A previously unknown Roman villa containing a rare mosaic that depicts scenes from Homer's Iliad was discovered in a field in Rutland during lockdown last year. After the landowner's son noticed some unusual pottery on the ground he found an online satellite photograph showing crop marks that indicated a long-lost range of buildings and contacted the University of Leicester. John Thomas, deputy director of the university’s archaeological services and project manager on the excavations described the find as "... the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century", whilst Historic England described it as "one of the most remarkable and significant [mosaics] ever found in Britain". The mosaic is in panels, depicting Achilles’ battle with Hector during the Trojan War. It is thought to be unique in Britain as the only mosaic showing scenes from the Iliad and is unusual in portraying Achilles and Hector fighting in their chariots, rather than on foot as in some European mosaics. It measures 11 metres by 7 metres and forms the floor of what was thought to be a dining or entertaining area of the villa. The archaeological survey and dig revealed that the villa is surrounded by barns, circular structures and possibly a bath house. The villa complex is thought to date from the late Roman period (3rd or 4th Century AD) and have been occupied by a wealthy family with a knowledge of classical literature. Further excavations are planned for 2022. The site is not accessible to the public but Historic England said that discussions are ongoing with Rutland County Council to set up an off-site display of the villa complex and its finds.
Good to hear some positive news on the heritage front that plans for the creation of a new History Centre for Staffordshire have been approved. With the award of nearly £4 million earlier in the year by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, the proposed centre will house the collections of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archive Service, the County Museum and the William Salt Library. A glazed link will be created between the Georgian building that houses the library and the record office, which will form a new entrance and exhibition space. Reading areas, research labs and extra storage that will accommodate up to a further 55 years of additions to the collections are part of the overall £7.1 million plans.
Originally installed in the moat at The Tower of London in 2014 as part of a national cultural programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, the amazing display of handcrafted ceramic poppies was conceived by the artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper. Massive crowds were drawn to the display of 800,000 poppies that represented the lost British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the campaign. A smaller section of the installation, entitled ‘Poppies: Wave and Weeping Window’, then travelled to 19 sites across Britain between 2014 and 2018. Many of the poppies have been re-imagined into a new installation that can be seen at the Imperial War Museum (IWM)North from today, which will be their new permanent home.
The Dorman long tower, built in the 1950s, on the former steelworks in Redcar was demolished yesterday after its listed status was rescinded by the new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries. The 56 metre high tower had been used to store coal. It was saved from demolition last year when Historic England granted it Grade II listed status, as it was considered to be of national importance as “a rare surviving remnant of the coal, iron and steel industries”, as well a monument to Teesside’s industrial past. This was Dorries’ first intervention since becoming Culture Secretary last week and it is to be hoped that she does not intend to make a habit of it.
Next week, Dippy the dinosaur will finally arrive in Norwich. After being taken down from the ceiling of the Natural History Museum, the skeleton cast of the diplodocus was scheduled to begin an eight-stop tour taking in all four countries of the United Kingdom. Covid, however, forced a change in plans, but Norwich marks his final stop and you can see Dippy in the cathedral’s nave until 30 October. It is hoped that the display will spark conversations about science and religion and encourage people to think about the future of the planet. For more information - https://dippy.cathedral.org.uk/
It’s not the first time that Norwich Cathedral has engaged with a different visor experience. In 2019, a helter skelter was installed in the nave with the aim of getting visitors to engage with the building and better appreciate its renowned mediaeval roof bosses. For more on this story and what other cathedrals did that summer to engage differently with their visitors, check out: https://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/features/moonwalking-priests-will-2019-prove-a-landmark-year-for-visitor-engagement-with-cathedrals/
Works of art by the Dutch artist Jan van Huysum are travelling the country to some unusual venues as part of an innovative approach to promote ways in which art and culture can support well-being. A second aim is to reach audiences who have been disproportionately affected by the Covid pandemic. Each display, which explores one of six “Ways to Well-being”, namely Be Active, Care (for the planet), Connect, Give, Keep Learning and Take Notice, has already visited Cornwall and Norfolk. Next week, Huysum’s “Flowers in a Terracotta Vase” (1736-37) will be on display in Barnsley Market between 15 and 20 June.
If you missed the series of seminars about the history of gardens and landscape, supported by the History of Gardens and Landscapes Seminar Supporters Group, Birkbeck Garden History Group and the Gardens Trust this semester, the recordings are available as podcasts on the institute of Historical Research website (where you will also find many other fascinating podcasts) - https://www.history.ac.uk/search-podcasts Issues relating to the history, use of meaning of gardens the designed landscape and their importance today form the focus of the History of Gardens and Landscapes seminars, which are designed to create discussion across disciplines with speakers who are historians, gardeners, photographers, artists and more.
Last night I listened to a fascinating talk by Jane Masters of the New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site about this planned village created by Robert Owen and the importance of the landscape around it, as well as the external pressures affecting the site today and the need to balance preservation with economic development.
As an archivist, I was fascinated to learn that, for more than a century, Spanish families have kept certificates of birth, marriage, guardianship, citizenship and so forth in a collective document known as the “Libro de Familia”, which is essential for administrative procedures such as applying for an identity card, processing maternity leave or applying for unemployment benefits. But the family record book will now be replaced by an online file. From 1 May, every new-born baby will be registered online and all the facts relating to their identity and civil life will be recorded in the same document. The online file will have a personal code linking it to the individual’s national identity card and information will be uploaded automatically. Existing family record books will not be updated. Previously this involved a visit to the Civil Registry, so the new system will help to streamline processes and access to information. However, in many smaller towns, not all the Civil Registry offices have been sufficiently computerised to deal with the changes, so it could take a while for some individual documents to be issued. An interesting change, therefore, but one in which not all the consequences have been thought through in advance!
As a dog lover I was delighted to read that when Tower Bridge re-opens to visitors on 17 May, dogs will also be welcome. The bridge has endured its longest closure since it opened its doors to the public over 125 years ago. 17 May marks the first day of permitted re-opening under the government’s roadmap to easing lockdown. Pre-booking on line will be essential, but Tower Bridge aims to market itself as London’s only major dog-friendly attraction, which is sure-fire way to broaden its post-lockdown appeal.
The V&A museum is proposing the merger of a number of departments based on material specialisms in order to create cross-disciplinary teams organised around chronology or geography. Under the proposal around 20% of curatorial roles and 10% of conservation roles are at risk. This is a similar action to that proposed by the National Trust last year, which was decried by critics as ‘dumbing down’. Some current and former V&A staff have told of their fears of a ‘brain drain’ at the museum. Curatorial staff argue that they are already stretched with the turnaround that the museum has with exhibitions. Inevitably, director Tristan Hunt cited the Covid pandemic as ‘one of the most significant financial challenges in the V&A’s long history’ and hopes that the changes will save £10m per year. But no price can be put on the knowledge and expertise that will be lost if the changes go ahead.
In addition, the museum is planning to review National Art Library services with a view to merging the library, together with the V&A’s registry and archives, under the V&A Research Institute, to create a single, integrated research and information directorate. Consequently, the library will remain closed until December 2021. Given that these services have already been closed for the best part of a year this action hardly serves the needs of researchers and fails to meet the V&A’s mission aims to create a world class learning experience and to expand its international reach, reputation and impact.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture