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Stonehenge on right, traffic flow on the nearby A303  left
Mike Pitts
In his letter to The Times (Saturday, 16 September) Mike Pitts, Editor of the British Archaeological magazine, writes –

Sir, Tom Holland (letter September 13) notes that archaeologists have found ancient remains across the Stonehenge world heritage site, and implies that a road tunnel would threaten more. He is correct, but this is a red herring. Any works close to Stonehenge must be preceded by an archaeological survey. In the latest announcement the proposed route has been adjusted to avoid newly discovered sites. It is inevitable, however, that not everything can be saved in this way, and then excavation must occur. Remains will be disturbed, scientific studies will be conducted and finds will go to the local museum. We will learn more about Stonehenge. The process – turning loss into enlightenment – is exactly the same for all excavations, including those that have impressed Holland. All archaeological excavation is both destructive and creative.

If there is a problem, it is that the two excavating sides – one led by pure inquiry, one by development – do not talk to each other enough. In the years ahead, it is vital that all organizations work together for the benefit of Stonehenge and the public.

Mike Pitts
Editor, British Archaeology

Photo and letter published with the kind permission of Mike Pitts. See also Mike’s What would Trump do with Stonehenge?
“They groan’d aloud on London Stone.” William Blake
Wren’s rebuilt St Swithin’s church in 1831, with the casing of London Stone prominent in the middle of the front wall. Engraving after Thomas H. Shepherd, 1831
Source Wikimedia Commons
Charlotte Higgins, Chief culture writer for The Guardian, reports 12 March on the proposed rehousing of the London Stone –
Roman milestone, druidic altar, Excalibur’s resting place? Mysterious stone surrounded by stories is to be restored and rehoused
Rarely, perhaps never, has so spectacular a web of myth been woven around so unprepossessing an object: a small slab of limestone that lurks behind a metal grille set into a derelict, partially burnt-out building on Cannon Street in the City of London, with only balled-up pieces of chewing gum and dust for company. London Stone has, in its time, been identified as a druidic altar for human sacrifice; a Roman milestone; the slab in which Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, was embedded; and part of the remains of the palace of the Roman governor of Britain.
One version has it that Brutus, the legendary founder of Britain, brought it from the sack of Troy. The saying goes that “so long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”. Now the City of London has taken a small step towards a more dignified future for the London Stone than its current lodging in the facade of the 1960s former Bank of China office – more recently a branch of Sportec and, latterly, a WH Smith [bookshop].
Planning permission has been granted for the demolition of the building and the erection of new premises on the site, to include a special raised plinth so that the artefact can be viewed by the public. During the building works, it is hoped that London Stone will be displayed in the Museum of London for about 20 months from late spring.
More here.
The Ófeigskirkja Stone (The Hidden People Church) at Gálgahraun in Iceland. The stone held up construction of a new road until it was relocated
Image credit Svala Ragnars
In Iceland, newts, bats or other endangered flora and fauna are not the only things that might halt or delay construction projects. Elves are equally to be respected! Oliver Wainwright, the Guardian’s architecture and design critic, reports –
Road-builders are used to seeing their plans scuppered by the protected habitats of bats and newts, or sites of special scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty. But in Iceland, there is another hindrance: the world of the huldufólk, as they call them, the hidden people.
The rock, known as Ófeigskirkja, has been at the centre of an eight-year battle to stop a road being built through this 8,000-year-old landscape, a spectacularly barren and evocative terrain a little to the north of Reykjavík, which some believe is a site of supernatural forces. In a country of such desolate stony expanses, haunted by howling winds, bubbling geysers and fiery eruptions, it’s not hard to see why more than half of the population entertains the possibility that a parallel community of elves, dwarves and ghosts might exist – a statistic repeated in tourist brochures since a landmark 1975 survey.
Full article here. See also our earlier feature Stones in the road: Like diamonds in the dust.

A Google Earth image showing the Fornham All Saints Cursus in East Anglia, England

Mariam Ghaemi, writing for EADT24, reports that –

Prominent archaeologists and historians have called for a “major excavation” of a development site which sits in a landscape of potentially “international significance”.

These specialists have signed an open letter which is published in the EADT today concerning land on the edge of Bury St Edmunds, near Fornham All Saints, where building work for about 900 homes could begin in May. Concerns are over the proximity of the site to the Fornham All Saints cursus – a Neolithic processional way 1.2 miles long and a Scheduled Ancient Monument which has been dubbed as potentially “significant as Stonehenge”. The open letter says the cursus sits amid a landscape of high-level archaeological activity, “potentially of international significance”. It raises questions over the archaeological investigations at the development site, which Dr Tom Licence, director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia, said the cursus may actually extend into.

More here.

NB. Note how the road on the left appears to run roughly parallel with the cursus. See also our earlier feature on The Chelmer (Springfield) Cursus.


The Tristan Stone
A 1,500 year-old standing stone in Cornwall, marking the grave of a king’s nephew who inspired the Tristan and Isolde legend, is being moved to make way for Wainhomes to build a housing estate and Park and Ride facility. Harriet Arkell, writing in the Mail Online, reports –
The ‘Tristan Stone’ was erected 1,500 years ago, reputedly to show the final resting place of Tristan, whose forbidden affair with the beautiful Irish princess Isolde has inspired poets for centuries. But a council has now given a developer permission to move the stone, described by English Heritage as ‘a significant scheduled monument’, to a nearby field so that they can build a housing estate and park and ride next to the site.
Mr Bert Bisco , an Independent Councillor on Cornwall Council, is reported by the Mail as saying that, “Such desecration is the equivalent of Napoleon shooting at the Sphinx for target practice.” Mr Biscoe, condemned the decision to shift the ancient obelisk as ‘cultural violence’ and one of the ‘worst attacks on heritage in the world’. He said, “How dare anybody presume to shift it without good reason? Building mundane houses in its vicinity is not good reason.”
More here.
Tristan and Iseult as depicted by Herbert Draper (1863–1920)
Source Wikimedia Commons

Marconi’s wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex, England

The world’s first wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex, England may be turned into apartments if developers get their way. The Old Silk Mill building in Hall Street, in the centre of the city, was the world’s first factory for wireless production. “Originally built by John Hall as a silk warehouse in 1861, it was bought by Courtaulds to be used as a silk weaving mill between 1865 and 1894.” The building was opened in 1898 by one of radio’s pioneers, Guglielmo Marconi. It has been empty since 2010 but there are now plans to convert it into apartments (four on the first floor and two on the ground floor) together with some commercial facilities which would entail internal alterations including partitions and two new staircases. Alterations to windows and doors, addition of windows, bin storage area and railings would also be introduced.

Marconi’s wireless factory today
The Heritage Trust

Chris Neale, from the Marconi Heritage Group, is reported as saying that he would rather the building be used as a community space, to display information about the city’s Marconi history and for educational activities. “Our concern is that this is the only industrial building left in Chelmsford which hasn’t been converted into something other than what it was used for,” said Mr Neal.

Marconi’s wireless factory with men in the ground floor machine shop

Chelmsford City Council will meet to discuss the proposed plans this week. A Planning Application Summary, with comments on the proposal, can be found here. See also our earlier feature on Chelmsford here.


A guest feature by Littlestone.

William Stukeley’s 1758 plan of Caesaromagus (present day Chelmsford) in the Bodleian Library, Oxford

After twelve years in Lancashire, eight in Wiltshire and thirteen in Japan, I finally ended up in the old English market town of Chelmsford (Essex, south-east England). That was thirty two years ago next month. Chelmsford is some forty miles from London and so was well within commuting distance of my new job in the capital. Houses in the town were affordable, schools for the kids looked good and that, basically, was all I knew about the place – other than the welcome signs as you entered the town which proudly (though somewhat inaccurately) claimed Chelmsford as ‘The Birthplace of Radio’ (the Marconi connection). All, that is, until I heard of an archaeological excavation undertaken by the British Museum back in the early 80s. The excavation was of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Springfield Lyons on a derelict piece of land just down the road from where I then lived. Sadly, after the BM’s excavation, the site was again abandoned and is now rapidly disappearing under a new business park.

The derelict site of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Springfield Lyons, Chelmsford before being developed into a business park

Little by little though I learnt that Chelmsford had a bit more of a history to it than just an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The area had been occupied from Neolithic times and once boasted an impressive prehistoric cursus (the Springfield, or Chelmer, Cursus ) with a wooden circle at one end (now both sadly buried under a supermarket and modern housing development).

But here’s the interesting bit; two thousand years ago Chelmsford was (and still is) situated midway between Colchester and London – both important Roman towns. Perhaps that’s why it somehow earned the distinguished Roman place-name of Caesaromagus (Caesar’s Marketplace). Why it should have been called Caesaromagus is something of a mystery as it was, “…a great honour for a town to have the imperial prefix incorporated in its name, and no other town in Britain was so honoured…”* Although Caesaromagus is mentioned on a 3rd century Roman map (the Antonine Itinerary) its exact location puzzled scholars for centuries. It wasn’t until 1758 when William Stukeley (of Avebury and Stonehenge fame) correctly identified Chelmsford as the Roman town of Caesaromagus. Stukeley even drew a plan (top) of what he thought the town looked like; although the plan is purely fictions and Stukeley has incorrectly placed it on the north side of Chelmsford’s River Can and not on the south side where excavations show it was actually sited.

Artist’s impression of Caesaromagus’ 4th century octagonal Romano-Celtic temple Chelmsford Archaeological Trust

Sometime around 325ce however an impressive, octagonal stone temple (above) was constructed in Caesaromagus for the worship of a Romano-Celtic deity (or deities). The temple stood on what is now the Baddow Road roundabout, close to where the Roman town was then situated. Similar temples, of the same date and plan, have been found in London and on the continent; perhaps the most famous of which is Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel at Aachen in Germany. The Aachen Cathedral, which now envelopes the octagonal Palatine Chapel, is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe. Constructed by Charlemagne around 796 it has seen the coronations of thirty German kings and twelve queens.

Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel AachenDomInsideOktogon by Maxgreene. Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What is interesting, and what has recently been reported by Christopher Howse in the Daily Telegraph, is that Caesaromagus’ octagonal stone temple, “…was behind the design of the third most influential ecclesiastical structure in the history of the Latin Church, after St Peter’s Rome and the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In third place came Charlemagne’s palace church at Aachen. The Roman tradition that it was built in is represented by a temple from AD 325 unearthed in Chelmsford in 1970.” Howse goes on to say, “As an exemplar of the Roman tradition embraced by Charlemagne, Chelmsford is invoked by Professor Eric Fernie, the former director of the Courtauld, in his splendid new volume Romanesque Architecture, an addition to the Pelican History of Art published by Yale.”

So, from what I thought was little more than a convenient place to commute from, Chelmsford turned out to be a place of unassuming mystery, not to mention one with a long and intricate history. A timeline that begins in the Neolithic with a cursus and wooden circle, through the Roman period giving rise to a well-organised little town boasting an octagonal temple of impressive stone construction. Then on through the medieval to the more recent past and the ‘Birthplace of Radio’. And, lest it be forgotten, Chelmsford was the first place anywhere in the world to employ electric street lighting 🙂 Oh, and I almost forgot, it was from Chelmsford that the Quaker, William Penn, left England in 1682 to establish the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, and it was from Penn’s endeavours that the city of Philadelphia was later planned and developed.

No small accomplishment for a little marketplace on the fringes of the once great Roman Empire. That’s not quite the end of the story though. I mentioned at the beginning of this feature that I’d lived for thirteen years in Japan. A lot of my spare time was spent visiting Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Japan boasts what is probably the oldest wooden building in the world – the Hōryū-ji (法隆寺) temple built in 607ce in Nara Prefecture, western Japan. Within the Hōryū-ji compound there’s a small wooden hall known as the Yumedono (Hall of Dreams). The Yumedono was built in 739ce to assuage the spirit of Prince Shōtoku (the prince was an Alfred the Great sort of figure who promoted Buddhism in Japan). The Yumedono stands on the site of a slightly earlier building commissioned by Prince Shōtoku himself. There is also, still in existence, a similar but slightly later building at the Eizanji-temple not far from the Yumedono in Nara Prefecture.

The octagonal hall at Eizan-ji temple in Nara Prefecture is thought to date from before 764ce

There are two things about Prince Shōtoku and the Yumedono. The first is that both the Yumedono and the Eizan-ji buildings are octagonal halls. The second is that legend has it that the Prince was born in a stable. The Hall of Dreams was built 414 years after the Romano-Celtic temple in Chelmsford so there would have been plenty of time for the idea for this style of building to reach Japan from the West, along with other goods and ideas via the Silk Road. Indeed, other aspects of temple building in Japan were influence by Greco-Roman styles of architecture and there are countless artefacts of Persian, Greek, Roman and Egyptian origin in the early 8th century Shōsō-in (正倉院) Imperial Repository in Nara (see also the Trust’s feature on Roman jewellery found in 5th century Japanese tomb). It would be fascinating indeed if the inspiration for Prince Shōtoku’s Hall of Dreams had its origins in Roman octagonal temples – perhaps even the one here in Chelmsford.

* Caesaromagus: A History and Description of Roman Chelmsford by Nick Wickenden, Keeper of Archaeology, Chelmsford Museums Service. A Chelmsford Museums Service Publication, 1991.

Full Telegraph article here. And for a light-hearted glimpse into the life and times of Chelmsford during the Roman period see Channel 4’s Chelmsford 123 situation comedy produced by Hat Trick Productions in 1988 and 1990.


Iron Age and Roman pits at the newly discovered Iron Age settlement in Wiltshire, England
Image credit: Taylor Wimpey
An Iron Age settlement has been unearthed at a building site in Wiltshire, southern England. Roundhouses, with hundreds of pits for storage, are among the discoveries at a site where Taylor Wimpey (one of Britain’s largest residential developers) is building 700 new houses. A Taylor Wimpey spokesman is reported as saying that, “We scheduled the archaeological investigation into our programme of work, as it is a vital step of the process. The work will continue until our contractors are completely satisfied that they have thoroughly investigated and recovered everything which they need for further analysis.”
Evidence or Roman activity at the site has also been discovered in the form of a large clay quarry pit. Archaeological excavations are expected to continue for a further three weeks. More here.

Proposed development at the Maltese World Heritage Site of Ta’ Hagrat


A development permit has been granted to build a two storey building within a few metres of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ta’ Hagrat temples, and within the buffer zone set up to protect the temple. Granting this development and denying the legislated buffer zone sets a dangerous precedent threatening all our cultural and natural heritage sites protected by buffer zones.

Government is also proposing two new policies that weaken the preservation of Malta’s heritage. The first allows the sanctioning of illegal developments at built or natural scheduled (protected) sites. The second policy being considered is that the scheduling of heritage buildings will be reviewed every ten years putting these at risk of being demolished in favour of yet more apartments.

Please consider signing the petition to halt this development here.


We are so powerful; our capacity for destruction is so huge, that we have to do something positive. (Sir David Attenborough)

Forgive our language, it’s not often that we feel the need to swear (well, we often do feel the need actually, though don’t usually print it) nor to encroach on the territory of our friends in the Natural and Wildlife heritage lobbies, but the comparison between the money being planned for a reckless high-speed rail link (HS2) in Britain, and the cuts to the budget of The Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew Gardens) in London, really does take the biscuit.

Please take a few moments to watch the video above (presented by Sir David Attenborough) and sign the petition here if possible.

Update in yesterday’s Guardian makes for depressing reading –

Cuts imposed by ministers that will see 125 jobs axed at Kew Gardens have gone ahead despite warnings that any drop in resourcing would threaten its future as one of the world’s leading botanic institutions.

A reduction of £1.5m in funding from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) coupled with other financial pressures have contributed to a £5m hole in Kew’s budget that managers say cannot be filled without losing a sixth of the institution’s staff, mostly in scientific areas.


Mariam Ghaemi, writing in the East Anglian Daily Times today reports that –
A historian has said a prehistoric site in Suffolk “could be as significant as Stonehenge” and called for detailed research to be undertaken before the area could be spoiled by development.
Dr Duncan McAndrew, who has worked at the British Museum in London, said just outside the village of Fornham All Saints was a scheduled monument called a cursus [see here for another example of a cursus] – which is made out of earth – and in the same area there was evidence of two causewayed enclosures, which could have been one or possibly two wooden henges. Dr McAndrew has raised concerns about the proximity of this area to a site north-west of Bury St Edmunds where Countryside Properties is looking to build about 900 homes, and believes there could be significant archaeology within the development site itself.
Dr Jess Tipper, county archaeologist at Suffolk Archaeology Service, said there was a “major prehistoric ritual landscape” along the Lark Valley. He believed the cursus – which he said dated back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods – would have been “equally impressive” as Stonehenge. “We have never had the opportunity to investigate it and the site is preserved as an ancient monument,” he said.
Suffolk County Council said substantial archaeological assessment at the development site had established while there were archaeological remains, “there are no grounds to consider refusal of [planning] permission in order to achieve preservation in situ of any important below-ground heritage asset”.
Full article here.
The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution will be debating The Mystery of the Wansdyke on Saturday, 22 March 2014 from 2pm to 5:30pm. See details above. The Wikipedia entry for the Wansdyke reads in part as –
Wansdyke (from Woden’s Dyke) is a series of early medieval defensive linear earthworks in the West Country of England, consisting of a ditch and a running embankment from the ditch spoil, with the ditching facing north. There are two main parts: an eastern dyke which runs between Savernake Forest and Morgan’s Hill in Wiltshire, and a western dyke which runs from Monkton Combe to the ancient hill fort of Maes Knoll in historic Somerset.
Wansdyke’s origins are unclear, but archaeological data shows that the eastern part was probably built during the 5th or 6th century. That is after the withdrawal of the Romans and before the complete takeover by the Anglo-Saxons. The ditch is on the north side, so presumably it was used by the Romano-Britons as a defence against West Saxons encroaching from the upper Thames Valley westward into what is now the West Country.
NB: Part of the Wansdyke is under threat from a housing development. See comment by moss above.
Lembah Bujang, in the Merbok district of Kedah, is the richest archaeological site in Malaysia, containing more than 50 ancient temple ruins
Image credit  K E Ooi
A 1,200 year-old temple ruin in Lembah Bujang, Malaysia as been demolished by a developer reports the BBC’s News from Elsewhere service –
Bujang Valley (Lembah Bujang) is the richest archaeological site in the country. It covers hundreds of square miles in the state of Kedah and houses temple remains dating back about 2,000 years. The deputy chief minister of neighbouring Penang State, Palinasamy Ramasamy, visited the site over the weekend and told the Malay Mail Online site that temple 11 at Sungai Batu “was demolished by the developer… more than a month back”.
Social media users were furious, with responses ranging from disbelief that the site was not protected to accusations of an attempt by the state to erase Malaysia’s pre-Islamic history. Kedah State authorities, taken aback by the reaction, said the site was on private land and had not been registered as historically significant.
Full article here.
A Roman period goldmine in the town of Roșia Montană, Romania. Source Wikimedia. Image credit Codrinb
Europa Nostra, a leading European heritage organisation, has expressed serious concern about a draft law which would allow a Canadian based company to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast goldmine in Roşia Montană, Romania –
In a letter addressed to Romanian parliamentarians, the civil society partner of the European Union, the Council of Europe and UNESCO, warned of the anticipated negative impact of the project on cultural heritage and the environment and called for an alternative and sustainable development plan for the region. Europa Nostra, together with the European Investment Bank Institute, listed Rosia Montana as one of ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ monuments and sites in Europe in June. The draft law proposed by the Romanian Government in August has sparked a wave of demonstrations across the country. The Romanian Parliament is expected to vote on it in November.
Europa Nostra has urged Romanian parliamentarians to start a genuine and thorough discussion on an alternative and sustainable solution for Roşia Montană. “Such a development plan would not only protect and promote the unique cultural and natural assets of the area (which include 150 km of pre-Roman and Roman galleries, archaeological artifacts and settlements witnessing an uninterrupted industrial life), but also bring long-term jobs to the region through the promotion of sustainable tourism, organic agriculture and other locally-based economic activities,” advocates John Sell, Executive Vice-President of Europa Nostra.
More here.
In August of this year we highlighted the threat to Old Oswestry, “… an early Iron Age hill fort in the Welsh Marches near Oswestry in north west Shropshire. It was designated as a scheduled monument (number 27556) in 1997 and is now in the guardianship of English Heritage. After the hillfort was abandoned it was incorporated into Wat’s Dyke, and two sections of this are adjacent to it.” In today’s Observer, Jamie Doward reports that –
…in what critics say is a result of the government’s new planning policy, proposals have been drawn up to build almost 200 luxury homes next to the ancient site, angering local residents and heritage groups. Some 6,000 people have signed a petition opposing the development, part of the county council’s plan to build 2,600 homes by 2026 to comply with government targets.
One of 25 hill forts in Shropshire, Old Oswestry has a series of perimeter ditches, formed between ramparts, that were designed to slow down attackers. An archaeological survey in 2010 found man-made structures in fields to the north-east of the fort. Two years ago the discovery of an iron age road, thought to connect The Wrekin, near Telford, with fields near the site, indicated that there was likely to be important evidence of past cultures buried under the soil.
English Heritage, which describes Old Oswestry as “a site of great national importance, one that helps to define our national story and identity”, has joined Oswestry town council in opposing the scheme, which locals say will do little to ease housing problems. They claim that the 188 homes planned for up to three sites around the fort will be expensive, low-risk developments “for affluent commuters, rich retirees, country retreat investors and holiday cottage landlords”. The development will be studied closely by the likes of the National Trust, which has warned that the government’s new “pro-development” planning framework will result in a glut of upmarket homes being built on greenfield sites because these offer the best returns for construction firms.
Full article here.


June 2022
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