The Story of Silbury Hill


I can first remember visiting Silbury Hill in the 1970s and it has featured on many a journey. I have just finished reading The Story of Silbury Hill by Jim Leary and David Field (Swindon: English Heritage, 2010) [ISBN 978-1-848020-46-7]. Cost £14.99.

I was so attracted by the story of a monument in its wider landscape. There are nine main chapters, each with beautiful photographs and illustrations. Those who are interested in the History of Archaeology (and Antiquarianism) will find much in chapter 2, ‘Kings, Druids and early investigations’. John Aubrey’s sketch of the hill captures its essence. William Stukeley’s series of drawings were made in 1723 and 1724. There is a review of the opening of a shaft in 1776, and the cutting of the Royal Archaeological Institute’s tunnel in 1849. The Hill was purchased by Sir John Lubbock in 1873.

Chapter 3, ‘Into the 20th century: Petrie, Atkinson and the BBC’, considers the impact of television coverage of archaeological excavations and the exploration by Richard Atkinson in 1967. The antiquarian searches and archaeological excavations caused instability in the mound and this is covered by chapter 4, ‘What do you mean, there’s a hole on the top of Silbury?’ There are some interesting comments about press coverage and ttransparency

All this work, as well as the urgent need to stabilise the mound, provided valuable information about how the mound was created (chapter 5). There are important comments about the prehistoric landscape as well as the insects and plants. This leads to ‘Making sense of the mound’ (chapter 6). Silbury is then considered in the wider and evolving landscape, ‘Land, stones and the development of monuments’ (chapter 7).

One of the unexpected chapters was a consideration of the Roman settlement that grew up at the foot of the hill (‘From small town to Sele-burh’, chapter 8). The Hill lies adjacent to the main Roman road running from London towards Bath. How would this prehistoric monument have been preceived by Roman viewers?

The final chapter, ‘The timekeeper’ (chapter 9), looks at the modern reception of the Hill. There is the observation, ‘The monuments serve a social and spiritual need’. Yet there are comments about the impact of heritage tourism on a Wiltshire village that nestles around and among these prehistoric monuments.

The mound incorporates the activities, the behaviour and performance of people, the building of banks, ditches and mounds; basketful after basketful of actions that provide a biography of the local inhabitants. It is as good as any family tree. We are all a part of that dialogue, and our actions form part of the same story.

This is a book that covers so many aspects of the recording, conserving, preserving, and interpreting of a major heritage site.

Stonehenge and Avebury Guides

Stonehenge and Avebury
Stonehenge and Avebury

I have a small selection of guides to Stonehenge and Avebury in my study. My favourite is the HMSO illustrated guide Stonehenge and Avebury and Neighbouring Monuments (1959). The cover is by Alan Sorrell and the text by Professor R.J.C. Atkinson. My copy is a 7th impression with amendments dating to 1970 (cost, 3s 6d [17.5p]). The book was prepared by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and the Central Office of Information. (Are there other examples of collaboration?) The main sections are:

  • The People and the Monuments
  • Stonehenge
  • The history of Stonehenge
  • The Avenue
  • The Barrows
  • Avebury
  • West Kennet Long Barrow
  • The Sanctuary
  • Silbury Hill
  • Windmill Hill
  • How were the monuments built?

There are several Alan Sorrell reconstructions including the building of Silbury Hill and moving the bluestones by raft.


The Department of Environment issued a ‘blue’ guide to Stonehenge. Mine is the 9th impression (1975) of the 3rd edition (1959); the 1st edition was 1959. The text is by R.S. Newall. Cost: 15p.

There is a description of Stonehenge including the Avenue, and further sections:

  • Purpose and periods of Stonehenge
  • Geology of the Bluestones
  • Transport of the Bluestones
  • Preparation, trasnport and erection of the sarsens
  • Incised representation of Bronze Age blades
  • The Druids and the date
  • Area round Stonehenge
  • The Cursus

There is also a fold-put map at the back.


Avebury had a similar volume by Faith de M. Vatcher and Lance Vatcher. My copy is the 2nd impression (1980) of the 1st edition (1976). Cost £1.

The main sections are:

  • Excavation of monuments
  • Prehistoric background
  • The Avebury region
  • Windmill Hill
  • West Kennet Long Barrow
  • Silbury
  • Avebury, AD
  • The Roman road

There are also three appendices

  • Radiocarbon dating
  • The Sarsens
  • The Museum

Again there is a fold-out map at the back.


The latest Stonehenge guide is published by English Heritage and is written by Julian Richards (2013). Cost £4.99.

This has three main sections:

  • Tour of Stonehenge
  • Tour of the Stonehenge landscape
  • History of Stonehenge

There are also ‘Special features’ including ‘The Druids’ and ‘Stonehenge and the military’.

The plan folds out from the card cover at the back.


The Avebury ‘souvenir guide’ is published by the National Trust with text by Ros Cleal. This is the 2013 reprint of the 2008 edition. Cost: £4.

The main sections are:

  • Windmill Hill and earlier Neolithic Avebury
  • West Kennet long barrow
  • The Henge
  • Stones
  • Circles within circles
  • Avenues
  • The Cove
  • Silbury Hill
  • The Sanctuary
  • Death and burial in the Bronze Age
  • Burying stones
  • Destruction
  • Avebury people
  • Avebury church and village
  • Avebury Manor
  • Wild Avebury

Ministry of Works: Audley End

Audley End
Audley End (1955)

We tend to think of the formal ‘blue’ Ministry of Works guidebooks. But the one for Audley End in Essex (London: HMSO, 1955; 1 shilling) is not only green but has a line drawing on the cover. It was written by B. H. St. J. O’Neil (formerly Chief Inspector of ancient Monuments), R.J.B. Walker (Curator of Pictures, Ministry of Works) and F.J.B. Watson (Assistant Director, Wallace Collection).

The guide runs over 22 pages and there are plans (p. 10-11) and black and white photographs:

  • History (3-9) [No mention is made of the wartime role of the house.]
  • Description (12-22)

Ipswich Revealed: Heritage Fortnight 12-26 Sept.

It is a particular pleasure to see heritage taking centre stage in Ipswich in the coming month.  It is supported by the town’s business improvement district (BID), All About Ipswich, and a passionate supporter of the town’s heritage (and a great media ally), Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, as well as a collaboration of the town’s borough council, UCS and the Museums Service.  It is a great extension of the national Heritage Open Days, and the work undertaken locally by the Ipswich Society, which we are corporate members of.  UCS has its own lectures slot in the fortnight, with talks by Professor David Gill and Dr Geraint Coles, which we’ll blog about separately.  What is particularly important is the role of the BID in this – as the protection and celebration of the historic environment is seen as a business issue for the town, beyond simple tourism promotion.

A very smart brochure has been produced, available online – showcasing the places and activities around the town which is showing exciting developments across its heritage management arena.  We like to think that UCS is playing a key role, and with a small dedicated team has achieved a huge amount in developing and embedding heritage as a subject at the University over the past couple of years.


Future past – scenario planning and heritage

The futureBack in 2010, as part of a long-standing research collaboration with Dr Simon Gilmour (Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland), I hosted a workshop for the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) on scenario planning.  The underlying issue, which has not gone away, is that many historic environment organisations don’t fully engage with the the philosophy and tools of management as a subject in its own right.  I would argue that this is still the case (and gave a talk on this in our Heritage Futures Seminar Series at UCS last year): to some extent I am a bit of a broken record on this front, perhaps not surprising given my role as head of the University’s business school.  However, in preparing a reflection on the future of the historic environment in Scotland for a fascinating project entitled “Visions, Irrespective“, being co-ordinated by Ann Packard and Deborah Mays within the RSA Fellows’ Media, Creative Industries and Cultural Heritage Special Interest Group (MCICH), I dug out the visions of the future which Simon and I authored at the turn of the last decade.  It is interesting to consider what has already come to pass, what is in the offing, and what may yet be on the horizon.  The scenarios are reproduced below, and can also be found within the BEFS Workshop Report.  The “Visions, Irrespective” project of which more anon, is providing a useful discussion platform within the RSA on what the future of culture in Scotland might be, post referendum, ideas for development, and inter/intra-professional debate. Heritage and the historic environment, both tangible and intangible, are being touched on from a range of cultural angles, and in a world (Scotland) where there are seismic changes underway to the management and organisation of the sector, before the even more seismic changes that might occur to the country itself, it is proving fascinating to consider possibilities and opportunities.  I will post the full vision/reflection at a future date, when the physical conversations have moved on a little, and we will work on some updated scenario stories to reflect the horizon scanning we continue to ponder over.



Scenarios for Scotland’s Historic Environment Sector [2010]
Authors: Prof. Ian Baxter & Dr Simon Gilmour (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
[Extract from BEFS / GCU Workshop Report: Scotland’s Historic Environment – Visioning the Future. August 2010]

2025 is a year of expectation

Scottish Government expenditure finally reached 2009-10 levels after a period of unprecedented change in the public sector while the private sector crawled slowly from the double-dip recession of 2009-2011. The referendum on independence of 2012 didn’t quite reach the majority required, but stimulated much greater fiscal responsibility being passed from Westminster to the Scottish Government, and the overarching economic environment drove successive governments into similar strategies. In addition, population reduction in Scotland has increased wage bills and reduced tax income while also reducing unemployment and spare time! Renewable energy and food production for export has brought wind turbines into the arable land which has, in turn, through increasing temperatures, wetter weather and reduction of seasonality, increased production both year round and into upland areas. The problem of soil enrichment is fast becoming a major topic, with genetic manipulation in plant and enzyme development helping to maintain production. The competition between the timber plantation landscapes of the decade after 2010 and the new upland arable landscapes has intensified. The seas around the coasts of Scotland are populated by massive wind and wave production projects, which, when coupled with the introduction of the Marine Act has helped to produce a relatively vibrant inshore area, with artificial reefs and protected areas encouraging plants and animals and the density of development discouraging large-scale trawl fishing.

The new public sector, with increased emphasis on the end-user, or citizen, has benefited greatly from the technological developments of the last 10 years, with permanent high-speed online wireless access available anywhere in Scotland. The citizen can not only access their personal information and Socialbook environment, but the new iDevice can let them see their location on Head Up Displays in any time period they wish, with full access to all the online publications relating to that location, or proposed location, with immediate booking of the nearest available transport infrastructure or accommodation with the wave of a hand. Seamlessly overlaying the real world with data from past worlds has brought the citizen into immediate contact with the complexity of their history and has promoted as strong sense of identity which is providing encouragement for the upcoming new referendum on Scottish independence, with re-aligned borders.

Having this access to a historical virtual reality has helped to solidify the importance of the historic environment in the minds of citizens and politicians. The last minute Stage 3 introduction to the Historic Environment (Amendment)(Scotland) Bill in 2011 of the need for planning decisions to take account of historic environment expertise derived from information managed to place a solid foundation for the drastic changes forced onto the public sector, local authorities and voluntary organisations during the unprecedented public sector cuts of the 2010s. The sector landscape changed and new organisations were created, all to ensure the provision of heritage advice against strict financial pressure. The merging of Local Authorities was paralleled with the creation of a new Heritage Scotland. This body works closely with all public organisations and the general citizen, ensuring a consistent standard of advice and professionalism across Scotland and undertaking the provision of expert heritage advice to all through its regionally organised operations. Formed by the merger of parts of Historic Scotland, the RCAHMS and the inclusion of the services previously provided by multiple Local Authorities, the new quango represents the whole historic environment, treating all areas of the past, protected and unprotected, on land and under the water, equally, and applying national and regional criteria to any decision making process. Their recording teams assess entire landscapes and are about to complete the five year high-resolution mapping of the landscape and underseascape of Scotland in conjunction with the renewable energy companies.

Visit Scotland has completed the merger of Visit Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the properties formerly in the care of Scottish Ministers, to provide, in collaboration with advice from Heritage Scotland, a well-maintained cultural landscape that forms the centrepoint of the visitor experience. Close ties between the new national bodies has allowed the development of the data underpinning the new technology for the citizen and expert alike, and has facilitated an unprecedented degree of access to Scotland’s past by the rest of the world.

The voluntary sector worked hard to maintain some semblance of third party oversight to these changes in a period of declining voluntary time and public money, and increasing commercial desperation. Politicians and Government, seeing the necessity to stimulate the economy in any way possible, encouraged rapid development wherever it appeared possible; the third sector fought for the legislative addition to the Amendment Bill, then closely scrutinised the development of the new bodies to ensure the historic environment was not put in jeopardy during the changes. Increased community involvement however, despite the lack of formal volunteering time for experts, has stimulated a wave of projects, excited by the new technologies and working in close partnership with the newly created bodies, which are providing detailed records and greater understanding of the historic environment than would be possible by the national organisations alone.

The University sector, having reduced history, archaeology, conservation and similar themes to one-man bands clinging onto Scientific Schools are beginning to invest again in the culture of heritage, with a clear understanding of the needs of the citizen in terms of trained experts who can analyse, understand and convey importance of the past to them. In partnership with the commercial heritage companies who survived the double-dip through the planning conditions applied to developments by the new Heritage Scotland, and thriving in the period of increased sustainable development thereafter, the Universities train the new heritage managers of tomorrow in the twin skills of on-site recording and understanding, with the minutiae of value led management of the historic environment.

Having been through an extended period of unprecedented change, the face of the historic environment sector has changed completely, but the sector survived, and is looking forward to a new era of prosperity with more development and change inevitable, but a clear purpose to pass on the heritage of Scotland to our children, and their children’s children.


Alternative Scenario for 2025

While public finance has finally reached 2009-10 levels again, there has been a real cost to the historic environment in the intervening years. The pressure on the landscape and seascape placed by forestry and then sustainable energy has wiped much of the historic character from our countryside and the unfettered development required to dig the economy out of the double-dip recession has changed the face of our cities. Having access to a historical virtual reality through the development of technology has proven crucial given the destruction of the historic environment in the years around 2015, when no-one was able to defend the sense of place defined by the physical history around them. The landscape changed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, with education replacing recording and protection of the historic environment. The informed management of change was simply impossible outside the strict legally protected areas, since the advice given in planning decisions was bereft of any expertise or conditions relating to the historic character of the development site and its setting. The spread of woodland and then arable agriculture reduced even the look of the rural landscape to a vague memory of what it used to be. Local accountability, while helping to manage change in areas where this historic past was already valued for its commercial attractiveness, wasn’t able to access the expert advice required to understand the historic environment and the changes about to be wrought, and the value placed on this asset was realised too late, once it had gone, only to be resurrected on a HUD. Central Edinburgh, once a World Heritage Site, now swapped historic place with commercial enterprise, high density, high-rise commercial property dominates the skylines, and many took advantage of the reduced price energy devices being touted by the massive sustainable energy sector to help power their homes and businesses.

In partnership with the two commercial heritage companies still in existence in Scotland, both of which are parts of wider European companies, and many of which disappeared as the planning conditions applied to developments dried up in the face of lack of planning decision expertise in such matters, the Universities train the new heritage managers of tomorrow in the presentation of what is left of the historic environment to the tourism market, hungry for yet more mythologizing about Scotland’s past based on an out-of-date record. The RCAHMS was long-ago subsumed into Historic Scotland to create Heritage Scotland, but the core enterprise of recording sites was soon lost in the rush to try and protect what we already had in the face of mounting pressure from developers and politicians trying desperately to stimulate the economy by whatever means possible. The only legal and practical recourse being those sites defined as Listed or Scheduled, and of these only the absolute best, or nationally important, were actively protected. Anything without a legal basis was fair game, and so the expert advice provided to planning applications, and the wider benefits of community involvement in the past which those experts engendered were lost; World Heritage Site status was lost for many of Scotland’s prize possessions, the Antonine Wall being first to go, followed by Edinburgh, and then New Lanark. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney was on an endangered list and St Kilda, while maintaining its status, simply wasn’t maintained at all, especially after the loss of the National Trust for Scotland as an independent entity in the face of economic and political pressure.

The development of Visit Scotland with the addition of the properties in care of Scottish Ministers and the reduced NTS property portfolio, focused attention on the high earning sites, easy to reach in an era of inflated fuel costs and necessarily requiring bigger and more ambitious gimmicks to “sell” themselves to the tourist, aggravated by a lack of real knowledge on their importance and historic value. The third sector was decimated by the public sector cuts, and the Government finances dried up to the extent that many disappeared, and those that survived did so as 1950‟s-60‟s style one-man-bands with as much voluntary input as the reduced and exhausted Scottish population could provide. Community projects necessarily had to combine, and those that did so early and looked for alternative sources of funding survived, just. The remains of the sector protested loudly at the loss of our historic environment, but it was drowned out by an unprecedented financial context and limited by the lack of expertise left in the sector!

And so the historic environment survives as a three dimensional image on a head-up-display, blogged by Social-books to the extent that the reality is lost to the factoids, the historic environment sector is changed forever.

An Illustrated Guide to the Ancient Monuments of Wales

Wales (1973)
Wales (1973)

I have commented before on the Illustrated Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments that appeared in the late 1930s. This volume was published in 1973 as An Illustrated Guide to the Ancient Monuments Maintained by the Department of the Environment on Behalf of the Secretary of State for Wales (London: HMSO, 1973; 2nd impression with amendments, 1976). The price is clearly £1.65.

There are five main sections:

  • H.N. Savory, Prehistory (7-29)
  • G.C. Boon, The Roman Occupation (30-46)
  • C.A. Ralegh Radford, Early Christianity and the Emergence of Wales (47-57)
  • Glanmor Williams, The Middle Ages (58-99)
  • D. Morgan Rees, The Industrial Revolution (100-105)

There is a short bibliography for each of the sections.

The catalogue of sites appears on ‘pink’ pages at the end arranged by county. There is a foldout map at the end locating the sites.

The Preface informs us:

The guide differs from its predecessors (the previous guides to North Wales and South Wales) as the result of recent changes in the arrangements for the custody of Ancient Monuments in Britain. The Department of the Environment has absorbed the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and the Secretary of State for Wales is now responsible for Welsh Ancient Monuments in the place of the Minister. Industrial Monuments have ben included for the first time, since they now fall within the scope of the Ancient Monuments Act.

This is part of a new series announced as:

  1. Northern England. 75p
  2. Southern England. 60p
  3. [Blank – for East Anglia]
  4. Wales. £1.65
  5. Cymru. £1.65 [Welsh language version of 4]
  6. Castles. 35 p
  7. Abbeys. £1.25


Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments in the Care of the Ministry of Works

South Wales
South Wales (1959)

We are used to the paperback handbooks to sites in the care of CADW, English Heritage and Historic Scotland. In the 1930s the Ministry of Works commissioned a series of Illustrated Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments in the Care of the Ministry of Works.

The series consisted of (with prices):

1. Northern England. 4/6.

2. Southern England. 6/0.

3. East Anglia and the Midlands. 5/0.

4. South Wales. 5/0.

5. North Wales. 4/6.

6. Scotland. 7/6.

I have a hardback copy of the 3rd edition for Guide no. 4 ‘South Wales and Monmouthshire’ (HMSO [1938] 1954, 3rd impression with amendments, 1959; 5 shillings) by Sir Cyril Fox, Director of the National Museum of Wales. It contains maps and black and white photographs.

The notes to the 2nd and 3rd editions observe the growing number of sites that had moved into the care of the Ministry of Works: 12 between 1938 and January 1949; and a further 8 between 1949 and January 1954.


Preface, 7

Chronological Table, 10-11

The Geographical Background, 13-14

Prehistoric Periods, 15-21

Roman Period, 22-25

Post-Roman Periods, 26-55

Notes, 56-57 [Gazeteer of 49 sites, 58-68]

Bibliography, 69

Index, 70-71

Heritage Signage at Dunstaffnage Castle

Car-park sign at Dunstaffnage Castle, Scotland © David Gill, 2014

The new signs at sites managed by CADW, English Heritage and Historic Scotland include graphics and information panels, and each has adopted the corporate identity of its heritage organisation. But I wonder if part of the heritage of heritage sites is being lost as the “old” cast signs there were in use from the eras of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works (MPBW) and the Department of Environment are replaced. Are they documented? Are they being deposited in a store?

So it is good to see some of the older signs still on show at some of the more remote heritage sites.

Kate Clark: newly appointed CEO of CADW

Kate Clark

Kate Clark, New CEO of CADW (Source: CADW)

Kate Clark, visiting fellow at UCS, has been announced as the new CEO of CADW (press release; Cymraeg). Kate is quoted:

“I am thrilled to be joining the Welsh Government and Cadw. I am also looking forward to building on the excellent work to date through a collaborative approach with the historic environment sector to help people and communities connect with their past.”

Kate has formerly been Director of Sydney Living Museums in Australia.

Sutton Hoo Society: Basil Brown Memorial Lecture 2014

Sutton Hoo Society

Basil Brown Lecture 2014

The 2014 Basil Brown Memorial Lecture will be taking place in Woodbridge on Saturday 14 June 2014. Dr Leslie Webster will be lecturing on “Tradition and Transformation in Anglo-Saxon Art”.

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