Drilling The Winged Bull

Recent images of the deliberate destruction of archaeology in Mosul Museum are very difficult for many of us to witness.

The 2700 year old Assyrian Winged Bull, like many of the other items destroyed, represent important components of the heritage of those who live in Mosul but are also part of a global heritage shared by us all.  Images of sledge hammers and drills being used to deface and destroy such wonderful objects, are to my mind a crass form of behavior, which as intended, exerts a form of political power which I find deeply chilling.

In one sense, such behaviour, is no surprise.  Archaeologically we readily see the rise and fall of civilizations, different ages and expressions over thousands of years, littered with a myriad toppled figures and headless statues, lie behind us.

Yet there is a contradiction, with where we currently find ourselves, in our age of austerity.  Further cuts in public funding in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) will only mean that aspects of our art, culture and heritage, which are recognised as important to the character and quality of peoples lives, will be lost or irreversibly damaged by neglect.

Choices are being made by politicians, which to many seem only to be looking after short term interests of social and economic systems which appear to have failed us.  So if politicians and people want…

…vibrant, resilient communities, if we want a better more equitable society, then you cant keep cutting away at

what distinguishes us,

what gives us a sense of place and identity,

what contributes to health and well-being,

what makes the heart soar and soul dance :

you cant keep trimming away at arts, culture and heritage.

There are choices we make in relation to our values, they range along a continuum from deliberate purposeful intervention to passive indifference, but they all have a consequence.  As a sector, as a society, we have to question what is worst for our heritage:

Active Destruction or Active Neglect ?

Drilling the Winged Bull

was overt destruction

but by neglect


can chip away

our Winged Bulls.

As I have said several times before in this blog, if we truly value art, culture and heritage as a society we have to protect, conserve, enhance, share and celebrate it : and this requires adequate and proportionate funding.  Only by doing so can we ensure the things that matter are sustainably managed.  For some people, they may only realise they matter when they are destroyed and gone.  For some people, they may feel it doesnt matter at all, but will their childrens’ children wish we had looked after their heritage better?

 Have we still learned nothing as a society about why understanding and sharing


past matters?


For those of you who have not seen the images of destruction there is a news report from the BBC.

Apologies to any followers if this has been a bit too political but I suppose it all is really!  In part it stems from genuine distress at seeing what is happening elsewhere in the world but it holds a mirror up to what we do.


Heritage Futures of the Past


This sign has probably been up for more than 25 years…!

The sign reminded me about the ways in which the conservation and regeneration of heritage sites can provide a focus for hopes and aspirations for the future.

The sign is located on the side of Charlestown Limekilns, Fife, which were originally constructed between 1759 and 1790.  When I last visited the site in 2012, this nationally important heritage site was partially overgrown and had obvious significant conservation needs.

Charlestown LimekilnsThe sign is also a reminder of other difficult economic times, which were also very turbulent in social and political terms for many parts of the UK.

The ‘Community Programme‘ was one of a series of government training schemes of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) which attracted a lot of controversy at the time.  However, through MSC many archaeological excavations and heritage restoration projects were undertaken in the early and mid 1980’s before it stopped in 1987.

TunnelsThe lime kilns imposing industrial forms, were constructed from stone quarried from the sandstone cliffs of the raised beaches of the Firth of Forth, against which they were built.  They now comprise a small network of spaces which made up the bank of kilns.  The functioning of the kilns is explained in interpretative signage, showing the scale of the operation which was as much focused on the upper surfaces of these massive structures.

Heritage InterpretationTwo of the kilns, had clearly been re-purposed, wooden shuttering creating what may have been workshop or storage spaces, probably during the 1980’s Community Programme Project.  I don’t know whether these timber insets were planned as no more than a temporary reuse.  Or perhaps the intention, the heritage future of the past, was to convert all the kilns to a more permanent reuse, which no longer became possible when the MSC funding was cut.

Imagined futures of the past then remaining derelict to this day.

AbandonmentHowever, when we look back on other examples of heritage futures of the past at such difficult times we can see different results.

Then and NowOne example is the industrial cotton mill village founded in 1784 by David Dale and Richard Arkwright and now transformed into the internationally important New Lanark World Heritage site.  When cotton production ceased in 1968 the condition of structures at New Lanark deteriorated to the extent there was need for major restoration by the 1980’s.  This resulted in an ambitious project as part of which there were ‘up to 250 workers per annum on building restoration, funded by Manpower Services Commission Community Programme.’ in the 1980’s.

Newlanark Canmore ImagePresumably if there had not been such an ambitious intervention (and without the sustained passion, enthusiasm and commitment of individuals and organisations who champion heritage sites) New Lanark would have continued to deteriorate and there would have been no World Heritage Site designation.  The associated opportunities for education, tourism and other forms of cultural activity would have been lost.  In an alternative heritage future of the past, we would now have been left with ruinous shells, or perhaps due to safety issues or a desire for quick development of a ‘brown field site’ it would have been torn down and today we would be left with a poor quality flatted development of the 1990’s building boom.

 New LanarkHistoric building regeneration projects can be enormously challenging in technical and financial terms but when completed provide enormous potential to generate hubs of social, economic and cultural activity.  There is a huge resource which provides remarkable opportunities but it takes real vision and determination to deliver such projects.

If we are serious as a society about sustainability, if we want to live in richly textured places, if we want to be part of communities who have a proud sense of identity, we can not keep ignoring the opportunities which historic buildings provide.  Wiping the slate clean, and flinging up a new build, is not always the best option in the long term for society as a whole.  But inaction, (a lack of care and maintenance, no stewardship, no conservation and absence of enhancement of historic buildings), has essentially the same result, just more slowly…

with time

the building is lost to society for ever.

Thus heritage professionals have an important role in reminding people to think in the longer term.  But perhaps we should also be challenging others, such as architects and developers, to propose imaginative new schemes to re-purpose and re-vitalise heritage assets whose value (in social and cultural terms) when actively used only increases with time.

On a positive note the newly launched Inner Forth Landscape Initiative has identified a project for the clearance of vegetation and consolidation of the Charlestown Limekilns, surely a step in the right direction for a new heritage future.


The black and white image is from the Professor John Hume archive, taken in 1981, and is available from RCAHMS Canmore.  Part of the caption for the image explains:

This view shows the roof of part of the New Buildings being repaired by men employed under the Community Programme of the Manpower Services Agency. The belfry on the left was originally on one of the spinning mills.’

A great example of re-purposing, recycling and renewal.

Making Apples from Guns

Orchard Sign Swords to ploughshares, but now we may have to think of from guns to apples.  Comrie Community Orchard is a great example of the imaginative reuse of a heritage site.  The remains of an assault course and firing range have been incorporated into the plans for the future.

Obstacles for Growth

Obstacles are being used to train fruit trees.

Assault CourseCompost bins are situated along the side of the firing range.

Compost Bins

And a wonderful wooden Shepherd’s Hut has been made by a local crafts person and situated in the growing orchard.

The Shepherd's Hut

I love the mix of the reuse of the old with new introductions such as The Shepherd’s Hut.  As the orchard matures this will become a distinctive and peaceful place.  Even better in due course, for those who help tend the orchard, it will provide food to sustain and share….


Comrie Community Orchard is located at Cultybraggan Camp, Perthshire, which was subject to a community buy out in 2007 through Comrie Development Trust (CDT).  Watch out for another post about the other elements of Cultybraggan Camp in the next few weeks. 

Building Landscapes

Managing Change in Scotland’s Landscapes conference was held towards the end of 2012 to look forward at the next 50 years for Scotland’s landscapes.  It marked 50 years since the first (and, up to that point, only) National Landscape Policy Conference.

Cambusnethan PrioryWhen I was reading the conference presentation abstracts, which are available from here, it struck me that it was deeply ironic the last national conference was held 50 years ago at Cambusnethan Priory in the Clyde Valley, South Lanarkshire: a wonderful building, built in 1819 in the Gothic style, which recently appeared on the excellent Ruination Scotland blog.  Indeed, in the abstract for one of the presentations Reflections on the Past 50 Years, architect Peter Daniels refers to working at the house when he first arrived in Scotland and of its sad demise when it was burnt down for its insurance value….!

Now seen by most as a picturesque ruin, fifty years ago Cambusnethan Priory was a functioning building, and it is, as an A-listed building, Nationally Important in architectural, historical and cultural terms.  Does this ghostly shell, perched on a terrace over looking the River Clyde, still have the potential to breath again?  What will its future be in fifty years time?  Perhaps to answer this question positively we may have to think of it less as a building, and more as part of a series of contiguous spaces occupied by people, integrated as part of a wider cultural landscape.

Well, it should be no surprise that Cambusnethan Priory is listed on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland (see Cambusnethan Priory) as CRITICAL: which suggests there is some hope and (unlikely ?) possibility of an intervention which stops the ongoing process of decay and collapse but that the window of opportunity to prevent one inevitable future is rapidly passing.

Looking at the accounts of Cambusnethan Priory in the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland of what has happened in this fifty year period (a woeful tale of neglect and deterioration of this property), it is worth reflecting on what occurred since it was saved from demolition in 1967 to its current state.  There are various entries which refer to the deterioration of the building (stripping of interiors, stripping of lead and piping, damage by fire, destruction of roof, bricking up of windows…) and proposed plans for redevelopment (which were objected to and / or refused on grounds of…, or fell through due to funding issues…).  The last recorded proposal for redevelopment received outline planning permission in 1998 but in 2001 was still receiving objections at least in part due to the need for enabling development within proximity required to make the project economically viable / profitable:

Scottish Natural Heritage objects due to concerns at adverse effects on the local environment. SCT objects on the grounds that the scale of the new build would compromise the setting of the Priory and have traffic implications.’ (From Buildings At Risk Register)

Its not clear ultimately why the redevelopment did not take place, whether due to such objections or whether for example the financial package fell apart.  It is, however, interesting that in both cases the objections referred to adverse effects from enabling development on the wider landscape (local environment and setting being referred to).  So ironically the concerns, about getting the balance right between saving the building and ensuring the character and quality of relationships to a wider landscape were protected, recognised that Cambusnethan Priory does not sit as an isolated building but was part a wider cultural landscape.

The now ruined building replaced a 17th century country house after it had burnt down in 1809.  Both structures were (or are in archaeological terms) immediately situated in gardens and designed landscapes, which in some respects were intended to relate the house to the wider landscape, for example with the principle view to the River Clyde.

The Earlier House at  Cambusnethan - from RCAHMS, Canmore

The Earlier House at Cambusnethan – from RCAHMS, Canmore

In its broader context, much of the wider landscape within which Cambusnethan Priory is set is particularly cultural.  Comprising in the 18th and 19th centuries, a remarkable density and quality of country houses in estates, running for well over 20 km in the Clyde Valley.  The gardens and designed landscapes at the core of most of these estates would have been complemented by home farms and a wider suite of cultivated field and orchards.  Many of these estates functioned but based on social inequalities and economic models which were unsustainable: yet created a remarkable character of landscape. This legacy is still evident through the designations as Gardens and Designed Landscapes (GDL) from the west at Hamilton Palace, through Chatelherault, Dalzell House and to the east of the Falls of Clyde.

Now hindsight is a wonderful thing, and perspectives have clearly changed in Scotland about the importance of the historic environment in terms of it wider contributions to economy and society (see for example Scottish Historic Environment Policy).  However, as seen in the case Cambusnethan Priory, the reliance on the market to provide a solution to the plight of such buildings over a twenty year period did not manage to find a viable solution (agreeable to all parties) to save a Nationally significant building and balance the other landscape sensitivities.  Indeed, in the case of other buildings on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland, such market driven solutions are arguably even less likely to occur in many cases (particularly in rural contexts), not least due to the current economic conditions making finance even more difficult to secure.

However, in other parts of Europe there have been very different perspectives to the relationships between conservation, restoration and regeneration for some time. For example in Holland, The Belvedere Memorandum dating to 1999 linked cultural history to spatial planning with a policy vision which could be summarised as: ‘Conservation through development’ is the motto.’

So I insert a extract from The Belvedere Memorandum, which gives further sense of its spirit:

‘Belvedere is the Italian word for a ‘beautiful view’ but it also appears in the English dictionary as a ‘pavilion or raised turret intended to afford a general view of the surrounding area’. The Netherlands boasts countless such towers, often graced with Belvédère (the French spelling) as part of their names. One can also draw an association with the Belvédère quarry near Maastricht, site of the oldest archaeological discoveries ever made in the Netherlands, some 250,000 year old.

With a little good will (and poetic licence), archaeology, building conservation and historic cultural landscapes can be now summed up in one and the same word: ‘Belvedere’. Above all, it must be remembered that a Belvedere is a point from which to expand one’s viewpoint and to look ahead.’

I wonder if such perspectives were held in Scotland in 1999 (or earlier), whether we would be faced with the ghostly ruin which Cambusnethan Priory is, and whether its future in 50 years times would be very different from how its appears now, most likely a mound of collapsed stone, barely recognisable as once having been a building, slowly absorbed back into the last vestiges of a cultural landscape.

Cambusnethan Priory

If we are happy to leave a legacy of picturesque ruins for future generations which will ultimately collapse and disappear we should continue to do nothing.

If as a society we truly value such Nationally important buildings (and the character of the wider cultural landscapes they historically relate to) perhaps we need to take a longer term view about what their regeneration could deliver.  We need to explore how such buildings can become vibrant social and cultural hubs, find innovative new uses for them, and re-imagine how they can potentially relate to activities extending into a wider integrated multifunctional landscape but this would require ambitious proactive strategic funding programmes with input from local and national government.  Perhaps new funding models such as a form of Social Impact Bond could be explored.

Perhaps it is too late to change the future of Cambusnethan Priory but we must learn lessons to ensure such built historic environment assets are sustainably connected to their broader cultural landscapes.

If not, as such buildings collapse and disappear, we can look forward to more work for the archaeologists of the future….

Euro-Local-City Heritage

Stark contrasts, perhaps naively, surprised me in Brussels.

I anticipated encountering the instruments of European governance amongst the European Quarter of Brussels.  As such, I was not surprised to find myself wandering amongst the glistening buildings of the European parliament in Espace Léopold.  The main elements, the Paul-Henri Spaak building and the Altiero Spinelli building, were constructed in the 1990’s on the site of an old brewery and railway yard.

Already these public spaces have been supplemented with a wide range of artworks, interpretative and memorial signs.  The majority of these evoke key moments of the European project: perhaps best well known is ‘Europe’, the Bronze statue of Europa carrying the symbol of the Euro overhead, by sculptor May Claerhout; a plaque to Solidarność (Solidarity); a vast neon heart to Václav Havel by artist Jiři David (which in 2002 was hung over Prague Castle); an arc of banners ‘Out of the Abyss‘ displaying key moments in the emergence of Europe; and many others…

Out of the AbyssLooking to the past, to look to the future, these works presence elements of a common European Heritage.  The continued significance of the past to this ongoing project can be seen in the adjacent Parc Léopold: there is also, the little known, European Union time machine !

Parc Léopold contains the 15th century Eggevoort Tower and also contains one of the last ponds in the Maalbeek Valley: the pre-city land form.  The pond is fed by the Maalbeek river (in Dutch ‘The Mill Stream’) which flows through this part of the city.  The park was established as the Royal Zoological Gardens in 1851, but was closed following an epidemic, and in 1880 was named Parc Léopold after the first two kings of the Belgian state.  The park was subsequently the location for several large public buildings including The Solvay Library and The Pasteur Institute.  Building works are taking place on another large public building in Parc Léopold, the Eastman Building, which is a former dental institute.  It is currently being extended and converted it into The House of European History, within which ‘different viewpoints and diverse interpretations of history’ will be presented.

Such public works could be anticipated, but what surprised me more was the striking contrasts I found in close proximity to the glass and chrome of European Institutions:

Stencils on the boundary of Parc Léopold, beyond which The House of European History is being constructed within…

Parc Leopold, Eastman Building

Abandoned buildings and stalled spaces…

68 Rue de Trèves

The Space Invader…!

Space InvaderWhat struck me most, however, was found on the other side of Parc Léopold.  In the shadow of the Paul-Henri Spaak building (holding the debating chamber of the European parliament) and close to the 15th century Eggevoort Tower in Parc Léopold, there is a patch of ground.

20130125_083434This once derelict ground, situated on Avenue du Maelbeek, has been the focus of local actions which are exploring the nature of relationships (social, political, environmental, historical) in this part of the city.  This process started in November 2010 when Citymine(d) gathered delegates in the European Quarter to explore how, local action can engage with derelict urban spaces, using them as places of imagination and positive action.

A collaborative mapping exercise, that explored the public space was facilitated by MAP-it, in which local residents, European civil servants, artists and neighbourhood groups participated and asked the question:

‘What can small and grass-roots initiatives do to tackle urban issues in the European Quarter?’

MAP-it extract

Extract from Small Initiatives in the European Quarter by MAP-it, PUM Collective and Thomas Laureyssens

Further details of this process can be found at the MAP-it website: where more information about MAP-it tools (which could be used in other participatory mapping exercises)  can also be found.

From this participatory mapping process, emerged a collective response to the creative potential of Eggevoort Wasteland, known as the PUM Project: ‘Projet/participation Urbain/urgent Maalbeek’.  The PUM Project engages creatively with the themes of water and the potential of urban space through a range of small art projects, many of which have an environmental and / or heritage theme, examples of which can be found here, falling under the banner:

‘Small initiatives in the European Quarter :: water, the city, the people and the Eggevoort Garden’

Further details about PUM Project can be found at the project website and can also be found in a downloadable booklet: Small Initiatives in the European Quarter. From MAP-it to PUM

By means of the MAP-it method PUM transforms the analysis of interacting powers and potential of urban spaces into creativity and collective action.’

and hence transforms Eggevoort Wasteland into Eggevoort Gardens.

PUM ProjectThe short time I spent exploring the European Quarter of Brussels revealed an incredible richness of cultural activity, which was permeated with history and heritage, but in some ways ridden with tensions about the vision for this part of the city.

A wonderful reminder that cities, like all landscapes, are contested and dynamic….

and that we all can play a part in maintaining, imagining and creating sustainable cities of the future.

Resilience and Cultural Landscape

Resilience and the Cultural Landscape, is a recent volume, edited by Tobias Plieninger and Claudia Bieling, which explores the ramifications of the convergence of the theory of resilience and the management of cultural landscapes.

I have only just started the first chapter but cant wait to read this book further as it looks so interesting…if only there were more hours in each day…!

The first chapter ‘Connecting Cultural Landscapes to Resilience’, by Tobias Plieninger and Claudia Bieling, introduces some of the themes of the volume.  It uses the examples of the park-like Spanish dehesa landscapes of Extremadura and the forest-grassland landscapes of the Black Forest of Germany and the pressures which they have historically and currently faced.  It makes the point that these landscapes are often seen as traditional and timeless but are in fact complex cultural landscapes with their emergence due to relatively recent practices.  They also make the point that these cultural landscapes which are now valued were created

‘through severe landscape intervention and remodelling (e.g traditional vineyard terraces), unsuitable and degrading management practices (e.g. litter removal from forests) and / or social injustice (e.g latifundism).’

The eighteen other papers in the volume look equally interesting, ranging from those considering the conceptual frameworks relating to cultural landscapes and resilience through case studies about the analysis and management of cultural landscapes with examples relating to Spain, Argentina, Cuba, Germany, Austria, Sweden and Tanzania.

If you have any interest in socio-ecological relationships and the sustainable management of cultural landscapes this volume may be of interest to you.

Straw, Sticks and Stones

Straw, sticks and stones are three key traditional building materials in the story of the wolf and the three pigs: a story which perhaps demonstrates the need to have the right materials to hand for building conservation projects…!

Traditional Roofing

The most recent English Heritage  Conservation bulletin is on the theme of building materials.  It contains two short articles which show the huge importance of sustainable sources of traditional building materials.

The first article ‘The Strategic Stone Study -matching stone sources to end uses‘ is by Tarnia McAlester, who explains the important links between geology, quarry sites and availability of appropriate materials for repairing historic buildings in particular landscapes.  More information about the Strategic Stone Study can also be found at the British Geological Survey website.  There has also been a good work done on such issues by Historic Scotland’s Conservation Group who have produced Technical Advice Notes and Research Papers about traditional materials.  Two reports are of particular interest and available online, including the TAN 12 Quarries of Scotland and TAN 21 Scottish Slate Quarries.

Front cover for Conservation Bulletin 69

The second article in Conservation bulletin, ‘Ensuring supplies of suitable thatching straw‘ by Stephen Letch, explains that problems with supplies of thatching straw has led to an increased use of imported water reeds as an alternative material.  This led to the formation of the National Thatching Straw Growers Association who are doing growing trials on different varieties of wheat crop to establish what conditions are required to produce the best straw for different applications and techniques.

However, the maintenance of sources of traditional building materials is not simply a historic building conservation issue, they also allow architects to incorporate these materials into new buildings in ways which can be more sympathetic to the setting of historic buildings and to the character of the broader landscape.  Indeed, the growth of traditional crops, and a greater number of varieties in our landscapes, would help with biodiversity, and is perhaps more sustainable than importing from across the world.

That’s got to make the big bad wolf happier…?