CA 398 Letters – April

Your views on issues raised in Current Archaeology.

Championing women in archaeology

I read with interest the CA 396 article entitled ‘Roman women’ (below; Brenda Heywood is pictured). When I commenced my undergraduate studies in the Archaeology Department at Southampton University in 1991, the only female lecturer was the late Dr Sara Champion, who was a visiting lecturer. The first fully employed lecturer was Dr Yvonne Marshall, who joined the department in 1994 and has researched and written on gender and feminist theories in archaeology. As I have a disability, I had an amanuensis in exams, and Sîan Jones (who is now a Professor at Stirling University) and Cressida Fforde (now a Professor at the Australian National University) acted for me in this role – at the time they were research students of Peter Ucko. I owe a lot to Sîan and Cressida, and without them I wouldn’t have obtained my BA in Archaeology, without which I couldn’t have contemplated a PhD. It is easy to forget that woman archaeologists having a professional career in academia is a very recent event. It reminds us that we owe so much to our foremothers in archaeology, who did so much and are often not accorded the recognition that they deserve. 

IMAGE: © The Heywood family

Hàìghlèàgh Winslade
Horndean, Hampshire

Interactions of infrastructure and archaeology

I was interested to read, in your article on Arminghall Henge (CA 396), about the problems created by the nascent electricity grid in relation to the archaeology of Norfolk in the 1920s and subsequently post-1950s (below).

I have looked at Google Earth for the site, and, while it is not exactly clear, it appears that the earlier tower, looking at the insulators, was to the west of the henge, and would have dated to around 1932, when the substation for Norwich would have been built as one of the later parts of the original grid. It would have been about 80 feet high if a standard 132kV tower and, compared to 275kV and 400kV towers, would not now be regarded as large. Google Earth appears to show twin insulator strings on the tower adjacent to the southern entrance to the henge. It is now running at 400kV and, as an angle tower, would now justify the adjective ‘large’.

My father was a senior way-leave officer for the Central Electricity Board (CEB) through to the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), and the aim was to get as straight a route as possible in order to keep the construction cost to a minimum. Every angle tower would increase the cost considerably. The CEB certainly provided value for money, and paved the way for rural electrification as well.

IMAGE: Later Prehistoric Norfolk Project

I suspect that, in the pre-war days, there was little in the way of planning controls, and that obtaining way leaves was an exercise solely involving local authorities and the landowners.  If neither party had any worries, the line would follow the preferred route.

One of my father’s stories was how, in the late 1940s, he nearly destroyed Nelson’s flagship, which was more than the Germans had achieved when there was a near-miss on the  Victory in Portsmouth. In this case, however, it turned out to be the Vanguard, represented by a clump of trees on the estate, centred on SU 140 420, to the east of Stonehenge. The several clumps of trees were meant to commemorate the disposition of Nelson’s ships at the Battle of the Nile, and are known as ‘Nile Clumps’. My father’s error was understandable, as it appears that there was some confusion between which of Nelson’s battles was being commemorated.

However, and this may be of interest to Joe Flatman (who wrote about National Trust archaeology in the same issue), I believe that it was Stembridge Tower Mill that was involved. There was an objection to a proposed 275kv/400kv route running across Sedgemoor, and the planning officer explained that it was because the line would be visible from a National Trust-owned windmill on the crest of the hill above the valley. It was pointed out that the proposed line would benefit literally hundreds of thousands of people, and my father asked: if someone had come along and asked for permission to install an industrial plant for personal gain on the hilltop, would planning permission be granted? The answer was: certainly not. It had also been recognised that the proposed route would possibly impinge on the site of the Battle of Sedgemoor, so the line was built further north to be well clear of the battlefield, which also moved it even further away from the windmill.

The interaction between the needs of infrastructure and archaeology/history can be interesting, and how well it is handled depends a lot on the people involved. It also depends on how well the respective Local Authorities have developed and maintained their Historic Environment Records. If they are inadequate, it depends on the local population or the landowner. It is often an iterative process.

There is nothing new. I proposed in my MA dissertation on Roman temple sites that there was probably no coincidence in the fact that they often seemed to be in proximity to very much earlier monuments. I suggested that if word went round that the Roman estate owner was proposing a temple site, there would have been a local worthy imbued with the folk memories who would have advised him that, ‘Up there is a special place where you need to put it.’ He wouldn’t know why, only that from time immemorial that place had been special. The only difference is that now we have largely lost the folk memories.

Andrew Smith

Correcting cartographic terminology

It is with some trepidation that I venture to correct the archaeo-omnipotent Chris Catling in his ‘Odd Socs’ column for the British Cartographic Society (CA 396).

He refers to ‘a theodolite and measuring rod’ for taking levels, relative to a benchmark. ‘Level’ and ‘staff’ are the terms for the usual equipment used. A theodolite is a more complex surveying instrument, used for measuring angles. The two ‘tangs’ of an arrow benchmark are, in fact, stylised barbs of an arrowhead. A tang is the (single) point of a metal tool, be it file, chisel, trowel, or whatever, which is driven into its wooden handle.

I will atone for my act of lese-majesty by recording my appreciation of Chris’ contributions to CA, not least ‘Sherds’ – the first item I turn to in almost every issue.

Roger Miles
St Albans

Preserving aerial archaeology

I found your article about Harold Wingham, ‘The Sky’s the Limit’ (CA 394), most interesting, as I and three other members of the Hunter Archaeological Society in Sheffield are at present sorting and cataloguing the aerial photographs of two other former RAF pilots, both avid archaeologists.

The two gentlemen concerned were Derek Riley, a Sheffield man who died in 1992, and William Arnold Baker (known as Arnold), believed to be from the Evesham area. Arnold died sometime after 1992, the year of his thesis for Southampton University. Both men were distinguished fighter pilots in the Second World War, and afterwards acquired their own aircraft to fly over and photograph as many archaeological sites as possible. Derek covered much of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and South Yorkshire, recording, among other sites, what became known as the brick pattern of fields systems. Arnold flew over Shropshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Avon, and East Wales. The work was undertaken, in Derek’s case, from around 1971 to 1986, and by Arnold from 1956 to 1975. The latter also took photographs of various areas where site destruction was already taking place, for example by gravel-digging and housing developments.

The collections of their photographs, saved from a skip by Colin Merrony, a member of staff at the Sheffield University Archaeology Department, are at present in the safe keeping of that Department (itself threatened with destruction, as many of the sites photographed have been). The hope is that the records being created on a database will be of interest to and accepted by Historic England to add to the Wingham records, and thus be made available to future generations of archaeologists, researchers, and all other interested people.

Julia C Boler, Martin Waller, Paul Caldwell, and Paul Ash

CA online

Harvey @HarveyArchaeo
These commemorative ’50 Years of @CurrentArchaeo’ beers were found in a drawer at work. They’re now an artefact that can reliably date when the drawer was last opened…

(Alas no drinking them! It’s just like those 200yr bottles of wine they find in graves sometimes.)

Julian Richards @Archaemedia
Here at the @CurrentArchaeo Live conference. Great to be back and meeting up with old friends #Archaeology

BAR Publishing @BAR_Publishing
We had a brilliant time at @CurrentArchaeo Live at @UCLarchaeology over the weekend. Congrats to the happy winner of our book prize draw!

Edible archaeology

The Vindolanda Youth Panel celebrated the launch of our recent exhibition with this beautiful edible version of the statue of Fortuna in our exhibition. The original (discovered in 2012 in the vicus at Vindolanda) is now on display at the Roman Army Museum in Greenhead as part of our exhibition Questioning Roman Identity.

Wilfred Bazley, Sophia Birley, Storm Cannon, Mara Collins, Lucina Miller, and Hannah Scott
The Vindolanda Youth Panel, Northumberland

Write to us at: CA Letters, Current Publishing, Office 120, 295 Chiswick High Road, London, W4 4HH, or by email to:

For publication: 300 words max; letters may be edited.