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Coate Stone Circle

Stone Circle


Objections to Moving Footpaths

Ok – I talked I bit more with some of the locals – it appears that a complaint has been filed against the archaeologists for not excavating a whole heap of prehistoric archaeology to a good enough standard> more to follow on that;

However; it seems that no order was ever made to move the footpath !! - despite ground works already having begun, it has only been posted (out opf easy viewing of course) on the footpath crossing the archaeological site.

Objections are sought by July 1st.>
(see below)

Here is a copy of an objection letter I was given > it clearly outlines how the important buried prehistoric monuments and the footpath running right over the top of them are fundamentally connected, and that the footpath should not be moved. If anybody is interested, it might spark a few ideas....


To: Rights of Way Officer, Swindon Borough Council, Service Delivery, 2nd Floor Wat Tyler House, Beckhampton Street, Swindon, SN1 2JH



This letter is to object to the proposed re-routing of the public footpath, crossing the middle of current agricultural land, on a slight rise, in an area known as Commonhead, South Swindon.
Public access across the fields extends beyond living memory, and the area has also been used for public events in the past, such as travelling circuses and the Swindon Mela. Recent archaeological work has also uncovered important prehistoric monuments directly under the footpath currently under discussion.

The footpaths and public rights-of-way are enduring links between history, tradition, and community. Moving this footpath, and changing public access to this field, would destroy the deep connection between landscape and heritage evident at this location, consequently damaging its value for the local Swindon community, and interested parties more widely.

There is good reason to think that the name Commonhead originated due to the land being Medieval Common-Land . Whilst this clearly became incorporated into private farming estates sometime before the modern era, public access and community use has been continuous, most probably as a direct legacy of its former status.

Older locals recall various paths/routes across these fields, in addition to the main footpath under discussion. This would fit relic common-land, especially if old routes converged towards a central 'head' on the common. Additionally the path has been moved several times during the current groundwork, with the historic mile marker and the modern sign posts both indicating slightly different routes. This again suggests that rather than being a single public path, the origins are not so much a defined route, but rather community access to a whole area. This would also be consistent with an origin as Common-Land.

Circuses (and more recently events such as the Mela) have been historically held in this area. The earliest records are unclear, but travelling circuses (and probably Travelling Communities in a wider sense) have used the area within, and beyond, living memory. This is typical on current and former Common-Land, and highlights the value placed on the area by the past and current residents, and also the practices carried out in recent and living memory. It also suggests alternative values and uses for the area.

The archaeology found on the site highlights the special character of this particular route.
The footpath (as currently aligned) crosses directly over a dense cluster of significant prehistoric monuments, which have marked out this particular area as special for at least 5,000 years.

In addition to a probable Bronze Age barrow (e.g.2-1,000 BC) immediately adjacent to the path in the southern field, two larger, and earlier, monuments are also present in the northern field. The first is a pair of large parallel rock-cut ditches, up to 1.7m deep and each over 200m long, enclosing a long narrow strip of land. This pair of ditches has been interpreted as a Cursus, and likely of Neolithic origin (e.g.5,000-3,000BC). It is aligned north-west towards a natural fault and area of ground-water springs, adjacent to the point where the current footpath enters the field. To the south-east, it is aligned towards the dramatic Liddington Hill, upon which are Neolithic flint quarries and other relevant prehistoric archaeology. Monuments of this form are often thought to involve community, spectator, or processional events along and within the space they define.

The ditches them-selves were also the focus of Middle Bronze Age activity, after they had substantially in-filled. This included deposition of a layer of cremated human remains and other funerary related material (e.g. urns, charcoal) as a tertiary deposit in the pre-existing earthworks. This activity is highly focused along a c.30m length of the northernmost ditch, very near its north-west end, at the point were the natural fault and groundwater springs are most evident.
The current footpath crosses directly over this area of obvious significance for our ancient ancestors, with their bodily remains (cremated human bone) still present in the undisturbed ground.

The second ditch of the Cursus to south southern truncates another, older, circular monument. This deep, rock-cut circular ditch was already substantially in-filled at the time it was truncated by the Cursus. This earlier circular monument marks an enclosed space, tomb or shrine, which are rare in this early period. It was deliberately referenced as an existing earthwork perhaps many hundreds of years later, by the paired parallel ditches of the Neolithic Cursus . The modern path (as defined by the historic mile-stone) also passes directly through the middle of this monument (or slightly to the west based on the more recent pavement sign post).

The creation of enduring 'Places' replete with ancestral significance through incorporation and referencing of older monuments newer ones, is a phenomena well documented in British archaeological reports and academic articles. This is the context in which past communities constructed values of place and history. The wider landscape of this particular area, extending westwards to Coate Stone Circle and eastwards to Liddington Hill, is just such a context. This is a connected landscape, full of remains of ancestors and traditions, even for Neolithic and Bronze Age communities.

Of note is the significance of this wider area to people during the Mesolithic period(e.g. before 8,000 years ago), and perhaps into the Upper Palaeolithic period (up to 30,000 years ago). This is evidenced by the regionally significant assemblage of flint-work and stone-tools, extending from this area westwards to Coate Stone Circle, and further beyond the modern reservoir. The presence of these mobile populations might relate to particular landscapes, resources or other features in the area. Habitation consisted of repeated visitations over a very long period, rather than permanent settlement in the locality. Indeed if Coate Stone Circle were indeed a natural rather than man-made feature (as suggested by some) it would have been more exposed and prominent in the early Holocene than it is today, perhaps attracting attention as a distinct landscape feature.

All this taken together outlines how the prehistoric monuments were created in relation to each other, a wider landscape, and a conception of deep history. It is clear that the ephemeral remains and degraded monuments of previous generations were valued because of their self-evident antiquity.
Similarly today, the local community have shown increasing interest in these monuments now they have been re-discovered.

In terms of the academic disciplines of Landscape History and Archaeology, there is a frequent link between areas containing prehistoric monument groups and later areas of medieval common-land. There is evidence to suggest a similar situation may have pertained here, with ploughing and horticulture only within recent centuries, or perhaps just the modern era. Never-the-less community use has been continuous, including travelling circuses and events such as the Mella,. This past is manifest today in the routes and footpaths through the middle of what otherwise appears to be simply agricultural land.

The current footpath crosses the remains of these monuments for a good reason – that is because the area has retained its significance as a 'special' place for many generations. The footpath is the current manifestation, and its physical presence directly over the remains of several in-filled prehistoric monuments is an aspect valued by the community and creates strong identity for this particular landscape. This connection can not be re-created at another location – the proximity and physicality of the various monuments is maintained by the current path which crosses and re-links the hidden archaeological remains. This is similar to how the monuments from different periods were created in reference to each other originally. Knowledge about the immediate local past can play a similar role in strengthening a communities sense of itself and the landscape they live within.

Moving this path would lose all of these connections with those physical remains, which are a manifestation of traditions linked across thousands of years. The sense of landscape as seen by those ancient builders and communities would also be lost. Knowledge in the physical presence of these remains gives special value to this landscape, and creates a place out of terrain for the community.

The values of these ''ancestral' places can only be maintained through continuity. In this case, it should be through the continuity of the footpath that is routed across the high-ground of 'Common-head' and directly through the centre of the important multi-period prehistoric monuments buried there.

A specific location of importance – that has endured for thousands of years, marked by large monuments, and then probably for centuries as common-land, and which is now reflected by the public footpath - should not be lost.

Therefore this footpath should remain where it is.

June 2014
Posted by GnK
19th June 2014ce

Comments (10)

Thank you for this. I am very interested as live locally and supported the 'Save Coate' campaign which rumbled on for several years. You are naturally careful not to reveal the identity of the sender of the letter, however, if you have no objection I will copy it to the committee members of the North Wilts Ramblers to gain their collective stance and, if they agree, draft a letter of objection on their behalf.

PS: I don't think the point about circuses and the Mela is correct. The Mela is traditionally held in an Old Town park and has only run the past decade or so.
tjj Posted by tjj
19th June 2014ce
I have received a response to my email from a long standing member of the local Ramblers committee as follows - I'm afraid it reflects the inevitability of the situation (I believe Annie Ellis who is mentioned in the reply is Rights of Way officer with Swindon Council): To clarify - the local Ramblers Association do get involved in planning issues where changes to existing footpaths are being made.

"However much we might regret it, the reality is that the land at Coate/Commonhead is being built upon and it seems to me that whoever has drafted this letter is still having difficulty accepting this reality.

The planning consent which the developers have obtained permits them to build houses directly over most of the line of the existing footpath. They cannot implement this permission until the footpath has been diverted or extinguished under rights of way law, but objections to the diversion order cannot be used as a means of seeking to undo the planning permission. The required legal test is whether the diversion is necessary to enable the permission to be implemented; in my view, it is unrealistic to argue that no diversion is required and that the path could remain where it is.

I know nothing about the details of the archaeological features referred to in the letter - this should have been considered at planning application stage. All the speculation about how people may have used and moved over the land in ancient times is interesting but irrelevant.

The developers' original intention was to divert the footpath to run along the footway beside the estate roads. With Annie Ellis's support, we argued that this was not acceptable and the route set out in the diversion order runs mainly through open space. We considered this in detail at our last committee meeting and agreed that it was acceptable and that we would not object."
tjj Posted by tjj
20th June 2014ce
"I know nothing about the details of the archaeological features referred to in the letter - this should have been considered at planning application stage. All the speculation about how people may have used and moved over the land in ancient times is interesting but irrelevant."

Pretty close to insolent IMO Annie. Who pays your effing wages?
nigelswift Posted by nigelswift
20th June 2014ce
"Interesting but irrelevant" my eye. They could leave that footpath where it is but then they'd lose the opportunity to build a load more houses, it's all about the money. In a civilised society you'd want to keep those links to the past and celebrate them.

As it is, if you're lucky there'll be some lovely road names for the rabbit hutches, 'solstice way' or 'druid's meadows' or 'cursus drive', just you wait. Just to add insult to injury.

Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
20th June 2014ce
Apologies for any misunderstanding. The above quoted reply was not from Annie Ellis (who I believe is the Rights of Way officer for the local council). I mentioned her name because she was referred to in the reply I received. I prefer not to name the person who replied to my original email other than to say they are a committee member for the local Ramblers Association. I defend their integrity to the utmost degree as they work tirelessly in a voluntary capacity to protect footpaths and rights of way.

I'm afraid the Coate development issue is a battle already lost and no one is sadder than me about this.

tjj Posted by tjj
20th June 2014ce
Long lost indeed June, it's a shame. And there can't really be any admission by the council that there's a case for not moving the footpath, because that would be accepting there was something worth preserving at Coate. And when you've already agreed that someone can build a housing estate there - well it wouldn't add up really.

Where my parents live, the footpath that goes along the back of their house long precedes the estate. It's got proper big trees and the wildlife likes it. It makes the whole place feel a bit less sterile and soulless.

And confirming my fears, I see the place is to be called 'Badbury Park' - well doubtless they'd bloody build on Badbury as well given half a chance!
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
20th June 2014ce
Time and efforts all appreciated :)

That is useful information about the area that i was not sure of myself

I realise that such objections might be like beating head against a rock....
...although not moving a footpath is not the same as objecting to the whole development per se...

...but we still (for now at least) have a planning system that 'ought' to work and, like paths, without being used, they might be lost;
---- why was the order to move the foot path only made after the development started for one thing?

The archaeology does seem more important than its been given credit so far - strictly speaking this a different issue, but again one where the planning system 'ought' to work.

Its very surprising how little engagement or public information has been given out out that archaeology, especially when I've seen smaller (and less interesting) commercial sites well displayed to public (eg posters, leaflets, open days).

I think that if want a good planning system to continue in future, then we need to pursue the details of 'problems' when they occur.

i'm going to object (for all the good that will do), i think the path does have a link to the history of place - leave it alone.

Posted by GnK
22nd June 2014ce
You don't give much clue to who you are but I imagine you live locally. You will know then that the campaign to protect this historic (and prehistoric) area of rural land went on for years. Prominent campaigner, Jean Saunders from Friends of the Earth, and others, spent hours of their own time attending appeals. The planning consent was eventually given by the Secretary of State - not the local council. The developers knew they would get their way in the end and did not give up until they did. The voice of 55,000 local people was not listened to. The re-routing of the footpath through open land rather than alongside roads is a compromise in what is a very disheartening situation. Speaking as someone who loves ancient paths and hollow-ways I agree with your stance but personally no longer have the energy to fight a battle already long lost. tjj Posted by tjj
24th June 2014ce
Fair enough - please consider current objection a salute to all your previous efforts :) Posted by GnK
24th June 2014ce
Hello Gnk

I have no way of contacting you and don't know who you are but this is for you - I hope you see it. I have recently had sight on a draft document drawn up by the Ramblers Swindon & North East Wiltshire Group outlining their policy on responding to planning applications and local development plan proposals (as you know there is a lot of development ongoing around Swindon). There was a list of nine criteria for objecting to housing or other urban developments e.g. if they would have an intrusive or damaging effect on *countryside within the North Wessex Downs AONB * river, stream or canal corridors etc ..
They will now add to this list *sites of major archaeological significance*.
It is almost inconceivable that the situation would arise but we have seen it happen before and it is happening now at Coate. I doubt if the development at Coate can be halted as it was the Secretary of State who ultimately gave permission ... BIG MONEY involved.
I haven't yet spoken to the person who responded to the letter you copied here but I like to think it gave that genuinely hard working person food for thought regarding future action.
Best wishes
tjj Posted by tjj
2nd July 2014ce
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