The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 100

Issue 100

May / June 2008


There is more content online than usual for this bumper issue!


Early Scottish gardens unturfed

Axes could be 0.5m years old

In the press

Listing lobby was no hot air

Kent Anglo-Saxon cemetery could be royal

Poetry to assist transfer of Hadrian's Wall collection

In Brief & Phase 2


John Wymer
Mike Pitts introduces an archaeologist with a fine eye for illustration

The Lost Royal Cult Of Street House, Yorkshire
The excavation of a unique Anglo-Saxon cult cemetery

Born digital: Making People Believe
How computers have changed the world of archaeology

The Office: Heritage and Archaeology at Fortress House
John Schofield finds unexpected things on Savile Row

Green Men & The Way of All Flesh
Richard Hayman uproots a fashionable myth

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones considers archaeological imagery, and The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland has a new website

100 letters & news

Some of the letters we received and news stories we revealed in the past 100 issues

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Communication is king, says Mike Heyworth, celebrating nearly 60 years of magazines

Extra online content


Sebastian Payne asks, what do forensic archaeologists do?

Mick's travels & more travels

Mick Aston looks for early saints in Cornwall, and an introduction to visiting Cornwall's sites & monuments

my archaeology

Phil Harding, the man with five guitars


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


The Office: Heritage and Archaeology at Fortress House

As Savile Row found its place on the updated Monopoly game board, English Heritage moved out, ending 35 years of heritage business at this famous London address. John Schofield had a desk there. He returned towards the end to record the material detritus of change and finds unexpected things on Savile Row.

How many of us have had the opportunity – the desire even – to return to a former workplace following relocation, but prior to its conversion or development for a new use? Who has then wandered the empty corridors, and walked into offices that were previously off-limits to see what particular employees, teams or departments left behind? And how many have returned to our own individual workplace – places we typically personalise with great enthusiasm and creativity – to remember events that occurred there, friendships made or professional relations damaged, yet found no evidence at all for our own existence? In June 2006, a week after English Heritage finally vacated its prestigious central London headquarters, but before the developers moved in, I returned with a camera and notebook to see what we had left. Now, two years on, I can reflect further on that unique and extraordinary experience.

Fortress heritage

I have worked for English Heritage since 1989. For most of that time I was involved with heritage protection, and most recently with the characterisation team. Although effectively home-based I always had a desk in the office, a place where I kept files and records, and to which I returned regularly and routinely, typically once a week to catch up on administration and attend meetings. For one year, in 2000, a temporary promotion required me to be there every day. My own workspace moved three times during that period, but was always on the second floor of six. Room 223 initially, then 202, and finally for the last year only, room 230.

My phone number never changed – "3126, John Schofield". I was in Savile Row long enough to remember the introduction of PCs, email (and the virtual extinction of office memoranda) and video-conferencing, the change of London telephone numbers, and the gradual erosion of lunch-time drinking – indeed lunchtime per se – as staff increasingly "worked through", bringing sandwiches and sushi from outside.

"A fabulous location, in an iconic street at the heart of gentleman's London, and an anachronistic one: archaeology and tailored suits; 1950s alongside 18th century architecture"

The building is Fortress House, 23 Savile Row, just off Regents Street and close to Soho and Carnaby Street, Piccadilly and Oxford Circus. It is at once a fabulous location, in an iconic street at the heart of gentleman's London, and an anachronistic one: archaeology and tailored suits; 1950s alongside 18th century architecture. For me the location was perfect: just right for walking in Hyde Park (the city's green lungs), exploring Soho and the West End, and for shopping.

By the noughties, a more regional focus for English Heritage meant that a move away from this large, central and prestigious HQ had become inevitable. The address was an impressive (and imposing) one, as was the building, completed in 1950 and described by the renowned architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as "large and monumental". Previous occupants were the Central Electricity Board, Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and the Ministry of Health, before it became Headquarters of the Civil Service Commission and then us. Before leaving, a photographic record was made of the building, and our occupation of it. A party was held, with virtual appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis and a Blues Brothers tribute. Staff, past and present, were invited by the chief executive to record their memories and experiences of working in Fortress House, perhaps for a future publication. English Heritage and its direct predecessors occupied Fortress House for 35 years, from 1971 until 2006. During that time notable characters came and went, some of whom helped shape heritage management practice in England. Frequent office reorganisation led to renovation and redesign of its interior, from smaller individual offices to ever larger open plan, and the provision of communal tea-points.

Plastic crates

I did not expect to see any evidence for these structural alterations in my inspection. I was simply looking for material evidence of its most recent phase: its draw down, and final closure, and to question what this evidence might tell us about ourselves, as a heritage agency and as a profession in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Despite only occasional visits to the office, I nevertheless received all of the Relocation Briefings by email, telling me how to manage my office move. I therefore observed the process remotely, from a safe distance. I was told to take only what was necessary, while being constantly reminded of the shortage of space at the new offices. I was told for example that the landlords of our new premises in the city would not allow staff to bring pot-plants. Equally, many reports (the "grey literature") that had cluttered our shelves for years were now available online, making multiple hard copies unnecessary. As I was to discover, all of these observations, technological developments and official guidelines contributed to what was left behind.

It was around midday on June 12 2006 that I revisited the office. I had last been there about two weeks before, when I spent the day packing into plastic crates what I wanted to take to my new office in Swindon – an hour by fast train to the west of London – leaving everything else behind. These packing crates had all been removed in the intervening period. Only the flotsam and jetsam remained. As I approached the building I noticed the English Heritage flag still flying, though the front doors were locked, and I had to ring for attention. I also had to pre-book my visit. I was let in, invited to sign the visitors book, and told that I would be alone in the building, apart froma solitary security guard. Never having been there late at night, or at weekends, this sole occupancy felt very odd indeed.

Landscape of pins

There was nothing systematic about my wanderings at all. I simply went from the rooms and places I knew well, to places I had never been. I gradually worked my way up, from the ground floor with Reprographics and Registry, the Post Room, to the London teams on the first floor, Heritage Protection on the second, Policy on the third and so on.

The thing that struck me most was the unfamiliarity of so many of the rooms and spaces. Although each floor is effectively the same (a long corridor across the building, abutting shorter corridors at right angles on each wing, and a mix of open plan and a few smaller offices), the impression was that functionally and culturally these were very different areas, with clear evidence for widely different activities, working practices and preferences – public affairs, human resources and finance; archaeologists and architectural historians; the chairman and chief executive: there were some obvious differences in decor, the types of object left behind, even clothing. Archaeologists tend to just get wet for example, or wear cagoules; architects use umbrellas – several examples had been discarded. A stylish cashmere women's cardigan had been left behind – in an area occupied by architectural historians. And boards showing different mortar mixes betrayed the location of building conservation practitioners.

I was interested in the personal adornment of space. One desk was decorated simply with a postcard from Horning (Norfolk Broads) and a key for the tea point. Another was quite beautifully illuminated by blue mineral water bottles; a place of enchantment and serenity in the otherwise rather gloomy dead space of the office. Name plates attached to walls below which these people presumably sat were a rather strange but useful embellishment, telling us who was where at the point of closure. Notice boards were particularly interesting. I was used to seeing them covered in notices: but what happens when these are removed? There seemed to be a whole sub-culture in evidence, an investment of time and effort to create poetic patterns or landscapes of pins. While some cultural differences between the professional groups and teams within English Heritage were evident in the objects and decorations, here at last was something universal; a corporate priority (landscapes) replicated at micro-scale in these landscapes of pins.

Tate, Mandy mtg, K6

Evidently Christmas comes every day to English Heritage. Despite being midsummer, boxes of Christmas decorations were found and snow adorned the windows of several offices, while a solitary Christmas tree was set out as if in preparation for the coming festive season. A flying reindeer hung from a ceiling.

Office equipment I expected to find, but I was surprised to see this already obediently gathered together in what were obviously pre-selected locations: a roomfull of photocopiers, boxes of telephones, jumbles of cable and masses of fans, all in different places. Instructed to leave pot-plants for disposal or to take them home, very few people seemed to have taken them; many plants in poor condition were huddled together in places demarcated for the unwatered and unwanted. From one room the assembled pots had already gone, leaving only a scatter of petals encircling the ghosts of plants from which they fell.

There were less graffiti than I expected. Given the propensity for writing on loo walls, even in a respectable establishment like this one, I had expected to see more written in the offices at the time of departure. There were a few examples of this: a mock-up of our blue plaques, noting the achievements of the Public Affairs team, and nearby an annotated picture of Tony Blair and Bob Geldof in close embrace. There were flip charts in some rooms with notes from the final meetings held there. Some of these were baffling, others hilarious. Those repeatable here included the enigmatic, "Tate, Mandy mtg, K6".

I was interested also in evidence for the role English Heritage performs, and in particular the many historic environment projects that we undertake, fund and manage. One of the things that stood out from this rapid survey was the evidence for project management. Flow diagrams and organisational charts were everywhere, in a wonderful diversity of forms – real works of art some of them, and logging progress with some of the key sites and projects in British archaeology.

"I found no evidence at all that I had ever been there"

I spent two hours in all, wandering the corridors. I visited all my former workplaces and found no evidence at all that I had ever been there. My leftovers had obviously been cleared. I visited the meeting rooms where I presented papers to committee, the canteen where I occasionally had lunch, and the place my partner (now, not then) and I used to meet after work. I recalled the Christmas party of c1990 (when we still had them in the office) at which the only music was that B-52s tape, with the classic Love Shack. I went to places where I interviewed others, and was interviewed myself. I had some flashbacks – of particular meetings; a man who used to work in our office and was characteristically seen smoking a cigarette on the stairs, before smokers were banished to a smoking room, and then the street; the rituals of taking tea in the south-west regional office before it moved to Bristol; a colleague and member of the Territorial Army using registry files and desks to demonstrate to other staff in Heritage Protection the functioning of a pillbox; and chairing an overseas lecturer for whom no-one turned out.

Dropping a necklace

As an archaeologist I am fascinated by empty buildings and by the material culture of abandonment. One of my earliest lessons in archaeology concerned the neolithic village of Skara Brae in Orkney, a story of hurried desertion with precious objects left where they fell. More recently I have studied and inspected military buildings forsaken at the end of the cold war. Angus Boulton's film Cood bay Forst Zinna (2001) documents a Red Army barracks abandoned sometime soon after 1989. The occupants could not wait to get away. In one room the slippers remain neatly under the bed. On a wall someone has written "Cood bay [goodbye] Forst Zinna". In Malta I have studied former bars that closed abruptly with the navy's withdrawal in the 1960s and 70s, bars that have remained firmly locked ever since.

Tim Edensor in his Industrial Ruins (Berg, 2005) describes a lifelong obsession with empty buildings, an obsession I share. He explains this in terms of "extraordinary sights and mysterious experiences". Michael Bell once wrote in the journal Theory and Society (1997) about the "ghosts of place". Both perspectives are relevant here, combined inmy case with a recognition that such places transcend time, as do the traumatic and sudden transformative events that might cause abandonment. Dropping a necklace in neolithic Orkney; leaving one's cashmere cardigan in a London office. This, for me, is the fascination of archaeology, of any period.

Returning (again)

I passed by again a few weeks ago, and was reminded of the photographs I took two summers ago. The building is now boarded up while undergoing conversion to "one of the largest and most flexible office developments to have been constructed in the West End in recent years", but there will be a concordance with the earlier building's plan formand outward appearance. With a passing reference to Antony Giddens's concept of ontological security – the confidence and security that stem from comfort in the familiar – this is a building to which I am hopelessly attached. The familiarity is obvious, given that almost my entire working life has been based there; but I think the attachment is also because this is a place so closely associated with heritage practice in England. Examining "Fortress House" at this time of closure tells us something about our profession; about the workplace as a characteristic of the late 20th and early 21st centuries; and about the attachment to place that, as archaeologists, we can all experience, as we engage increasingly with the familiar world around us.

John Schofield works for English Heritage and teaches at the universities of Bristol and Southampton

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