Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day

Today is the first time Armistice Day has been remembered without any World War I veterans attending the ceremony at the Cenotaph. The last two British veterans of the war, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, died earlier this year.

As a child I remember watching the Remembrance Parade on television, and enjoying the march past of the former soldiers from both World Wars; the lack of WWI veterans this year is a stark reminder of how both of these momentous events are slipping away from living memory. Even the numbers of World War II combatants is increasingly tiny and physically frail.

For anyone growing up in England over the last thirty years, both wars will loom large in their cultural memory. Many people study the war poets at school: Wilfrid Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and others. There were also the direct personal links with those who’d lived through them and experienced loss. My grandmother lost four male relatives, including her father in World War I. My great-grandfather got a medal for shooting down the first Zeppelin over London (even though he was stuck on a train at the time). One of my grandfathers served in India, whilst the other repaired tanks in Egypt: my great uncle came in on the beaches at D-Day. I have a photograph of a family wedding from during the war; it was a large family and every single male was in military uniform. It’s difficult from our modern perspective, when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem impossibly remote to imagine the extent to which these wars permeated all aspects of life and how they impacted on life and society after the war; my great grandmother struggled to bring up two children single-handed in London in the 1920s. Even though all these things are slipping away from immediate personal experience and memory, its worth pausing for a moment or two to remember them

Family Roll of Honour

Private James Patrick McManus DCM, 2nd Bn, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, 6th May 1915

Private Patrick Canavan, 1st Bn, Royal Irish Fusiliers, 10th May 1915

Private Albert Hollowell, 24th Bn, London Regiment, 28th October 1915

Sapper William Hollowell, Inland Water Transport, Royal Engineers, 24th January 1919

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Archaeology and the BNP

Interesting piece of comment arising out of last week's Question Time in today's Guardian

Having been poking around some of the seemier (politically) ends of the internet over the weekend, it's interesting to see what use the BNP/Far Right is using of archaeology. Particularly, they appear to have picked up on the work of Stephen Oppenheimer who has used genetics to suggest that the British population has its origins with pre-Celtic populations and was not profoundly influenced by later migrations. (NB: that is a very broad characterisation of his more subtle argument; its also important to note the Oppenheimer has publically disavowed the racist/political spin put on his work by the BNP. It is of course possible to make a critique of Oppenheimer on technical grounds (though I'm not particularly well-placed to do this); however whether accurate or not I am interested in the way in which his work is being used.

Essentially, the BNP are arguing that this means we can clearly distinguish an 'indigenous' British (which they often gloss as 'English') population which they see as countering the argument put forward by many of those who are anti-BNP that Britain has always been a melting pot, with great genetic diversity (thanks to 'Celtic', Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman etc interbreeding).

The problem with the BNP use of Oppenheimer's work is that they elide the notion of race as defined by genetics/descent and the notion of a people/ethnic group, as defined by cultural practices. So, if we accept that Oppenheimer is right, then the BNP have the problem that although there is a broadly genetically homogenous indigenous population in the UK, its cultural practices have continually been reworked by incoming cultural groups. Whatever the current debates about the size of Anglo-Saxon migrations, it is pretty clear that the 5th-8th centuries saw a profound 'germanicisation' of much of lowland England. The far right then have to accept the fact that Anglo-Saxon society (in its archaeological sense and in its modern politicised sense) is something that has been imposed on an indigenous population. Thus, it makes it hard for them to criticise on an a priori basis the notion that externally derived cultural change is a 'bad thing'. On the other hand, if they reject Oppenheimer's work (or it becomes discredited), they have to accept that actually, our 'pure'/'indigenous' population is nothing of the sort.

However, I suspect that detailed exegesis of the current work on population genetics and archaeological culture theory is not at the top of their minds. However, this is an excellent example of how archaeology (in its broadest sense) is being used to fuel pressing current political debates.

Monday, 12 October 2009

More on Norman churches...

The first blast of the beginning of term is now over, so I’ve finally found time to have a bit of a think about the results of my initial fieldwork in Western Normandy which I’ve blogged about previously.

Essentially, I’m interested in exploring the development of early Christianity in the Cotentin peninsula in West Normandy; this is a border region between Normandy and Brittany. The received wisdom (primarily based on fairly limited documentary evidence) suggests that in the pre-Viking period (ie pre-10th century) there were only a small number of ecclesiastical sites in the region incuding Portbail, Orval, Coutances, St Marcouf and Le Ham (near Valognes). These are assumed to have fallen into abeyance following Viking raiding, with church organisation only reviving in the 11th century. Although little has been written about the rise of the parochial system there is a general assumption that this only falls into place in the 11th/12th century, although this has never really been tested.

My current working hypothesis is that there are two problems with this existing story. First, I am suspicious of the fact that in the pre-Viking period there were only around six ecclesiastical centres. For example, in England, County Durham (an area of comparable size) has around fifteen known pre-9th century monastic/church sites. I believe that there is enough reported archaeological evidence (primarily in the form of Merovingian burials) from later church sites to argue that they had pre-Viking origins. Of course, I am making some key assumptions here, particularly that this reported evidence is indeed of pre-Viking date. One of my key tasks now is to go back to the original (mainly antiquarian) publication of the evidence for early activity on later church sites to assess its reliability – luckily thanks to the Society for Church Archaeology I have a small grant which will allow be to visit the British Library and the Bodleian Library to consult the relevant publications.

My second suspicion about the current narrative is that there was a large-scale disruption of Christianity in the region following Viking settlement. I have no problem with some sites being raided and temporarily falling out of use, but I’m not convinced there was a complete abandonment of the churches until the 11th century. Again, based on the presence of pre-Viking activity on later church sites I would argue that there is continuity straight through. Otherwise we’d have to argue that the memory of the location of church sites was preserved for at least a century and then when Christianity was re-established the churches were revived on the original locations rather than new sites.

I am also interested in the spread of parishes. I am happier that the 11th/12th century date posited is correct. However, I think there is a still a need to provide more hard evidence. One way of exploring this is through looking at the provision of churches in this period. This can be done using the limited documentary evidence and the architectural evidence. The charters issues by the Dukes of Normandy are of some help; a number of churches are mentioned in the grants they made, particularly to abbeys, in the 10th and 11th centuries; although it is noticeable that there are geographical variations in the evidence for these churches. For example, quite a few are recorded in the central Cotentin (Barneville-Carteret; Valognes; Briquebec areas), but far fewer in the north. How does this correspond with the evidence from the churches themselves. Well, again, there is a traditional narrative here. Most overviews of early Romanesque architecture in the region (broadly speaking 11th-12th century AD) limits themselves to a fairly limited number of sites; primarily those which contain large quantities of Romanesque sculpture or extensive areas of fabric (for example, Tollevast, Martinvast; Octeville; Brucheville). However, my gut feeling, based on previous visits to the area, was that, in fact, there were many more churches than that which preserved at least some early Romanesque fabric (based on the presence of various diagnostic features, such as the use of herring-bone masonry and monolithic stone windowheads. Thanks to a grant from the Society of Medieval Archaeology I was able to spend some time out in the region in September doing a rapid but systematic survey of churches in a number of sample areas across the Cotentin. I looked at around 140 churches and recognised a far higher level of existing fabric of this period than had previously been suspected (you can see lots of images here. It was interesting to note how poor the local understanding of church architecture could be; for example, at la Haye D’Ectot. , the information board firmly stated that the building was built in the 18th century, despite the clear presence of 12th century fabric in it! .

Although there is still much of the area to survey, it is clear that the documentary evidence significantly under-represents the provision of churches in the area in the 11th/12th century. There are a number of areas, such as that around the Sienne estuary, where there are entire blocks of parishes which have churches with 11th/12th century fabric, suggesting that the parish network was established by this point.

So, still lots of work to do pulling together all the documentary and antiquarian evidence together. I'd also like to explore the landscape context of the churches in a little more detail at some point: many of them are in hilltop locations and in some areas they are often located well away from the modern villages.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Early Christianity in Western Normandy

I've not really written much about my archaeological research on this blog so far. However, I'm getting ready to head of to Normandy in a few weeks to do a small-scale pilot project on early Christianity in the area (thanks to a grant from the Society for Medieval Archaeology), so I thought I'd include a little bit about my current plans (ie I've basically cut and paste a chunk from the grant proposal)

Mapping the early medieval church in Western Normandy: AD400-1200

This project aims to begin mapping the evidence for Christianity in Western Normandy using archaeological and architectural evidence to supplement the sparse documentary material, with a view to developing a better understanding of the evolution of the Church in this understudied region. The Cotentin peninsula (forming the bulk of the modern Département of Manche- roughly coterminous with the diocese of Coutances) was a border region throughout the early medieval period. Whilst the initial evangelisation of the area was carried out in the late period by the bishops of Coutances (the Roman town of Cosidia) it is clear that the early church in the area was strongly influenced by missionary activity from Brittany and Ireland; for example, the monastery at Orval may have been founded by Columbanus. From the 9th century the area saw considerable political disruption following extensive Viking raiding and then settlement along its northern and western coast. The political and social unrest this caused saw it fall under the first the political control of the Kingdom of Brittany and then the Duchy of Normandy, though it was physically and politically peripheral to both polities. The ecclesiastical structure saw extensive disruption in the later first millennium; the see of Coutances fell into abeyance in 866 following Viking attacks and was not re-established fully until 1049. The politically peripheral nature of this area and the impact of Vikings mean that documentary evidence for the region before the 12th century is sparse and consists mainly of sources from outside the area. Any attempt to reconstruct the nature and development of the early church thus has to be able to fully integrate the archaeological and architectural evidence (cf Jarry 1998). Pre-Romanesque religious structures are known Querqueville and Portbail (Duval 1995), and a series of Christian Merovingian cemeteries are recorded in the antiquarian literature (Pilet-Lemière & Levalet 1989). However, existing scholarship on the 11th and 12th century churches in Normandy has generally focused on high-status and archaeologically elaborate structures (e.g. Mussett 1967: Grant 2005), particularly within the Norman heartland, east of the River Orne. There has been virtually no research into the survival of early fabric in the parish churches (though see Baylé 1999). However, recent field visits by the PI to the region have made it clear that early fabric does survive in many parish churches. Distinctive features include the use of herringbone masonry, petit appareil and round headed monolithic windows. A number of grave slabs of probable early date have also been identified.Research objectives. The aim of this project is through a combination of desk-based research and fieldwork to map the evidence for the early church in the Cotentin, allowing the study of the development of the religious life in the region to move beyond the limitations of the documentary evidence. The work will address the following questions:
i) How much evidence is there for Merovingian religious activity on later church sites?
ii) How was this activity structured? Was it centralised and limited to a small number of monastic sites or is ecclesiastical provision more decentralised?
iii) Can this be used to assess the extent to which Viking settlements really disrupted ecclesiastical activity in the region?
iv) To what extent does Romanesque and pre-Romanesque fabric survive in existing church structures?
v) How can this evidence be used to understand the development of the ecclesiastical organisation in the region following its integration into the Duchy of Normandy in the 11th century?
vi) To what extent can archaeology be used to explore the development of the church in an area with limited contemporary documentary evidence?

The limited historical resources will be used to build up a corpus of contemporary references to churches in the region, which will be complimented by collating the archaeological evidence, mainly from 19th and early 20th century French journals (available in the UK at the British Library and Bodleian Library, Oxford). The fieldwork element of the project aims to map the extent of surviving Romanesque and pre-Romanesque fabric in the existing churches in the area. This will involve two phases of fieldwork. Phase I will comprise field visits by the PI to all churches within two sample areas: an area to the west of Coutances and an area in the far north-west of the peninsula (La Hague). The study areas have been selected to provide contrasting social, political and economic backgrounds in the study period, and to avoid areas of the region, which saw a high level of destruction of churches during the 1944 Normandy landings. Key features will be recorded by digital camera. No permissions are required at this stage.

Phase II consists of more detailed investigation and analysis of a smaller number of structures, selected on the basis of the results of Phase I. This will involve creating a more detailed drawn written and photographic record by the PI and a Research Assistant using a digital SLR camera, hand survey and some photo rectification. Analysis will define key phases of work and seek to identify and interpret early fabric. Once the physical evidence and textual evidence for the early church has been mapped, it will be used as a basis for an attempt to write an overview of the growth and structure of religious activity in the region. Permissions maybe needed depending on sites chosen; will be sought if necessary on completion of Phase I.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Folk Against Facism

A rather depressing but perhaps inevitable story about attempts by the BNP to co-opt folk music to the fascist cause. Traditionally, the sound track of the far right has been heavy rock/punk e.g. Skrewdriver). However, as the article points out this is not compatible with the new smooth image the BNP are trying to put across now. This has been reported a number of time previously- see here and here. However, there is now the formation of a new body Folk Against Fascism to try and counter the attempt by the BNP to 'claim' folk music as its own (interestingly on its on-line shop the BNP labels it 'British' rather than 'English' folk music). Now of course, I doubt this is exactly going to leave Nick Griffin quaking in his hush-puppies; but its an extremely useful development, if only to remind the Neanderthals in the BNP that the English (and indeed Irish and Scottish) folk tradition is primarily an anti-establishment one, pitted against landed and industrial wealth and imperialism. Its not surprising that ideologically bankrupt and historically and culturally ignorant parties such as BNP should in its typically half-arsed and lazy way try and annexe folk music, and its pleasing to see that those involved in the current folk scene are busy telling them precisely where to stick it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

From dots to downloads

By pure chance I caught a fantastic programme on the Radio this morning called From Dots to Downloads about the rediscovery of tunebooks of 17th to 19th century date. These were private notebooks containing a range of music including traditional folk music compiled by local musicians for their own private use. It was presented by Tim van Eyken. The programme particularly talked about the wonderful Village Music Project. Its worth adding that this is not the only excellent resource on-line which brings folk music resources to the wider public. Its definitely worth checking out the excellent FARNE (Folk Archive Resource in the North-East). I was also pleased that it mentioned the importance of folk music to the work of the poet John Clare, a favourite poet of mine (not to mention potentially an ancestor...)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Mining heritage

Last week Durham saw the annual Durham Miner's Gala: this year it attracted over 100 000 people to the city to remember the grant tradition of mining in Durham. This year numbers were doubtlessly swelled by the fact that it was 25 years since the miner's strike of 1984. The narrow streets were crowded with brass bands from the surrounding mining villages marching along the banners from the local National Union of Miner's lodges. Its an awe-inspiring and moving occasion. However, the elephant in the room (or at least in the streets) is the sad fact that there are now no working coal mines in Durham or indeed the entire north-eastern coal field.

When I was doing A levels, it was common knowledge that the north-east (County Durham and Northumberland) was dominated by coal mining. Even then (in the late 1980s) it was notable that we covered this more in History than in Geography. The process of de-industrialisation may have reached a bloody climax in 1984, but mines had been shutting long before this. So when I started working in Durham and Northumberand a little under a decade ago it was no surprise to me that there was little active mining in the area. What was a shock though was the way the entire industry had been wiped from the landscape. Today, the only pitheads still standing are heritage attractions (at Beamish, Washington F Pit and Woodhorn). I was used to the former industrialised areas of Yorkshire such as Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield, where although many factories and mills were no longer working, the buildings themselves still stood. However, in the north-east the entire infrastructure of a globally significant industry that more or less underpinned entire sections of the regional culture has been entirely erased. It was not only the removal of all the mine buildings that is staggering, but the shifting of the spoil heaps. The spoil pit for the pit at Ashington was once the biggest manmade mound in Europe; its now entirely disappeared. Once in the course of work I came across some photographs of the Durham landscape in the 1950s. There many pictures of many mining villages I knew quite well, but they looked almost entirely unfamiliar because in the background were the spoilheaps standing high above the buildings. The end of the mining industry did not just mean the destruction of the mines themselves but an entire reworking of the landscape itself. I was told recently about the notion of the Anthropocene used to describe the period of earth's geological history when for the first time human's rather than natural processes began to influence the earth's geology and geomorphology. The mining history of Durham is surely a case study in this. Now, though, there is clearly a growing interest in reminding people of the role mining played in County Durham. I think people are realising that babies born during the strike are now in their mid-20s, but have never known the county has a centre for coal production. The Gala, which nearly died in the late 1980s, is now bigger than ever (it's still the biggest regular political rally in the world). Almost all former pit villages have now erected memorials to their collieries. There is a burgeoning interest in oral history and local history; new banner's for the Gala are even being created. Despite all this enthusiasm, there is still a strange and silent gap where the mine's themselves used to be.

There is also a political element to this. I've been told that following the '84 strike, English Heritage wanted to record the historic buildings and installations linked to the mines that were to close. Apparently, however, Michael Heseltine (President of the Board of Trade at the time) actively forbade this; it is hard not to see this as a vindictive act against the miners. The feeling that the mining industry should not be turned into a heritage resource was not, hoewever, simply promoted by the government. Many miners at the time felt strongly that what they saw as a living industry should not be turned into a heritage or tourist attraction. For them the wounds were fresh and the bitterness too raw. Consequently, it is not surprising at the time there was little appetite for protecting or preserving the pit heads.

Return to Doggerland

After my blog earlier about drowned lands, I though the following was quite nicely timed.

BBC Radio 4 Open Country programme explores Doggerland.

On the first day of this year's Festival of British Archaeology, BBC
Radio 4 will be airing a special programme exploring Europe's lost world
- Doggerland - a land lost beneath the waves of the North Sea, which is
the focus of a recent book published by the CBA.

Besides speaking to archaeologists who are investigating Doggerland,
Helen Mark will be joined by the storyteller Hugh Lupton who imagines
the myths of those long-lost hunter-gatherers.

The programme will be aired as follows:

* BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 18th July at 6.00am
* repeated on Thursday 23rd at 3.00pm
* will be on the BBC iPlayer for quite some time after that date.

For more information about Doggerland or to purchase a copy, see the CBA
news release about Europe's Lost World; the rediscovery of Doggerland:

I'm particularly pleased as I'm a fan of Hugh Lupton, not least because of the wonderful work he's done with Chris Wood.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Binchester landscapes

I went exploring the environs of Binchester last week. Primarily I was interested in getting a feeling for the extent that there might be surviving Romano-British field archaeology in the area that surrounded the fort. Whilst I did find some interesting features, it was also a fascinating exercise in the exploring a post-medieval and modern landscape. Most of the fields appear to be a product of 18th or 19th century parliamentary enclosure, although there are areas of ridge and furrow in many of the fields. I’m intrigued by possible areas of what appear to be ridge and furrow in the low-lying area around the Bell Burn, but these can’t be medieval ploughing can they? More likely they are linked to the management of water meadows. The woods along the Bell Burn are probably ancient woodland and are rich in birch and sycamore, although there are clearly many features within them. There are a series of leats and small stone bridges linked along the course of the stream. These are probably post-medieval and perhaps connected with a lot of investment put into the lands owned by the Bishops of Durham in this area in the late 18th century.

Walking through the woods I also stumbled across a recent ‘shrine’ clearly to someone who had died and been remembered by his family at a place he’d loved. It was rather an eerie experience to discover it tucked away in a thick wood. Strangely enough, I came across another similar example a little further on by a bench on the old railway track (now a footpath). Is this a Bishop Auckland tradition?

The railway track was a reminder that this part of Durham was a heavily industrialised area, with many collieries; Lodge Farm just to the south of the wood was once where all the pit ponies in Durham were bred- according to a visitor to site whose grandfather had worked there, there were sometimes thousands of ponies there; I wonder if some of the features along the burn were connected to the need to water them?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Drowned Lands

Last week we took the nipper down to Hull to visit The Deep (an excellent afternoon out for all those who love combining looking at fish with colossal sensory overload). Afterwards we headed out east into Holderness, the slice of land that lies in between the Humber estuary, the Wolds and the North Sea. This part of Yorkshire feels very like East Anglia, with its low-lying wetlands, shallow coastlines and insistent presence of the North Sea. One of my favourite parts is Spurn Head which juts out into the mouth of the Humber, and has a vaguely post-Apocalyptic feel, and reminds me of places like Dungeness, combining raw nature, ruins and traces of industry. At Spurn you can watch waders feed on the mud flats whilst in the background the lights from the petrochemical factories at Immingham twinkle on the other side of the estuary.

Like much of the east coast, Holderness has been in a constant struggle with the sea. Estimates vary, but its reckoned that between 3 and 4 miles of land have been lost to the North Sea since the Roman period. Villages with evocative names such as Frismersk, Orwith Fleet, Ravenser Odd, Dimlington, Hoton and Turmarr amongst others have all disappeared since the Middle Ages. South of the Humber many other villages have slipped beneath the waves, perhaps the best known being Dunwich in Suffolk, once a thriving coastal trading town, but now largely consigned to the sea (not to be mistaken of course with the Dunwich which appears in the works of HP Lovecraft…). I like the idea of these missing villages and towns lying beneath the waves of the German Sea These are the last traces of the land bridge that once linked Britain the Continent. Along the west coast of Britain, there are myths of other drowned lands, such as Lyonesse (off Cornwall) and Cantre'r Gwaelod (in Cardigan Bay), but, as far as I know, the lost villages of the East coast have never stimulated similar legends. Although there have been fantastic archaeological and geomorphological projects to map these drowned lands, of the North Sea, I like the idea of mapping the lost histories of these drowned villages. It would have to be an entirely speculative and creative exercise, certainly not something rigorous or methodological; perhaps more like a collaborative work of fiction. Something else for the ‘to do’ list.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Road to ruin

One of my first professional archaeology jobs after I completed my undergraduate degree was as a site assistant on an English Heritage fieldwork project along the edge of the A1 (‘The Great North Road’) around Catterick. This involved fieldwalking and excavation on the site of the Roman town of Cataractonium, in advance of a scheme for widening the road to three lanes. My abiding memories of this job are the joys of fieldwalking in light snow cover and digging in shin deep mud.

Little did I know that I would later come to know this stretch of road extremely well. Having variously worked in Northumberland and Durham for the last eight years, I must have now driven up and down this section of the A1 hundreds of times. As it happens the road widening scheme is only now just beginning (a mere 16 years after I was working on the site). What has surprised me is how attached I’ve become to the landscape along the road, including not just the farmhouse, copses and fields, but also the garages and service stations. They’ve all become embedded in my own personal landscape of the commute to work; as such its rather strange to see these private landmarks and distance markers being bulldozed away Its also a shame to see some important aspects of the modern (post-medieval landscape) disappearing. The Great North Road was the main road north from London to Edinburgh since the medieval period, and became particularly important as the route that the mail coaches ran in the 18th and 19th century. It is only with the advent of the railways and more recently the construction of the M1 in the late 1950s and early 1960s that its key role has been circumvented. Even now, it is still the main road north from York to Edinburgh (and once north of Newcastle, is still single carriage way in places).

Its history has meant that it has created its own distinct landscape. Although it now by-passes the centres of most villages and towns, many of which still contain historic coaching inns, many farms still lie close to the road (and at a microtopgrapic level are clearly aligned on it). It’s still crossed by B roads and farm tracks, and in several places former bridges can be seen just beyond the edge of the road. On top of this more ‘historic’ landscape, there is also the post-war infrastructure of a main road, including petrol stations, cafés and service stations. Much of these features are now being sacrificed to the need for a few additional lanes of road. Whilst I would not argue that the Little Chef at Dishforth is of the same historic value as the Roman town at Catterick, it is sad to see the erosion of these elements of an historic landscape. I suspect that there has been little recording of these structures (though I might be wrong).

These ‘modern’ road landscapes aren’t entirely overlooked; Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital explores the M250- the kind of inbetween landscape so loved of the late JG Ballard; there’s also Edward Platt’s Leadville: A Biography of the A40 (a road I spent a lot of time staring at blankly at the Oxford Tube ferried me into London in the mid-1990s. This kind of writing is not even a particularly modern phenomenon: the artist John Piper wrote a long description of the modern and ancient sites along the old Bath Road (A4) as long ago as 1939 (Architectural Review (May 1939), 229-46).

Postscript: a link to the wonderful website Pathetic Motorways

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Call for Papers: Archaeology and Englishness

"Field archaeology is an essentially English form of sport" O.G.S Crawford

Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference Durham 2009

As Gordon Brown wrestles with how to promote a sense of ‘Britishness’, there are increased signs of revival of a sense of English identity, whether expressed through the resurgence in popularity of the English flag or increased call to celebrate St George’s Day as a national holiday. There is also an increasing popular literature exploring the notion of the ‘English’ and ‘Englishness’ often creating essentialised models of the concept (e.g. Ackroyd 2002; Gill 2007; Paxman 1999).

However, whilst other discipline, such as art history, literary studies and geography have long treated the notion of ‘Englishness’ as concept worthy of analysis and deconstruction, this has not been true for archaeology (cf. : Burden and Kohl 2006; Corbett , Holt and Russell 2002; Matless 1998; Pevsner 1956). Whether exploring the development of national traditions of scholarship or considering the way in which material culture is used to develop and maintain a sense of national identity, there has been a tendency for England to be subsumed within a wider British or imperial discourse (though there are some exceptions e.g. Johnson 2007). This session aims to restore this balance and consider the extent to which it is possible to recognise the notion of ‘England’ and ‘Englishness’ within archaeology.

It is hoped to explore a number of facets of the problematic relationship between archaeology and English identity including: 1/ Materiality and Englishness: the way in which material culture, structures and landscapes were used to create and maintain a distinct sense of English identity in past societies; 2/ The development of English traditions of archaeological scholarship and a consideration of the consequences of the development of ‘England’ as a distinct unit of analysis. Is there a distinct English tradition of archaeology or heritage management?; 3/ The use of archaeology to create discourses of ‘Englishness’ in popular culture.

Ackroyd, P. 2002. Albion – The origins of the English imagination London
Burden R and S. Kohl 2006. Landscape and Englishness, Amsterdam
Corbett, D., Holt, Y. and Russell, F. 2002. The geographies of Englishness : landscape and the national past 1880-1940 London
Gill, A.A. 2007. The Angry Island: Hunting the English London
Johnson, M. 2007. Ideas of landscape Blackwell
Matless, D. 1998. Landscape and Englishness London
Paxman, J. 1999. The English: A portrait of a people London
Pevsner, N. 1956. The Englishness of English Art London

Monday, 25 May 2009

Scouring the horse

Nice little article about the 'scouring' of the White Horse at Uffington. It's a wonderful site. Although the Wiltshire Downs are better known, I have a soft spot for the Berkshire Downs, particularly the area from the White Horse along the Ridgeway to Wayland's Smithy and down to Ashdown House (which has also recently appeared in the news). I spent several weeks working for Oxford Archaeology on a very exposed hillside nearby excavating the area where a Bronze Age hoard had been found. I can still remember the way in which the curtains of rain would sweep across the landscape. I would watch the front of the shower of rain move over the field towards me allowing me to time my retreat to the site hut to perfection.

Friday, 15 May 2009

View over Atlantis

Sad to see that John Michell, New Age mystic, counter-culture guru and author of the View over Atlantis has died; particularly as only last night I was reading the large retrospective of his life and thought in the latest issue of the Fortean Times- you can see the FT obituary here. Although as a hard-nosed academic archaeologist I obviously have no truck with ley lines and earth magic, it's hard not to be seduced by the love of landscape which stimulated and pushed Michell’s work.

My own research is on the early medieval period and I have very little interest in prehistoric archaeology from an academic standpoint. However, I do have a profound Romantic attachment to prehistoric landscapes, particularly the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments of the Wessex chalk downland. I think this stems partly from having grown up in Berkshire and in the course of my childhood been regularly taken to look at hillforts, barrows and megalithic monuments. My experience of this landscape was also stimulated by a number of books and television programmes. I remember particularly a BBC children’s drama called The Moon Stallion, which was full of typical 1970s children’s telly, cod mysticism and general New-Age jiggery pokery, and was, I seem to remember centered around the White Horse at Uffington, the Ridgeway and Wayland’s Smithy. I was also intrigued by the images in Kit William’s book Masquerade, which also had a Wessex- New Age vibe going on in it; I never had my own copy, but coveted those of my friends. As a consequence of this, I still have a close personal and emotional connection to these prehistoric ritual landscapes; always seen at their best I think in the depths of a winter. I don’t want to know about the archaeology, I just want to enjoy them.

ps: When I was writing this just now, I was absolutely convinced that the BBC series was called Sun Horse Moon Horse; which it turns out is actually the name of a Rosemary Sutcliffe book, about the White Horse, which I am absolutely convinced I've never read or even knew about before.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Common Wealth

Those who scour the obituary columns may have noticed that Wing Commander Ernest Millington DSC, the last MP who sat in the Commons during WWII has just died. It’s not only this that makes him important; he was one of the few members of the short-lived Common Wealth party to become an MP. The Common Wealth party was founded by members of the Labour party and other radicals who disapproved of the Conservative-Labour electoral truce put in place during the War. The parties three key platforms were Common Ownership, Vital Democracy and Morality in Politics (which have rather a fine contemporary resonance).

Common Wealth was founded by Richard Acland, JB Priestly and Tom Winteringham. Tom Winteringham (the balding figure in the photograph)has long been a bit of a hero of mine; he commanded the British Battalion of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War before being wounded at Jarama. He broke with the Communist Party in 1938 and went on to take a leading role in running and training the Home Guard in Britain during World War II using techniques he’d acquired in Spain. Coincidentally, I’ve just started reading Hugh Purcell’s The Last English Revolutionary: A Biography of Tom Wintringham 1898-1949. All I need to do now is find an archaeological connection... (though Priestly was married to the archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes).

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Massingham and Archaeology

I’m currently reading a lot about the way in which archaeology was used in popular writing between 1918 and 1945. Whilst not surprisingly, the most high profile aspect of archaeology in the inter-war period was exploration in Egypt and the Near East, there was also a great interest in the British archaeology. The prehistoric monuments of Wessex loom large in much topographical writing at this time, such as the various series put out by publishers like Batsford. This was partly linked to a rise of rural tourism, as access to motorcars and the increased popularity of hiking and rambling meant that increasing numbers of people were exploring the countryside in a way not possible before. The cover art of many of the Ordnance Survey maps of the 1920s and 1930 reflect this increased interest in exploring the British landscape. Archaeology was also used by a number of writers of this vintage as a source of evidence for explaining and understanding the many problems seen as facing society, particularly the rise of industrialism and the changing face of rural life. Crucially much of this output was also focused on prescribing changes to society allowing it to meet these perceived challenges.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am particularly interested in the work of John Massingham, one of the leading ruralist writers of the mid-20th century. He regularly used archaeology in his works, both as a source for metaphor and analogy, and also to shape his agenda for a revived agrarian society that was opposed to the mechanisation and depersonalisation of social relationships which he so hated in industrial society. One of his early books, Downland Man (Published I think in 1925), is almost entirely archaeological in content. In this odd volume, primarily focused on the prehistoric monuments of Wessex, he puts forward an entirely new chronology for prehistoric society, and crucially argues that a golden age of peace and prosperity was destroyed by the introduction of metalworking. He also promotes the notion, which was outmoded even at the time, of diffusionism; essentially that all the key changes in society were diffused out from a single point of origin, usually Egypt. Taking this diffusionist point of view he regularly attacked social Darwinism throughout this book (and much of his other writing), which he saw as a model for social progress predicated on conflict.

Massingham is particularly interesting, as unlike a lot of the ruralist and agrarian writers of this period, he actually had some archaeological training. After spending some time as a journalist (his father was the radical journalist Henry Massingham) he joined the staff of Grafton Elliot Smith, who was based at UCL and held hyper-diffusionist views (and indeed wrote the forward to Downland Man). It is clear from reading his books that Massingham was up to date with contemporary archaeological writing, such as the works of Vere Gordon Childe, and by the 1940s was in correspondence with W.G Hoskins, one of the key figures in English landscape archaeology after WWII. I’m hoping to do some more serious work on the archaeological dimension of Massingham’s work, which will form a paper in a session I’m trying to put together for TAG on Englishness and Archaeology. Pleasingly, I’ve found out that Massingham’s archives, including his archaeological notes, are held in the Museum of English Rural Life, in Reading, which was one of my favourite museum’s as a child.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Landscape Distinctiveness

As a lover of landscape (and cider) I was pleased to read about new initiative by the National Trust to halt the decline in English orchards and attempt to revive them as part of the landscape. Over 60% of orchards have been lost since 1950, partly due to the impact of successive EU agricultural policies which rewarded over-production and encouraged farmers to put down as much land as possible to cash crops, and also due gradual erosion of orchard land around villages due to building and property development.
This project is something to be welcomed, as it is part of a larger move in current rural policy to maintain landscape distinctiveness. In the past, local landscapes showed a high-level of idiosyncracy. There were (and still are) broad regional patterns in the English landscape, such as the distinction between the broad zone of ‘enclosed’ landscapes running in a swathe across the country from the North-East through the midland plane to Dorset and the so-called ‘ancient’ landscapes found in the south-east and much of the west and south-west. Laid over these high-level landscape ‘provinces’ are distinct regional styles of hedge-laying, wall-making and gate building, as well as climatic and geological micro-topographies. This meant that England was a country of many distinct local landscapes.

It is some aspects of this landscape distinctiveness that is being recorded by English Heritage’s important Historic Landscape Characterisation initiative. This is an important project which will allow a base-line assessment of patterns of landscape to be assessed. This will allow the on-going survival of landscape types to be evaluated and allow archaelogists and landscape historians to begin to explore in detail the range of factors that make a particular local landscape distinct. It has its limitations though; its methodology is resolutely cartographical focused on recording the shapes of property parcels and ascribing broad functions to them. This is fine as far as it goes, but it is less useful in recording the many other factors that make a local landscape distinct, such as vernacular architectural traditions and field boundary types.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Long 1970s

I can't help noticing a recent resurgance of interest in the 1970s at the moment. The '70s have long had a fun popular cultural resonance, with fond memories (for some)of flares, the Bay City Rollers, the Brotherhood of Man, the drought of 1976 and the Silver Jubilee. There is also the memory of the counter-cultural response to this bubblegum stuff with the rise of punk (crystalised in the popular imagination in the Sex Pistols).

However, over the last year or so, a different aspect of the 1970s is emerging in popular culture. Damned United, the new film about Brian Clough and Red Riding, Frost/Nixon (a film about the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977) and the recent TV adaption of David Pace's novels both, in their own ways,both reflect a very view of the '70s, with a reminder of the shabbiness (physically and socially) of the 1970s and the political complexities of the period. The 'long 1970s' from Paris '68 until the Miner's Strike of 1984 saw a period of social and political discontent that arose out of the failure of the 1960s hippies to effect change (and the re-politicisation and radicalisation of the left in the events of Paris 68) and was dealt a death blow (in the UK at least) on the picket lines of Orgreave, Ollerton and Ferrybridge. Although the Tory's came to power in 1979, it was only following the Falkland's War and the Miner's Strike that they were secure enough to push through many of their most distructive and radical policies. The local and global problems, Cambodia, Vietnam and Beirut and the rise of Republican violence in Northern Ireland and the appearance of left-wing terrorism (Angry Brigade in Britain; RAF; Action Direct and the Red Brigades in Europe; the Weather Underground and the SLA in the States), as well as considerable labour unrest and the rise of the unions, were ignored as much by punk as by the Bay City Rollers (with the honourable exception of the anarcho-punk movement including such bands as Crass), who as early a 1978 sang 'I see the velvet zippies in their bondage gear, The social elite with safety-pins in their ear,I watch and understand that it don't mean a thing,The scorpions might attack, but the systems stole the sting.. '

I'm not sure why this interest in the seemier, or at least more mundane side of the 1970s is reviving. Possibly because its now far enough away to be looked at slightly more dispassionately, rather than through the ironic lens of Abba tribute acts (is Mamma Mia a crime against humanity? Discuss). We've just had the 25th anniversary of the 84 strike, and whilst the wounds are still deep, it was noticeable in recent coverage, that those involved on the right from tory ministers to police on the front line were much more conciliatory and at least openly acknowledging the social damage done, whilst those on the left are willing to admit that whilst the struggle may have been a just one, the timing of the strike and the decision to proceed without a ballot were badly mishandled by Scargill. An interesting take on the memory of the strike is Jeremy Deller's 2001 re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave, one of the key turning points in the strike.

South Downs

Sorry, I know its been ages since I posted, but the joys of essay marking and English Heritage paperwork have been calling.

Anyway, I found this nice little article about the landscape of the South Downs, which has just become the latest National Park. It particularly drew my attention as the article mentioned the Copper Family, who are important as performers of Sussex folk songs, and part of an unbroken family tradition of singing going back to the 19th century. You can see them in action here.

On a vaguely connected tack- I had a rare trip out on Monday when I got to the Spiers and Boden gig at the NCEM in York - a good night out indeed- they also lead the excellent Bellowhead, who I am still trying to catch live (you can see them on Youtube here and with a drubk looking Jon Boden here)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Never mind the pancakes

Yesterday was Shroves Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent. For us in England, it generally means PANCAKE DAY!, whilst for many other countries its Carneval (literally- 'goodbye to meat'); both traditions emphasise the giving up of good food in advance of a time of fasting in the run-up to Easter. However, even within England there are many other traditions connected to the Shrove Tuesday, for example, the playing of Shrove Tuesday football matches was once common. These aren't 'soccer' matches, with equal numbers on each team and pitch. These are full-on, crowd-participation melees played over a large area, sometimes an entire parish. Many of these football traditions declined when the 1835 Highways Act forbade the playing of ball games on the road. However, they still exist in some towns, including Ashbourne Derbyshire. Here are some pictures of yesterday's match from BBC Radio Derby

Monday, 16 February 2009

Steam dreams

I’ve been pondering stream trains recently. Driving home a few weeks ago we were surprised to see a large crowd of people standing on the railway bridge near us, which goes over the main east coast line. It turned out that they there to watch Tornado, the first new steam train to have been built in Britain for fifty years. Apparently the station was packed, as was the station up at Darlington where it was heading. Then yesterday morning I took Isobel to the National Railway Museum, which is handily just down the road from us. Although we were there at 10.30, within an hour the museum (which is big) was absolutely heaving with families and children. Isobel loved it, which as she comes from a railway family on her mum’s side is presumably genetic.

It got me thinking about the popularity of steam trains in the UK though. As well as the excellent railway museum in York, it now has an outpost in Shildon (Co. Durham), and in the last couple of years a major new museum has opened up in the railway town of Swindon. If anything, stream trains are becoming more popular than ever, which I find fascinating. In the past, the stereotypical steam fan was a weighty fifty-year-old man (almost always a man) who remembered the last days of steam himself and still hankered to be an engine driver. Now the core audience appears to be children; neither they nor their parents are able to remember the glory days of steam, yet we’re still obsessed with it. Obviously, for many of us adults, there is an element of faux-nostalgia for a time and society we don’t remember and probably never existed anyway. It’s no surprise that one of the biggest themes running through the merchandising in the railway museum shop is that of old railway posters, with their imagery of seaside holidays and bucolic countryside. Steam trains evoke a world of Brief Encounter, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Night Mail, the Railway Children and Ivor the Engine, a pre-lapsarian England before Dr Beeching wielded his axe. However, whilst for adults the thought of steam engines might set off this nostalgic riffing, it can’t be true for the children, who presumably just love the steam engines for being big, noisy, smelly and steamy (what’s not to like?).

However, when I’ve travelled abroad I’ve not come across much evidence for the cult of the steam engine in the same way it exists over here. Why is it such a British phenomenon?

Monday, 9 February 2009

More on morris...

Interesting article in Saturday's Guardian about Mary Neal who is one of the unsung heroines of the folklore revival in the early 20th century, but who made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of Cecil Sharp. Mary Neal was an socialist, suffragette and social worker who used dance as way of encouraging and helping factory girls in London. Her approach to dancing emphasised the fact that dance was a developing tradition and that forms and performance styles could change and evolve over time. This contrasted with Sharp's highly formalised approach to folk dance which focused on developing a fixed canon of repertoire and was dogmatic about performance style. They fell out and the subsequent hagiography of Sharp more or less wrote Neal out of the story. This is now being remedied though and the EFSDS held their first Mary Neal day on Saturday.

Neal is also interesting for her involvement in the Kibbo Kift, an early version of the Woodcraft Folk (kind of lefty version of the Scout movement), which also involved individuals like Rolf Gardiner (who I've blogged about before) whose subsequent career had a distinct right-wing trajectory. The Kibbo Kift also utilised a range of interesting imagery including Anglo-Saxon / Viking ideas and concepts drawn from a 1930s concetpion of Native American life. I hope to come back to this at some point.

NB: the photo is of morris dancing at Stonehenge in the 1950s taken by RJC Atkinson (the photo is from the excellent English Heritage Viewfinder website)

Friday, 30 January 2009

Romans in Durham

I've tended not to blog about my research much. However, I thought would write a little about a major new project I'm closely involved with which looks like it might be playing a big part in my life for the next five years.

I am part of a team from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University and the Department of Classics, Stanford University, planning a major campaign of excavation on the Roman fort at Binchester (Co. Durham). We are going to be carryig out six weeks of fieldwork at the site each year between 2009 and 2014. We are also going to be putting in place a wide range of more non-intrusive strategies (field walking; shovel pitting; geophysical survey; LIDAR etc) which hopes to locate the fort in its landscape context.

Those of you who know me will be aware that I am not particularly a Romanist (though I have published on Roman material); my heart is really in the early medieval period with a focus on the spread of Christianity. Luckily, Binchester, as well as being a key Roman military installation on the main road between York and Hadrian's Wall, has also produced significant evidence for the continuation of activity well into the fifth and probably even the sixth century, and went to become a centre of one of the estates owned by the Community of St Cuthbert at Durham.

The project will have its own blog at some point, and I'll probably put updates on here as well. It's only just dawning on me what a major undertaking this is going to be!

Monday, 26 January 2009

And's the gallery

After the death of Oliver Postgate just before Christmas, its sad to see that Tony Hart has died. Its rather disconcerting to see the landmarks of one's childhood starting to die off.

Clogging it

After the previous post and my reference to clog dancing, I was watching Folk America at the Barbican: Hollerers, Stompers and Old-Time Ramblers, which features a bit of Appalachian clog dancing (about 8 minutes in), a reminder that this British tradition went to the States early (pre-1800) and became a key element in the Appalachian and Ozarks musical tradition.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Morris dancers: a protected species.

Back to the blog after the festive season (and two weeks nose to the grindstone working on the book). Anyway, something popped up in the news in the New Year which caught my eye/ear/eyes (delete as applicable). Apparently, morris dancing is under threat. This is something that seems to come up fairly regularly (and it would help the case a little if The Morris Ring who were behind this piece of publicity allowed women to dance!). However, morris still appears to be in fairly rude health, both in terms of numbers and dare I say it artistically. Few would deny that the morris tradition was heavily resuscitated by the folk song movement in the early 20th century (Cecil Sharpe and others of that ilk), but it is a genuine living tradition, and there are dance sides, such as Bampton and Headington (see picture above) which have an unbroken history back into the mid 19th century and probably earlier. The numbers of dancers is at a good level, and crucially young (and I mean younger than me) dancers are still taking it up. Sides like the more arty/performance based Morris Offspring and the more traditional but still ballsy Dogrose Morris show that morris needn't mean accountants flouncing with hankies (you can see Dogrose Morris on Jools Holland later here).

Its also important to remember there is a lot more to English traditional dance than the traditional morris dancing (the Cotswold/Oxfordshire tradition); there is also border morris found along the Welsh borders, which has its own distinct dances and costumes (including painted faces) and rapper/sword dancing from Yorkshire and the North East - the latter with a traditional costume based on the work clothes of 19th century miners. Not all traditional dancing was based round team dances; there is also a tradition of solo clog dancing (I think this is mentioned in Ronald Blyth's wonderful book Aikenfield)