News – 25th September

So a quick follow-up from yesterday’s news on the Anglo-Saxon hoard…

Article from the Guardian “now the countryside will be overrun with metal detectorists – hardly, but then I doubt journalists can get away with saying ‘there’ll be a short term increase, but it’s likely to drop off once people realise how dull day-to-day metal detecting is’. It probably wouldn’t please their editors. The article does at least give a little more depth to the detectorist in question, Terry Herbert.

Perhaps more interesting is an article in the Times Online on ploughing. Okay, so you might not think ploughing is that interesting or relevant, but it seems to be ploughing which pulls these objects out of the deeper soil layers – essentially because ploughing grabs chunks of earth and flips them over. Deep ploughing such as they do in Italy can turn over chunks nearly a metre in depth. The fields the Anglo-saxon hoard came from had been deep-ploughed the previous year, which probably explains why all of these objects came to the surface in one go. I don’t know if there were many pieces showing cut marks from the plough, but if not it’s unlikely they were knocking around in the surface soil for very long – ploughs can really cut up objects.

Of course the fact that countless archaeological sites are being destroyed by ploughing doesn’t actually bother anyone in power (or many farmers – fair enough). But the fact that the soil also represents an important carbon-capture resource, as well as the major source of our future food supply, is important – and apparently deep ploughing damages the soil’s ability to retain and capture carbon. So the government wants more farmers to follow in the footsteps of larger conglomerates, and use ‘no-till or low-till’ techniques. The environmental advantages are good, and this should also signficantly reduce the damage to the archaeological layers. Who knows, give it ten years and all those detectorists could find it a lot more difficult to find any ‘productive’ sites – and buried archaeological sites should be safe for future generation. Finger’s crossed, eh?

By findsandfeatures Posted in News

News – 24th September

New Anglo-Saxon treasure trove

Article in the Telegraph.

At least 1345 items, apparently largely military and largely gold and silver have been recovered by a metal detectorist from a field in Staffordshire. Apparently it made an expect cry! Check out the Telegraph’s photo gallery or the Guardian’s photo gallery. The provisional date is 650AD to 750AD, and the presence of a rather bent up cross has indicated that it might be pagan (you know, because Christians wouldn’t bend up crosses… yeah, tenuous I agree. Particularly considering the presence of a piece with a biblical inscription). Anyway, rather lovely and exciting as it’s too early for Offa (the guy with the Dyke), and nothing to do with the Vikings. Apparently the local museums are going on a campaign drive to get the money to buy the hoard… but we all know the British Museum will snap it up – and if they don’t, who the hell will be able to afford it? The experts are all gushing about how it’s the most important thing since the Book of Kells and how it may be worth millions of pounds… can we afford to let that kind of resource go to a private collector?

Borough Market Closes

Article in the Guardian.

The old Borough Market in London, situated under the shadow of a Victorian railway viaduct and slap-bang next to beautiful old Southwark Cathedral has been closed for two years to allow Thameslink to stick up another viaduct. The new one will run next to the Victorian one, over the market and hemming the Cathedral in even more. It also requires the demolition or severe modification (ie chopping off the top two floors) of a swathe of Victorian housing so fit the viaduct in. I’m sure there are lots of arguments for the necessity of the viaduct, and god knows we should encourage train travel, but this thing is bloody ugly. And if you only give your traders a week’s notice on closures etc, how many of them will come back in two years time when the market reopens?

Moctezuma exhibition at the British Museum

Articles in the Guardian (not very informed), Telegraph, Observer (much better) and Times (very intersting short history of the period and criticism of bland morally-neutrail interpretation of the exhibition).

Oooh very exciting! I know next to nothing about the Aztecs (not that we should call them that), but damn – this stuff looks good. The exhibition is part of the British Museum’s series on rulers, and starts today! It’s on until 24th January, and looks pretty sumptuous. Of course, it’s £12/£10 per person, which I still think is a bit extreme – but maybe understandable as most of this stuff looks like it came in from other countries and not just from the storage basement of the BM like the stuff in the bloody rubbish Hadrian exhibition. Fingers crossed it’s substantially more exciting than that was  – and that they actually give you a bit of information on the objects rather than forcing you to pay an extra £3 for the audio guide.

By findsandfeatures Posted in News

Open House 2009

East window of Mary le Bow

East window of Mary le Bow

Open House is a weekend event, running once a year, which occurs across the country. The idea is to celebrate architecture, both modern and ancient, by opening up houses and buildings you wouldn’t normally get to visit.

The weekend used to be organised under the auspices of the Civic Trust, but that folded about three months ago and English Heritage took over. London, being awkward, does Open House on a different weekend to the rest of the country.

Highlights of this year include Spitalfields’ medieval Charnel House (most elaborate medieval bone-shed I’ve ever seen!), the Law Courts, the new London Parliament building, the Gerkin, Lloyds, and all that jazz. But I really hate queuing, so I decided to hit some of the calmer buildings – churches!

The tower of St Bride, Fleet Street

The idea came about specifically because the City of London (that area controlled by the Corporation of London and roughly related to the bounds of Roman London) has a unique group of churches, often described as one of the finest collections of religious buildings in Europe. Firstly they have the density of the medieval city landscape (cf Norwich) with one on almost every city block, and secondly almost all of them were rebuilt in the late 17th or early 18th century. The blame for the later lies in the Great Fire which destroyed a good number of them, and a certain Christopher Wren, who was responsible for the rebuilding of almost all of them – and who inspired the rebuilding of even those undamaged by fire.

Now, I’m not a massive fan of Wren – as far as I can see he created a bunch of churches that all look like the same crazy wedding-cake confections with very little individuality. But as I haven’t actually visited many of the churches, I thought I should probably do so with an open mind.

So, fortified by coffee and toast I set off around 11:30am on Saturday with my trusty London: The City Churches by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner in hand. It’s a great book from the Buildings of England series and unlike the mammoth London series, is lovely and portable.

The roof, looking east, at St Mary Aldermary

The roof, looking east, at St Mary Aldermary

The plan was to see  twelve churches, and I tried to get a good variation (well, as much as is possible) in the buildings and sneak in a few non-Wren buildings (like St Barts the Greater)!

Five hours later I’d seen ten of the twelve, but at least four had been closed. So much for ‘Open House’ ! I guess this was my own fault for not double checking every one on the Open House website, but I was suckered in by the claim in the brochure: ‘47 churches… the vast majority of which will be open’.

However there were some real treasures which I can only recommend, including St Barts Greater and Lesser churches, St Brides, All Hallows Barking and St Mary Aldermary (just check out that roof on the left!). I took a lot of photographs, so I’ll probably do a post each on the better churches later.

In general the Open House weekend is absolutely awesome, and well worth getting involved in. But the best stuff needs booking, and well in advance, so the chances of marshaling friends round anything is limited. Glossy brochures aside, occasionally you run into problems of things not being open when you expect them. But largely it’s failsafe, and run by volunteers who deserve praise for their hard work. Personally I should send congratulations to all the Friends of the City Churches, who provided wardens to a large number of the churches and to all the individual churches which were open.

If you’ve any interest in historic buildings, archaeology, or you want to know about secret London or pick up some intriguing and exciting bits of history, give Open House a go. After all, it’s free, so what’s stopping you?