Archive for January, 2011

Bruce Munro’s ‘Light Shower’ is now installed high in the Cathedral’s Spire Crossing where, from Monday 29 November, it will be switched on all day and light will cascade through the fibre optics to the 2,000 teardrop shaped diffusers. Light as gossamer, Light Shower is simply incredibly beautiful. It will stay in the Cathedral until the end of February.

Light Showers Number Crunching:
40,000 metres of fibre
1984 teardrop diffusers
32 rows of 64 drops
8 x 150 watt metal halide projectors
400 man hours to make
232 man hours to install

Bruce Munro’s Water Towers, a maze of huge towers made of stacked recycled water bottles, will be installed in the cloisters in early January 2011. They are illuminated with fibre optics powered by energy-conserving LED lamps, and will change colour synchronized to choral music.

Bruce Munro’s work is currently showing at ‘Contemplating the Void’ at the Guggenheim in New York. His acclaimed Field of Light was seen at the Eden Project in 2008/9. “I am deeply honoured to be invited to show at Salisbury Cathedral” says Munro. “It is a truly amazing building, a magnificent example of English Medieval architecture and craftsmanship.

His new exhibition starts the Friday (14th) at the Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/
Salisbury, Wiltshire, The South of England. The city of the oldest clock in the world and neighbour of the most famous megaliths in the world.

This display is well worth a visit!
Salisbury and Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wessex

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Today, we must celebrate John Aubrey’s dramatic rediscovery of Avebury – the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle. 

Avebury Stone Circle today: with its ditches excavated, unsightly cottages demolished, and unnecessary enclosures removed, it’s difficult to imagine the snarl of 17th-century domestic chaos that greeted John Aubrey’s visionary gaze that January morn.

Avebury Stone Circle today: with its ditches excavated, unsightly cottages demolished, and unnecessary enclosures removed, it’s difficult to imagine the snarl of 17th-century domestic chaos that greeted John Aubrey’s visionary gaze that January morn.

Whilst out hunting with fellow royalists during the English Civil War, exactly three hundred and sixty-two years ago. For Aubrey’s heroic retrieval of this vast but (by then) long forgotten Stone Age temple confronted the then-accepted notion that only the coming of the Romans had forced a degree of culture upon the barbaric Ancient British, and also confounded the then-popular 17th-century belief – propounded by the highly influential Scandinavian antiquaries Olaus Magnus and Ole Worm – that all such megalithic culture had its archaic origins in Europe’s far north. Indeed, so rich were the cultural implications of John Aubrey’s re-discovery that – come the fall of Oliver Cromwell’s 11-year-long Commonwealth and the subsequent Restoration of the Monarchy – even the returned King Charles II would himself insist on taking one of Aubrey’s celebrated tours of the Avebury area. But how could the world’s largest stone circle have suffered such a total cultural extinction in the first place? Why, the Avebury standing stones themselves must average at least ten feet in height apiece, while the temple’s enormously bulky northern and southern entrance stones rivalled even nearby Stonehenge’s celebrated trilithons. And how could Avebury’s vast 400-metre-diameter earthen embankment and the equally deep ditch that encircled these huge monoliths have for several centuries become invisible even to local historians? Ironically perhaps, the initial blame for this pagan temple’s centuries in cultural oblivion goes not to scheming Christians but to the 5th century arrival from Germany of another group of pagans – the invading Saxons – who, recognising Avebury’s possible use as a defended settlement, broke with the traditions of the previous Roman and Romano-British occupiers by setting up their homes and farmsteads directly within the mighty earth banks of the temple itself. Blasphemers! Thereafter, many centuries of harsh day-to-day living within the Avebury henge conspired to obscure then finally obliterate all physical traces of this vast Earthen Temple. Saxon ploughing within the henge tumbled soil into the deep ditches, which silted up considerably and became repositories of household refuse. Residents fearful of disturbing the ‘Devil’s work’ incorporated the Avebury megaliths into the hedges of their allotments, gardens, fields, and even saved energy by employing those monoliths most vertically aligned as supporting walls for their stone cottages. And when villagers lost their fears of the stones, deep pits were dug into whose depths several of the most intrusive monoliths were unceremoniously tumbled. Thereafter, the magnificent geometric shape of this robust 4,500 year-old landscape temple became lost in the chaos of domesticity; until that fateful day three hundred and sixty-two years ago, that is, when John Aubrey and his friend Dr. Walter Charleton joined their hunting party and galloped westwards across Fyfield Down along the chalky London-Bath ‘rode’. Aubrey himself recounts in his posthumously published two-volume tome Monumenta Britannica:

“The chase led us at length through the village of Avebury, into the closes there: where I was wonderfully surprised at the sight of those vast stones: of which I had never heard before… I observed in the enclosures some segments of rude circles, made with these stones; whence I concluded, they had been in the old time complete.”

It’s been my experience that no story about Avebury ever concludes without some vicious act of destruction by some pious know-it-all or other; this On This Deity entry is no different. For, despite King Charles II’s fascination with the Avebury stone circle, it was his return to the English throne that prompted the temple’s most vivid and desperate period of destruction. For in their determination to stamp out the Non-Conformism of Cromwell’s time, Charles II’s paranoid Restoration Government in 1665 passed the Five Mile Act (or Non-Conformist Act 1665), which specifically forbade all itinerant Non-Conformist preachers from speaking within five miles of their old parishes. Avebury stone circle is nine miles south of Swindon, eight miles north-east of Devizes, five miles west of Marlborough and six miles east of Calne. Non-conformist preachers throughout northern Wiltshire looked to the ancient pagan temple and regarded the Five Mile Act as a divine sign: let us make our new home here, and every pagan stone we break we’ll make righteous by incorporating it into our Non-Conformist church. And so to Avebury they did come and such destruction so they did: the church remains at the circle’s centre even to this day, self-effacing and easily overlooked but engorged nevertheless with as many splendid sarsen stones of that former 4,500 year-old monument as those Non-Conformist preachers could muster. Our hero John Aubrey would, for his pains, die unpublished and in penury. Today, however, his legend burns with an unquenchable fame due to that pioneering archaeological tome Monumenta Britannica, that gossipy biography of his many contemporaries Brief Lives, and – most of all – for that splendid vision of Avebury exactly three hundred and sixty-two years ago today. To John Aubrey – Culture Hero and how!

Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Ancient Britain

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Archaeologists hail oldest wooden structure ever found on river, despite security services’ armed response to researchers
The headquarters of MI6 on the banks of the Thames in London. Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images
The headquarters of MI6 on the banks of the Thames in London. Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images

When MI6 set up home on the banks of the Thames one secret escaped its watchful eyes. The oldest wooden structure ever found on the river, timbers almost 7,000 years old, have been discovered buried in the silt below the windows of the security services’ ziggurat headquarters at Vauxhall, south London.

The archaeologists who uncovered the six hefty timber piles had to explain to the security services what they were up to when armed police turned up after they were spotted pottering about on a foggy day in the mud, armed only with tripods, cameras and measuring equipment – not, as one spectator had apparently reported, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

“They accepted there wasn’t much damage we could do with a tripod,” said Gustave Milne, the archaeologist who leads the Thames Discovery programme that has been surveying the entire prehistoric foreshore, uncovering centuries of ancient wharves, fish traps, jetties and ship timbers.

The timbers, partly scoured bare by erosion of the river bed, the largest up to a third of a metre in diameter, were discovered in work during exceptionally low tides last February, but carbon dating work – revealed in the new edition of London Archaeologist journal – has only recently been completed, proving that the trees were felled between 4790 BC and 4490 BC.

Although the site is now exposed only at the lowest tides, the ancient Thames was narrower and deeper, and Milne believes that 7,000 years ago the timbers may have been built on dry land, possibly at the highest point of a small island.

“The find is very interesting, because in the mesolithic period the people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in temporary camps – not at all given to building substantial structures like this,” Milne said.

“At the moment we don’t have enough timbers to give any kind of alignment, they’re not in a straight or a circle – but they could have supported a substantial platform with some form of domestic structure or dwelling.”

The site is just where a smaller river, the Effra, enters the Thames, and it was clearly important to the prehistoric Londoners. The archaeologists, working with experts from the Museum of London and English Heritage, also found worked flint from the same date as the timbers, older pottery, and just upstream, on the far side of the modern Vauxhall bridge, a much later Bronze Age structure.

“There may have been a ford, it may have had some religious significance, or it may just have been very rich hunting grounds – but it was clearly what my colleague at the Museum of London calls ‘a memorable place’,” Milne said.

“We’re just sorting out which are the lowest new year spring tides to go back for another look – if Mr Bond will let us.”

External link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jan/06/ancient-timbers-mi6-headquarters
Thames Tours: http://www.bestvaluetours.co.uk/

British Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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When we thing of chalk hill figures in Wiltshire we all immediatly think of ‘chalk horses’, however Britain has many other chalk hill figures scattered across the British Isles – some new, some old.
Just west of Salisbury and close to Stonehenge is the Fovant Badges:

The Fovant Badges, Wiltshire
The Fovant Badges, Wiltshire

History of the Fovant Badges
When the 1914-1918 war broke out, there was a need to find accommodation for the New Army. In many areas, training and transit camps were established for troops leaving for, and returning from, the battlefields in northern France. One of these areas was the village of Fovant, in Wiltshire and its neighbours Compton Chamberlayne and Sutton Mandeville. The villages and the fields in the shadow of the chalk downs became a military camp, complete with barracks, a hospital, parade areas, shooting practice ranges, a camp cinema and YMCA huts. A military railway was constructed to serve the camp, branching off the main line railway from London to the southwest

Thousands of men from all parts of Britain and overseas lived for a while in the area, passed on to the Western Front and returned from it. Many never returned but gave their lives on the battlefields in France. Others died of their wounds in the hospital or from disease. Rows of silent War Graves in Fovant and other nearby churchyards are testimony to their presence. In remembrance of their colleagues, many of the regiments carved into the hillside replicas of their cap badges. Many of these no longer survive, but by the end of WW1 there were some twenty discernible badges.

Local workers from Fovant and the surrounding villages, supported by Regimental Associations maintained the Badges after WWI. During WWII, the badges became overgrown in order to disguise landmarks, which might assist enemy aircraft. Weather and time, as well as the effects of grazing cattle, caused decay. After the end of WWII, the Fovant Home Guard platoons formed themselves into an Old Comrades Association and undertook the task of restoration. It was in the period of 1948/51 that the two Wiltshire regimental badges were cut and in 1970 the Royal Signals badge was added.

In 1961, the Old Comrades Association was reformed as ‘The Fovant Badges Society’ with redefined, more positive objectives related to the maintenance and preservation of the Badges and the holding of the annual Drumhead Service. The Society became a charitable organisation and in 1994 adopted a new constitution, which governs its operation and objectives; these are the preservation and maintenance of the Regimental Crests cut on the chalk downs.

The Society was determined, aided by much public and international interest, that the Badges should remain an historic, fitting and truly visible memorial to the soldiers who passed through Fovant and its neighbouring villages on their way to the Great War, many never to return.


By 2000, there were only twelve discernable badges on the downs. A new management structure was put in place and, in consultation with professional civil engineers, a survey of the condition of the badges was made. It appeared that the Fovant Badges were unique in their detail and posed difficult restoration problems relating to the slope of the hill, the complexity of design, and their sizes. These vary; the Australian Badge, the largest, measures 51m x 32m, which is just under half the area of a football pitch.

The Trustees, faced with a potential bill of £350,000 upwards for restoration and large annual sums for increased maintenance thereafter, realised that the task facing them had to be brought to realistic proportions. They decided, with much sadness, that the objective should be the restoration and maintenance of the military crests on Fovant Down. These are clearly visible from a lay-by in Fovant whilst passing along the A30 road between Shaftesbury and Wilton. There is also a public footpath from the road to the village of Broad Chalke, which passes by the area of the Badges. This inevitably meant that the Map of Australia on Compton Down and the crests of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 7th Battalion, City of London Regiment on Sutton Down would continue their decline. These badges would, in addition, have posed intractable problems because of the nature of the ground and their more advanced state of decay. Also, the YMCA badge on Fovant Down would be allowed to fade away.

Since the badges lay on open private farmland, with the movement of cattle unrestricted, it was clearly essential that large expenditure had to be used with good effect. A crucial first step was, therefore, to ensure the long lasting protection of the Badges. In co-operation with the farm owners, application was made to English Heritage to have the Badges scheduled as Ancient Monuments. Scheduling was granted in 2001 by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport placing all twelve badges, including those not being restored, under the protection of the government.

The estimated cost of the more limited objective was £220,000 and a national appeal was formally launched at the annual Drumhead Service in July 2001. The response to this was very positive and sufficient sums were assured by the end of 2001 to allow work to commence in 2002. Work experience by contractors, Dean and Dyball Construction Ltd, Ringwood, and favourable weather in 2002 allowed more work than anticipated to be done. This led to five badges being restored in 2002 and the remaining three (including the Royal Signals Badge who undertake their own maintenance and restoration) were completed in 2003.

The appeal has been successful. We are enormously grateful to our many benefactors – too large to name them all – but special mention must be made of the significant support given by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Daily Mail And General Trust, the Pilgrim Trust, the Clothworkers’ Foundation, the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Salisbury District Council. And also to the very many private donations from throughout the country.

The Badges were originally constructed by cutting outlines into the rough tussocks of grass down to the underlying soil using such tools as were available in 1916. Chalk from external sources was then hauled manually from chalk dumps and used to fill in the areas exposed.

profile before restoration – section through large chalk areas

Restoration problems involved work being carried out on a hillside that sloped at about 30 degrees and where a combination of grass, chalk and rain makes for a hazardous working environment. All chalk hills suffer from surface soil movement or ‘creep’. This causes ridges to develop above and below the horizontal chalk outlines and distorts the view of the badges from the A30 road. These so-called ‘eyebrows’ had to be removed.

Existing chalk on the Badges was removed to a depth of 150mm, stabilising the slope where necessary using geotextile materials together with one metre long metal rods, and replacing the excavated areas with compacted new chalk. On a large badge this required handling about 50 tonnes of chalk out of and into the site. As each badge is restored it is fenced to prevent cattle damage which had occurred in previous years.

The restoration of the eight military crests on Fovant Down was completed by the end of June 2003.However that is not the end of the story. The annual cost of maintenance is above the current, and projected future, income level of the Society. If we cannot achieve the necessary level of funding to carry out effective annual maintenance work then the long-term existence of these memorials as visible emblems on the Downs must be in doubt.

External links:
WW1 military badges – Fovant Badges Society
The Stonehenge Tour Company
The Fovant Regimental Badges in Wiltshire England UK

Fovant Badges – Fovant History
Wiltshire Heritage Museum Home Page
Related post Chalk Hill Figures – :
Needless to say we offer guided tours of all the chalk hill figures in Wessex (some dating back to 3000BC) and can include other tourist attractions including Salisbury, Stonehenge, Bath, Avebury and Dorset

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wiltshire and Dorset

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