have no evidence at all at Avebury, apart from the standing stones. The overall goal is to fill in the very real gaps in our knowledge of Avebury and build an environmental and chronological setting for the henge and stone circle’.


Stewardship scheme to protect rock art

In the same week that the Government announced its new Food and Farming strategy, designed to encourage more sustainable and less destructive methods of farming, a farmer in Northumberland has agreed to keep cattle away from Ketley Crag, a rock shelter whose floor is covered in cup and ring markings as well as other 4,000-year-old rock art motifs. Cattle and sheep that previously used the shelter in winter will now be moved to a different part of the farm. Through a stewardship agreement with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, funds will be made available to Duncan Ord, the farmer concerned, to create an access trail for the public. Mr Ord commented that ‘once I realized how important these markings on the rocks were, I was happy to change our husbandry practices’.

The economic viability of listed buildings

Recycling historic buildings makes good financial sense according to the latest edition of a report published jointly by English Heritage and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Entitled The Investment Performance of Listed Buildings 2002, the report reveals that the creative reuse of listed buildings can yield higher rents and capital appreciation than their unlisted counterparts and is the best form of ‘green’ development

The report shows that, over the last twenty-one years, listed office buildings have consistently out-performed unlisted ones in terms of rental value, achieving a return of 9.7 per cent per annum compared with 9.4 per cent. These results demonstrate the attractiveness of listed buildings to tenants.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: ‘This unique study, the only one of its kind to be carried out anywhere in the world, provides clear evidence that listed buildings are a sound financial investment. People like working and living in them and, as a consequence, they generate their own economic vitality.’

The report costs �10 and is available from RICS Books at www.ricsbooks.org.

Edinburgh fire damage

John Lawson, Edinburgh City Council's archaeologist, is hoping to find important traces of the medieval city in the area worst hit by the blaze that broke out on Saturday 7 December. Fire gutted eleven properties and damaged six more within the Cowgate area of the Old Town, part of the Edinburgh World Heritage Site. Work has begun to demolish two properties that suffered most damage in the blaze, including a former department store on South Bridge. Here archaeologists hope to find evidence of much earlier settlements, as they excavate in advance of any new development agreed for the site. Historic Scotland has said that every attempt will be made to save the other tenements, which mostly date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Ancient buildings under threat in Hebron

Kay Prag, FSA, of the Manchester Museum writes to draw Fellows’ attention to Israeli plans to demolish ancient buildings in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Many of the buildings are hundreds of years old. Some parts are Herodian. The Israelis argue that demolition is necessary to create clear lines of sight for soldiers guarding the pedestrian route from the Kiryat Arba settlement to the synagogue part of the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Fifteen people were killed along this track less than three weeks ago.

Even so, there are many who feel that archaeological considerations should not simply be subjected to military convenience. Kay asks that any Fellows who have influence that could be brought to bear should do so.

World’s leading museums issue repatriation policy statement

Forty of the world’s leading museums -- including the British Museum, the Louvre, the Prado, the Hermitage and the Berlin Museum -- have issued a statement on ‘the value of the universal museum’, pledging not to bow to pressure to return works of art, archaeological finds and cultural artefacts to their original homes.

The declaration states that the museums have an international role in helping to promote understanding of world culture that transcends ‘narrower considerations of nationalism and ownership’. The forty museums state that repatriation ‘is essentially destructive’, and that ‘museums are agents in the development of culture, whose mission is to foster knowledge by a continuous process of reinterpretation. They serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation’.

Neil MacGregor, FSA, said that it was vital that museums assert their role as international institutions for the benefit of humanity as a whole, adding that: ‘if all museums were to hand back items acquired abroad, the essential nature of these great collections would disappear and we would all be poorer for it’.

The William M B Berger Prize for British Art History 2002

The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors by Fellow Eileen Harris is one of two Yale University Press books shortlisted for the 2002 Berger Prize, the other being Gainsborough in Bath by Susan Sloman. Also on the shortlist is Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836, curated by David H Solkin at the Courtauld Institute Gallery, and the exhibition catalogues for Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II by Catherine MacLeod and Julia Marciari Alexander (National Portrait Gallery), Art in Exile: Flanders, Wales and the First World War edited by Oliver Fairclough, Robert Hoozee and Caterina Verdickt (National Museum & Gallery of Wales, Cardiff), and George Romney 1734-1802 by Alex Kidson (National Portrait Gallery).

The Radio City Murals at the William Morris Gallery

The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow is currently exhibiting a selection of works by Sir Frank Brangwen who served as an apprentice in Morris’s workshops in the 1880s before carving out an international career as a painter. Some of his most ambitious projects were murals for public buildings in the USA and four cartoons for the Radio City Murals form the impressive centrepiece of the current exhibition. The murals -- produced in Brangwen’s Ditchling studio, in Sussex, in 1933, using local people, as models -- depict symbolic phases in the development of humanity, from primitive existence to spiritual awakening. The exhibition runs until 29 March and is open Tuesday−Saturday and the first Sunday of each month. Further details from the museum website at www.lbwf.gov.uk/wmg.

Conservation crisis

As if the news were not already bad enough, with museums starved of funds and new threats to the historic environment emerging every day, now a report in The Guardian says that the UK is facing a conservation crisis. Ian McClure, Director of the Hamilton Kerr Institute, part of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, says that thousands of works of art are slowly deteriorating because institutions and private owners do not have the resources for their proper upkeep. Sharon Manitta, of the UK Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, says the total is in the millions if prints, drawings, textiles and archaeological artefacts are included in the figures.

According to Ian McClure, the National Trust alone needs �190 million to conserve the works of art in its care, and cites the case of the Guido Reni painting of Dawn Separating Night From Day, which has been taken down from the ceiling at Kingston Lacy because it is flaking and needs �30,000 spending on emergency conservation.

Helena Jaeschke, an archaeological conservator, says that it is increasingly difficult to object to the repatriation of objects on the grounds that they are better looked after here, when the UK’s conservation record is beginning to pale by comparison with such countries as Egypt, Italy and Greece.


Gheeraerts pregnancy portrait at the Tate

Maev Kennedy of The Guardian reported last week on a painting by Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts that has just gone on display at Tate Britain, having been acquired in lieu of death duties. The painting depicts a heavily pregnant woman dressed in a pearl-encrusted lace dress. Curator Karen Hearn says it belongs to a tradition of late-seventeenth-century portraiture motivated by the very real risk of death during childbirth. Husbands commissioned portraits of a beloved partner, and pregnant women would pen letters to their unborn child, written in case the child survived but the mother did not.

The Gheeraerts painting is unusual in depicting a smiling and confident mother-to-be – many such portraits achieve their poignancy from an expression that juxtaposes hope and anxiety. Despite her smile, Elizabeth Joscelin, the subject of the Gheeraerts portrait, was so certain of her fate that she bought a new shroud on learning of her pregnancy. And, sad to relate, she did die giving birth, though her daughter, Thedora, survived.

Digital Domesday rescued from digital oblivion

It is salutary to learn that the BBC’s expensively compiled digital Domesday -- recorded in the 1980s to mark the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s Domesday survey – has been inaccessible for the last sixteen years because its interactive video disc technology was rapidly rendered obsolete by subsequent technical developments.

The discs, containing tens of thousands of maps, 200,000 photographs, and interviews with 10,000 schoolchildren and members of the public, can now be read again thanks to a three-year project to emulate the original technology used to compile the database. The discs, along with all the software and hardware needed to run them, are to be deposited at the Public Record Office.

Project manager, Paul Wheatley, said it was ‘a classic example of the dangers facing our digital heritage: we must not make the mistake of thinking that recording digitally on to a long-lived medium gives us meaningful preservation’.