thinking about archaeology

Archive for April, 2016

Fortune and victory sit on thy helm!


Photography. Leicester’s statue of Richard III was so much easier to photograph before they moved it from the park! Among the trees and flowers down by the river the light was kind, and the scene changed all the time. It’s appropriate where it now is, but its surroundings are harsh, and it could hardly have been better placed for bad light if someone had tried. In this shot the sun was glowing off the cathedral clock face, and with a long lens I was just able to position myself so the king’s crown framed the clock. But the statue was in complete shadow.

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All the world in Shoreditch

invest stage.jpgI was back in London this morning, for an interesting media event that puts some perspective on the fears some have about proposed developments across the road in Spitalfields. Here, when it’s built, will be a truly monumental tower. It’s residential. It’s on the edge of the City, but the PR focusses on artists, fashion and clubs, young entrepreneurs and street buzz and vibrancy. I doubt that many young creative types will be living there: prices for its designer suites, apartments and penthouses range from £695,000 to £2,570,000, and they are being marketed solidly at investors.

Architecturally (there are two lower-rise office and retail blocks adjacent) it puts me in mind of a compressed version of the Barbican. The flats look as if they might be really nice, with some spectacular views, at least from the highest floors. There’s some green space on the ground (in the sky too) and – here’s the most interesting bit – a theatre.

Or at least, there was a theatre.

The development is on Curtain Street, a name that goes back to The Curtain theatre, a playhouse that opened in 1577 and was probably the venue for the first performance of Henry V. That being the case, when the Chorus introduce the play, saying “…can this cockpit hold/The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram/Within this wooden O the very casques/ That did affright the air at Agincourt?” we are technically hearing a description of this very site. (The developer has said it was where Romeo and Juliet was first performed, though I understand that to have been at The Theatre, opened the year before.)

Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) completed their desk evaluation and excavated many small test trenches a few years ago (you can see what “small” means from the photo below). Here is what Julian Bowsher wrote in his feature about London’s Shakespearean playhouses in British Archaeology (Nov/Dec 2012/127):

“A long, thin north–south evaluation trench we dug in late 2011 appears to have cut across the centre of [The Curtain playhouse]. Stone and brick foundation pads, 22m apart, almost certainly represent the outer wall footings. At the southern end of the trench, thicker brick foundations, 12ft 6in (3.8m) from the line of the outer wall, defined the inner wall. There was a brick relieving arch in this wall which may indicate the presence of an ingressus [entrance from the yard into the galleries]. A gravel yard, some 54ft (16.5m) across, lay within the inner wall. Traces of brick – and knuckle bone – surfaces between the inner and outer walls were evidence for later reuse, and may corroborate references to the building being transformed into tenements by the 1640s. Otherwise, these remains were all sealed by 18th century dumps.”


The Curtain’s inner wall, with a possible ingressus on the right and the yard surface in front. Photo MOLA 2011

This is extraordinary. Any nearer the centre of London, instead of being preserved beneath 18th century soil and rubbish, the theatre’s remains would have been punctured, if not mostly removed, by basements and deep foundations. There is real hope here that the archaeologists might find substantial remains of a theatre known to Shakespeare – and one, ironically, about which otherwise almost nothing is known.

So far so promising. But it gets more interesting.

The Rose theatre on Bankside, built 10 years after The Curtain, was famously the subject of archaeological excavation in 1988–89. There was a heated public argument that pitched the developers of a new office block against archaeologists and public figures protesting against the remains’ imminent destruction. It was only the developers’ goodwill that saved anything. It caused such a stir that national planning policy was changed. We still benefit from that change – the policy is responsible for the fact the MOLA archaeologists were the first people to dig into the ground at The Curtain, not a bulldozer.

And this time the developer is interested in the dig. Really interested.

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Ed Vaizey, culture minister (centre) has just trowelled out a bit of pot from an 18th-century drain, with Jonathan Goldstein, chief executive at Cain Hoy, and Heather Knight, MOLA senior archaeologist

Galliard Homes has called the project The Stage. Its press event today was to launch MOLA’s excavation. When it’s all done, whatever remains are found will be preserved in situ and “transformed into a local landmark”, in a semi-subterranean public visitor centre. Rather as Richard III has transformed Leicester and set the city onto football glory, Shakespeare, Galliard must be hoping, will add gold and glamour to its new buildings.

This is quite fascinating. I can understand some people being cynical. However listening to Jonathan Goldstein enthuse about Shakespeare and “thousand of visitors a week”, I felt he was genuinely thinking about heritage as a positive part of development, life even, not just as a PR exercise.

So let’s see what the dig produces. I will follow it closely.




A bit of “street buzz” that will survive, though possibly looking rather like the old man’s house in the movie Up

Added April 26. Here’s the plaque celebrating The Curtain, that came down with the building. Photo of latter from London Remembers, and plaque from MOLA.

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London’s new marble arch

arch column.jpgYesterday was a thinking, walking day in London, pleasantly warm and sunny by the end, that began in the British Museum and ended in Spitalfields via Palmyra and Trafalgar Square. As usual, unless otherwise stated, all photos are mine.

Hartwig FischerThe new exhibition at the BM, “Sicily: culture and conquest” (from Thursday till August 14) set the tone, portraying the island as a sort of floating cultural hub, facing east, west and south – notably under Norman kings in the 12th century. It’s the first show to open under the directorship of Hartwig Fischer, who greeted us in the gallery (above). There are some lovely sculptures and ceramics; it’s not difficult to see why some of this stuff excites collectors, even to illicit dealings. These two pictures are from the BM:

Terracotta altar with three women

Terracotta altar with three women and a panther mauling a bull, Gela, 500BC, Museo Archeologico Regionale di Gela © Regione Siciliana

12th century mosaic

Byzantine-style mosaic showing the Virgin as advocate for the human race, Palermo Cathedral, AD1130–80, Museo Diocesano

I also liked this older carving, from the museum in Syracuse, a carved door from a rock-cut bronze age tomb at Castelluccio (said to date from around 2000BC). The caption comes straight from old archaeology. “The designs on this tomb may depict the sexual act… The spirals may symbolise eyes, breasts or ovaries.” Or perhaps not. It reminded me (in parallel guessing mode) of Easter Island statues: open eyes at top, closed at bottom – closing, or perhaps opening, during the passage from life to death.


So on to Trafalgar Square, to see the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) unveil a replica antique arch – the RomanTriumphal Arch from Palmyra, blown up by IS last October. The IDA and its arch have both created quite an interest in the archaeological community, not least because we are regularly being asked by journalists what we think about them.

I’m still not clear exactly what either are for (IDA and the arch), but there’s no denying the arch is fun, and a stunning illustration of digital technologies. It’s made, I think, by creating a 3D image of the arch from 2D photos, and using this to drive a stone drill – the replica is Egyptian marble. It drew quite a crowd, and there was much talk about loss of world heritage, conservation, meanings and rights. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director of antiquities, credited the arch with raising world awareness about these things.

In any event, international solidarity has to be good. It was also good to see the mayor of London (as he does) talk up ancient civilisations and multiculturalism. “Monuments,” said Boris Johnson, “as embodiments of history, religion, art and science, are significant and complex repositories of cultural narratives” (take that Justin Trudeau and your quantum computing!). People in Trafalgar Square cheered when he raised “two digits” to IS (or Daesh as he calls it). Perhaps IS also cheered in their own way; they like publicity. Roger Michel, IDA’s founder and executive director, seemed to have enough confidence and charisma to match Johnson’s, and came across as enthusiastic and sincere. Good luck to them. Heritage needs champions.

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Peter, blowing a shofar: he worries the arch will bring down the wrath of Jesus

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Beri and Oliver, hoping the arch will further world peace

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Boris Johnson (left) arrives at the official tent to greet Maamoun Abdulkarim (right), with Jonathan Tubb, keeper at the British Museum’s Department of the Middle East

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Johnson and Roger Michel, with Alexy Karenowska behind Michel’s right

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In a video Alexy Karenowska (director of technology at the IDA, and a magnetician at Oxford University’s Department of Physics) gives an eloquent presentation of how this technology can help to restore Palmyra and other ancient sites. The new technologies make it easy, if not cheap. Here is where many archaeologists have doubts.  Karenowska seems to envisage replacing lost and damaged architecture with replica models. She recognises the need to “respect authenticity”, and not to confuse copies with antiquity – it’s important, she says, that visitors know which bits are real and which bits are new. But how much do we restore, and what do we leave alone? There are no simple answers.

In the same video Brendan Cormier from the V&A talks about the tradition of making casts of ancient art, which I think is a different thing. As we see spectacularly in the V&A’s recently restored cast court, in earlier centuries plaster casts allowed people to see antiquities and buildings up close that they would otherwise not be able to see at all (as they do for us now). Not only could they not visit remote sites, reproduction technologies were primitive in modern terms, and there were no comparable alternatives.

Old casts often preserve details now lost, and we’d expect digital copies now to do the same in future. But you don’t need to print them to examine them: online digital models can be studied in closer detail, and reach even more people than a printed replica. There’s something about making a physical model of the Palmyra arch that is reminiscent of the early days of the web, when we printed out web pages as seen on our screens. We don’t need to do that.

Here is what some archaeologist have said.

John Curtis, former BM curator, agrees to restoration “after overnight destruction… so far and no further… Many of these ruins had been restored over the years… Provided we know exactly what we are doing, I would certainly favour restoring them to what they were a year ago.”

In a thoughtful piece in The Conversation, Emma Cunliffe, who works for Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East & North Africa (EAMENA), University of Oxford, writes:

“…many argue that 3D printing fails to capture the authenticity of the original structures, amounting to little more than the Disneyfication of heritage. They also point out that the fighting is still ongoing… stabilisation alone should be the priority for now.

“Rebuilding also fails to redress the loss caused by the extensive looting of [Palmyra], focusing only on the dramatically destroyed monuments. Perhaps most importantly, it’s worth asking whether returning Palmyra exactly to its pre-conflict state denies a major chapter of its history? … As has happened after previous conflicts, there may need to be a memorial as a testimony to those beheaded in the arena, or tied to columns that were detonated, or to the [executed] former site director… These stories, and many more, are a part of Palmyra’s, and Syria’s, history.

“One thing is clear: while Palmyra may hold great significance to the world, the final decision should belong to those who have lived alongside it, cared for it, managed it, fought for it, and protected it for generations: the Syrian people.”

It’s important that reconstruction does not diminish the significance of the original monument, says Bob Bewley, project director at EAMENA – and there are always “questions of value for money”. “But if wealthy philanthropists wish to create these symbols of the cultural heritage, to raise awareness of the destruction of identity and cultural heritage, then that is their right.” “The biggest threat to archaeological sites in the Middle East is not Isil,” he adds in the Telegraph, “it’s ploughing and urban expansion.”

Abdulkarim also favours sensitive restoration, using digital imagery, Jonathan Tubb told me, to help rebuild recently damaged parts of Palmyra with original fragments – not to create replicas to erect on site. “We can never have the same image as before Isis,” he told the BBC. “We are trying to be realistic.”

“What I approve of is collecting a record of and documenting vast numbers of sites,” says Tim Schadla-Hall, reader in public archaeology at UCL. He’s less enamoured of the arch, however, which he finds “a bizarre expenditure of money, possibly with worthy but misinformed aims, to promote something which isn’t a real past, in an entirely reproduced form. I don’t get it; I find it very, very odd… [What’s needed is] getting people to change their attitudes to what’s important about the past, and the way you do that, if you’re talking about the preservation of monuments, is you make them worthwhile to the people who live there. It’s the economic benefit they get.”

“The publicity and so on is great,” says Bill Finlayson of the Council for British Research in the Levant.“I have no problem with [IDA’s marble arch]. I think there is a bit more of a problem with the issue of reconstruction on the site itself. The dangerous precedent suggests that if you destroy something, you can rebuild it and it has the same authenticity as the original.”

A Times leader warns that “Archaeological sites ought not to be seen as Disneylands of ruins… The question of exactly what is to be rebuilt and what effect that rebuilding would have on the rest of the site – discovered and undiscovered – should be a matter for archaeologists and historians to think about and then to act on.”

Roger Michel responded to the leader by writing to the Times Letters page, agreeing “wholeheartedly that any plan for the reconstruction of Palmyra must be thoughtfully conceived and carefully executed”, but expressing concern about delaying action, noting the drawn-out arguments over the destroyed Bamiyan statues.

Jesse Norman, chairman of the culture, media & sport select committee, wrote of the problems in pulling off IDA’s project “under ideal conditions, let alone in an active war zone”. He thinks “this is a moment when the British government and leading governments around the world should vigorously support Unesco in taking a lead… Palmyra is already a Unesco world heritage site. It is time for Unesco to demonstrate its leadership once again in this area, with our and other nations’ support.”

Like the Times, Boris Johnson puts archaeologists at the forefront. “We have some of the greatest archaeological experts in the world,” he says in a Telegraph column. “I hope that the Government will fund them to go to Syria and help the work of restoration. It is far cheaper than bombing…”

Ross Burns, adjunct professor in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney and author of Monuments of Syria (2009), has perhaps been the most outspokenly critical of printed digital replicas. “It is sad”, he writes in Apollo, “the extent to which… those who have access to copious funding want to prioritise the ‘re-creation’ of Palmyra using ingenious technology well away from Syria. Those efforts are misguided. The regeneration of Palmyra must serve (a) the regeneration of Tadmor and (b) restore Palmyra’s real lesson for humanity: that cities can survive for millennia only by building on the memories of their past.”

In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones sides with the majority archaeological view.

“It is always more moving to see the real stuff of the past, however damaged, than to see a faked-up approximation. The temptation to ‘fix’ Palmyra and make it look like it did at the start of 2015 is understandable. This fascinating place has been subjected to a barbaric onslaught, the thinking goes. Surely it should be as if Isis never did their worst.

“History is not like that. The Isis attack on Palmyra was not a counterfactual fantasy. It really occurred. This 21st-century tragedy is part of Palmyra’s history now. This too, for the sake of truth and as a warning to the future, must be preserved.”

The same paper quoted me in similar vein last year:

“Isis will one day be history. Palmyra will be its permanent lesson, about the darkness into which oppression, ignorance and corruption can sink. To over-restore the ruins would be to create a fiction, denying the tragedy and devaluing what had genuinely survived.”

It’s an important debate, and one that IDA and its marble arch in Trafalgar Square can be proud to have stimulated. Meanwhile there are many other projects using digital imagery, like EAMENA, to record ancient remains and landscapes. In the long term, surely the most exciting ones are those that involve or originate from citizens of the countries whose heritage is being traduced. Such schemes include:

  • the New Palmyra Project, “using digital tools to preserve the heritage sites being actively deleted by ISIS… hosting live workshops and building a network of artists, technologists, archaeologists, architects, and others to research, construct models, and create artistic works”
  • the Palmyra 3D Model, “using people’s unaltered digital holiday photos from Palmyra, before its deliberate destruction by extremists. Using these I am building a 3D model of the ruins to share with the world on open access” (he’s currently seeking funds through crowdfunding to buy a bigger computer)
  • Project Mosul, which “strives to preserve the memory of lost cultural heritage through the means of digital restoration”
  • Project Anqa, a joint CyArk/ICOMOS “emergency recording and archiving” scheme.

The British Museum’s Emergency Heritage Management programme deserves an honourable mention here. With significant funding from the Department of Culture, Media & Sport and led by Jonathan Tubb, this will bring 24 Iraqi scholars to the UK for intensive archaeological and conservation training, to be followed by further training in Iraq; the first group is due to start soon. “The effect of this rolling programme”, says the BM, “will be to create a large and well-trained team of professionals that can cope with the full range of archaeological heritage needs. A team which will be ready when it once again becomes possible to access [sites such as Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra]. The scheme cannot stop further acts of cultural destruction but it can equip colleagues with the skills required to conserve and restore where possible and is an attempt to enable colleagues to preserve sites and objects of global significance.”

_MP25289.jpgAnd so to Spitalfields. There’s another debate running here about heritage conservation and change. Of course the situation is far removed from the world of the Middle East: but some of the issues are similar, and views are strongly held – not least by Boris Johnson.

There’s a patch of land up for development that has so far escaped the City’s relentless renewal and growth. In February a distinguished list of names wrote to the Times asking for “the communities and local government secretary, to call in – and hold a planning inquiry into – the planning applications threatening Norton Folgate in Spitalfields. This historic conservation area on the fringes of the City is imperilled by plans by British Land to demolish a swathe of buildings for a banal office-led scheme. The plans were rejected by the local council but this decision has been shamefully overruled by the mayor of London, one of a string of permissions he has handed to developers against the will of local people.”

After hearing the mayor of London speak so winningly in support of world heritage, I thought I’d have a look at this imperilled “historic conservation area on the fringes of the City”. British Land’s original scheme was revised and re-presented to Tower Hamlets council in 2015, and in this form gained Historic England’s support. “In our view,” it writes, “the scheme will bring back into use historic buildings that have lain empty and decaying for decades and make a positive contribution to the area… There are no listed buildings, only the cobbles on Blossom Street are listed and they will be kept… It is our view that change is necessary to bring these long-derelict buildings back into use. The diversity of new uses proposed has the potential to revive the area and reflect its residential and industrial past.”

The air photo below, from an exhibition by British Land in 2014, shows the area affected:

Blossom-Street-Board.jpgAs British Land sees it, what the Spitalfields Trust (the most vocal objector) describes as “glass and steel offices”, “corporate plazas” and “big corporate occupiers”, are proposals for “space for small businesses, contextual architecture, intimate courtyards, independent operators and the carefully considered restoration and retention of historic streets and buildings”.“British Land”, says the Save Norton Folgate Facebook page,“want to obliterate Norton Folgate under a hideous corporate plaza and we want to stop them.”

There are other objectors – among them Tower Hamlets council (over-ruled by the mayor acting as the local planning authority), who rejected the scheme “by reason of its bulk, scale and height [which] would fail to either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Elder Street Conservation Area”. Save Britain’s Heritage thinks the proposal “would devastate Spitalfields which is itself an urban success story”. The Huguenot Society objects “on the grounds that the site is one of the few remaining places where Huguenot ancestry and culture is preserved”. The Georgian Group says “the scheme does not respect the scale or materials of the conservation area and fails to demonstrate appropriate enhancement”. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings wants “a full review… in order to deliver a fully heritage-led scheme that protects the special character of the Norton Folgate area”.

There are supporters too, including (with qualifications) the Spitalfields Society, the Ministry of Start-ups (affordable start-ups workspace) which is “acutely aware of the lack of business space in the area which leads to rising rent levels”, and the Metropolitan Police, who welcome the extra footfall.

In February campaigners were granted a judicial review hearing to contest the mayor’s calling in of the council’s decision on the site. Their argument is that Johnson’s office could not have read all the required documents in the time in which it took to respond to the application – apparently the 13th it has called in, over-riding council objections in the other 12 – and as a result “erred in law” by failing to take into account a number of relevant matters. It will be the first challenge to the mayor of its kind, to be held in the High Court before May 5. The debate will be interesting.

First, affected buildings:





_MP25300.jpgAnd buildings immediately adjacent but otherwise unaffected (please correct me if I’ve got anything wrong):











Janet Hodgson

Hodgson stonehenge 156.jpgMore sad news. Tomorrow’s Guardian paper will carry Janet Hodgson’s obituary, online now. She will have been known to quite a few archaeologists, as among other things she worked at excavations, and some of her creations were explicitly archaeological: “Piltdown Bungalow” (1993) was an archaeological trench exposing the top of a house; “The Pits” (2005) features sand-blasted impressions of excavations in Canterbury; and “My passage through a rather brief unity in time” (2010) is a short film featuring Maud Cunnington behind the camera. The latter was one of the works she created at the Stonehenge Riverside excavations, to which Helen Wickstead invited several artists for Art+Archaeology.

Wickstead wrote about the Stonehenge project for British Archaeology. The work Hodgson did there included films that jumbled archaeological process and social life, using Harris matrices and GPS mapping. Her Cunnington film was screened at Touchstone, an exhibition about Art+Archaeology at Salisbury Museum in 2010. Her work played about with the confusing nature of time, and was witty, surreal and stimulating. “Temporal landmarks”, wrote Wickstead, “are simulated and relocated. Like her installations, Hodgson’s films generate the sensation of being lost in time.” She was only 56.

At top Hodgson films at an excavation beside the Cuckoo Stone, near Durrington Walls, in 2007

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Still from TimeNap: an archaeologist’s hands refit pieces of struck flint (Hodgson)

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A screen from a presentation by Wickstead, showing Hodgson interviewing archaeologist Julian Thomas


From the catalogue to Touchstone (Salisbury Museum)

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The University of Kent has posted an obituary, with this photo of Hodgson as Cunnington at Stonehenge:


British Archaeology goes underwater

Cover with SpineThe new British Archaeology came out last week, and is in the shops now. Here’s a peek inside.

As three UK universities are rated the best in the world for the study of archaeology, and the government emphasises the global reach of British arts and heritage, our front cover features an outstanding international project led by British specialists: the discovery and excavation of an early 16th wreck off the coast of Oman.

We challenge British antiquities dealers with a proposal that could put them at the forefront of tackling international heritage crime.

We tell the story of a pioneering experimental museum in 1930s suburban Barnet, much of whose collection now distinguishes a museum in Queensland.

We consider the empire-wide origins of interior design in Roman London.

With features on children in archaeology and flax preparation in Northern Ireland, some striking letters and the usual news, reviews and other regular columns, this is another edition of British Archaeology packed with topical interest

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Charles Thomas RIP

Charles Thomas, distinguished historian and archaeologist, has died at the age of 87. We can expect many obituaries for a highly regarded and fondly remembered man. For now, here is British Archaeology’s interview from a few years ago.

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In bygone and sensible times

Soul Bros

Guidebook, captain?

Martyn Barber, who works at Historic England and co-authored HE’s recent The Stonehenge Landscape, tells me he’s researching John Soul. Soul featured in my previous post as the man who linked free access at Stonehenge in the last century to a photo of a Victorian event there (at 3pm on a September 18, but in other respects not unlike a summer solstice gathering). Soul, it seems, had quite an active relationship with the site’s official guardians.

“Did you know”, writes Barber, “he used to cycle up to Stonehenge, buy a batch of guidebooks at sixpence each, and then re-sell them at his shop in Amesbury for a shilling. I suspect this was done partly to annoy the Office of Works etc, which he was very good at.”

Among correspondence in the Office of Works archives at Kew, Barber found this comment from George Engleheart, Wiltshire secretary to the Society of Antiquaries, in a letter to Charles Peers, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments (Engleheart was himself a man not to shy away from stirring things up):

“…in bygone and sensible times we should have had [Soul] assassinated, but I can’t undertake the job in the face of miserable modern prejudice” (January 25 1921, TNA WORK 14/487).

Soul sounds like someone to have got on well with Arthur Pendragon. Has the latter ever thought of setting up shop in Amesbury?

Photo at top is from Jim Fuller

How the Magpie Musicians came to stand for free Stonehenge

Magpie Minstrels JFuller.jpgFour years ago (time, even immemorial, flies) I was working on an exhibition about Stonehenge for English Heritage, and I wrote a blog about a frequently reproduced photo of the stones. The image shows a crowd of people, bicycles and carts and horses, and had been commonly said to show a protest in 1901 against an admission charge. In fact the photo was taken in 1896 (along with at least one similar shot), on the occasion of a visit from a travelling musical troupe called the Magpie Musicians.

To my delight Jim Fuller recently got in touch with me through this blog, and supplied information and photos that tie up the story of these remarkable images. He sent me several photos, which he has kindly allowed me to publish here. One of the two prints I described, at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre (WSHC), is stamped “T.L. Fuller, Press and Commercial Photographer, Amesbury, Established 1911”. Jim is Thomas Lionel Fuller’s grandson. He has what remains of his grandfather’s collection of prints and negatives; all those reproduced here are his copyright.

As you can read on my earlier blog, the photo of Victorian festivities in the WHSC had been said, on the occasion of the opening of a pedestrian road underpass in 1968, to show “the villagers of Amesbury who massed at Stonehenge in protest against the charge” for entry introduced in 1901. Whoever wrote that could not have been TL Fuller, as he died in 1962. Neither did he take the photo, which was the work of James Russell & Sons from London. So how it came to be linked with an imaginary 1901 protest, and what Fuller’s connection was, remained unanswered. Until now.

At the top is an albumen print TL Fuller had in his collection of the more commonly reproduced image, showing a couple with two children standing by the Slaughter Stone (in the other, they are seated). The inscription shows the print was mounted by Russell & Sons. Someone has added a pencilled caption (partly inked over), and pencilled lines around the stones. The caption reads:

“THE RIGHT of FREE ACCESS enjoyed by THE BRITISH PUBLIC from TIME IMMEMORIAL” (above), and below:

ENCLOSED with barbed wire and a charge made for ADMISSION. 1901.

Fuller note.jpgJim Fuller has teased out what is going on. First let’s consider a pair of glass negatives, stored together with a handwritten note by his grandfather. Jim has transcribed the note (above), which is stamped with TL Fuller’s name and address and dated August 17 1938.


Copied from an old Photo given to me by Mr J. Soul (Shep[h]erd of Stonehenge) / this might be saleable to some of the weekly’s
Taken 68 Years ago /
Also see closing the gates Neg. taken June 1936. when the New Pay Turnstile was used first/


I understand a large number are being charged @ Salisbury Court last week concerning damage etc at Stonehenge some time ago –
the second party who visited Stonehenge during the night –
the Office of Works probably can do with plenty publicity concerning these places.

Fuller neg 1.jpgFuller neg 2.jpgAs Jim says, this seems to suggest that TL Fuller submitted a couple of images (as above) to a press agency (“this might be saleable to some of the weekly’s“) when arrests at the stones were in the news. The incident caused quite a stir at the time.

On the morning of June 16 1938 it was discovered that the Heelstone and four other stones, along with some nearby signposts, had been daubed with green paint. As well as this, as Time Magazine put it in its Foreign News section when the culprits were in court in August, “Atop great menhirs sat shining chamber pots.”

“Sixty Army officers” were asked “as officers and gentlemen to own to daubing part of Stonehenge”. Four came forward. It emerged that the “prank” began “after a rowdy guest night at nearby Larkhill Artillery School”.

The four men, all aged 20, having completed their course at Larkhill, were due to leave the following day. William Laurence Sherrard and William Howard Skinner, of the School of Anti-Aircraft Defence, Biggin Hill; John Edward Passingham Pierce, of the 22nd Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery Experimental Camp, Watchet; and John Lambert Shearne, of the Coast Artillery School, Shoeburyness: left the Mess about 10.30pm and got into Peirce’s car. They drove around, and, as you do, “decided to paint Stonehenge”.

“We collected some paint and a brush from the tennis court”, read their statement to the Salisbury court, where they pleaded guilty, “and went over to Stonehenge. Mr. Peirce and Mr. Sherrard each brought a piece of china. We parked the car by the fork road, got out, climbed the fence, and went over to the stones. We painted four stones in the group with green paint, climbed the stones and placed the pieces of china on the top of the stones. We came back towards the fence and painted a part of one side of the Hele stone.”

As a departing flourish they “added a letter” to “Exeter” on the road sign by the car park.

“It will take perhaps a thousand years for the stones to weather,” said the prosecution, referring to the cleansed sarsens. They were each fined £1, and charged £20 for court costs and repairs. The Larkhill commander, said Time, promised an “official reprimand”, while “keeping a straight face”.

I’ve put this together from online local press reports, so details may need correcting, and perhaps someone has some photos or drawings. But it would seem that TL Fuller, in the absence of photos of the actual event, rummaged in his archive and found something suitable for the press, which he copied (pencilling around the stones to make them clearer) and posted; Jim says he has a buff envelope, addressed to his grandfather and postmarked London 1938, which could have been how they were returned.

When Fuller wrote that one of the negatives was copied from a photo given him by J Soul, he was referring to John Soul (1866–1942), an eccentric family grocer who had a shop in Amesbury. Soul sounds like a latter day Henry Browne, obsessed with Stonehenge, writing guidebooks, popular with locals and visitors, dressing up as a shepherd and a Druid, and no doubt spinning remarkable stories. He was also, says Jim, a champion for the right of free, public access to Stonehenge.

It was Soul, thinks Jim, who wrote on the mount of the 1868 Russell print. That it was owned by him is confirmed by stamps on the back:

Soul stamps.jpgThe Stonehenge Bureau, “antiques and curios”, must have been a sideline to the bread and camp requisites – the same stamp is over this trade postcard (putting an entirely new slant on Soul Brothers):

Soul Bros.jpgSo the idea that the Magpie Musicians’ visit was actually a protest against the privatisation of Stonehenge originated with John Soul’s proselytising: he used the 1868 image to represent unfettered public access, in contrast to the 20th century fences and gates. There’s no evidence here that either Soul or Fuller argued that the image actually showed a protest, and both acknowledged its Victorian date (they thought 1870). The notion of a 1901 rally seems to have arisen later, through over-casual reading of Soul’s (or Fuller’s) caption.

This also allows us to see the photo of the man at the turnstile (higher up) in a new light. Usually imagined to be an unknown rambling visitor, we can now see it was John Soul, presumably posing deliberately by the new gates in a continuing fight for free public access.

Thank you Jim Fuller!

Farewell Sekhemka

Sekhemka-Christies.jpgNorthampton’s statue of Sekhemka will leave the UK, now that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s export licence deferral has finally expired.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary export bar on the beautiful statue a year ago, after Christie’s sold it on behalf of Northampton Borough Council for a staggering £14m (though the council’s right to sell was far from clear). That bar was extended last October until March 29, “following notification of a serious intention to raise funds to save the Sekhemka statue for the UK”. Martin Bailey reports in the Art Newspaper that such funds never materialised. We don’t yet know where the statue is going, so we can still hope, perhaps, that it might emerge in a publicly accessible gallery or museum. This is a sad and shameful turn of events, but it’s unsurprising no one in the UK bought the statue. Thanks to Northampton Council’s actions, which included a murky deal with Lord Northampton, Sekhemka is tainted.

So here, as he embarks on another journey in his long history, is what he looked like when last seen in public. I’m pleased if anyone uses these photos (and I can supply higher resolution files on request, and have others). All I ask please (Art Newspaper) is a credit to Mike Pitts.

gallerywomanleft sidefrontscribebackleft side panelright side panelSekhemka feetin Christies

Madagascan martyrs

I am going to illustrate some extraordinary, shocking pictures. They were drawn and painted onto what look like sheets of cotton fabric, and were apparently all owned by the Rev Arthur Samuel Huckett (1853–1922). They are hanging in Lorfords antiques warehouse near Tetbury. Few would call them decorative domestic furnishings, but they are of great historical interest, and would find a good home in an appropriate museum. Given their age and that they were painted and presumably hung in a tropical country, they are in extremely good condition. They are creased, and must have spent most of their existence carefully folded and kept in a dry, dark place. Looking at three of them now, it’s easy to imagine why that might have been.

Hucketts.jpgArthur Huckett was a missionary with the London Missionary Society (LMS). He and his wife Eliza moved from London to Madagascar in 1881, shortly after marrying in their late 20s. They founded a leper colony and built schools, and remained on the island for 40 years. In the photo above (from Find A Grave – theirs is in Doncaster) Arthur is bottom left, with his wife, Eliza White (bottom right), their surviving children Winnie Eliza (centre), Edith Lily (with her husband Ernest George Jackson, top left), Alfred Edward (top centre) and Frederick William.

Find A Grave says the Hucketts went to Besilio. This suggests the LMS Betsileo Mission, in the highlands south of the capital city Antananarivo, and home to an eponymous ethnic group. Dreadful things happened there before their arrival.

The various Betsileo kingdoms were taken over by Radama I, king of the Imerina north of the Betsileo, in the early 19th century. Radama encouraged the LMS, who brought printing, schools and churches, and set up craft schools to teach things like carpentry and brick making. The LMS remained close to the all-powerful Imerina royal family, but in the 1830s Radama’s successor, Ranavalona I, tried to stop Christianity’s spread. Rightly seeing the European religion as a threat to traditional practices that underpinned Imerina society and economy (and royal power), she outlawed Christian practices, using increasingly drastic measures to enforce the ban.

Missionaries left the country. Their reports of oppression, trials by ordeal and mass execution played to a sponsoring European public. They can make doubly uncomfortable reading, at times seeming more like sensationalised fiction than accounts of real torture and abuse for which their own actions were partly to blame. But the stories were not entirely fabricated; incidents of imprisonment and murder are well documented, among them those depicted on the fabrics in Lorfords.

The three major scenes were well known and often depicted; of those I’ve seen, these are among the best drawn. They each show what the missionaries called the killing of Christian martyrs. Here is how the events were described by the Rev TT Matthews of the LMS, in his Thirty Years in Madagascar (1904), a book which delights in emphasising the “ignorance” and “the most degrading superstitions” of the island, a place of “polygamy, infanticide, trial by the poison ordeal, and all the attendant horrors of heathenism”.

Rasalama.jpgDespite Ranavalona’s ban, says Matthews, “the people continued to pray”. So the queen took revenge. The kneeling woman is Rasalama, speared to death on August 14 1837, the first Christian martyr.

IMG_3545.jpgOn March 28 1849 (what Matthews calls “The Killing Times” lasted 26 years) 18 Christians were condemned to death. Four “nobles”, including a woman and three men, were sentenced to be burned at the stake at Faravohitra; their names were Ramitraha and Andriantsiamba, and husband and wife Andriampaniry and Ramanandalana. In the top right corner of this picture you can see a sketchy rendition of the royal palace at Tana (in the detail below I’ve removed the stake…):tana

The others, all from Vonizongo, were led up to a rock at Ampamarinana above the town, and thrown off (as we see in Matthews’ illustration, further down). Some accounts tell how they were lowered on ropes, one by one, and goaded to renounce their Christian God: when they failed to do so, the rope was cut. All died.Ampamarinana.jpg


The same scene as illustrated by Matthews

After this, Huckett’s other cloths seem trivial: a market scene and a couple of maps. These are terrible stories. Behind them lie complex, confusing events that need telling, and researching and resolving as much as is possible. Pictures such as these are part of the record and the memories.mad maps.jpg