Old ruins, new world
Lest we remember
Editor Simon Denison
Campaigns and reports from the CBA
Listed buildings casework
Over the period March-June 2001, the CBA received over 1,000 relevant listed building applications for comment, and sent written responses on 91 cases. We held a casework panel to update progress on long running cases, and discuss new contentious cases (writes Lynne Walker).
Long running cases include the Chesterfield Canal locks (Update, June), which have now received £1 million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, allowing for some archaeological work before restoration; and the proposed demolition of workers' housing in Nelson, Lancashire (Update, April), where the CBA supported a recent English Heritage report which concluded that the conservation area boundaries should be greatly extended to take in more of the terraced housing. Our letter was copied to the Government in anticipation of a public inquiry later this year.
Among the new cases is the proposed demolition of what was once a portable airship hangar at Farnborough Aerodrome in Hampshire. Built around 1901-1911 of arched latticed steel frames 21m (70ft) high enclosed in canvas, it was one of only six in the UK before WW1. In about 1914 the building was divided horizontally, the top being physically removed from the base to create a forge and foundry, the lower sections becoming a fabric workshop for early aeroplanes.
The proposal is to demolish both Grade II listed buildings and reassemble the original frame as a landmark and icon for a proposed business park. The CBA objected on the grounds that the two buildings are significant for their post-1914 history, and that the reassembled steel frame could be extremely problematic to conserve.
The CBA has welcomed the publication by the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) of a draft Soil Strategy for England - a strategy for soil conservation, covering a range of issues from soil erosion to biodiversity and contaminated land - which clearly recognizes that archaeology and soils are intimately interlinked.
However, the Strategy is little more than a review of existing work being done by the Government and its agencies, rather than a true strategy to deal with what are often very complex environmental problems. For example there was too little recognition of the complex relationships that exist between industrial and other archaeology and contaminated land.
A general point made by the CBA in its response was that more consideration needs to be given to the archaeological damage that can be caused by a variety of activities designed to rectify soil problems, such as drainage, compaction and decontamination. (GL)
Foot and mouth disease
The CBA has been busy trying to get a definitive picture of the impact of foot-and-mouth disease on the historic environment (writes George Lambrick). Access restrictions needed to control the disease have inevitably made it difficult to obtain direct information. In some areas of the country, such as Worcestershire, local authority archaeologists have established a good relationship with officials from MAFF (now DEFRA - the Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) and have been involved in clean-up operations. Elsewhere, archaeological involvement seems to have been patchy.
The implications of the disinfecting process for historic farm buildings has proved even more complex than the digging of mass burial pits and construction of pyres. In Cumbria alone there are about 300 listed farm building groups and perhaps as many as 4,000 traditional farm buildings affected by the disease that have either been disinfected or are awaiting cleansing - a process that is potentially destructive of fabric and features.
Earth-walled buildings such as Devon cob, Lincolnshire mud-and-stud and Cumbria clay buildings are very rare and also extremely friable and susceptible to damage. Timber fittings and - in some cases - structures are being stripped out. Stone walls with fragile mortars can be damaged by high pressure sprays and the chemicals used. Some earth and cobbled floors have been completely dug out and replaced with concrete. Lagoons dug to catch slurry and water contaminated with the infection or disinfectant, and pits dug to dispose of infected building rubble, add to the threat where archaeological sites may be affected.
In early July, English Heritage finalised a set of technical guidelines in conjunction with DEFRA officials to try to ensure that damage is minimised. They have also pointed out the option of not cleansing but quarantining infected buildings for 12 months. This could help avert damage by cleansing, but could also prevent necessary maintenance leading to further losses. It is already thought that some farmers are using the disinfecting process as an opportunity to get rid of unwanted old buildings.
The CBA has welcomed the EH guidelines. Although much historic fabric has almost certainly already been lost, what is essential now is that the guidelines are widely and quickly disseminated, and that DEFRA staff are given full specialist support and advice on the ground. The CBA and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have written to Margaret Beckett, the new Environment Secretary, to offer help in providing local expert advice, and have urged her to ensure that the disinfecting teams are well informed about the historic interest of buildings in order to keep damage to the minimum.
The CBA has drafted, for comments, its position on the Valetta Convention. For the full text, see here.
New books from the CBA
This year the CBA has published the following new books (writes Jane Thorniley-Walker). Vernacular buildings in a changing world, edited by Sarah Pearson and Bob Meeson (£17.50) focuses on the theories and practices of analysing, recording and conserving small historic buildings in Britain. Also on a conservation theme, we are about to publish Stirling Castle: the restoration of the Great Hall, edited by Richard Fawcett (£19.95, or pre-publication £16, August 2001).
New perspectives on Romano-British studies are presented in the challenging volume, Britons and Romans, edited by Simon James and Martin Millett (£15.95). The book provides syntheses of significant new knowledge on the subject and encourages inter-disciplinary research approaches. We also have a new education title, Teaching the past, edited by Vikki Pearson (£5.99), which provides a guide to developing, planning, organising and funding educational activities.
Two new books on intertidal and wetland archaeology are entitled Our Changing Coast: a survey of intertidal archaeology of Langstone Harbour, Hampshire, edited by Michael Allen and Julie Gardiner (£32) and Prehistoric, Roman and Post-Roman landscapes of the Great Ouse Valley, edited by Mike Dawson (£28). We have also published two new fascicules from the Archaeology of York series, The Window Glass of the Order of St Gilbert of Sempringham (£26) and The Vicars Choral of York Minster: The College at Bedern (£38). For further details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005