|To Thornborough Henges, as part of a Heritage Action away-day. So I arrived for my first visit to them chauffeured in 7-seater luxury by Steve Gray and guided by Mr Thornborough, George/Brigantes Nation. What better treat for a group of Megarak Actioneers?
It's huge! I had no idea! Not mere humps and bumps and crop marks, as I'd imagined, but great big things hundreds of yards across, with towering walls. And 3 of them, making a monument stretching more than a mile!
We stood at one end, staring towards the other, barely visible towards the flat horizon. The scale, and the effort involved rivals anything else. It was extraordinary to think that someone had once stood on that very spot, waved their hand imperiously, or perhaps reverentially, and willed that it should be so. Make no mistake, when you see it you know George is right, this place is very, very special.
Which makes the rest of the day's impressions all the more powerful. He's right about what's happening. What is happening is a hidden, hideous national disgrace.
George is a Great British Eccentric in all the best senses of the phrase. He's the man, and there's always one, who stands up in the face of all the power and says No! You're ALL wrong, this is wrong, I won't let it happen! You'd have to admire him, even if he was completely wrong, but when you go there it's plainly in your face, he's totally right in every respect. As we arrived, he said to me, wistfully, that Thornborough was under attack from every threat to Ancient Sites you could think of. It is.
To start with, vast and wonderful though it is, you may find it hard to find. No road signs erected by the Local Authority. No information boards. Can you think of any reason? I can, and it's a dirty little reason.
Land that has been quarried, and then restored sounds like it's OK, sort of. It isn't. The whole of the surrounding land is owned by Tarmac and either has been or will be quarried. What has been stands out clearly - steep sided dead straight boundaries, and flat utterly bland expanses of grass or vast acreages of water.
For the likes of us, attuned to look at subtle bumps and ridges that hint of a rich past, these restored areas radiate deadness, with all the charm of a verge in front of municipal offices. Of course, they ARE dead, all the ancient marks and meanings have been ripped out to a depth of many feet and are now gone forever, though their existence has been "recorded" in some electronic file far away and will thus remain immortal we're told. And in their place, thousands of tons of meaningless topsoil from god knows where and grass, of the wrong sort and devoid of other flora, but very green. Green, after all, is the colour of caring.
All this has already been committed - in places right up to the very edge of the monument itself, and soon, sans George, it will extend to every part of the surroundings, held back only by a fence which marks the outline and which screams of reluctance to grant even a square inch more exemption than is absolutely necessary. And for what? Gold? No, gravel!
I don't know how that line came to be drawn. By a planner advised by an archaeologist, I suppose. But I'll tell you what it looks like to me: a line drawn by someone who LOVES gravel and HATES our ancient heritage. Of course, I can't possibly be right about that, can I? Yet take a look at it. Tell me what it looks like to you.
Gravel. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it IS precious and rare and our national economic interest demands that we have that bit, just there, part of the setting of one of our most precious heritage places. Tarmac pretty much say that. I'm not a gravel expert, but looking at it, it's not like the sort of gravel you might have thought, it's big, mainly rounded stones. To me, it looks identical to the shingle gravel at Chesil beach. I'd guess that there's about ten thousand times more gravel at Chesil Beach than at Thornborough. Try taking a bucket to Chesil Beach and filling it with gravel and taking it home. You'll be arrested.
Something very bad is happening at Thornborough. Nice normal people in a quarry company are feeling driven to maximise profits. That's how most of us get paid. So they're pushing the boundary of rightness, just like they're pushing against the fence. Trying to minimise what is the "setting" of the monument, in order to maximise the last few miserable bucketfuls of gravel. I bet, deep down, at home, in private, they know George is right. I bet, deep down, at home, in private, so does North Yorkshire Council and all the career-protecting archaeologists who's silence is so deafening. To Hell with them all. To hell with corporate lies uttered by embarrassed spokesmen who know that they're lies. Nicotine DOES cause cancer. AlcoPops ARE aimed at young people. The war WAS about... (well, you know that one).
Let's all support George in every way we can. The setting of the monument DOES extend widely all round it. Lakes and landscaping will NOT be other than incongruous and disrespectful. There IS such a thing as essence of place that ought to be preserved. Recording features as they're ripped out does NOT make up for the rape of such an irreplaceable cultural landscape.
Most of all, the pursuit of one ten thousandth of one percent of the profits of a global mining company should NOT be allowed to wreck one of Britain's most precious cultural treasures!
UPDATE 21 Feb 06, nearly two years on:
Today, after unstinting efforts by hundreds of hardworking protestors, and above all thanks to George's unbelievable iron will, the North Yorkshire County Council Planning Committee told Tarmac PLC to go to hell.
They'll appeal, as is their right (in law, at least)
UPDATE 20 July 06
Tarmac to appeal - revising the target area downwards by 31% "to demonstrate that we understand the concerns of the community, the county council and English Heritage.''
Right. So its Tarmac the Heritage Heroes, not Tarmac the avaricious monster trying to get whatever it can?
Keep watching to see what happens next in this long drawn out hypocrisy fest aimed at stealing our communal inheritance.
UPDATE 19 October 06
Well, they have appealed but only on part of it. The rest, presumably is safe forever.
Not so fast....
At the same time they are appealing the refusal so they're still after the whole lot.
More stunningly, today they also proposed THREE MORE extensions to their current workings, totalling 8 million tons of gravel, an area bigger than what they are working at PLUS the Ladybridge extension! These they say should bre included in the new Minerals Plan which is to specify "preferred areas" for quarrying in the county for the next ten years. And rival company Hanson suggested that the Plan should also include a bite for them, less than a mile away where there's probably a cursus, in what's probably the very oldest part of the complex.
So the sharks are circling in numbers now - and actually suggesting the order in which they should be allowed to rip off the pieces. Tarmac can spend maybe 3 years ripping up Ladybridge, then perhaps another 7 on the new proposed areas and THEN they'll be exactly ready to move for Thornborough Moor, the area nearest to the henges, that they own and which they have said they won't touch for ten years but have categorically refused to say they won't touch thereafter.
Bear in mind, its all perfectly legal. The 50% of the landscape that's been destroyed in steps up to now has all been with the full blessing of the democratically elected councillors of North Yorkshire. And so it will be in future. Democracy could hardly operate otherwise. That's a comfort. If the most important prehistoric landscape in northern England is to be decimated for profit it is essential its done properly.
And so on...
UPDATE AND EPILOGUE January 2007.
Well, they won.
January hasn't been a good month for heritage.
It opened with the bulldozers moving in at Tara. No problem, the Irish government told the public. The several dozen Irish professors who pleaded for it not to happen and called Tara the heart and soul of Ireland are just eedjits. How could it be otherwise?
Then Thornborough. "The Henges are safe" screamed a local headline – penned ultimately, I suppose – in the PR department of Tarmac. But the landscape is to be quarried. Doh! No mention of that? No mention that 95% of local residents said no more quarrying? No mention of the ten thousand people who signed the petition against it? No mention that the County Archaeologist advised people NOT to sign it? No mention that it was ruled inadmissible along with the many hundreds of objection letters for presenting to the Council members? No mention they were told that six, yes SIX letters of objection had been received? No.
And now, at the end of the month, the UK's Minister of Culture yes, that's right, the Minister of Culture, has issued a prominent press release describing metal detectorists as "Heritage Heroes". Yes, metal detectorists, the people who are criminals in other countries. The ones who mostly dig, take and tell no-one. The one's who "research" targets. There are thought to be a million unscheduled archaeological sites, often unknown in Britain. Those are the sites they seek out to target, unique, discrete bundles of our communal history, studying Google for humps and bumps and faint cropmarks with an expertise that puts most TMAers to shame. Then they harvest them. Legally. And tell no-one. Over a period of years. Until the finds are exhausted and the existence and meaning of the sites are an irrecoverable memory known only to them.
(Oh, forgot to mention. The Government comprehensive spending review takes place in March. Cuts throughout Whitehall are anticipated. Possibly that includes the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is part of the empire of…. yes, you got it, the Minister for Culture.)
Heritage 2007 eh? Safe in the hands of a caring system populated by corporate saints, honest politicians and heritage heroes?
Judge for yourself.
Posted by nigelswift
21st March 2004ce
Edited 25th January 2007ce