ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 36, July 1998


Roman `temples'

From Dr Martin Henig

Sir: I was delighted to see a mention of the important Roman site at Blunsdon, near Swindon, in your `In Brief' column in June. The assessment has demonstrated a series of large stone-built structures, though it should be emphasised that no temple has yet been found and no clinching evidence that the site was a spa rather than a large villa. A spring and water features would also be at home in such a context.

I write, however, not to query the excavators' hypothesis, but to agree with them that this is a site of major significance. It seems unlikely that the large sums required to purchase the site from a very patient developer will be forthcoming, and to date no programme for the very extensive excavation of the site, which is clearly deserved, has been put in train. There is a high probability of wall-painting and mosaics remaining. Having visited the site twice and observed the topography and remains of ashlar, I am convinced that this is a site whose potential cannot be over-stated. English Heritage should give the highest priority either to saving it for the future or to excavating it and so rescuing it in the traditional manner.

Yours faithfully,
Institute of Archaeology, Oxford
10 June

London's wall

From Mrs Joanna Bird

Sir: I was interested to see your article on the date of some of the bricks from the Roman wall of London (`London's wall `older than was thought'', April), and the possibility suggested that the wall may have been constructed several decades earlier than was previously thought.

There is indeed very little archaeological evidence to date the London wall, but to redate it solely on the basis of the bricks would be unwise without further supporting evidence. The re-use of brick is well attested in the Roman period; the architectural writer Vitruvius specifically recommended the use of old roofing tiles to construct brick walls, since their strength would have been proven through exposure to weather and time.

Old bricks were certainly used by the builders of the city wall of Rome, which was begun in AD271 during the reign of Aurelian. Unlike London's wall which only had brick bonding courses, Rome's wall was entirely faced with brick, as were its towers and most of its gateways; and brick bonding courses were also incorporated. Of the brick stamps recovered from the wall, a high proportion are Hadrianic, that is around 150 years old when the wall was built, while none can be directly attributed to the reign of Aurelian. The stone rubble of the core, on the other hand, appears to have been freshly quarried.

The construction of Rome's wall and the provision of a clear space in front of it involved the ruthless demolition of a large number of buildings, including suburban villas, tombs and even imperial palaces, all of which would have supplied brick for the builders. Perhaps some similar demolition and clearance was necessary in the suburban areas of London, and provided bricks for use in the wall.

Yours sincerely,
21 April

Monuments law

From Mr Olaf Swarbrick

Sir: Richard Morris's article on the need to review the protection of ancient monuments (`Time to update ancient monuments law', May) is important and timely.

I am particularly interested in prehistoric standing stones, of which there are some 2,000 in Britain. Some are Scheduled Ancient Monuments, but most have no such protection. The lists provided to me by the Royal Commissions on Historical Monuments and by county archaeologists record many stones that can no longer be found, despite having once been recorded either by local groups or in other records. Some have been moved, or lost, as a result of road-building (some have been reerected nearby, but not all). Large numbers were lost last century as a result of improvements in agriculture.

There are some stones not marked on Ordnance Survey maps, and others that are apparently unrecorded. Most are on private land (some are in people's gardens), and whilst some of these are cared for by their owners, many are not.

Many of these stones have been in place for 5,500 years or more. Until now, removal or destruction of these stones was very difficult. With modern earth-moving equipment - JCBs being now common farm equipment - removal of stones is simple. Many are in fields where they inevitably cause inconvenience to arable agriculture, and the desire to be rid of them may be considerable.

All prehistoric stones, dolmens, circles, fogous, and the rest, need to be rapidly scheduled as ancient monuments before any more are lost. Even the ambiguous examples are part of the historic landscape and need protection. English Heritage and the National Trust should have those on their land scheduled now.

I seek to ensure the preservation of these monuments in situ, not right of access (which has never been refused to me). I call on the CBA to help bring pressure to bear on all public and private bodies concerned.

Yours sincerely,
Arundel, West Sussex
12 May

Starting young

From Mrs Helen Paterson

Sir: How right Richard Morris is to write of the importance of harnessing the innate curiosity of children to help them to have an enthusiasm for the past (`Education and better care of the land', April).

Recently I had care of four grandsons aged four to ten for three days here in Norfolk. We descended the flint mine at Grimes Graves, and picked up surface flints, climbed the keep at Castle Rising and looked at the earthworks, collected animal bones from the molehills in the kitchen area of Castle Acre Priory. Questions flowed thick and fast: why? when? how?

Several years ago I was involved with the implementation of a grant-aided scheme between English Heritage and a Cambridgeshire school to manage a motte and bailey castle in the school grounds. A teacher and his class of 13 and 14 year olds found that the project infiltrated every subject: history, Geoffrey de Mandeville built it; geography, the earthworks were surveyed; sciences, animals and flowers were studied; the carpentry department built a bridge, the art classes drew and photographed - the enthusiasm was infectious.

Let us hope the proposed downplay of history in the National Curriculum in primary schools is reversed, and that there will always be a place for the history of `Old Britain' in the climate of 21st century `New Britain'.

Yours sincerely,
Norfolk Monuments Management Project
Castle Acre, Norfolk
20 April

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