Amusement in Aberdeenshire as newly discovered stone circle turns out to be… well, new.

There has been much amusement in the media over the past few days around the official recording of a stone circle before Christmas by archaeologists from the local council and the national heritage organisation, Historic Environment Scotland, which has turned out to be only around 25 years old.

Described earlier as a smaller variation of sites typical of the region, it was noted that is was in very good condition, and that it was surprising that the site had not been formally recorded before now. The former owner of the land, however, has recently got in touch with the officials explaining that he built the replica in the mid-1990s.

Cue much collective guffawing and some professional embarrassment – neatly summed up on the BBC’s Newsround website as, “Awks!”  The local archaeologist took to twitter noting ruefully, “If you are having an awkward day at work at least you’re not that guy who identified a new prehistoric stone circle to the press that now turns out to be about 20 years old.

A nice piece in the Scotsman this week puts this all into a wider perspective, noting that many archaeological sites of this kind remain mysterious; flags that the honesty and candour of professionals involved will do them good rather than harm; and that there is a history of making ‘new’ monuments.  The example of the Sighthill Megalith is given – and I would encourage you to read Kenny Brophy’s blog on this site, and his other investigations into the past around us in the everyday urban environment.

I agree with the Scotsman article and forsee that the site will indeed become of greater interest to visitors, and should rightly do so.  Given the ’30 year rule’ which applies to listing sites in the built environment, the site is already almost of an age where it could officially be ‘heritage’, and in due course could indeed merit protection – and why not?  It may be a site of its time, and hopefully investigation won’t stop entirely – it would be great to professionally record the motivation of the builder of this new/old site – and, as archaeologists often say, to gain an insight into the society which created it – an advantage we don’t have for sites which really are 4000 years old.

Heritage guide book advertisements 80 years on. #heritageguides

The 1937 Office of Works Official Guide for The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Abbey and Environs contained a number of advertisements which paint a picture of Edinburgh at the time.

Apart from the Motor Coach Tours and Edinburgh Rock confectionery already referred to in a previous post, a double page spread contains advertisements for Government Publications produced by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, Scotch oatmeal, and antiques.


The most interesting advertisement is for James Gray & Son, Ironmonger, which features Battleship Teakwood garden seats for sale. These would have been sourced from specialist manufacturers which produced lines which effectively ‘upcycled’ materials from the military.  Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History provides the example of Hughes, Bolckow and Co. Battleship Breakers as a potential source for this heritage garden furniture.

From Grace's Guide,_Bolckow_and_Co
From Grace’s Guide,_Bolckow_and_Co

HMSO, which for many years was the main provider of Government agency heritage site guides, used an advertising slot on this page, and also the inside back page (full page) to advertise its range of publications. The language of the advert is itself interesting, flagging the ‘authoritative’ credentials of the publisher.


Remote control urbex on TV

Drones in forbidden zonesChannel 4 has been running a series of docu-shorts exploring derelict and abandoned sites using drones.  Each ‘Drones in Forbidden Zones‘ film is approximately 2-3 minutes long, and comprises fly-through and fly-over of a variety of different sites in the UK, including power station cooling towers, an abandoned theme park, and Crossrail.  The atmospheric films have included commentary from people involved with the site as former workers, residents and explorers.  At the intersection of heritage, urbex and what has been labelled in some instances ‘ruin porn‘ or ‘rustalgia‘, the films are nonetheless instructive in presenting depictions of sites and buildings in the process of ‘becoming’ – becoming derelict; becoming ruins; becoming heritage sites; becoming complete; or becoming something else.

Ruins and derelict sites have become a distinct subject of exhibition and study of late. Ruin Lust (held at the Tate Gallery) is notable for providing a wide art history context, whilst Bradley Garrett’s ‘Explore Everything: Place-hacking the City‘ considers the behavioural aspects of adventure and opportunity in trying to experience cities via off-limits or forgotten spaces.

The heritage news hub – on editing Update @heritage_NGOs

Heritage update screenshotOver the past couple of months I have stepped in as ‘Guest Editor’ to help The Heritage Alliance produce its fortnightly email newsletter, Heritage Update. This is circulated directly to over 3,600 subscribers, and is then forwarded on or circulated to a few thousand more folk within organisations and networks within the sector and beyond – both in the UK and overseas.  Judging from sheer amount of information collated and edited from pro-active monitoring of a wide range of information and data sources, along with items submitted directly for inclusion from professionals and organisations across the sector, it is probably the single most important point of news and information for anybody wanting to keep up with what is going on. [Along with the BEFS Bulletin, for organisations north of the border in Scotland, serviced by the sister organisation, the Built Environment Forum Scotland!]

We exist in a multi-channel environment for receiving information, and it has been both fascinating, hugely enjoyable and utterly daunting at times to be at the heart of the flow of policy updates, news, consultations, job vacancies, events, debates, courses, critique, analysis, data, research projects, emails, calls, images and tweets. The sector is incredibly dynamic with so much going on. Update tries to provide a central point of curated information to particularly support the independent sector which usually doesn’t have the capacity to monitor what’s going on beyond the horizon in the way that the larger heritage organisations do.  It also tries to make sense of wider policy issues in planning and the environment, which are of relevance for the sector, and flags opportunities to engage in consultations which Government departments and other bodies conduct to feed in reaction, concerns of ideas where they might impact on the heritage sector.  The whole sector seems to find it useful and essential reading.

What is abundantly clear is that whilst Update contains a lot of information every fortnight (frequently running to over 20 pages if you happen to press print!), it is only able to cover the essentials: much more could be included, and the information feeds and platforms expand week by week (new projects, websites, RSS feeds, tweets, LinkedIn groups and discussions, publications).  There is a combination of information overload, connection deficit, a curatorial requirement, and a challenge in making sense of the heritage sector’s activities – which all washes up into the production of Update: as I swap back from the editor’s hat to my management academic hat I am starting to scribble ideas on how this can be conceptualised and signposted in terms of a knowledge management case study.

To sign up for Update – follow the link here:

Blue Plaque blues

Telegraph's Blue Plaque mock-up
The Telegraph mocked up a memorial to the memorial scheme:

There has been a large amount of media and press coverage on the potential end to the Blue Plaque scheme in London, as English Heritage budget cuts begin to hit hard. I noticed it on the BBC news website on Sunday evening, and it was then followed up with claims of the National Trust being a saviour, then a counter-claim suggesting that a misinterpretation of a NT staff member comment had jumped the gun rather. This was then reversed as the NT’s Chair weighed in to suggest that the Trust would look at what it can do to help.  Further analysis has followed in the Telegraph, Mail, Times as well as much social media commentary.  The Telegraph even produced a mock-up Blue Plaque for the Blue Plaque (highlighted here).  It has been an interesting story to watch unfold, and by next week we should see a panoply of knee-jerk re-action (like my own tweet on Sunday), through to basic reporting, analysis and opinion – which will make a great case study for the role of one small aspect of heritage in modern society.  Debate around the comparability of historic figures, who and who is not included, commemoration and notions of intangible heritage locations, the politics and practicalities of choice and management of the scheme all play out in the story.  Craig Brown has a particular wry take on the issue, and a letter to the editor has brought in the matter of the English Heritage Chief Executive’s salary, even. Even before the story has played out, it is fair to say that this highlights again that heritage management is perhaps too ‘threat’ oriented (in this case regarding its own management), and seemingly ‘small’ events in the management of our heritage (the scheme threatened is the London-based one, only erects a small number of plaques each year, and arguably isn’t actually conserving or protecting anything) can have wider ramifications and impact in the public eye.

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