Salon Archive

Issue: 85

Weekly meeting report

At this week�s meeting, held at the Blue Coat School, Chester, Dr Alan Thacker, FSA, gave a paper entitled 'St W�rburh: the evolution of a regional cult', in which he demonstrated the remarkable posthumous career of the seventh-century St W�rburh, whose uncorrupted relics were buried at Hanbury, near Repton (Staffs) until the time of the Danish invasions, shortly after which they were removed to Chester where they lay until the destruction of her shrine in the 1530s. During the best part of a millenium, her cult was fostered at a variety of times in a number of important centres in the north-west, the Midlands and the south-east and which in its various reinventions has been an important vehicle for fostering dynastic, regional and civic identity.

Having been patron first of a military garrison established by an alien royal family governing all that remained of Mercia after the Danish conquests and then of the rapidly developing city of her adoption. The final reinvention came after the Conquest, with W�rburh�s new eminence as patron of a great Benedictine abbey and of the princely family that founded it. She also became a patron of the citizens themselves � with their emerging sense of civic identity and their strong sense of differentiation from their English and Welsh neighbours.

A transcript of the paper given at last week�s meeting can be read on the Fellows� side of the Society�s website.

Forthcoming meetings

1 April: An Anglo-Saxon Painted Figure at Deerhurst: discovery and context, by Michael Hare, FSA, Richard Bryant, FSA, and Steve Bagshaw
23 April: Anniversary meeting
29 April: Destruction, Construction and Industry as seen by Twentieth-Century Illustrators, by Alan Ball, FSA

More on Crace versus Kent

Megan Aldrich, FSA, and Sharon Cather, FSA, have both responded to last week�s Salon report on the Crace versus Kent debate at the Royal Academy.

Megan Aldrich, editor and principal contributor to The Craces: Royal Decorators, 1768�1899 (published in 1990 by John Murray and The Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museums), points out that the Salon article inadvertently muddled up John Dibblee Crace (1838�1919), who designed the 1890s scheme at the RA, and his father, John Gregory Crace, who carried out the schemes at Chatsworth and Tyntesfield. John Dibblee Crace was, however, responsible for the state rooms and private rooms on the ground floor at Longleat, �which were carried out between 1875 and 1881 with the active participation of the patron, the 5th Marquess of Bath, and are possibly the most significant interiors of the Renaissance Revival in the nineteenth century.

�John Dibblee was, in fact, the fifth and final member of a formidable dynasty of interior designers, founded in 1768, who displayed the Royal Warrant at their premises on Wigmore Street. During the 1880s and 1890s J D Crace carried out a number of major institutional schemes for societies and professional bodies, most of which have not survived, so the RA scheme is important for this reason. (Crace's scheme at Leeds Town Hall was nearly contemporary, and was lavishly restored about twenty years ago.) His most significant patron during the 1890s was William Waldorf Astor, for whom he carried out decorative schemes at the Astor Estate Offices, Astor's house in Carlton House Terrace, Cliveden, and Hever Castle.

Megan concludes that: �The Craces were without question the most important British interior design firm practising during the nineteenth century, many of their schemes have disappeared, and the decoration at the RA must be viewed within this context.�

Sharon Cather, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, Conservation of Wall Painting Department, believes that the there is no real dilemma: �To consign the Crace decoration to oblivion � that is it irrevocably destroy it � is simply unethical and doesn�t wash with any � even the most modest � of prevailing ethical standards in conservation. Second, to allocate scarce resources to destroying it is, if anything, even more worrying. �1.5 million is a genuinely colossal amount of money in conservation terms. While impoverished parishes struggle, often unsuccessfully, to find paltry sums to preserve their wall paintings and monuments, it seems a travesty to consider spending �1.5 million to make Crace a victim of fashion.�

More on museum closures

Alan McWhirr, FSA, has forwarded an article from the Leicester Mercury, in which he is quoted as saying that the scale of the cuts being proposed in the city�s museum services would be �a disaster both for the citizens of Leicester and for tourists�. If the cuts go ahead, Jewry Wall Museum will only be open on Saturday afternoons from April to September. Leicester City Council says the move will save �1.3 million over three years, money �that would be reinvested in a leaner, more modern museums service�.

Five other museums and heritage sites in the city will see their opening hours drastically cut so that �savings [can] be spent on better storage facilities, on-line information, wheelchair access, outreach and education work and new collections. Cabinet arts and leisure spokesman John Mugglestone has argued that too few people are visiting the museums to justify current opening hours: �What's the point of having museums open if there's nobody going? We are doing this to ensure the museums are safe. We had to look at savings and we are investing the money raised back in the museums service.�

Alan says that if Fellows want to write they could send letters to Roger Blackmore, Leader of the Council, and Sarah Levitt, Head of Museums, both at: Leicester City Council, New Walk Centre, Welford Place, Leicester LE1 6ZG.

More from the 2004 budget

The 2004 budget statement has now been published and a pleasant surprise is to be found within the small print where clause 5.75 announces the Treasury�s intention to look into exempting university museums from VAT, as recommended by the Goodison Review, published earlier this year.

The statement reads: the government will consider the issue of extending the free access commitment for the main national museums and galleries, and the VAT refund scheme that has helped to deliver it, to university museums in the context of the forthcoming Spending Review.

Tristram Besterman, the director of the Manchester Museum, cautiously welcomed the announcement: The door to the Treasury is creaking open after two years of hammering on it, he said, 'but until university museums are formally included on Section 33 of the VAT Act (the section of the Act that lists VAT exemptions) I won't be pulling the cork on the champagne bottle.'

Previously the government has been reluctant to extend VAT exemptions owing to the difficulty of distinguishing universities from their museums. It is possible to define museums as an entity within the university, said Besterman. It is a matter of process now for the civil servants to work out a device to do this that is acceptable to everyone.

Helen Wilkinson, of the Museum�s Association, welcomed the move, saying: 'It will make a real difference to the finances of university museums and, perhaps more significantly, it shows that the Treasury is taking the recommendations of the Goodison Review seriously.

But historic environment campaigners are far from happy with new rules on out of

Less welcome is the news that the Treasury has inserted several crucial new paragraphs into PPG6 (Planning Policy Guidance 6: Town centres and retail development) to allow retailers to build large out-of-town �superstores without hindrance. The clauses say that local councils should �take into account any genuine difficulties in operating the applicant's business model� from town centre sites. In effect this is saying that if no room exists for large stores in the town centre, planners should not prevent retailers building vast stores on the edge of town. Countryside and landscape campaigners say this reverses a famous victory of the early 1990s when the Conservative government were finally convinced, that large edge-of-town retail parks accessible only by car were killing trade in the high street.

Neil Sinden, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: �If the new policy were adopted in its current form it could have a devastating effect on the ability of local planners to control retail development. The health and vitality of town centres should be the priority and considered above the interests of individual parts of the retail trade.�

Planning for the supply of natural building and roofing stone

A new report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister looks at the building and roofing stone industry in England and Wales, and its relationship to planning and development. Like most government reports, it tries to achieve the impossible by appearing to be pro conservation and pro development. On the one hand it identifies that 54 per cent of all existing quarries are within designated conservation areas of one kind or another. It also identifies a continuing demand for natural stone for the repair and maintenance of historic buildings, preferably using materials from the original or compatible sources and for maintaining vernacular styles in new construction, using materials that are compatible with traditional local building practices, but it says the demand from these two sources is small and sustainable.

Where the report becomes muddled is in identifying a third area of demand, for the use of natural stone in contemporary buildings and structures, including internal and external decoration. It says this market is far larger than the other two, but then argues that active promotion of stone for this purpose is required. Why, one asks? Buried in the detail is a suggestion that the UK stone industry will lose out to �foreign� suppliers unless the government �acts to prevent the unnecessary sterilisation of resources�, and �takes positive action to encourage the continued operation of existing building stone quarries, and the opening of new quarries where appropriate, by ensuring that no unnecessary burdens are placed upon them by the planning system.�

So now you know: we do not need new quarries to satisfy conservation demands, but we do need them to satisfy the demand for decorative stonework and to enable the UK quarrying industry to fight of foreign competition (is that not illegal?). Despite the self-serving conclusion, there are facts and figures in this report that makes it useful reading for anyone involved in historic building conservation. It can be downloaded from the ODPM website.

Broadening public archive use

Britain�s public archives are attracting increasing numbers of middle-aged, middle-class, white people but not young or black users, according to last week�s report published by the Archives Task Force (whose members include several Fellows). The report � Listening to the Past, Speaking to the Future � shows that archive use has grown by over 50 per cent in the last ten years: 1.5 million visits a year are now made to the 2,000 archives open to the public in the UK. In addition, the National Archives websites handled 85 million information requests in 2002/2003. 75 per cent of users are undertaking family research or exploring the history of their community. But 58 per cent of archive users are aged 55 or over and an estimated 98 per cent are white, even though there are several archives offering a wealth of information on black and ethnic minority family history.

The Task Force believes that there is no easy way for communities to learn of their existence or be able to access them, and the report calls for the creation of a �10 million Archives Gateway, which would lead people of all ages and knowledge to archival content of interest.

Mark Wood, MLA Chair and chair of the Archives Task Force said: �We propose an electronic Gateway to create easy online access to all the nation's archive collections, whether these are public, commercial, private or run by community groups. We want to draw all the nation's archives, big and small, into this Gateway and make these wonderful storehouses available to a wider range of users.� Eventually the Task Force hopes that the site will enable enthusiasts with private archives to be put in touch with one another.

Copies of the report are available to download from the MLA website.

Review of marine historic environment

Heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh has announced a UK-wide consultation on the marine historic environment. Protecting Our Marine Historic Environment: making the system work better is published jointly by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Scottish Executive and the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland and launched by English Heritage and available for download on the DCMS website.

The review aims to simplify the rules and make it easier to study and protect the hundreds of thousands of wrecks and underwater sites that lie off the UK�s 3,435-mile coastline. At present, only 56 wrecks benefit from statutory protection under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act, including the Mary Rose, the Colossus, which sank off the Scilly Isles in 1798, and the Stirling Castle, which was lost in the great gale of November 1703 on Goodwin Sands, off Ramsgate, Kent an area holding more than 2,800 wrecks � possibly the greatest concentration of wrecks anywhere in the world.

Launching the consultation, Lord McIntosh said: �It is time to update the systems we currently have in place to protect this unique and irreplaceable heritage. The rules surrounding the discovery and ownership of different finds and sites can be complex and unclear. There may also be more effective ways of managing these sites, which both better protect the sites and also take account of all the other activities taking place in the sea and on the seabed.�

The report proposes the introduction of a statutory definition of marine historic asset that encompasses all parts of the marine historic environment, and ends the piecemeal nature of the various current designations that apply underwater. It proposes the closest possible integration of marine and terrestrial historic environmental protection so that the historic environment of the UK is regarded as extending seamlessly from land to sea. It suggests that all undersea finds should in future be reported and made subject to a set of general rules regarding initial treatment and ownership.

Where marine historic assets are important enough to designate, a statement of significance would be drawn up showing the reasons for designation and what is important about the site, followed by wide consultation, with a right of appeal against designation and the option for owners and other interested parties to enter into management agreements with the heritage agencies in respect of designated assets.

Most maritime archaeologists are backing the review, but Chris Underwood, of the Nautical Archaeology Service, says the real issue is money: �We need better protection, but with resources to enforce it.�

Museums join forces to acquire a seventh-century Buddha

A seventh-century Indian standing figure of the Buddha Sakyamuni of �outstanding historical importance� has been acquired for the nation thanks to an unusual act of collaborated between the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum who pooled their resources to ensure that they could afford the necessary �850,000. Bought from a European private collection with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Art Collections Fund, among other sources, the exquisite, gold-toned figure is 14in high and made of copper alloy. It depicts the Buddha in the style of the late Gupta period in India. The Buddha will be on display in the Indian sculpture gallery at the V&A for three months before moving to the British Museum and then travelling to Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester and Exeter as the centrepiece of an exhibition of Indian Buddhist sculpture.

Public poll suggests that Reticulum should win Gulbenkian Prize

Visitors to the excellent 24 Hour Museum website have been asked to give their views on who should win this year�s �100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for the most the most innovative and inspiring new development in a museum or gallery, large or small, anywhere in the UK in the previous calendar year. Almost a quarter of the readers� votes went to Glasgow�s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) for their Sanctuary � Contemporary Art and Human Rights project, a combination of exhibitions and outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow, developed in partnership with Amnesty International and the Scottish Refugee Council. The main exhibition featured work by sixteen of the biggest names in art alongside work by 1,000 asylum seeker and refugee artists and attracted more than 200,000 visitors.

Second place in the readers� poll went to Thinktank, an exhibtion at Birmingham's museum of Science and Discovery giving visitors a glimpse of what the future might look like.

In third place was Newcastle�s Museum of Antiquities Reticulum project, which teaches children about the area's Roman and Iron Age past, a project that, according to Lindsay Allason-Jones, FSA, Director of the Museum, has �ended up changing the way teachers across Britain teach history�.

The significance of the poll is that the Reticulum project is the only one that is actually on the shortlist for the Gulbenkian prize. Jon Pratty, Editor of the 24-Hour Museum site, said: �Our readers have their own informed opinions about things like this and I am glad they came up with their own choice.� The real winner will be announced during Museums and Galleries month on May 11 by our Fellow Loyd Grossman, Chairman of the Campaign for Museums.

�Bog butter� is the remains of ancient meat and milk

A recent issue of the journal Nature contains a report on research by Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and colleagues into the phenomenon of bog butter. Apparently, peat cutters in Ireland and Scotland have long been familiar with this white substance with the appearance and texture of paraffin wax. Evershed and his colleagues analysed the fatty acids in nine samples of bog butter provided by the National Museum of Scotland, some of which have been carbon-dated and confirmed to be 2,000 years old. They found that six of the bog butter samples came from dairy products, and three from animal fat. None of the samples came from human adipocere, a substance also known as grave-wax that is sometimes found in waterlogged graves.

What the researchers have not been able to confirm was whether the foodstuffs were deliberately buried as a preservation technique, but they did say that �waterlogged peat is cool and contains very little oxygen, so it can be used as a primitive kind of fridge�. The practice of burying dairy products to conserve them continued until the recent past: the seventeenth-century English writer Samuel Butler remarked in one of his poems that butter in Ireland �was seven years buried in a bog�.

Cooking dates back 1.5 million years

In another paper presented at the 2004 Paleoanthropology Society Annual Meeting in Montreal, earlier this month, Dr Bob Brain and Dr Francis Thackeray of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, and Dr Anne Skinner of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts reported the oldest evidence yet found of the controlled use of fire for cooking meat.

Burnt bones from the Swartkrans cave in South Africa have been dated using electron spin resonance and were found to be 1.5 million years old. The analytical technique also showed that the bones had been heated to temperatures associated with deliberately constructed hearths, double the temperatures typical of a forest or brush fire. Until this report, the oldest evidence for controlled use of fire comes from Zhoukoudian in China, dating to between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago.

As organic material, such as bone and collagen, is broken down by heating, the particles get smaller and smaller until only the carbon is left. The problem for archaeologists is that the same pattern of fir damage can be achieved by high temperatures and by burning at much lower temperatures for a long period. Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) is capable of telling the difference by looking at the light signature of fire-damaged molecules where the degree of carbonisation is dependent only upon the amount of carbon and not on the time the material has been heated for. The data confirms that the bones had been heated to a temperature of around 600 degrees Celsius, twice the maximum temperatures typically associated with forest fires.

It is not known which hominid species made the fires at Swartkrans. Both Australopithecus (or Paranthropus) robustus and Homo erectus were present at Swartkrans around two million years ago.

Antonine Wall World Heritage Site

Scottish Culture Minister, Frank McAveety, hosted a reception recently for European heritage experts who met in Scotland to mark the start of a bid to win World Heritage Site status for the Antonine Wall. The bid is part of a scheme to designate all surviving Roman frontier structures, and is the first to involve more than one country. Mr McAveety said: �If this bid is successful the Antonine Wall will join the World Heritage Site designation for Hadrian�s Wall. Successful bids from Austria, Germany and Slovakia will see their sections of the frontier added to the designation, emphasising our shared history. I am particularly pleased that we are working closely with our European counterparts to make this trans-european bid a success.�

Scotland currently has four World Heritage Sites: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, the St Kilda Archipelago, Edinburgh Old and New Towns and New Lanark.

Scottish scheduling criteria

Historic Scotland has issued a consultation document in which it proposes radical new criteria for designating ancient monuments and archaeological areas. Previously the sole criterion was �national importance�. The document argues that �national� is not a meaningful term for scheduling guidance given that for �most of Britain�s and Scotland�s past there are no �national� prehistories or histories as reflected in the built heritage; instead there is an aggregation of related prehistories and histories of different regions, which may have wider national or international links. It is through these linked regional histories and prehistories that the history of Scotland and the UK can be understood.�

The document then goes on to propose that the much wider concept of �cultural significance� be used instead, borrowing core ideas from the Burra Charter, and defining cultural significance as embracing archaeological, architectural, historic, traditional, aesthetic, scientific, and social significance and spiritual value for past, present or future generations. Such significance can be embodied in the monument itself, its fabric, setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related monuments and related objects.

The result is a comprehensive list of possible sources of significance, which archaeologists must surely welcome, especially since the new criteria include an explicit statement that the understanding of cultural significance may change �as a result of new information�. It will be a victory indeed if other stakeholders are happy with such an all-embracing definition, and if the new criteria prove sufficiently robust to stand up in public inquiries, appeals against scheduling and legal disputes.

A copy of the consultation document can be downloaded from the Scottish Executive website and comments are welcomed from beyond Scotland as well as from within by Friday 4 June 2004.

New survey of Northern Ireland's monuments

The Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage, in Northern Ireland, has commissioned a new two-year survey from archaeologists at Queen's University's Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, the first of it's kind to be carried out in Northern Ireland, to examine 1,500 monuments to find out their current condition and provide statistical analysis on potential threats to their future, such as farming activity and building developments.

Roman trading post in India

The website of the Hindu Times carries a report saying that large quantities of Roman ceramic, including the rim and handle of a late first century BC amphora from Naples, has been found in a test pit at Pattanam, a small town some 12 km south of the Periyar rivermouth in Kerela. The finds were made by Dr Shajan, of the Delhi Institute of Archaeology, who recently presented a report to a workshop organised by the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR). Dr Shajan is preparing a proposal for large-scale excavation at the site.

Dr Shajan belives that he has found the site of Muziris, the legendary seaport of the ancient world, which has traditionally been on the same river mouth but nearer to Kodungalloor. Excavations carried out in the area in 1945 and 1967 failed to find anything earlier than the twelfth century, but the lack of older material was attributed to coastal changes resulting from sea erosion and monsoonal flooding.

Dr Shajan and his associate, V Selvakumar of the Centre for Heritage Studies, Thrippunithura, found geological evidence that the sea had regressed from the coast where the seaport was said to have been located rather than encroaching and so began looking further inland. They traced the original course of the Periyar by studying sediments and sand bars and found documentary evidence that when ships berthed at Muziris, lighters were used to carry goods inland to the port itself.

Dr Shajan and his team then identified Pattanam as the possible port site from its elevated position and the large number of surface shards: a test pit dug to a depth of 1.5 metres produced more than 1,000 pottery fragments.

The report quotes Dr Shajan as saying that our Fellow, Dr Roberta Tomber, of the University of Southampton, has seen the finds and �became very excited�.

Vacancies

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), two Commissioners
Unpaid appointments (travel and subsistence expenses are met), closing date 14 May 2004

Two new Commissioners are being sought to replace members retiring in October 2004. The Commission is interested in attracting candidates with a knowledge of the archaeology of Scotland and its wider context, and those with experience of using information technology in education with particular reference to the prehistoric and historic environment.
An information pack can be obtained by emailing: publicappointments@response-handling.com or by telephoning 0870 240 1818.

Museum Documentation Association (mda), Director
Salary �41,500 to �48,000, closing date 19 April 2004

The Board of mda (yes, the trendy lower-case branding is correct) is seeking an outstanding and committed individual be responsible for the strategic direction of the organisation at a significant milestone in its 25-year history. As a result of a recent review, mda�s core funding is being increased to enable key services to the sector to be expanded, and mda is working closely with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to develop a long-term funding agreement.

For further details and an application form, telephone the National Museums and Galleries of Wales jobline anwerphone on 029 20573348 or visit their website . For an informal discussion about the post, contact Louise Smith, nma Director, on 01223 415760 or email her at lsmith@mda.org.uk.