Archive for the ‘Romans’ Category

  • The 15ft-high road ran from London to Exeter viaOld Sarum

    It was a route once trod by legionnaires as they marched across a conquered land.

    But, eventually, the Romans left Britain and the magnificent highway they created was reclaimed by nature and seemingly lost for ever.

    Now, some 2,000 years after it was built, it has been uncovered in the depths of a forest in Dorset.
    And, remarkably, it shows no sign of the potholes that blight our modern roads.

    Half-mile long: Laurence Degoul from the Forestry Commission stands on a 15ft-high section of Roman road uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset

    Half-mile long: Laurence Degoul from the Forestry Commission stands on a 15ft-high section of Roman road uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset

    Constructed by the Roman invaders as part of a route from London (Londinium) to Exeter (Isca), the 85ft wide earthwork stands more than 15ft high and consists of a sweeping road with deep ditches at the side.

    It was so densely covered by trees, however, that although its existence was known about, it simply could not be found until now.

    One of the country’s first roads, it was uncovered when the Forestry Commission, acting on advice from English Heritage expert Peter Addison, cleared the Norway spruce fir trees in Puddletown Forest.

    Mr Addison said it was the biggest Roman road he had come across and that it was probably designed to make a statement. It is thought that it might have been built shortly after the Roman conquest in the first century and its scale would have been chosen to intimidate people living nearby.

    The sight of a Roman legion marching along it would surely have had the desired effect.
    It is thought the road would have been made from layers of gravel and the fact it still exists is testimony to the skills of the builders.

    There is a central cobbled ‘street’, which would have been used for rapid troop movements, and outer ‘droving’ roads for livestock, as well as ditches for water drainage.

    Mr Addison said: ‘It’s extraordinary. It has been known about but when the Forestry Commission wanted to find it, they struggled.

    ‘The trees were planted so tightly it was difficult to move through them. But they called me in and I managed to find it.

    ‘It is part of the road that goes from Badbury Rings to the fort at Dorchester and was part of the network of roads from Old Sarum (now Salisbury) to Exeter.

    Artist's impression: The Roman road being built in the Dorset forest 1,900 years ago

    Artist's impression: The Roman road being built in the Dorset forest 1,900 years ago

  • It is absolutely huge and unlike anything I have ever seen. Here you have a large road with huge ditches either side. It is raised very high which is unusual. It is only speculation, but the height might have been to make a statement.

    ‘It is thought this was a road made early in the occupation and not used for long. If so, then it would have been incredibly impressive to the local people.

    ‘In other parts of the forest we know the road was made using gravel and they probably used layers to build up the agger (embankment). They built ditches on either side to act as soakaways to prolong the life of the road.

    ‘But more work needs to be done to find out these details.’

    It is hoped that archaeologists will be able to examine the road.

    A Forestry Commission spokesman said it would not be planting any more trees on it.

    The road will probably be grassed over in the future, he added.

    ‘We have painstakingly uncovered one of the UK’s most remarkable sections of ancient Roman road,’ the spokesman said.

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    A chance to go ‘behind the scenes’ at the Roman Baths Museum.

    Roman Bath Tunnel Tours

    The tour includes

    ·        The main museum stone store with material dating from Roman to Victorian times from all parts of Bath and the surrounding area

    ·        The King’s Spring Borehole supplying water to the Pump Room and the new Thermae Bath Spa buildings

    ·        Georgian vaults under Bath Street and the water pipe that supplies the spa

    ·        Rooms of the Roman bath house not on public display, including the unusual circular laconicum

    ·        The chance to handle some of the items which have been excavated in Bath and are now stored in the various vaults.

    Although we do walk through most of the public areas of the site we do not stop in them and visitors are advised to visit them before or after the tunnel tour, during the normal public opening hours

    A chance to look ‘behind-the-scenes’ at the stores of the Roman Baths Museum. See and handle objects in the reserve collections and find out why and how they care for them. 
    Visit the vaults around the Roman Baths. See parts of the Roman Baths and temple not on public display and discover the hidden Georgian and Victorian history of the site. Numbers are strictly limited so advance booking is necessary on 01225 477779


    The Roman Baths is one of the largest tourist attractions in South West England. Find out more about charges, opening times and the facilities that we offer at the Roman Baths in the links to the left. Please allow at least 2 hours to get the most from your visit.  Bath is often combined with a day trip to Stonehenge and the Cotswolds from London.  A private guided tour allows over 2 hours in Bath rather than the 45 minutes many coach operators allow.

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    Neil Oliver tells the epic story of how Britain and its people came to be over thousands of years of ancient history – the beginnings of our world forged in ice, stone, and bronze.

    About the Programme

    A History Of Ancient Britain will turn the spotlight onto the very beginning of Britain’s story. From the last retreat of the glaciers 12,000 years ago, until the departure of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century AD this epic series will reveal how and why these islands and nations of ours developed as they did and why we have become the people we are today. The first series transmits in early 2011 and there will be a following series in 2012.

    As well as being a presenter, Neil is also an archaeologist, historian and author. He began his television career in 2002 with the BBC2 series ‘Two Men in a Trench’. This battlefield archaeology series explored iconic British battle sites, focusing on human stories, tragedies and drama.

    Neil became a familiar face on television thanks to the hugely popular, award winning programme, ‘Coast’, in which the landscapes, history, geography and people of the British Isles are given centre stage in a continuing voyage of discovery, remembrance and reminiscence.

    Neil also presented ‘A History of Scotland’ on BBC 1 and BBC2. In this series he revealed how the story of his native Scotland is instrumental to the history of, not only Britain, but also Europe and much of the wider world.
    Neil Oliver takes us on an epic journey expoloring how Britain and its people came to be.
    Watch the trail here
    Neil Oliver’s official website

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    Bath Abbey Tours

    Bath Abbey Tours

    As part of an on-going project, led by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley, looking at possible future improvements to the Abbey, this month sees the start of a series of archaeological digs in and around the building, which dates back to 1499, (it’s the third church on the site, the original Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church was founded in 757).  There will be seven digs in total, six in the Abbey: choir vestry, shop, near the Montague Tomb, Alphege Chapel, South Transept, and one near the font; the seventh will be outside, between Kingston Buildings and the Abbey.

    The digs, which will be carried out by two local firms, Emerys, who will be responsible for the building work and reinstatement, and Cotswold Archaeology, who will carry out the archaeological observation and recording.  The purpose of the digs is to discover what may or may not be possible in terms of ensuring the Abbey is fit for the 21st century.  One possibility to be explored is the installation of an underfloor heating system, drawing on the springs that feed the nearby Roman Baths.
    The Abbey will remain open during the work, and whilst visitors may find a few views to be limited and some of the Victorian pews missing, it is also hoped that they will be able to observe some of the archaeological work, perhaps via closed circuit television.

    There is an air of excitement at the Abbey as everyone looks forward to seeing ledger stones that have been invisible for 150 years and underground views that were hidden from their predecessors, as well as looking forward to new possibilities.

    The work has been made possible due to a generous donation from the Friends of Bath Abbey, who are very interested in the Abbey Development Project.   If you are interested in becoming a Friend, or making a donation, visit http://www.bathabbey.org/friends.htm

     For further information about the Abbey, including the times of services, its history and information about visiting, please visit www.bathabbey.org

    BBC – Historic Bath Abbey hosts big archaeological dig

    Tower ToursBath Abbey

    A Tower Tour gives visitors to the Abbey a chance to look at the building from a very different perspective. There are 212 steps to the top of the Tower

    Neeldess to say we offer guided tours of the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.  Visit our website for more details.
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    Mid-winter festivals were observed in Britain long before Christianity reached our shores. In ancient Britain, the Winter Solstice (near December 22) was seen as a turning point in the cold dark months. Rituals were held to encourage the return of the sun and banish evil spirits believed to lurk in the bleakest days. On the last day of winter, called Yule, a huge log was added to a bonfire and people gathered round to summon the sun by singing and dancing. Houses were decorated with green plants, particularly mistletoe and holly, as a symbol of fertility and rebirth the new season would bring.
    Victorian Christmas Celebration

    Saturnalia, a very popular Roman festival, was held in mid-December. It was celebrated in countries across the Empire, including Britain which was occupied by the Romans from 43 to the early part of the fifth century. The week long party was held in honour of the Roman God Saturn. Revellers enjoyed feasting, visiting family and sharing gifts. The festival offered temporary social freedom for slaves who were excused from work and allowed privileges, such as the right to gamble.

    In 596, St. Augustine undertook a mission to bring Christianity to the Anglo Saxons. He and his monks introduced the Christian calendar to Britain, including the Christmas date. The Christian church decreed Christ’s birthday be celebrated on December 25, a decision made by the Pope in 336. As Christianity spread across Britain, pagan celebrations were mainly engulfed by or assimilated in to Christmas ritual.

    Varied Christmas activities were adopted across Britain.

    In England, people ate frumenty (a type of porridge made from corn) on Christmas morning. The recipe changed over time and eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled. This is the origin of plum pudding.

    Christmas festivities in Ireland last from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany on 6th January, which is referred to as Little Christmas. Many Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. It is also Irish tradition to bake three puddings, one for each key day of the Epiphany – Christmas, New Year’s Day and the Twelfth Night.

    In Scotland, Christmas has traditionally been celebrated very quietly because the Presbyterian Church places no great emphasis on the date. The season is however enjoyed by many Scots. A popular Scottish festive party involved the building of big bonfires which people could gather round for warmth, dancing and to play bagpipes. A time-honoured Scottish Christmas treat is Bannock cakes made of oatmeal.

    In Wales, music was vital to the festive celebrations. Christmas morning between 3am and dawn men gathered at churches to sing carols until the cockerel crowed. This was called Plygrain.

    Taffy making on Christmas Eve was one of the most important festive traditions of the Welsh. Taffy is a special kind of chewy toffee made from brown sugar and butter. It is boiled and then pulled until it becomes lovely and glossy.

    Britain today is home to many different cultures and mid-winter is, as it always has been, a time for diverse cultural celebration.

    Thankyou for all your Christmas wishes.  Have a wonderful Christmas from all the Histouries UK team.

    External Links:

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    Rich in History is something Wiltshire is famous for, particularly Salisbury Plain, the large area of chalk downland within Wiltshire.

    Salisbury Plain is steeped in history, both ancient and modern and can justifiably claim to be the cradle of English civilisation. In prehistory, tribes from Europe migrated north and settled on Salisbury Plain.

    Wessex Map

    Wessex Map

    Remains of defence earthworks, burial and ceremonial grounds are scattered throughout Wiltshire. Many of these sites have public access. The most world renown is Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site, north of Salisbury and close to Amesbury. Also a World Heritage Site are the Avebury stone circles (both an outer and a smaller inner circle), not so famous as Stonehenge but equally impressive. Avebury is a few miles west of Marlborough in the north of Wiltshire.

    From Overton Hill, near Avebury, the famous Ridgeway begins. This is thought to be Britain’s oldest road, used by prehistoric man, herdsmen and soldiers, and follows the northern escarpment of Salisbury Plain north-eastwards through the ancient landscapes of Wiltshire into the Chiltern Hills of Berkshire. The Ridgeway is 85miles (139km) in length, accessible to the public, and has National Trail status.

    As well as the more ‘modern’ Roman Roads that criss-cross the Wiltshire countryside, Roman and Norman settlements continue very much in evidence, often developed on earlier Iron Age hill fort sites such as Old Sarum. This location was the original Salisbury site, a hill fort occupied by the Romans then latterly by Normans following the Norman Conquest of 1066. The exposed nature of the Old Sarum site and disagreements between the clergy and the military led to the building of the new Salisbury cathedral in 1220 A.D. to the south. The townspeople soon followed and medieval Salisbury grew to the city it is today. Old Sarum, rich in history, with its ruined fortifications is open to the public throughout the year.

    The Middle Ages were a time of great prosperity for Wiltshire with sheep grazing the chalk downlands and the handwoven woollen cloth in great demand. Many famous buildings, villages and even towns were built from the proceeds. The Industrial Revolution changed everything as mechanical production took over and the weaving industry moved north into the West Riding of Yorkshire.

    In more recent times much of Wiltshires rich prosperity has come from the many military establishments scattered over the Plain. Wiltshire airfields and army garrisons have trained and deployed troops and aircraft across the world on both fighting and peace-keeping operations and played pivotal roles in the great military campaigns of both World War I and II.

    Each week I will be blogging on a specific area of Wilsthire and talking about its rich history.

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    On October 31st, we celebrate Halloween,thought to be the one night of the year when ghosts, witches, and fairies are especially active.

    Most people think of Halloween today as simply a day when children dress up in costumes and go from home to home to “trick or treat” and collect enough candy to make any parent cringe. Halloween was much more significant in ancient times, however. October 31st was a very important day to the ancient Celts of Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. No kidding around in costumes and trick or treat bags; Halloween was much more serious to the non-Christian Cults a thousand years ago.

    Halloween remains a popular day in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Children get to dress up in their favorite costumes and ring doorbells throughout their neighborhood to collect as much candy as possible. In the United States’ Halloween is the second most popular holiday (after Christmas) for decorating and reaps a huge financial bounty of retail selling of frightening costumes to children and adults alike, decorations and candy. But for eons, the history of Halloween encompased ancient beliefs about the world – both living and dead.

    Understanding the history of Halloween can perhaps help you decide what to let your children take part in, and what to keep your children away from. Also, knowing the origin of Halloween and its history can also help Christians view the adult, youth, and child activities associated with Halloween celebrations in the light of Christ’s truth.

    What Is The History of Halloween?
    Halloween originated among the Irish Celts, Scots and Anglo-Saxons in Britain long before the Christian era. Originally called Samhain, it was a time when they believed the division between the worlds of the living and the dead became very thin and when ghosts and spirits were free to wander as they wished. The name “Halloween” is a shorter form for the Gaelic name All-hallow-evening. Pope Boniface IV instituted All Saints’ Day in the 7th century as a time to honor saints and martyrs, replacing the pagan festival of the dead. In 834, Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to Nov. 1, thus making Oct. 31 All Hallows’ Eve (‘hallow’ means ‘saint’).

    On the night of Samhain, it was believed spirits of the restless dead and mischievous spirits would freely roam about with humans and during this one night spirits were able to make contact with the physical world as their magic was at its height. The Celts believed that by allowing the dead to have access to the world on this one evening, they would be satisfied to return to the land of the dead. The Celtic people would put out food offerings to appease the spirits who might inflict suffering and violence on them and Celtic priests would offer sacrifices, animal and human, to the gods for the purpose of chasing away the evil, frightening spirits. They built fires where they gave sacrifices to the Celtic deities to ensure protection from the dead spirits. Samhain was also a time when it was customary for the pagans to use the occult practice of divination to determine the weather for the coming year, the crop expectations, and even who in the community would marry whom and in what order.

    When Rome took over their land, the Samhain was integrated with two other Roman festivals: Feralia and a festival to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. By the time Christianity come on the scene, Halloween had already taken root from the pagan beliefs and was integrated into Christian practices. As the Europeans found their way to the New World, they brought with them their traditions which soon evolved to fit their new country.

    Many customs still observed today come from these ancient beliefs. For example, the elaborately carved jack-o-lantern is said to have been named after the Irish story of a greedy, hard-drinking gambling man, Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil into climbing a tree and trapped him there by carving a crude cross into the trunk of the tree. In revenge for being stuck in the tree, the Devil cursed Jack and made him walk the earth at night for eternity. The jack-o-lantern of today is carved with a scary face to keep Jack and other spirits from entering their homes.

    A problem for the Celtic people was… if the souls of dead loved ones could return that night, so could anything else, human or not, nice or not-so-nice. So, to protect themselves on such an occasion, these superstitious people would masquerade as one of the demonic hoard, wearing masks and other disguises and blackening the face with soot to hopefully blend in unnoticed among them. This is the source of modern day Halloween costumes portraying devils, imps, ogres, and other demonic creatures.

     Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
    For Christians, the origins, history, and current practices of Halloween has its root in Satan, the author of deception.

    He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [John 8:44]

    While some might say that Halloween is now only a fun children’s holiday, it should be noted how much the modern day American practices and modern day witchcraft have in common with the ancient beliefs of the Celtic people. Contrary to some beliefs, the historic Samhain was not a time for witches and the worship Satan. Samhain was the end of the crop season and the official beginning of autumn. The ancient Celts celebrated a successful crop season on Samhain, giving thanks for the bounty of the harvested crops. The satanic celebrations now observed on Halloween is a more recent invention of more contemporary Satanists who have focused more on this season as a time when the dead can easily communicate with the living therefore making divinations and sacrifices more attainable. Modern day Halloween has thus become a mixture of ancient beliefs, occult practices and a highly commercialized children’s holiday.

    While some people consider celebrating Halloween to be a sin, others simply feel that Halloween quite simply shouldn’t be a holiday at all! A few Southern states have been known to ban trick-or-treating on Halloween, especially when it happens to fall on a Sunday. Halloween parties are renamed “fall festivals” and children replaced scary costumes with costumes of Bible figures, historical figures, or no costume at all.

    Considering that Satan is the father of lies, it can be understood how many are confused and deceived about this holiday. Like Christmas and Easter, both Christian celebrations, the true origins of Halloween, a non-Christian celebration, are eons old and some of the true meanings of the traditions of these celebrations have been distorted over time. In recent times, Christmas appears to be more about presents, parades and feasts than about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Traditions surrounding Halloween have followed the same fate. All too often we think of Halloween merely as a time of dressing up in costumes in going trick or treating around the neighborhood. In antiquity, the traditions of Halloween were of enormous significance throughout Scotland, Ireland and Britain.

    Have a spooky one!  I will be at Avebury Stone Circle for the Samhain gathering.

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    A project to find the 100 events and places that played the most significant role in shaping the English language has been launched.

    King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language 'English'
    King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language ‘English’


    From the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the fifth century to modern-day waves of immigration, the English language has been shaped by countless episodes in history.

    Now The English Project, a charity dedicated to promoting the language, is compiling a list of the 100 most important events and locations which have made English what it is today

    The journey starts in Lakenheath in Suffolk, where the Undley Bracteate medallion was found, dated to 475 and bearing the first evidence of written English.

    Then in 731 the Venerable Bede completed his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear – the first text to speak of the English language and the English people.

    And by 871 King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language “English”, was ordering translations from Latin into West Saxon, a dialect of Old English.

    In recent times the language has adapted again and again, on its way to becoming the common tongue of 1.8 billion people worldwide.

    The charity has already compiled a list of 20 of the most important events in the history of the language, and wants the public to help produce the final list of 100 crucial events
    Bill Lucas, a trustee of the English Project and professor of learning at the University of Winchester, said: “This is a wonderful way of engaging people in a wider conversation about the English Language.

    “We want to get the nation really thinking about the stories behind our evolving language.

    “How, for example, do you rate the relative significance of Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, versus London’s part in the birth of the world wide web?

    “English has now become the lingua franca of the world. It is the most exciting and exotic language partly because of its capacity to incorporate so many elements of other languages, and somehow to make these dynamic, descriptive and always exciting.

    “The history of Britain and the history of the English language are also very closely intertwined.

    “We’re excited about hearing people’s ideas about the places and events they think have shaped the language.”

    Submit your suggestions on the charity’s website, www.englishproject.org

    The 20 events and places nominated so far:

    Date: 475

    Lakenheath, Suffolk

    The Undley Bracteate medallion, found at Lakenheath, has been dated to 475 and provides the first evidence of written English

    Date: 731

    Jarrow, Tyne and Wear

    The Venerable Bede completed his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Although writing in Latin, he was the first person to speak of the English language and the English people.

    Date: 871

    Winchester, Hampshire

    Translations from Latin into the West Saxon dialect of Old English were commissioned by King Alfred of Wessex between 871 and 899. He is the first person known to have called the language “English”.

    Date: 1066

    Hastings, Sussex

    William the Conqueror and his Norman army defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, bringing with them a language that transformed English over the next 300 years.

    Date: 1171

    Waterford, Ireland

    King Henry II of England landed in Waterford, beginning the worldwide exportation of English beyond the island of Great Britain – even though he himself mainly spoke French.

    Date: 1362

    Westminster, London

    On October 13 the Chancellor of England opened Parliament with a speech in English rather than French for the first time.

    Date: 1400

    Westminster Abbey, London

    Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in the Abbey. In 1556 he was moved into a more splendid tomb, beginning the tradition of burying great writers in Poets’ Corner.

    Date: 1476

    Westminster, London

    William Caxton introduced printing to England, which became a huge force in the spread of English language literature.

    Date: 1564

    Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

    William Shakespeare, regarded by many as the greatest writer in the English language, is born.

    Date: 1604

    Hampton Court, Surrey

    King James’s Hampton Court Conference set a translation team working on what came to be known as the King James Bible, published in 1611.

    Date: 1665


    The first newspaper in English was the London Gazette, first published in Oxford in 1665 as the Oxford Gazette.

    Date: 1709

    Lichfield, Staffordshire

    The birthplace of Samuel Johnson, creator of A Dictionary of the English Language. Published in 1755, it set new standards for the writing of English prose.

    Date: 1847

    South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh

    The birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone in 1876, initiating a major stage in worldwide communication.

    Date: 1901

    Poldhu, Cornwall

    In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi sent the first radio transmission to St John’s, Newfoundland. North American and British English began to converge again after 300 years of separation.

    Date: 1922

    Portland Place, London

    The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) begins transmission, influencing dramatically the way English language is used and spoken.

    Date: 1945

    Menlove Avenue, Liverpool

    John Lennon lived here from the age of five. With his fellow Beatles, he revolutionised popular song.

    Date: 1955


    Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, is born. English is the dominant language of the internet, and the net is a major factor in the globalisation of English.

    Date: 1988

    Plumstead, London

    Patrick Chukwuem Okogwu, also known as rap artist Tinie Tempah, is born. Rap music shows the English language at its flexible best.

    Date: 1997

    Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

    JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Nicolson’s Café. Published in June 1997, the series of books started a worldwide reading phenomenon.

    Date: 2003


    On Valentine’s Day, mobile phone usage was so widespread that for the first time, more people said “I luv u” by text than said “I love you” by post. Text English is a new and thriving form of the language.

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    David Crisp said the valuation was "fair"

    David Crisp said the valuation was "fair"

    A hoard of more than 52,500 Roman coins found in a field in Somerset has been valued at £320,250.

    The coins were discovered in April by Dave Crisp, from Wiltshire, who will share the sum with the landowner.

    Mr Crisp said: “I’m very, very happy with that. I think it’s a fair valuation.”

    Somerset County Council hopes to buy the hoard, one of the largest finds of Roman coins in Britain, for display at the Museum of Somerset.

    The Treasury Valuation Committee was responsible for determining a value for the find.

    The council’s heritage service has received £40,250 from the Art Fund towards the appeal.

    ‘Important’ discovery

    The charity will also match every pound donated by the public up to the value of £10,000.

    Steve Minnitt, head of museums for Somerset County Council, said the Frome hoard was one of the most important discoveries made in Somerset in recent years.

    He said: “As such, we feel that it’s a find that really needs saving for the people of Somerset, so we’re launching the campaign now.”

    The Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society has also donated £10,000 to the fund.

    Under the Treasure Act, the local authority has four months to raise the money, although this deadline can be extended if necessary.

    Mr Crisp, a hospital chef, intends to buy a new car with part of his reward money but intends to continue working until his retirement in August 2011.

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    Druidry has been recognised as an official religion in Britain for the first time, thousands of years after its adherents first worshipped in the country.

    The Druid Network has been given charitable status by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the quango that decides what counts as a genuine faith as well as regulating fundraising bodies.

    It guarantees the modern group, set up in 2003, valuable tax breaks but also grants the ancient religion equal status to more mainstream denominations. This could mean that Druids, the priestly caste in Celtic societies across Europe, are categorised separately in official surveys of religious believers

    Supporters say the Charity Commission’s move could also pave the way for other minority faiths to gain charitable status.

    Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for The Druid Network, said it had taken four years for the group to be recognised by the regulator. “It was a long and at times frustrating process, exacerbated by the fact that the Charity Commissioners had no understanding of our beliefs and practices, and examined us on every aspect of them. Their final decision document runs to 21 pages, showing the extent to which we were questioned in order to finally get the recognition we have long argued for,” he said.

    Emma Restall Orr, founder of The Druid Network, added: “The Charity Commission now has a much greater understanding of Pagan, animist, and polytheist religions, so other groups from these minority religions – provided they meet the financial and public benefit criteria for registration as charities – should find registering a much shorter process than the pioneering one we have been through.”

    In its assessment of the Druid Network’s application, the Charity Commission accepts that Druids worship nature, in particular the sun and the earth but also believe in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers as well as “divine guides” such as Brighid and Bran.

    The document lists the “commonality of practice” in Druidry, including its eight major festivals each year; rituals at different phases of the moon; rites of passage and gatherings of bards on sacred hills, known as “gorsedd”.

    All charities must now demonstrate their benefit to the public, and Druidry was said to qualify since its followers are keen to conserve Britain’s heritage as well as preserve the natural environment.

    The document even addresses the claims made by the Romans about Druids committing human sacrifice, but finds “no evidence of any significant detriment or harm” arising from modern beliefs.

    It notes that although there are only 350 members of the Druid Network, a BBC report in 2003 claimed as many as 10,000 people followed the ancient faith across the country.

    Membership of the Network costs £10 a year but ritual ceremonies such as that marking the summer solstice at Stonehenge are open to all.

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