Dartmoor’s Archaeological Heritage and its Conservation 1951–2011: New Discoveries – New Attitudes – New Issues
Sixty delegates met at Meldon Village Hall on Saturday 24th September 2011, under the chairmanship of Professor Andrew Fleming.
After a welcome and introduction by Andrew Fleming, the first speaker was Dr Tom Greeves, independent cultural environmentalist, and former archaeologist to Dartmoor National Park (1979–1985), whose presentation was titled ‘From Antiquities to Cultural Landscape – a Dynamic Change in Knowledge, Ideas and Issues over 60 Years 1951–2011’:
1951 – King George VI was still on the throne when Dartmoor was created a national park ‘to preserve and enhance…natural beauty’ and ‘to promote…enjoyment by the public’. There was no mention of archaeology or of a cultural dimension. The only maps available were those surveyed in the 19th century, albeit with some revision in the first decade of the 20th century. They included a certain amount of archaeological data.
What else was available to people in 1951 interested in past human presence on Dartmoor? There was no contemporary book to turn to, but there were numerous academic papers, published mostly in Transactions of the Devonshire Association, though occasionally in Antiquity (in which in 1927 E.C. Curwen had published an article titled ‘Prehistoric Agriculture in Britain’ which included discussion of prehistoric settlements and fields on Dartmoor, and which famously included a plan of fields around Kestor, which we now know to be part of an extensive reave system). In 1938 J.W. Brailsford had published a paper on ‘Bronze Age Stone Monuments of Dartmoor’ in Antiquity, and Alfred Shorter had published a survey of the medieval fields at Challacombe (Antiquity 1938). Other papers had appeared in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society – most notably C.A. Ralegh Radford’s ‘Prehistoric Settlement on Dartmoor and the Cornish Moors’ in 1952, and elsewhere. Many of the locally published papers were by Richard Hansford Worth who had died in 1950 and whose collected works were still to be brought together under the skilful editorship of Malcolm Spooner and Sir Frederick Russell in 1953.
While most papers concentrated on prehistoric remains, Worth had pioneered the study of the archaeology of the post-medieval tin industry in his papers on ‘blowing-houses’, and Ted Masson-Phillips had published several pre-war papers on granite crosses.
The official guide to the national park (Dartmoor National Park, HMSO), edited by W.G. Hoskins was not published until 1957, but included chapters on ‘Prehistoric Monuments on Dartmoor’ and ‘Dartmoor from Roman Times to the Present Day’. The former was written by Lady Aileen Fox who was the dominant archaeological figure on Dartmoor in the 1950s. Of considerable academic significance was her paper on ‘Celtic Fields and Farms on Dartmoor, in the light of recent excavations at Kestor’ in PPS 1954. The excavations had taken place in 1951 and 1952. She noted (p.87) that ‘none of the prehistoric fields are marked’ on the OS maps. Prehistoric fields were then considered always to be small and evidence of larger enclosed areas was usually explained as ‘medieval interference’.
The construction of the Avon Reservoir provided the stimulus for other important excavations from 1954-6 conducted by Aileen Fox – of prehistoric settlements on Gripper’s Hill, and on Dean Moor and, for the first time on Dartmoor in the 20th century, of a medieval ‘monastic homestead’ on Dean Moor, identified with the summer homestead of Henry Walbroke in the first half of the 14th century. Interestingly, for the development of attitudes to industrial sites, she eschewed the opportunity to excavate a well-preserved tin blowing mill which was to be inundated and which was left to interested amateurs to clear and partially record, though it was never published in any detail.
Other medieval activity was in progress at Lydford Castle in 1957-9, under the direction of Andrew Saunders, and was continued 1963-4.
‘Management’ was largely confined to the restoration of crosses, under the auspices of the Dartmoor Preservation Association as at Hawsons Cross and Spurrells Cross.
In the 1950s and 1960s, and into the 1970s the national park embarked on a spree of pure cultural vandalism against numerous ruined structures of the 19th and 20th centuries perceived as ‘eyesores’, such as the Blacksmith’s Shop on Whitchurch Down, actively encouraged by the Dartmoor Preservation Association. This attitude has done enormous damage and is still, to some extent prevalent, as exemplified by the recent destruction of the Blackaven water intake.
Peter Addyman directed important excavations at the Norman earthwork castle and within the settlement of Lydford in the early 1960s but these remain unpublished in full. A rescue excavation of a stone row in advance of clayworking at Cholwichtown in 1961 (Eogan in PPS 1964), concluded that it was built within a woodland clearing.
While the 1950s could be said to have resulted in some significant excavations, the 1960s witnessed some key new directions and the start of a new emphasis on exploration and landscape survey, as well as the first steps towards making information available to a wider public.
Aileen Fox’s classic book South West England (Thames & Hudson) was published in 1964 and gave Dartmoor a sound context (to about AD 600) within a conventional framework. But there were important stirrings looking at a wider field of interest. In 1966 Catherine Linehan published a very influential paper titled ‘Deserted sites and rabbit-warrens on Dartmoor’ in Medieval Archaeology in which she listed 110 deserted farm sites and 16 warrens. This was breaking new ground as neither topic had been covered before in a national journal. However, she had published a paper jointly with Hermon French in TDA 1963 on deserted sites in Widecombe-in-the-Moor parish and R.M.L.Cook had published a paper on vermin traps in TDA 1964. Linehan’s 1966 paper was based on four years of fieldwork, and included numerous site plans and several maps, drawn by Mrs E. Marie Minter who herself had embarked on a programme of excavation of three medieval sites (Houndtor, Hutholes and Dinna Clerks) which was to last until 1975 (Beresford in Medieval Archaeology 1979).
Several important discoveries were made in the 1960s but went largely unnoticed as they were reported only in the small stencilled Newsletter of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society. Among the discoveries were those made by Diana Woolner, with her husband Cdr Woolner, of the triple stone row on Holne Moor (Newsletter Dec 1962), the Piles Hill stone row (Newsletter June 1963), and of the stone circle on Sourton Down (Newsletter, March 1966). The Newsletters contained several reports of damage to Dartmoor sites.
Of considerable significance for the study of Dartmoor’s more recent archaeology was the publication in 1968 of The Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor (David & Charles) by Helen Harris – a seminal work. The late 1960s was the time of the Swincombe reservoir proposal, when the archaeological advisors to Plymouth City Council (the promoters of the scheme), Lady Fox and Peter Addyman, identified only some cists, Childe’s Tomb and a couple of ruined buildings as being at risk – in an area we now know to be teeming with archaeology covering millennia of interest, and including the extensive Whiteworks Mine.
The first popular leaflet about archaeology was by John Somers Cocks of the Dartmoor Preservation Association in 1964 entitled Dartmoor National Park – Antiquities. Its emphasis was on prehistoric remains but included blowing houses, crosses, clapper bridges, medieval buildings and old field systems. Right at the end the author introduces us to ‘Boundary Banks…often hard to differentiate from field banks and whose exact date and purpose is often far from clear. Some of these Field or Boundary Banks (locally called Reaves) are so slight that they can hardly be seen on the ground except in conditions of low sunlight.’ This is the first cautious statement about reaves which Somers Cocks and Gawne were beginning to investigate, but meeting with indifference or rejection (when they suggested a prehistoric date) and even dismissal. The story of the rediscovery of the prehistoric reaves of Dartmoor (after an early 19th century dawn of discovery) has been eloquently told by Andrew Fleming. John Somers Cocks’s interest was actually stimulated in the late 1950s but it was not until 1963 that he began corresponding with established archaeologists of the day. In a letter to him dated 30 August 1963 Desmond Bonney, an archaeological surveyor with the RCHM concluded that all long reaves or banks were probably post-medieval. From 1965, with the assistance of Elizabeth Gawne, aerial photographs and field evidence were examined by John Somers Cocks – ‘We could not understand how archaeologists…had not years before been driven to investigate them’. Worse was to come: ‘any local archaeologist…to whom we showed large maps and enlarged air photos, evinced very little interest – which seemed odd to us’….There is no doubt that the general feeling amongst the local archaeologists was that we were two local historians who had strayed outside our territory and had come to absurd conclusions.’ But their paper, arguing a prehistoric date for the reaves, was accepted by Malcolm Spooner for publication in Trans. Devonshire Assoc. 1968. Expecting reaction, ‘we were greeted by complete silence. Underneath we knew that the local archaeological establishment did not believe us, in fact one of them when introduced to one of us even went so far as to use a facial expression that left no doubt that we were thought ridiculous.’ All was to change in 1972 when Andrew Fleming , with John Collis, began his analysis of the reaves. Altogether this is a very salutary tale.
Andrew’s fieldwork coincided with dry summers in the mid-1970s and increased grazing pressure from animals who cropped much of the Dartmoor vegetation to a state perhaps close to its prehistoric condition. His fieldwork , excavations and publications revolutionised our understanding of Dartmoor and much of European prehistory.
The 1970s were notable for a major rescue and survey project on Shaugh Moor and the Plym valley and for the rescue excavation of a medieval settlement at Meldon (Austin et al, Proc. Devon. Arch. Soc., 1978), besides important work at Okehampton Castle (Higham). A building at Fillace Park, Horrabridge revealed numerous tinworking artefacts.
The county Sites & Monuments Register was established in 1975-6. In the late 1970s the DPA was advocating the removal of the Rippon Tor rifle range but Herbert Whitley, the landowner, stood up to them and percipiently said in July 1977 , ‘I think it would not be a bad thing in the circumstances to schedule the rifle range in the way they do ancient buildings’ (Herald Express, 8 July 1977).
In the 1980s the concept of survey became much more established. But establishment ideas, akin to attitudes towards reaves, were still lagging way behind the experience of many archaeologists. On Crownhill Down, a massive documented tinwork of probable medieval origin, was dismissed by the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments in 1982 as being ‘worked by man’ but not being a ‘work of man’, and was thus not truly archaeology as far as Ancient Monuments legislation was concerned.
In 1986 DNPA published A Field Guide to Archaeology on the Military Training Areas. Unfortunately the standard of reproduction of the high quality photographs supplied was so poor as to make it almost worthless. Nevertheless it is interesting as the first archaeological publication to include military features as part of the suite of Dartmoor sites. Neither the ‘Antiquities’ leaflet of 1964 nor the Archaeology booklet of 1978, its reprint of 1984, nor its successor Guide to the Archaeology of Dartmoor of 1996 and 2003, mentioned military remains, which is quite astonishing.
Andrew Fleming’s seminal work The Dartmoor Reaves – Investigating Prehistoric Land Divisions was published in 1988. This could be said to be the moment that Dartmoor as a landscape full of archaeology really reached a worldwide audience.
The 1990s are special for two positive things – the extraordinary publication feat of Jeremy Butler’s 5-volume Atlas of Dartmoor Archaeology (1991-1997),. Interestingly, in the light of John Somers Cocks’s experience, at a conference on Dartmoor held in 1994 by the Devon Archaeological Society, when Jeremy’s fourth volume had just been published, no mention was made of his achievement.
The 1990s also witnessed the start of what was to be a 20-year programme of field survey conducted largely by Phil Newman with colleagues and which has culminated in his magisterial Field Archaeology of Dartmoor published by English Heritage this year. These surveys were all-embracing (nearly) covering mines as well as medieval field systems. A superlative example is the study of Headland Warren. Lacking was detailed survey of the archaeology of the peat industry and any detailed analysis of individual tin streamworks. Without in any way belittling Phil’s achievement much of his work was made possible by advances in survey technology enabling an individual to cover large areas of ground relatively rapidly.
1996 saw the important publication of The Archaeology of Dartmoor – Perspectives from the 1990s, the results of a conference in 1994, skilfully edited by Debbie Griffiths. A remarkable paper by the late Harold Fox juxtaposed historical analysis with archaeology for the first time. But the inclusion of military remains were again lacking. Sandy Gerrard’s Dartmoor (English Heritage) was published in 1997, but curiously made no mention of military archaeology. A pioneer excavation of a complex of Dartmoor tin mills at Upper Merrivale took place over five seasons between 1991-1996 on behalf of the Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group, itself a product of the 1990s. This has yet to be fully published. Detailed survey of the moorland Meavy valley was undertaken by Sandy Gerrard, and the DTRG initiated the first surveys of moorland tinworks.
In 1995 the Environment Act gave national parks, for the first time, a primary purpose of conserving the ‘cultural heritage’. Ironically, it is since this Act that the overall condition and management of Dartmoor’s cultural heritage has declined.
The first decade and a bit of the 21st century has witnessed further excavation on prehistoric sites – Shovel Down, Teigncombe (where the Bracken Project has a lot to answer for), Bellever and Whitehorse Hill, with a marked increase in environmental study. Some very significant discoveries have been made – the Cut Hill stone row in 2004 now securely dated to the mid- 4th millennium BC, which has radically changed perceptions of prehistoric Dartmoor (Fyfe and Greeves in Antiquity 2010),the prehistoric complex (including a stone row) at Tottiford reservoir, and two medieval crosses (one unfinished) at Gutter Tor and on Southerly Down, besides numerous other features.
Much of the above sounds positive, and rightly so, but not all has gone well and I believe that, overall, the archaeology of Dartmoor is in a less healthy state than at any time in the past sixty years. There have been some terrible errors of judgment that should never have occurred.
One of the worst decisions by DNPA occurred in the mid-1990s when a senior officer of the national park advised the MoD to raze 14 of the 21 granite, turf and concrete observation posts in the military ranges. It is extraordinary that this occurred at a time when both the Council for British Archaeology and the National Trust had demonstrated a commitment to survey and protection of 20th century military features. It is a dreadful blot on the DNPA record and is symptomatic of how the national park cannot claim to have been leaders in the field of conservation of our cultural heritage. Fortunately, military archaeology is at last featured in Phil Newman’s book of 2011.
There is a major problem with the concept of the Scheduled Monument as defined under the Ancient Monuments Acts. This essentially site-specific designation should long ago have been discarded in respect of open moorland and yet in the 1990s significant resources were spent increasing the number of scheduled sites on, mostly, the moorland of Dartmoor. Performance indicators and targets achieved must have looked good, but it meant nothing as far as protection is concerned, and muddies the understanding of the cultural landscape. A few yards outside the national park boundary the failure of scheduled designation has been demonstrated very recently on what was a wonderful piece of open moorland known as Ridding Down near Lee Moor. Here one of the finest prehistoric ring cairns in the Dartmoor region was scheduled in the 1970s. In 2009 it and some adjoining cairns were almost completely destroyed by a local farmer. Nobody noticed or reported anything until all was too late. There has been no prosecution and little or no investigation. The fate of this beautiful 4000 year-old feature should have been widely lamented and should have started a major debate about scheduling and the role of the local community in knowing about and ‘owning’ sites of interest, but there has been deafening silence from establishment and county archaeologists. The only positive outcome of the Monuments Protection Programme has been an increase in intrinsic information and record of each site.
Scheduling, or at least some form of legal protection of individual sites surviving in an otherwise busy farmed or modern landscape, still has a role to play. Within the national park, I have the impression that little recent scheduling seems to have happened in these more complex situations. In Sampford Spiney a post-Roman inscribed stone, probably marking an estate boundary, and dating to about AD 600 was discovered in 1997. One of only four such stones known within the boundary of the national park (Cornwood, Lustleigh and Sourton being the findspots of the others), it was immediately reported to the national park and was published in both Cornish Archaeology and Dartmoor Magazine, but no steps were taken by the national park or English Heritage (at the peak of its Monuments Protection Programme) to protect the stone, when clearly it could and should have been scheduled and/or moved into a church or other safe space. In 2010 the new owners of the farm, apparently oblivious of the stone’s importance, had a new steel gate fixed to the stone with newly drilled holes. Miraculously the stone did not shatter and the gate fastenings avoided the historic letters cut into the stone – some of the first evidence of literacy within the Dartmoor region, and the very beginning of an historical record. So, for the moment the stone has survived, but it is still without any formal protection. My own hope is that the HER working with the local community, will increasingly be able to ensure at least awareness and local pride in such features.
The extraordinary affair of the ploughing of moorland Cator Common in 1995 highlighted the inability of the national park to protect the landscape, as apparently they had no powers to intervene. However, DNPA was alerted to the possibility that flints and other artefacts would be likely to be found, yet their response was one of indifference and even denial. Many fine flints were recovered by individuals, and a mysterious man from Milton Keynes showed a ‘bucketful’ to the curator of Okehampton Museum, but there has still been no investigation and research by DNPA, and the whereabouts of the bucket is unknown.
Experience as an observer of the national park scene in recent years has led me to the conclusion that too much emphasis is placed on whether or not a site is scheduled and indeed whether or not it appears on the Historic Environment Record. There seems to be a reluctance to accept or expect that unrecorded features are still to be found over much of the enclosed land of Dartmoor, let alone the moorland. The saddest case in recent years has been that of Knowle, Walkhampton, where the route of an historic leat leading to ancient mills at a well-documented manor complex, was vigorously denied (largely because it wasn’t on the HER) and has now been destroyed by allowing a developer to have almost free rein. And yet the reality is that we are still only beginning to understand and record what the land contains.
Something very significant has happened to the vegetation of Dartmoor in the past 20 years or so. Nobody could now claim that Snaily House, a well-documented farmstead in the East Dart valley is being as well-managed as it was in the 1980s. Nor could anyone be satisfied with what is happening to the relics of the last moorland tin mine to be working, rich in photographic evidence, at Golden Dagger compared with their state 30 or 40 years ago. Here DNPA spent resources consolidating walls of key structures in the 1980s and even in 2000 DNPA cleared the Engine House of vegetation. But the current state of management is abysmal.
Consolidation of structures is, in my opinion, something that should be undertaken only very rarely, when there are sound academic reasons, such as the existence of contemporary photographs or the extreme rarity of the structure. Unfortunately, too much consolidation has taken place, such as at West Vitifer Mine where the wall of a tin dressing floor was unnecessarily repaired. Every intervention changes the nature of a site, and Dartmoor is somewhere where the important processes of decay can be beneficially observed. Elsewhere very poor quality work was undertaken at Wheal Frederick and the Miners’ Dry at Golden Dagger, resulting in unsightly new cement which cracked and displaced stones etc.
But undoubtedly the worst outcome for archaeology in the 1990s has been the decision by the national park and others not to resist the call for reducing stock numbers on Dartmoor as advocated by English Nature/MAFF now Natural England/DEFRA. This flawed policy, based on an unproven claim that Dartmoor was ‘overgrazed’ and that the desired vegetation cover was heather, using criteria derived from northern English moors, is still active. It is a policy threatening the very culture of hillfarming on Dartmoor and its consequences are everywhere to be seen. Essentially, the result has been the spread of gorse and long unpalatable grasses, which are precursors to scrub woodland. For farmers, the gathering of sheep and other beasts with dogs is becoming increasingly difficult and time-consuming; for walkers, the freedom of the open spaces of is replaced by restricting paths. For those interested in the 6000-year old legacy of physical human presence in the land, the field archaeology of the moor is becoming less and less accessible and visible. Many sites which were clearly visible in the 1970s and 1980s are no longer to be seen. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it would not now be possible for Andrew Fleming to carry out the fieldwork which he achieved 30 or 40 years ago.
DNPAs response in 2005 has been to invent, without any public consultation, 14 x PALs (Premier Archaeological Landscapes), which are highly selective areas of open moorland (+ Okehampton Park) with some of the more highly visible sites. It is stated that ‘management of the archaeology will be paramount’. Of all the PALs one might expect Merrivale to be the one best managed after six years, but the situation is increasingly bad. A photograph taken in 1987 shows how closely cropped and even-textured the grass was in the vicinity of the rows. Photographs of 2003 and one taken this week show how inadequate the management of this site is. Within PALs animals are meant to have grazed the vegetation to 10cm in height. In some parts of the Merrivale complex the vegetation cover is quite low. But this is increasingly due to the pressure of human feet following paths where before there was open grassland and the possibility of walking in any direction. The paths are now dictating the routes people take and the northern of the double stone rows is slowly disappearing under uneaten grass. The small stone row recorded by Lukis and others since the 19th century is now all but invisible.
Equally fundamental is the question as to why this PAL does not include the whole of Merrivale Newtake on the north side of the road, which has a much greater suite of archaeological features than on the south? – besides numerous prehistoric elements, there are medieval settlements, field systems, two tin blowing mills, leats, tinworks, pillow mounds, vermin traps etc.
Machines and money are now assumed to be the proper tools, instead of munching teeth. I am sure we will hear from Andy about the clearance of sites and surveys of cairns etc, all of which is thoroughly laudable, but this can never compensate for the lack of grazing animals which, in the 1970s and 1980s increased the grazing pressure on Dartmoor to the extent that an astonishing suite of archaeology was revealed.
The present situation is appalling for those who knew Dartmoor 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It is as if a collective blindness has settled on the land. We, as people interested in the cultural dimension of our landscape, have failed to convey the message of revelation that should have reached decision-makers in Whitehall and elsewhere – that more than just an increase in knowledge, a whole new world was being revealed which had enormous educational, spiritual and imaginative potential for increasing understanding of where we have come from. Regrettably, the stronger impetus has still been the 200-year old essentially ‘romantic’ view of wild country as being devoid of human interest and being mostly a spectacle of otherness and ‘nature’, which is still dominant in national park thinking.
The following items are suggestions for the future:
- Deschedule all monuments on open moorland and abolish PALs
- Create an overarching protective cultural designation for open moorland
- Revise the notion that bracken is damaging
- Use HER to provide detailed maps and information for each parish
- Assume that much still remains to be discovered, especially in enclosed land and woodland
- Draw together a team to work on unpublished excavations/investigations – Lydford, Upper Merrivale, Fillace Park, Horselake etc
- Initiate the study of fords and tracks
- Initiate the study of leats and weirs
- Initiate the study of the woodland charcoal industry and associated features of hearths, buildings and tracks
- Commission complementary historical research and new publications
- Restock the moor with increased numbers of grazing animals and ensure markets for the end product
- Celebrate the extraordinary cultural landscape of Dartmoor, perhaps unrivalled in the world
Our response to Dartmoor should be quite different now to what it was in 1951, but regrettably decision-makers, especially Natural England, have not realised what a philosophical sea-change there is. Dartmoor should be leading the way in demonstrating that Britain and many parts of the world are essentially human landscapes not natural ones. We need a new compact with the land, based on our human use, response and needs. Dartmoor has that potential and the dynamic discipline of archaeology should be informing and educating wider society. Despite many positive things happening in the world of archaeology, about which I am sure we will hear, recent management of the cultural heritage of Dartmoor has, in my opinion, held back what should be a renaissance in our relationship with the land, and much needs to change in the next 60 years.
The second speaker of the morning was Andy Crabb, Historic Environment Field Adviser for English Heritage who spoke on ‘Fulfilling the National Park Purpose – Protecting, Promoting and Researching Dartmoor’s Archaeology in the 21st century’.
Andy began by stating the statutory purposes of national parks as set out in the Environment Act 1995 – ‘conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ and ‘promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities’.
His work was ‘incredibly varied’ and ranged from perusing planning applications to working with a volunteer conservation group all in one day. Historic Environment Field Advisers took over the role of former Field Monument Wardens, and have responsibility for monitoring Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) and, if necessary, organising work parties to undertake repairs. SAMs have existed since the 1880s. The first on Dartmoor was Gallows Barrow, Lydford, which was no.16 on the County list. Now there are 1208 SAMs which comprise 10% of the national park area. They are given the highest level of protection and damage can lead to a £25,000 fine, but prosecutions are very rare. Sites might be designated because of rarity, survival, fragility, potential for revealing data, uniqueness, or for historical evidence. Originally designations tended to be site specific ‘spot’ scheduling, but since the Monuments Protection Programme (initiated after a Monuments At Risk Survey) and which operated from the late 1990s until 2005 (when the programme stalled) there has been more focus on larger areas and landscapes, and on a greater variety of sites.
Within Dartmoor National Park 55% of SAMs are at low risk; 18% at medium risk and 27% at high risk. The main threats to High or Medium risk sites are: plant & scrub growth (377 sites), stock erosion (35), visitor erosion (33), theft (14), forestry (5).
A Monument Management Scheme receives 50% funding from English Heritage. The Properties in Care scheme allows DNPA to manage Grimspound, Houndtor and Merrivale, and agreements for these have recently been renewed.
Dr Sandy Gerrard defined 277 sites which, in his opinion, deserved to be scheduled as nationally important. Although they have not yet received formal designation, Natural England treats them as if they were SAMs.
The DNPA Conservation Works Team undertakes repairs of erosion caused by, for example, camp fires and barbecue pits. They have also consolidated Crazy Well Cross and the wall of a medieval manor house at Ilsington, and have recut the Ten Commandments Stone on Buckland Beacon. Outside specialist contractors are sometimes called in to do work such as repairs to the leat running through Merrivale stone rows.
Some 220 artefacts at risk from being stolen have been microchipped over the past 12 years, some in collaboration with the National Milestones Society, and the scheme has been adopted by Cornwall Council and West Devon Borough Council.
The Historic Features Grant Scheme has allowed restoration of the Hunter plaque at Black Rock on the R. Lyd, and the installation of a stone at Two Crosses on Dunstone Down. The Belstone Ring Cross project was a great success, with the Anglo-Saxon cross being moved into the church after an approach by a churchwarden. The project involved research for an interpretation panel by a student,t and Dr Rosemary Cramp delayed publication of a book in order to incorporate the findings.
The Moor Memories Project, recording mid-20th century recollections of Dartmoor, proved very successful – there are listening posts at several venues.
The concept of Premier Archaeological Landscapes came from the Moorland Vision and reflects a ‘joined up approach’ and was a ‘wonderful opportunity’, being the first landscape approach to the cultural heritage similar to Special Areas of Conservation within the natural environment. The areas chosen are very good examples of well-preserved archaeology. It has proved successful and very popular among the farming community. Other national parks such as Exmoor and Pembrokeshire are interested in the scheme, and it has already been adopted on Bodmin Moor. A Moorland Management Forum discusses issues and meets every 2 years. There is considerable archaeological input into agri-environment schemes, with 5-year prescriptions agreed which might include swaling, vegetation clearance and bracken control.
Partnership is very important and DNP archaeologists work very closely with other agencies especially Natural England. As an example, a. South Devon United Mine there is funding for vegetation clearance and survey. There is close work with the Forestry Commission, and recently they have been specially busy due to the felling programme as a result of the spread of Phytophthera disease.
DNP also works very closely with the MoD, and vegetation clearance has taken place at several sites within their training areas, such as at a tin mill at Combeshead.
Community involvement has grown considerably and there is an increasing use of volunteers, working with people from Tavistock Taskforce, the Dartmoor Preservation Association and the Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group. Sites include Houndtor, Roborough Down, Raddick Hill, Brimpts and Narrator, and there has been considerable public gain.
The Dartmoor Trust initiated a project on historical flowing leats, and this has resulted in conservation work such as on the aqueduct of the Grimstone & Sortridge leat.
A major 5-year project of survey & repair of prehistoric cairns was a joint English Heritage/DNP/DPA venture. 49 cairns (35 SAMs) were tackled, taking down modern disturbance after detailed survey. A team of highly skilled surveyors has been created, and much new information gained about the cairns themselves such as previously unrecorded features associated with them. The work resulted in the Council for British Archaeology giving the project first prize in the Marsh Award 2010. The Peak District and Yorkshire Dales national parks may set up a similar scheme.
72 scheduled monuments have been removed from ‘at risk’ status in 3 years, representing a 15% reduction, which is well above the management target. 50 works programmes have been carried out on undesignated sites, such as at RAF Harrowbeer.
DNP archaeologists are often consulted on planning applications. This is when the Historic Environment Record proves its worth. There is ever-changing legislation and government advice which has to be accommodated.
Infrasturcture projects, such as hydro schemes, all need checking. Mining remains at Gem Bridge have been protected as part of the work on a cycle route, and investigation of the route of a water pipeline on north-east Dartmoor revealed pits with prehistoric Bronze Age pottery.
A publication titled SWARF (South West Archaeological Research Framework) highlights gaps in knowledge. English Heritage undertook landscape surveys on Dartmoor from the 1990s until the team was disbanded in 2010. There has been aerial survey since.
Palaeoenvironmental work has been carried out by Dr Ralph Fyfe in advance of the Mires Project. A 7m depth of peat was recorded at Winneys Down, dating from 8000 BC onwards. Research on the previously neglected peat industry has been undertaken by Dr Phil Newman. LiDAR aerial surveys have been carried out for the whole of Dartmoor Forest and are being analysed, and on Brent Hill previously unrecorded lynchets have been revealed as a result of LiDAR photography.
Excavations at threatened sites include the Whitehorse Hill cist excavation of 2011 which has proved fascinating, and finds are being microexcavated. The Bellever hut circle/roundhouse has been excavated following storm damage. A potential community excavation may take place at North Hall, Widecombe to investigate a medieval site. Other research excavations have been at Teigncombe, Shovel Down, and at Buckfastleigh church. Jane Marchand has been analysing flints in Ashburton Museum.
Time Team carried out a well-publicised project on prehistoric features at Tottiford Reservoir.
Student placements have allowed geophysical work at Yellowmead stone circle, and investigation of Throwleigh Pound.
Promotion of Dartmoor’s archaeology continues apace through talks, walks and events such as Heritage Open Days, the CBA Festival of Archaeology, and Hands on Heritage. Site guides have been published for Properties in Care and support has been given to other publications. The ‘Going for Bronze’ exhibition has attracted more than 40,000 visitors – this includes a replica Trevisker ware pot made by Joss Hibbs of Powdermills.
To emphasise the constant activity over 60 years, Andy concluded by showing an image of Spurrells Cross being restored by the Dartmoor Preservation Association in 1954, juxtaposed with an image of the newly-discovered King Way Cross being re-erected a week ago.
Discussion (Morning Session)
Gerald Quinn asked what is the use of scheduling monuments if prosecution is not pursued? How can unscheduled monuments be protected? If granite items are microchipped, where do they end up, and how do we know they are stolen? When does a structure on the Moor become historic? He also commented that when the Forestry Commission planted trees round a fairly large landscape of archaeological remains it means we can’t see it in terms of sight lines or for astronomical reasons.
Andy Crabb said that English Heritage has not been fast to prosecute but prefers to liaise with offenders. It has often been the mere threat of prosecution that puts offenders off. In terms of scheduling English Heritage conduct an extensive programme which is being maintained and improved on an ongoing basis. With reference to the microchipping project he said that no items that have been microchipped have actually been stolen yet.
Jane Marchand (DNPA) added that the important point to be made is that they try hard to be discreet about the actual microchipping process. However, each item that has been microchipped is given a detailed description and kept on a database and given to the police. She also added that an enormous amount of ongoing work is being conducted on the moor to restore scheduled monuments in forest areas to their original condition, and very clear evidence of this is particularly prominent in the Bellever and Fernworthy areas.
Andrew Fleming asked how frequently farmers get reminded about scheduled monuments on their land and what form does the reminder take.
Andy Crabb said that English Heritage work very closely with the land owners and they are always consulted on every site visit. As a rule sites are ideally visited approximately every five years.
David Jowett asked Tom Greeves why he does not necessarily regard bracken as a serious problem for archaeology.
Tom Greeves said it has become the fashionable mantra that bracken is damaging to archaeology, primarily due to the meticulous work at Teigncombe by Sandy Gerrard. However, Tom had attended a talk of Sandy Gerrard’s when he said that bracken wasn’t significantly affecting the archaeology at Teigncombe. However, the official view now is that bracken is damaging to archaeology. Andy Crabb and Tom had visited a scheduled tin mill recently, which had been given a ‘high risk’ category apparently because of bracken but, although there was a little bracken there, there was clearly no need for the site to be on the high risk list.
Tony Clark (MoD) wanted to particularly thank Tom because he has been his mentor in the 17 years he has been living in the region especially with his sterling work done on the farm studies at Willsworthy. In latter years he had also experienced support from Andy Crabb and Jane Marchand and also thanked them. He had picked up on two key words of today’s debate which are ‘understanding’ and ‘pride’. How can we encourage local communities to understand the archaeology in their area and why and how it needs to be protected, considering there is very little funding available?
Tom Greeves said that the community aspect has definitely got to be encouraged and he felt sure we would hear more from Alex Richards about the Historic Environment Record and how this will encourage local communities to identify local archaeology in their area, thus encouraging pride and ownership. He said there was a need to develop a less top down approach from English Heritage and other authorities and to have more information feeding into and from the parish level in a reciprocal process.
Andy Crabb said he has personally tried to reject any top down style in his work with English Heritage, and felt that his cairn restoration work was a good example. Combined with the Moorland Vision interacting with the local communities by using dialogue and constructive PAL meetings he has gleaned new information regarding the location of previously unidentified sites. He has also tried to get close to local communities by giving walks and talks and making himself more accessible, for example, working with Widecombe History Club on North Hall, as well as his talks and guided walks to the Bronze Age round house at Bellever.
Diana Sutherland spoke on behalf of the Cornwall Archaeological Society and how they have parish representatives across the county. She is looking after seven Parishes herself. They keep an eye on local scheduled monuments and work very closely with the local landowners. Diana mentioned parish checklists, and also asked about the presence of tor cairns and propped stones on Dartmoor as she felt that they seemed more common on Bodmin Moor.
Jane Marchand said that more tor cairns are being identified on Dartmoor.
Andy Crabb added that he had experience of a monument adoption list which was helping to build bridges with local communities.
Edmund Marriage made several observations about an imbalance in food production in this country which imports 50% at present. 14 million people rely on the state for funding. We should aim to create a new wildlife and forest service which would then have terrific potential to create long term jobs and skills and would ultimately lead to getting ideally one million people out of the towns and into the country areas thus encouraging the removing of Molinia grass and other low quality habitat, and at the same time encouraging quality grazing and traditional farming methods.
Colin Jones said he had been looking on the DNPA web site and had explored their section on Premier Archaeological Landscapes. He decided to probe a little more and find out about the monitoring of the Management Plan and how things were progressing regarding Management Plan objectives and whether they were running to time. After doing some more searching it became a bigger area of concern as although the PALs had been identified, things were falling behind as surveys of only 5 out of the 14 PALs had been completed. The main reason given was that Natural England was subject to limited resources and prioritisation.
Andy Crabb explained that they had a setback when the English Heritage survey team had been disbanded last year but he was still pretty optimistic that the PALS would get the attention required .
Tom Greeves then stated that the reality of the situation is that 30 years ago the PALs were all in excellent condition and that was before they had even been thought of, thanks to the sheep grazing in those key areas. He wanted to know what a representative from the DNPA thinks of the current state of Merrivale considering it is one of only three sites on Dartmoor (other than Grimspound and Houndtor) which are in the care of the national park under delegated powers from English Heritage. He considers its condition to be absolutely deplorable.
Gerald Quinn asked who it was that actually puts a restriction on the number of animals needed to graze on the Moor.
Andy Crabb replied that the restrictions on grazing were put in place by Natural England.
Sue Goodfellow (DNPA Director of Conservation) added that on Dartmoor there are many interests to consider, including public rights of way, the rights of farmers, etc. It was extremely difficult to prioritize management, but within PALs it should be recognised that the archaeology is far more important than biodiversity and therefore animal grazing is crucial.
Tom Greeves replied that he didn’t really feel that Sue’s comments were valid as most of the open moorland was given SSSI status long ago, and that an equivalent cultural designation was also needed.
Sue Andrew suggested that to get local people really involved it might be a good idea to have days focussed on different villages. A few years ago the Dartmoor Society arranged a walk round the village of Walkhampton as part of a debate on the future of Dartmoor villages. You could involve the local schools, English Heritage and other specialists, and local people could engage in the project and be given a voice, and could be recognised as having a huge range of talents and resources.
Helen Harris then described the good work that was going on within the Devonshire Association which has branches throughout the county.
Peter Mason said it is important to involve everyone at local level, especially when resources are diminishing. If official bodies work closely and engage with local communities it would be possible to identify and preserve all valued sites not just the legally protected ones, and prevent situations as had happened with the clam bridge in Lustleigh Cleave. He believed a system of ‘animateurs’ was needed, equivalent to what had happened in the arts.
Sue Goodfellow believed that local communities did not need English Heritage or DNPA and suggested that we could all get on and do this type of improvement ourselves.
The afternoon speaker was Alex Richards, Historic Environment Record Officer for DNPA. Her presentation was titled ‘The Dartmoor Historic Environment Record and its Uses’.
Historic Environment Records (HERs) are local authority-based services, providing a record of the known archaeology and historic environment of an area.
There are currently over 19,000 database records for Dartmoor, comprising information about archaeological sites, historic buildings and structures, and events such as excavations or surveys. Historic landscapes, chance finds of artefacts and placename evidence are also included.
HERs were originally known as SMRs (Sites and Monuments Records). The earliest SMR was set up by Oxfordshire County Council in mid-1960s and over the next 20 years SMRs were set up in most counties across England by local authorities. They focused mainly on archaeological sites, and often comprised hand-written index cards and hand annotated Ordnance Survey map sheets. These records have expanded over time to be more comprehensive, and technological advancements have enabled better recording of sites.
English Heritage first used the term Historic Environment Record in Power of Place: The Future of the Historic Environment (2000) to reflect that the content of these records is much wider than that of traditional SMRs.
Devon County Council maintains the HER for most of the county and had one of the first computerised systems in the country, based at Exeter University. The HER information was later migrated to a bespoke database designed and maintained by Devon County Council. In 2007-8 responsibility for the Dartmoor records was passed to DNPA who produced an audit of the HER information for English Heritage to secure a grant to appoint an HER Officer (HERO), who was appointed in 2010.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published the Draft Heritage Protection Bill in 2008 which proposed changes including:
- A single list of designated sites available online
- Further controls to protect undesignated sites under threat
- Creating one consent to cover all types of designated asset, which could be granted by local authorities rather than by central government
The bill remains in draft stages, although English Heritage’s NHLE went live earlier this year (2011).
Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS 5) of 2010 replaces PPG 15/16. It advises all applicants for planning permission to consult with an HER at an early stage of the planning process. All local planning authorities should have access to an HER.
A Heritage Asset is defined in PPS5 as a ‘ building, monument, site, place, area or landscape positively identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions. Heritage assets are the valued components of the historic environment. They include designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority during the process of decision-making or through the plan-making process (including local listing).’ All Heritage Assets should be considered in an application, whether designated or undesignated. The setting of a Heritage Asset is important. Local authorities should formally identify Heritage Assets, through the development of Local Lists.
Information in an HER comes from a variety of sources:
- Documents, both published and unpublished (such as journals, research papers and reports from surveys/excavations etc)
- Conservation works
- Historic maps and plans
- Photographs, especially aerial
- The planning process
- Nationally compiled data (such as Listed Buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monument information)
- Contributions from the public (including finds, personal observations and recollections)
Paper recording sheets are stored in parish files and an electronic version of these is held at DNPA. Electronic versions of the form can be submitted to the HER. New information can be emailed or posted to the HER Officer at DNPA to add to the HER. Pictures and an accurate grid reference are always useful.
The HER is used to inform the planning process. Requests are received from within DNPA and also externally from developers. It is also used by DNPA staff:
- To inform management of sites on Dartmoor and conservation works
- To helping owners manage sites on their land
- For education (mainly through requests from university students)
- For research by members of the public, professional and amateur archaeologists, local societies and history groups, academic researchers (and anyone else who may be interested in the historic environment of Dartmoor)
The HER can be accessed by contacting the DNPA Historic Environment Record Officer at Parke. Information can be requested remotely by email, telephone or letter. Visits to view the records and supporting information at Parke can also be arranged. A summary version of the HER information can be viewed online at the Heritage Gateway website.
Selected HER records are available via the DNPA website. These are related to the archaeological Feature of the Month webpage which highlights interesting sites, features and current events.
Developments are underway at Devon County Council to make the full HER record information (including maps) available online, and this information should be accessible in the near future.
The HER textual information is stored in an Access database. A wide range of information can be entered into different sections of the record. This information can then be produced as a report / file to be printed / emailed. The map information is stored in MapInfo, a Geographic Information System (GIS). The monuments and events are digitised onto map ‘layers’ which are viewable with a wide range of supporting information layers:
- Historic mapping
- English Heritage information
- Aerial photography
Discussion (Afternoon Session)
Tony Clark asked Alex Richards about the historic legal requirement for English Heritage to produce accurate Ordnance Survey Maps every ten years and whether the HER has the duty to inform Ordnance Survey of new knowledge, since current maps are out of date.
Alex Richards replied that by accessing the Heritage Gateway website it is possible to gain information. A company called Mastermap has been working on a base map. Alex admitted the website was still experiencing some glitches but said it was clearly improving all the time.
Jane Marchand felt it was important to comment on some things that Tom Greeves had mentioned in his presentation. For example, she felt the local commoners were doing a good job of clearing the stone rows etc at Shovel Down by hand and not by machine. Regarding the inscribed gatepost at Sampford Spiney she said the current owners were adamant that they did not want it moved. She felt that bracken is a true enemy of the moor, especially as most visitors come in August. She also argued that intervention through consolidation was a good thing to prevent loose stones being moved around etc. She had enquired about the ‘bucket’ of flints from Cator Common and had been told that it contained only about three flints in total.
Tom Greeves replied that it was important to point out that at Shovel Down sheep and other animals used to do a perfectly good job of clearing the vegetation on their own, and that just beyond the area cleared by the commoners the vegetation was knee high and obscuring a 500m stone row which is now almost invisible, plus numerous other features. Regarding the Sampford Spiney stone no official body has made any attempt to get the stone scheduled. He considers bracken a relatively minor issue because it dies off for six months of the year. The real enemy to archaeology is gorse and long grass.
Jan Mallik wanted to know exactly what use all this information is considering the DNPA had failed miserably with the case of Yellowmeade Farm (Walkhampton).
Sue Goodfellow commented that discussion should be about the future way forward, not individual cases.
Simon Booty said that he had lived all his life on Dartmoor and had experienced the changes and doesn’t like the way those changes are going. He feels that there are too many separate ‘bodies’ as well as too many different people within those ‘bodies’ making decisions and telling Dartmoor people what to do. He mentioned an existing Higher Level Stewardship scheme where only certain animals are allowed on to certain archaeological sites. He felt everything should be simplified so that there is only one ‘body’ which could liaise directly with farmers, and he felt this would produce a more satisfactory outcome for both the farmers and the archaeology. He felt that in recent years as a farmer he has been tied by the arm and leg by DEFRA and English Nature etc all playing a part and all having their own say.
Courtney Heard said that life for him as a Dartmoor farmer has become increasingly difficult. His son and two grandsons help him run the farm. He used to have 1500 sheep and a good living in the 1970s. Now due to the restrictions put on livestock by English Nature, English Heritage, DNPA etc he now only has 300 sheep and it makes him feel sick with worry when he considers the future of the farm, as it is no longer worth putting animals out on the high moor. In effect ‘they’ve thrown us off the hills’.
Andrew Fleming suggested that maybe the National Farmers Union had failed the farming community and asked if any farmers supported this idea.
Courtney Heard said that he believed unfortunately the DNPA were primarily only thinking of tourism.
Sue Goodfellow talked of a new DNPA initiative called Dartmoor Farming Futures which had been devised to help farmers feel more in control and say what they wanted. A trial project was being developed on two commons. She said it is designed to give the farmers a voice and in conjunction with the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council they can work towards a satisfactory outcome and thus help to keep farming more sustainable in the uplands.
Edmund Marriage said that changes have to be made. It should start with the commoners, the graziers and the farmers, and if decisions aren’t made very quickly the farming community will be gone.
Tony Clark talked of the South Tawton area including South Zeal and Sticklepath, and the energy within those places. He suggested to Sue Goodfellow that it would be good to encourage a volunteer style strategy, thus encouraging a sense of ownership. He feels that we need to work with the DNPA and disagreed with Sue’s previous point that we can do it on our own. He went on to say that, other than planning, the DNPA really have no say and Natural England are ultimately in a position to overrule everything on a local level.
Sue Goodfellow said that public ‘bodies’ have been shrunk, and with 47 Parishes we need one key mechanism through which we can share ideas and have something interactive to work on and could all pull together.
This led to a general discussion about communicating good ideas and the best way of sharing them with a Parish structure.
Tom Greeves asked how many people send in information to the Historic Environment Record. He asked how the mass of information on the HER can be fed into the decision- making process so that it is easily accessible for parish councils and the people of Dartmoor. This should help prevent mistakes being made regarding planning applications. Tom said that the destruction of Yellowmeade Farm was a particular instance and this type of mistake should be prevented from happening again. He suggested that Alex might think of ways of communicating the HER data to where it really matters.
Alex Richards replied the whole HER is work in progress, and she felt optimistic about its future.
Gerald Quinn said that he had experience of a similar project among stakeholders in the Teign Estuary Management Plan involving the various parishes. Each year they hold a forum and have a very large aerial plan showing all the archaeological and other sites in that area. This is funded with public money and surely something similar could be done on Dartmoor.
Alex Richards said she felt it would be very easy to extract data for a given area or parish. She mentioned she had been doing work with Ugborough History Society and how they had been receiving benefit.
Andrew Fleming asked if Alex was welcome to receiving phone calls and queries. Alex confirmed she could to be contacted at her office any time, and would also welcome any pre-arranged visits to her office in Parke.
Judy Ehlen asked about the likelihood of having interactive features within HER and possibly converting them into a user friendly format such as Google Earth, thus enabling everyone to access it for free, which should assist with any mapping process.
Alex Richards said she didn’t feel completely qualified to answer such a suggestion but felt that if it worked on a system similar to mapping on the GIS (Geographic Information System) it would certainly be a possibility.
Andy Crabb said he had been considering the possibility of a local history conference where local history groups could all get together and discuss what they are doing and what works for them, and then this information could be shared with other parishes.
Tony Clark added that the Dartmoor Trust might well like to co-operate with Andy on this type of scheme as they had experiencing of archiving.
Jeremy Hatch observed that he would have expected a faster rate of accumulation of information on the HER.
Alex Richards replied that she does work on her own but felt that the rate of acquisition of new data would increase in the future.
Richard Glanville said that it might be possible on Google Earth to have a Wikipedia style approach with an increased amount of digital images which could give a geometric increase in the amount of information.
Alex Richards said it is certainly something to think about in the future. At present everyone is encouraged to complete recording forms.
Gerald Quinn noted that in East Devon they are in the process of digitising every tithe map dated c.1830/1840 and the maps are being overlain onto current boundaries. So far 25 Parishes have been covered in East Devon already and all the information will be available online.
Helen Harris, at the invitation of Andrew Fleming, said that, looking back over sixty years, there has been quite a drastic change in how Dartmoor is perceived. In the early days the National Park didn’t want too many visitors. In more recent years there has been a huge influx of people moving into the area to retire and the National Park was now encouraging tourism and visitors to the Moor. In the 1960s industrial features and industrial archaeology wasn’t quite the thing and she had to get a lot of information face to face by actually talking to local people, stonecutters, non-academics etc. There is now a big change and everything is a lot more professional. Although some of the features have become obscure there is now a considerable amount of restoration work taking place.
Andrew Fleming summarised some of the key points of the day as
- Information –the challenge of collection, storage and retrieval.
- Ecology/Farming – the difficulties in addressing all issues as well as Archaeology
- Communication and Education – with fewer professionals to look after Dartmoor’s archaeology, there is a need for more people feel a sense of ownership and pride in their heritage etc
He noted that we had heard about many initiatives, and passionate pleas for simplicity. Finally, he commented on how vital it is to all work together, accept some compromise and obviously all keep talking together and stay passionate about Dartmoor.
Tom Greeves, as Chairman of the Dartmoor Society, concluded the day by thanking Margaret Allin and her crew for the excellent catering, everyone who helped set up the hall, Mark and Tracey Norman who filmed the event, fellow speakers, chairman Andrew Fleming, and all who attended and participated.
NB – The whole Debate was filmed by Mark and Tracey Norman and this historic recording is now available on two DVDs which can be purchased together for a total of £5.00 (including postage). Cheques payable to ‘The Dartmoor Society’.