newsletter-108-february-1980

Newsletter

Page 1

BARNET PROPOSES METAL DETECTOR CURB IN PARKS

The London Borough of Barnet is planning to restrict the use of metal detectors in its parks after some gentle prodding from HADAS. In a letter to the Society the Borough says that the Council is proposing to make a new bye-law for its public parks which will say: " A person shall not in the pleasure ground remove or displace any soil, turf, or plant."

The effect of this, the Council hopes, will be that anyone who takes a metal detector into a public park will be unable, if the machine excitedly registers a "find", to explore further what that find is. Before the bye-law comes into force it must be advertised, and the Council must then have it confirmed by the Home Secretary. If it does go through the Borough will join the growing number of local authorities who hope to minimise the worst hazards of what is euphemistically called "treasure hunting"

We welcome the Council's action which we suggested last September that they might consider taking. One of our members had at that time observed the flagrant misuse of a detector in Sunnyhill Park, Hendon, by a treasure hunter who dug a number of small pits and made no attempt even to replace the earth and turf.

Though our West Heath dig will be outside the jurisdiction of the proposed bye-law it has been the victim of treasure-hunters on at least two occasions. The site is of course much too old for metals but it seems that the intruders were misled by the naturally occurring ironstone and did considerable archaeological damage in their fruitless hole digging.

The CBA and other national archaeological bodies will be launching a campaign called STOP ("Stop Taking Our Past"} against the use of metal detectors early in March. There will be programmes on TV and radio as well as press and magazine coverage. This will all be specially aimed at the use of detectors on sites known to be of archaeological interest. CBA hopes that once the national campaign begins local societies will keep the pressure up at their level too.

A section of the Ancient Monuments Act which bans the use of metal detectors on statutorily listed sites will shortly come into effect. But this is limited to about 13,000 sites, a fraction of those likely to be at risk. The CBA does not want a complete ban on all metal detectors, but favours very much stricter controls on their use.

Page 2

WEST HEATH MYSTERY UNRAVELLED

By Joyce Roberts MSc PhD.

At long last we now know the nature of the globules found at all levels on the West Heath site. They are fungal sclerotia of Coenococcum Geophi1um Fs. 1825, and are not in fact carbonised. They were first illustrated under the name Lycoperdon graniforme by a British botanist, J. Sowerby in 1800. From our point of view it is interesting that the 'locus classicus' i.e. the place in which he found the first specimens is given as Hampstead. In "Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms" he writes: First shown to me in Lord Mansfield's wood, Hampstead, by Mr Hunter who showed me the last. It grows loose, like small shot above ground without any apparent root. From its first or smallest size it alters but little in colour. The riper ones are very brittle and crack irregularly. They enclose a black powder.

Though the sclerotia are widespread in the peaty soils of the Northern Hemisphere and have been found in Denmark from pre-glacial times onwards, very little is known about the fungus which has been quietly ignored by mycologists. It produces no spores, only fine fungal threads and it is at the moment a matter of conjecture as to what part it plays in the soil. From the archaeological point of view it is one those hazards, like the root galls and the nests of the Potter Bee, which one cannot ignore until identified, just in case they provide valuable environmental information. These, after all, were first assumed to be carbonised seeds.

DOCUMENTARY RESEARCHERS - MORE BAD NEWS

A serious deterioration in the service offered local historians by the Public Record Office is now imminent as a result of Government spending cuts. To save money the PRO has decided to close its public search rooms in Chancery Lane, though most of the record there will remain. Instead anyone wanting to use them will have to travel down to the search room at Kew, where the modern records are kept.

A few of the more commonly used records will be transferred to Kew, but most items, will have to be ordered well in advance and then brought across London by van. Chancery Lane houses an enormous range of documents of interest to the local historian - probate records and hearth tax returns to name two.

Not surprisingly the plan has aroused considerable opposition from professional historians including John Higgs, chairman of the Standing Conference for Local History, and A. J. Taylor, past president of the Society of Antiquaries, who wrote: to The Times in protest.

This follows the warning in last month's Newsletter that some of the items held by the GLC Record Office will now be harder to obtain.

Page 3

LECTURE PROGRAMME

Our next lecture will be held on Tuesday 5th February at Hendon Library. Coffee will be available at 8.00 pm and the lecture begins at 8.30 pm.

Mr Mark Hassall MA FSA, a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, is known to many of our members. The title, "The Later Roman Empire and the Codex Spirensis", is a little misleading, he feels. In fact he describes the Codex Spirensis as a book of "Roman red-tape", and an associated pamphlet describes some of the ludicrous war-machine inventions thought up at that time. This lecture promises to be entertaining as well as informative.

The programme for the rest of the season is as follows:

MARCH 4th. "Medieval Kings Lynn: an archaeological, architectural, and documentary survey" by Dr Helen Clarke BA PhD FSA

APRIL 1st. "Iron Bridge Gorge Museum" by Stuart B. Smith MSc AMA

MAY 8th. Annual General Meeting (NOT May 13th as stated in last Newsletter)

Daphne Lorimer is planning two more finds processing weekends. The dates have not yet been fixed but they will probably be in April.

THE ART OF BRONZE AGE (MINOAN) CRETE

A Report of the January Lecture, by Frances Radford.

Our January lecture by Sinclair Hood MA FSA took us back to the Cretan civilization in the years approximately between 1700 and 1450 BC. Crete, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean, situated in a volcanic area was densely wooded in parts presenting a picture of a more verdant, fertile land than it is now.

In such a setting arose a civilization with a distinctive decorative art form having remote links with that of Egypt but achieving a greater freedom and plasticity than is seen in the wall paintings, sculpture or artefacts of ancient Egypt. By the middle of this period the influence of Minoan culture had spread to the mainland of Greece, as evidenced by finds at Mycenae. How this period of artistic flowering came to an end is not known but certainly it is likely that Knossos and other palaces which were also centres for skilled craftsmen were destroyed by war (Mycenaen conquest?) or volcanic action.

The knowledge we have of this particular culture is largely due to Sir Arthur Evans' excavations of the palace of Knossos. From fragments of wall and floor paintings reconstructions have been made showing a highly decorative art. Though some of the figure paintings are stylised - with the legs in profile but with a frontal view of the chest and eye as in Egyptian art {e.g. the Priest-King fresco of Knossos) -those of birds and animals are altogether freer, more colourful and lively, often catching a characteristic pose e.g. the floor painting of flying fish, the curve of a swallow in flight. Accurate observation of the natural world is then put into a decorative form - a monkey uprooting saffron crocuses (used for dye), partridges crouched in the grass, dolphins leaping through a pattern of waves.

Page 4

Male figures were in brown, female in white, the outlines in black. Although the artist often incised a line by means of a rope in wet plaster on the bottom of a wall on which to place his figures, the painting was executed in such a free style that sometimes the line was disregarded and the figures appeared to be walking in air. Neither were corners regarded, the painting simply continuing along the walls.

Many of the scenes depict wildlife, others are of activities related to what is thought to be a religious cult of the time involving bulls, e.g. the well known bull leaping panel at Knossos. Other evidence of the cult comes from the famous golden 'Vapheio' cup with relief scenes of bull hunting on it (circa 1500 BC and possibly made in Greece at a time when Mycenae was influenced by Minoan art). Here we see the bull trapped by means of a decoy cow and later hobbled. Another fine piece of craftsmanship of this period is the stone Harvester Vase depicting a procession of farm workers carrying winnowing forks and accompanied by singers and a can with a rattle - a somewhat humorous scene.

By means of excellent slides one was able to see in close up the details of these fine pieces. The vigour, colour and design of the art work of this period appealed to the Mycenaeans who either employed Minoan craftsmen or imported fine works from Crete. Its appeal is as strong today, giving pleasure as well as stimulating the mind to answer many questions it poses about the life of the creators. What, for example, was the significance of the bull in the religion of the time. It is presumed it was used for sacrifice in Earth-worship. Was the bellowing of the bull in any way connected with the deep rumblings of the earth preceding tremors - the Minotaur of the Labyrinth? Evans had recalled a line of the Iliad "In Bulls does the Earth-shaker delight", but without this preoccupation with the wonders of the natural world would we have had such a lively, joyous art form?

CEDARS - THE CONTINUING SAGA

Following the information that Andrew Moss supplied in the last Newsletter, GEORGE INGRAM, our Hon. Librarian, confirms that he too has seen and noted references to a great cedar blown down in Hendon on January 1st, 1779. His references however say that the cedar was definitely in the grounds of Hendon Place, not Hendon House - that is, at the manor house in Parson Street, not Norden's house in Brent Street.

Mr Ingram also provides the reference: "there are three fine cedars in the Mill Hill grounds, two a return present from Goodwood Park, to which Collinson had sent 1000 small cedar trees from Hendon Place, and one a gift in 1761 from a Mr Clark. This was badly damaged by a very heavy snow-storm in 1916, when I was housemaster at the School House" (Norman Brett-James, Middlesex, County History Series 1951 p187).

The reference to a "Mr Clark" is particularly interesting since - as Newsletter readers who have followed the complex story right from the start will recall - the point at which HADAS first came into it was in the December Newsletter (No 106) when we were asked by a colleague in Barnet and District Local History Society for information about "John Clark, a Barnet butcher, who had a nursery garden and who in 1761 sold 1000 cedar seedlings, at a price of £79.6s, to the Duke of Richmond for planting at Goodwood House." It looks as if Peter Collinson, the famous botanist (1694-1768), may actually have paid for the Duke's trees.

Page 5

George Ingram also gives this further note concerning Collinson:

"He was called to advise the third Duke of Richmond on the laying out of the ducal seat of Goodwyn. The outcome was that he bought 1000 5- year-old cedars, then growing off Parson Street, Hendon, for 1s 6d each, and had them planted at Goodwyn where they contributed to its glory." (Hendon Times June 19th 1964, in a 4-page supplement on the local history of Mill Hill written by the late Arthur G Clarke). This suggests that John Clark, butcher and nurseryman, may have had a nursery at Parson Street, Hendon, as well as at Barnet.

TED SAMMES has also some light to shed :

The reference found by Andrew Moss was probably taken from a note by Sir John Cullum (not Collum) in the Gentleman's Magazine for March 1779, and quoted in Evans, History and Topography of the Parish of Hendon, Middlesex, 1889, p.15.

Evans' quotation states that the tree "stood close on the north side of Hendon Place, the elegant residence of Mr Aislabie". This gentleman did live in Hendon Place for a period until his fortunes failed with the collapse of the South Sea Bubble, when he was forced to sell and return to Yorkshire. If a member has the time it would be worth checking the original note in the Gentleman's Magazine.

Hendon certainly had a number of cedars until recently and they also exist at Mill Hill. There is still one in Parson Street close to the site of Hendon Place. I also believe there was a large cedar at the entrance of Cedars Close until after the war.

I can remember three Cedars of Lebanon in the Churchyard of St Mary's Hendon prior to the 1939-45 War, one by the tower, the sawn off rotting stump of which can still be seen. Another stood at the south east corner of the church close to the yew tree and one at the east of the church. This latter one is the only survivor.

Until about 10 years ago there was one standing incongruously between the houses of First and Second Avenue, just off Victoria Road. Grove House, along the Burroughs, had a fine specimen in the north western corner of its lawn. This, like the Victoria Rd tree, died. Could it be of old age?

The Cedar of Lebanon has been grown in this country for over 250 years and it would seem probable that the presence of Collinson, the botanist, from 1749 at Mill Hill may account for the interest in these trees in the area. It is regrettable that none of these fine trees have been replaced. It should certainly be possible to replant in Grove Park as the space needed for the mature tree is still available-

DIARY NOTE

The British Museum's current exhibition 7000 Years of History Cyprus BC continues until 16th March. Admission free.

Page 6

EXCAVATION AT 97 SOUTHWOOD LANE, HIGHGATE

Report by Philip Venning.

In July 1919 HADAS was contacted by Hornsey Historical Society about a feature found by a builder 1n the garden of 97 Southwood Lane, Highgate, which he had been renovating. Just under paving outside the back door of the Victorian house (c. 187O) was the 52 cm square opening of a sunken brick structure, filled with rubble.

The excavation.

Between July l8th & 2Oth Philip Venning, Dave King, and Terry Keenan, carried out a rescue excavation of the interior. (It was too close to the house to allow an outside section to be dug).

Removing loosely packed 20th century builder's rubble revealed a circular brick lined chamber on average 14O cm in diameter with a brick-corbelled roof, 75 cm from apex to base. At the top of the walls and entering the side of the dome from the south-east was a ceramic pipe (18O mm diam.) at an angle of about 5 degrees. It was heading under the house, did not appear to connect with existing drains, and was blocked 60 cm from its mouth. One metre below the entrance the loosely packed fill gave way to a clay soil, containing rather less rubble and a mysterious white substance rather like soft, soapy, lumps of chalk (still unidentified).

About 215 cm down the soil fill gave way to a concretion of the white substance, above which was a dispersed layer of bottles, transfer-decorated crockery and other late Victorian refuse. Partly because of pressure of time, partly the problem of digging at depth, the rest of the feature was dug in section. At a depth of 3 metres a thin layer of mortar, covering a brick floor, was found. This was resting on natural and the wall footings disappeared. The bottom had been reached.

Identification.

The small finds indicate that the structure was probably filled in when the house was built. But nothing was found to suggest a date or purpose. The brickwork and mortar are certainly post 17th century.

One theory is that it was an ice-house - underground stores where Victorians kept ice for preserving food. On balance this seems unlikely. Ice-houses varied considerably and this structure has parallels elsewhere. But it lacks one item common to all - a drain at the base to remove melting water. (Searching for a drain, the section was undermined. An assymetrically placed one could have been in the rest of the un-dug section). Maps reveal that before the present house was built the ground formed a garden to the north of a small house, now demolished. This looks too unimportant to have had a luxury like an ice-house.

There was no sign of discoloured soil associated with cesspits (nor would a floor have been needed). Another suggestion was that it might have been a storage vat belonging to an 18th century brewery that once existed nearby. A more likely explanation is that it was a water storage cistern, others of which have been found on Hampstead and Highgate hills, dating from a time when it was difficult to get piped water to the summit.

A measured drawing of the structure, accompanies the Newsletter. (EDITORIAL – to see this drawing, select the following link)

Comments