§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I beg to move,That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to make further provision for the maintenance and excavation of ancient manuments in South-Western England, in particular at the Stone Circle at Avebury, at sites in the neighbourhood and at Stonehenge.I hope that the Motion will be supported by speeches by several hon. Members on both sides of the House who, I know, have a close interest in the subject, as have a large number of hon. Members who are not able to take part in the debate. I also hope that the Motion will commend itself to the Minister.
I approach this subject with some diffidence because my own knowledge of these great prehistoric monuments, many of which, and some of the most important of which, are situated near my constituency of Swindon, is meagre and relatively recent. Moreover, even the most qualified experts still disagree about the precise origins of many of the monuments, about the men who built them and used them, about their original state, and even about the exact purposes for which they were used. Indeed, some experts, I think, rather feel that no one but an expert is qualified to discuss the subject.
However, in the short time that I have been associated in a formal way with that part of the country I have developed, as, I am sure, all hon. Members who have been there must have developed, a great interest in and love for the tranquil and 1528 ancient countryside of Wiltshire, and have found the monuments a strange source of fascination and of beauty. Incidentally, the House may be interested to know that of the ancient monuments to be scheduled by the Minister in his official list this year there are no fewer than 62 in Wiltshire, nearly twice as many as there are in any other county in the United Kingdom.
Some of my hon. Friends may have wondered why, having been fortunate enough to win the first place in the Ballot for today, I did not choose to draw attention to a great topical issue of party controversy or of international importance. A debate of that kind might have earned a couple of headlines in the daily newspapers, but it probably would not have produced any very practical result, whereas I am hoping that by bringing up today this subject, which is not one of party controversy and is not concerned with the highest matters of policy, we shall be able to persuade the Minister to tell us some news which will encourage the many thousands of people outside the House who take a very real and close interest in these great monuments.
We are glad to see the Minister in his place today. I have no doubt that the pheasants, which otherwise, I understand, he would have been with, are equally glad. At the same time, I am sorry for the reason he is here instead of his Parliamentary Secretary, the reason being that the Parliamentary Secretary has been taken ill. At all events, I hope that the Minister will feel that he can give us some encouragement and I am grateful to him for kindly allowing me to give notice of some of the points I intend to raise today.
Experts now tell us that of all monuments the area round Avebury, which lies south of my constituency of Swindon and a little west of Marlborough iswithout doubt the most important prehistoric site in Britain.I quote that opinion from a publication of the Ministry of Works itself. The site consists of an immense Stone Cirle covering an area of about 29 acres of open downland, in the centre of which there still stands a village which was built many centuries ago.
In prehistoric times it seems that this whole area was very intensively occupied and round the circle itself is a series of 1529 very important but smaller works of a similar kind. The circle is built of large blocks of the local Sarsen stone found on the downs. There are in the main circle two or possibly three smaller and possibly earlier circles, the precise purpose of which is not yet known, surrounded by a huge bank with a ditch about 50 feet deep inside the bank, making the largest prehistoric circle and fosse in the world.
Then there is a great avenue of stones, some of them still standing, leading towards the village of West Kennet. At the end of that avenue there is a series of smaller circles, known as the Sanctuary. About one-and-a-half miles west of that is what is thought to be one of the largest circular artificial mounds in Europe, known as Silbury Hill, which is still a mystery to archaeologists and experts who have not yet found any trace of habitation or religious use for this man-made small mountain.
The whole group shows an immensely high level of civilisation reached by people, some of whom belonged to the late Neolithic period and some to the early Bronze Age, who probably built the monuments about 4,000 years ago. The results of their work show incredible energy and the employment of immense numbers of people. The stones themselves are very large and have been dragged considerable distances. The works also show considerable scientific skill. The stones are placed with almost mathematical exactitude. It must have been a tremendous job to make a monument of this kind, working with very primitive tools, digging the great ditch from hard chalk with tools made of stone or of the antlers of red deer and carrying the material away in baskets or possibly containers made from the shoulder blades of prehistoric animals.
These monuments are far too little known in the country generally. One of the first people to write about them in more recent times was the eighteenth century antiquarian Stukeley, who said that Avebury is to Stonehenge as a cathedral is to a parish church. My purpose in drawing attention to it is to secure the spending of a little more money and the restarting of excavations which began at the beginning of the last war.
1530 The monuments were bought by a private benefactor, Mr. Alexander Keiller, in the late 1920's. During the time he was in possession he did what he considered to be two-thirds of the heavy work involved in the restoration of the site. In two places he had to clear a large number of trees away and a very great deal of work was done at that time. He was able to re-erect a number of the stones which had been buried for reasons of religious superstition in the fourteenth century. Others, unfortunately, were taken away or destroyed in the seventeenth century and now cannot be found or replaced.
He re-erected one complete segment of the outer circle and did some work on the inner circles to which I have referred. During the time when he owned the monuments he had about six men employed in showing visitors round the site and about 30 to 40 men employed on digging work. I believe that I am right in saying that he spent during the years when he was in control about £40,000. At any rate, it was a very substantial amount and represented an immense benefaction to people who are interested in these things.
Sadly enough, only a few weeks ago Mr. Keiller died, leaving a large number of unpublished documents. Many of them have not been gone through. They ought to be looked at and prepared for publication. Some years before his death, at the beginning of the war, Mr. Keiller sold the site at the price which he originally paid for it, not taking into consideration the money spent on restoration. He sold it to the National Trust under an arrangement whereby the Ministry of Works became responsible for it. The Ministry now controls the site itself, several related monuments in the neighbourhood and the museum, the contents of which, I understand, still belong to Mr. Keiller's estate.
The museum was closed during the war. It reopened in 1945 and since that time thousands of people have visited both the museum and the site itself. This year there have been more than 16,000 visitors so far to the museum, which probably represents four or five times as many people visiting the Stone Circle itself. That is a very substantial number of visitors. I should be grateful if the Minister could indicate what the total attendance figures might be.
1531 I should also like to know what money the Ministry spend on the maintenance of the site, what the income from the museum has been and whether there is any other source of income at present from the site. I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the really lamentable staffing situation. As I said, in the days of Mr. Keiller five or six men were permanently employed in showing visitors round and looking after the site. Now there are only two officials working for the Ministry, one the curator of the little museum at Avebury and the other the Ministry of Works custodian.
These two have a really impossible task to carry out. One ought to express particular sympathy with the curator, a very remarkable and devoted man who has spent a great part of his life in working at Avebury, and who seems to think and dream of little else. He was originally employed there when Mr. Keiller undertook the work. He is now in charge of the museum and the many documents which Mr. Keiller left behind him. To try to do that job, to be curator of the museum, to be in charge of the whole site and give adequate information to visitors to the museum and site itself and look after the general needs of many thousands of people every year, is obviously completely beyond the powers of the curator and the custodian. There is one other custodian working nearby at Windmill Hill for the Ministry of Works, but it is extremely difficult for him to go to Avebury at short notice.
Something should be done about the staff situation at Avebury in order to provide proper guidance and help to people visiting the site, to keep it in a good state and to allow the curator to get on with the real job of running the museum and corresponding with and helping archaeologists all over the country and, indeed, in many parts of the world. I understand that there is difficulty about accommodation for an extra member of the staff if he could be found, and I hope that the Minister may be able to tell us whether he has had a further report on the cottage just outside the Circle which recently became available and which was supposed to have been in rather a bad condition.
Apart from the staff at Avebury itself, there are the three other sites in the neighbourhood—the Sanctuary. Silbury 1532 Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow—which are now being looked after by a part-time custodian whose main job is to work on a farm and who lives at West Kennet. That seems to be an unsatisfactory arrangement because this man, on a part-time basis, has not the time to do his job properly, and in the summer months grass and weeds grow quickly. He is often called out to do overtime on his farm and so another full-time custodian is necessary for looking after those three monuments, quite apart from what happens in the circle itself.
Then I want to ask the Minister what he has been doing in recent years, by means of publicity, to draw the attention both of people living in this country and abroad to the existence and importance of the site at Avebury. I am bound to say, however, that I do not think the staff would welcome a great deal of publicity until the staff situation has been dealt with, because they are finding it extremely difficult to deal with visitors as things stand.
My most important point is to ask the Minister what are his plans for excavation in the future. As I said, Mr. Keiller reckoned that he had completed about two-thirds of the heavy work. As regards the Stone Circles, less than half of the outer circle, that is the stones of which it consists, have been re-erected and there are about another 25 stones on the other side which are still buried and have been in the ground for many hundreds of years.
Perhaps the most urgent work is some more excavation on the two, or possibly three, inner circles inside the main circle of stones, because archaeologists all over the world are anxious to try to solve the mystery of what they represented, how they were in their original state, whether, in fact, there were two or three circles. Quite a small expenditure of money and a relatively small amount of work might go a long way to solving those mysteries.
I know that there is a rather attractive feeling among some archaeologists that on a site of this importance it is not right, in one generation, to do all the work; that because of the constant improvement in archaeological methods, and perhaps out of a fellow-feeling for people who come afterwards, bits of sites of this kind ought to be left to the work of archaeologists a hundred or two hundred years hence. That might well be applied 1533 to some part of the monument at Avebury, but there is a great deal of urgent work on which a start ought to be made.
I want to mention one other problem to the Minister, and that is the question of the remaining houses inside the Stone Circle. I understood that when the transfer from Mr. Keiller to the National Trust and the Ministry of Works took place early in the last war, some conditions were imposed about clearing all buildings inside the circle so that eventually all these houses—and the little "pub" there and the other farm buildings—should be removed and the Stone Circle would be in something nearer to its original state. I can see the argument for clearing the monument and leaving it standing bleakly and alone on the Wiltshire Downs. On the other hand, I personally feel that there is a great deal to be said for leaving at least a part of the village inside the circle. It is an attraction for the more simple visitors and it gives a great feeling of continuity and of history to the site.
I also want to ask the Minister whether he has any information about Avebury Manor, which is a much later building but is a pleasant country house standing close to the circle, and which used to belong to Mr. Keiller. I understand that the Ministry of Works had the opportunity of acquiring this property two or three years ago, that negotiations took place between the Ministry and representatives of Mr. Keiller, and that the deal fell through.
Many people regret that this happened and wonder what kind of arrangements either his Department or the National Trust might be able to make were that building ever to become available again. Certainly, if it were in public ownership and in some way related to the prehistoric site, there would be much to be said for such an arrangement. I understand that the house changed hands recently and that the new owner will probably open it to the public. If so, I am sure that all visitors to Avebury would welcome that decision.
My final question on Avebury is to ask the Minister whether he can tell us what has happened to the plans for building a by-pass round the site. He is probably aware that at present the main road from Swindon runs right through the middle of it, turning sharply round 1534 the little hotel there. It is a great source of danger to motorists and, of course, it is highly undesirable to have a lot of heavy and dense traffic traversing a prehistoric monument of this importance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what plans have been prepared in consultation with the Ministry of Transport about building such a bypass.
Then I would like briefly to draw attention to one or two other ancient monuments in the area. I know that a number of my hon. Friends who are going to take part in this debate are greatly interested in the question of the destruction of barrows. I only want to draw the attention of the Minister to the Report of his Ancient Monuments Board of England for last year, published not long ago. Paragraph 7 explains that:Barrows are the burial places of ancient peoples and by careful excavation and examination of the remains, relics and ritual structures which they contain, it has been found possible to build up a valuable picture of ancient civilisations. The bulldozer and deep plough are destroying information of immeasurable value before it can be examined and recorded.Towards the end of the report there is a rather lamentable catalogue of barrows which have been destroyed during the time covered by the Report. Sometimes they were destroyed by farmers who did not even know they were there and who had no idea of their archaeological importance. Sometimes they were destroyed without the knowledge of the Ministry of Works, who only got to know what had happened many months afterwards. There was one case in which there should have been prosecution, but a period of six months elapsed before the Ministry heard about it so no prosecution was possible.
Far better than prosecuting people for destroying these monuments would be a really efficient system of drawing the attention of owners and of the general public to them. If one looks back at the Questions that have been asked over a long period of years in this House, one finds that the Ministry of Works has been very dilatory in this matter. Over and over again the Ministry has said that it would consider whether all monuments of this kind should be properly marked and labelled, and that the scheme of county correspondents should be 1535 strengthened. So far, however, little effective action has been taken and I press the Minister to tell us what he now intends to do in this respect.
The first task is to try to protect the important long barrows, and the second is to make certain that in cases where they will be destroyed because they cannot be protected, archaeologists are given adequate opportunities for digging before destruction takes place.
Now I want briefly to refer to Stonehenge, about which a great deal has been said in the House in the past and which is now generally in a much more satisfactory condition that Avebury, in spite of its relative insignificance when compared with that monument. I wonder whether the Minister can give us the Stonehenge admission figures for the most recent convenient period and the figures for revenue earned from visitors, and can tell us whether it is a fact that at present Stonehenge is running at a very substantial profit. I have no doubt that it is one of the very few exceptions in that respect among the monuments of which the Minister is in charge. If it is a fact that substantial profits are being made by Stonehenge, it is a disgrace that one or two small improvements for which people interested in the site have been pressing for months and years have not yet been carried out.
This important prehistoric work is still standing on the downs surrounded by something which looks like a barbed wire entanglement. Complaints have been made over and over again about the fence round the building. Perhaps the most important thing when one looks at Stonehenge is to see it standing there remote on the downs with nothing else to interrupt the view or catch one's eye. I know that the Minister has a problem in trying to make visitors use one entrance, but they often climb over the unsightly wire. It should not be beyond the wit of the Minister's officials to provide a ditch or some other form of concealed protection for the monument in order to prevent any unsightliness.
People interested in Stonehenge would like to congratulate the Minister upon having built an underground lavatory which does not destroy the amenities of the site, but the old shack formerly used for that purpose is still there. I 1536 gather that it is at present used by the custodians to store their tools. Is it not time the building was pulled down? I should also like to know whether the Minister can tell us a little about the staffing position at Stonehenge. In view of the number of visitors and the importance of the site, I believe that the staff is very inadequate.
I should have liked to have been able to paint a vivid word picture of these sites, and particularly of Avebury, but it would not be easy for anyone to do so. I end by urging the Minister to take the opportunity some time to look at the Avebury site himself. I know that he was good enough to make arrangements for the Parliamentary Secretary to visit the site before his illness. If the Minister and other hon. Members would visit the site, I am sure that they would be as convinced as I am that something must be done about it and that there is an immensely strong case for spending a little public money on what is, after all, one of the most important and precious prehistoric sites in this country and, indeed, in this part of the world.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I beg to second the Motion.
I would begin by apologising to the House and in particular to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), who has so ably moved the Motion, and the Minister for the fact that I shall probably not be able to remain to hear my right hon. Friend's reply. I have an engagement which it is impossible for me not to keep.
It may seem strange that the House should set aside part of a sitting in order to debate a subject which is of comparatively minor importance when we are faced by so many national problems, but I believe, paradoxically, that one way of measuring the quality and the vitality of a civilisation is to judge the importance and value which it attaches to the relics of its own past.
The hon. Member has spoken mostly about prehistoric monuments, but the terms of his Motion do not debar us from considering also the medieval monuments which are under the care of the same department of the Ministry of Works. I should like to say a few preliminary words about these other monuments 1537 before speaking about the category with which the hon. Member dealt.
I believe the Ministry has done a most excellent job. There are some who think that buildings, like living organisms, have a natural term of years and that it is wrong for us to try to prolong their life once their usefulness is past. Have we not got enough cathedrals without propping up our old, mouldering monasteries? Are there not enough standing castles without attempting to preserve the ruined walls of keeps which can shelter no human being and only a few cattle when they are storm-bound? That, indeed, was the answer of centuries before our own.
Now we think otherwise. We realise that these monuments, even in their ruinous condition, are the work of craftsmen which has never been excelled. They are objects of beauty. They have become part of the countryside which at one time they dominated and by which they are now enfolded. Above all, they represent evidence of an English way of life which, however remote and barbaric it may seem to us now, was certainly for many centuries no cruder or ruder than our own.
In the Ministry of Works, those concerned with the matter have consistently adopted that attitude. They are not fakers. They do not reconstruct out of their own imagination. With nothing to guide them except the walls which survive above the turf, all that they have ever tried to do is to preserve what remains by clearing away the brambles and the fallen rubble and relaying the site with green turf. They have never attempted to put there what was not there before.
I cannot agree with those who criticise the Ministry for having cleaned up our ruins. I find nothing inconsistent between the clean lines of Ministry of Works sites and the antiquity of the monuments themselves. I admire their guide books, and I respect their curators. I would infinitely prefer to see important monuments cared for in the way in which my right hon. Friend has cared for them than that they should be allowed to fall into increasing dilapidation.
Hon. Members may have been able to visit the current exhibition of the Ancient Monuments Department of the Ministry at the R.I.B.A. There they will find evidence of the extreme care and skill 1538 with which the Ministry has saved the fabric of what remains.
I now turn to the main subject which was introduced by the hon. Member for Swindon. The monuments of Roman and prehistoric times are uglier than the relics of the monasteries and our castles, but they are of even greater historical importance. Indeed, in very many cases they are the only evidence of that time that we possess, and Great Britain is richer in these antiquities than is any other country in Europe. By the chances of geography and economic history, these prehistoric monuments were erected on the moors and uplands which were at that time the only inhabitable parts of our island, the rest being bog and forest.
Today, by a paradoxical—and unfortunate—chance, it is when we have come to appreciate the value of these monuments and to know more about them, and when public interest has been aroused in them, that for the first time in history they come under the threat of the developer and the plough. The Ancient Monuments Acts and the staff at the Ministry are not yet strong enough to cope with this depredation.
Public conscience was aroused a year ago by the levelling, by the deep plough, of the Normanton and Manton Down barrows, but, as the hon. Member for Swinton pointed out, it is necessary to read the Report of the Ancient Monuments Board for England, of which I am a member, to realise the full extent of the depredations involved. The hon. Member mentioned his own county of Wiltshire. In the Report we read that of 288 prehistoric monuments, seven have recently completely disappeared and 59 have suffered very severely from the deep plough.
The House should realise that we are concerned with the danger not only from the deep plough and the bulldozer. Even a single light ploughing will obliterate our Celtic field system—which may have existed for some twenty centuries—as effectively as a sponge passed across the surface of an ancient manuscript. If this process continues, we shall be deprived for ever of irreplaceable evidence of part of our history, which, however crude it may seem, is still an essential part of the story. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Swindon when he pleads with my right hon. Friend that we should 1539 either recover that evidence by excavation before it is too late, or keep it sealed beneath its covering of turf until the spade and trowel can do their careful work.
It may be asked whether these monuments are not already preserved and safeguarded by the scheduling process. Unfortunately, that is not so, because merely scheduling a monument is not sufficient guarantee that it will be preserved. Even if the owner or the occupier of the land is aware of the importance of the monument and of his legal obligations towards it—and in many cases he is aware of neither—he has only to give three months' notice under the Ancient Monuments Act, 1953, and if within that time the Minister has not accorded the monument his extra protection, or if it has not been possible within that same time to excavate it, the owner is at complete liberty to deal with that monument as he wishes.
I am not suggesting that the Ancient Monuments Act should be amended to prohibit under any circumstances the ploughing of any monument in any field. To do so would simply be to antagonise the agricultural population. It is too much to expect of them, but I believe that it would be possible, and is essential, that the Minister should draw up a list, additional to the list of monuments which are already scheduled and protected, giving a guarantee of survival in perpetuity of the most important monuments in each category of ancient field works. If that were done, it is quite clear that we should save for future generations of archaeologists a representative sample of all which exists today, but which is rapidly disappearing.
My second suggestion is that it is high time that we did more to remind owners and occupiers of their obligations. If it can be put to them that, by the chance of occupation, they hold in trust for the nation a unique historical record, I feel quite certain that in the majority of cases we could gain their co-operation and even their interest.
We cannot expect farmers, without outside advice, even to recognise the existence of monuments on their fields. A barrow is often as little as 6 in, high and as much as 30 ft. broad, and to the farmer it is simply a familiar and inexplicable swelling in a familiar field. At 1540 most he would like to see it bulldozed out of his way. He has virtually no other reminder of its existence. It may be marked on the 6 in. Ordnance map, but so far the Ordnance Survey makes no distinction between those monuments which are scheduled and those which are not. I suggest that it should be invited to indicate, by some conventional sign, those monuments of particular importance.
Monuments should be listed upon the land register of the locality. But how often will a farmer even examine the land register? Even if he did so when he first took over the property, not many farmers would be particularly interested in the existence of a monument and take precautions accordingly against its destruction.
There should therefore undoubtedly be regular reminders. How is this to be done? One way is by putting a physical mark on the ground, and this was indeed the recommendation which my Board made to the Minister in its last Report. He turned it down on grounds of expense. Although I was partly responsible for that advice, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the expense would be colossal, but more than that it would be a disadvantage to mark every monument, particularly the humps, with a metal notice calling the attention of landowners and the public to the fact that if a monument is destroyed, they will be prosecuted. It would take away the whole sentimental scenic associations of the monument itself, and although I was partly responsible for that advice and thought it right at the time, I now think that we must turn to other methods.
There are two other methods which occur to me. I believe that it should be possible to give an annual reminder to the owners of land on which these monuments stand by the insertion of a notice within the rating notice. I understand that rating notices are already compiled from the land register and it is on the land register that the existence of these monuments is noted. Would it, therefore, be a very difficult task requiring the services of more than one or two clerks to arrange that, whenever the rating notice is sent out to a land owner who does own a monument, his attention should be called annually to that fact and to his duties in respect of the monument under the existing Act?
1541 If that were not possible, I believe that the Ancient Monuments Department of the Ministry of Works should itself do the job. It knows where the monuments are. It has lists of thousands. Again, would it be such a big job and would it not be well worth the expense to employ the extra two or three clerks necessary to send out formal notices from Lambeth House to owners and occupiers concerned telling them of the existence of a monument and its nature and inviting their co-operation, and in the last resort reminding them of the penalties which they would incur if they defaced or removed the monument?
There should be a regular inspection of the monuments. All the methods which I have suggested would be of no avail, unless it were made possible, by one or other of the methods which I shall suggest, that each monument, the 50,000 of them, if necessary, should be annually visited by an inspector who has not only the archaeological knowledge but the authority to talk to the owner on the spot. Who could do that? I believe that it could be done by mobilising the thousands of amateur archaeologists throughout the country.
Clearly the Ancient Monuments Department could not possibly visit all these monuments even once in 50 years. The staff is far too small, but it could be done, as I have often urged, by the Council of British Archaeology, which is the parent body of all county archaeological societies. That would create a network of inspectors, some professional and some amateur, and so ensure that each of the monuments was visited at least once a year.
There is the category of Ordnance Survey officers who deal particularly with matters concerning archaeological remains. They patrol the country at least once a year. Their function is to find the remains of unknown monuments and in doing so they traverse the ground where known monuments exist. Could their help not be enlisted by the Ministry of Works to go, with the amateurs I mentioned earlier, to cover the country by a detailed system of inspection at least once a year? In doing so they would give advice to co-operative farmers and warning to the spoliators. The result would be what the hon. Mem- 1542 ber for Swindon and the rest of us earnestly desire, the preservation from desecration by ignorant people of these ancient earthworks for the study and the enlightenment of future generations.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I have had an interest in these various monuments which dates back to my boyhood spent in Wiltshire, at Marlborough, in the early 'twenties, having gone to Stonehenge first in an enthusiastic party of boys with a master who wanted us to be there to see the sun rise over the altar on Midsummer day. However, I am afraid that on that occasion Stonehenge was even more surrounded by barbed wire than it is today.
When we got there a party of sun worshippers had preceded us and, in trying to get over the barbed wire, some of them had torn their trousers. I am afraid that the interest of most of the boys in the party was directed more to watching the sun worshippers kneeling down and bowing to the sun, with the revealing depredations of the barbed wire, than in the actual sight itself.
But, last year, I again visited Stonehenge, and I must say that there has been an enormous improvement in its state of care since that occasion in the 'twenties. It is still a fact that it is too much surrounded by barbed wire and that it is rather overlooked, or unduly dominated, by the camp at Larkhill. I should like to ask the Ministry whether consideration could be given to planting a covering belt of trees in the distance from Stonehenge so that the scene is not dominated by the Larkhill camp.
I visited Avebury in the 'twenties and again two or three years ago. There has been an enormous improvement in the way in which that site is cared for, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker). A very great deal is owed to the work of Mr. Alexander Keiller in caring for that site and in interesting people in it. I happened to take a German friend who is an archaeologist to see that site, and I felt rather ashamed when he made the comment that only in England could so great a monument of man's past be so neglected for so long. I am afraid that I felt that there was a certain amount of justification for that remark, 1543 despite the great work done by Mr. Keiller in caring for the site.
At present, when one sees the half of the circle which has been restored one gets an impression of the magnificence and size of the original monument. I am certain that it would be very much enhanced if the remainder of the circle could be restored in the same way. So that the visitor might get a real impression of the importance of the monument, I suggest that there ought to be an early restoration of the rest of the circle, though I agree that from an archaeological point of view there may be other parts of the site that ought to have prior treatment.
One third of the avenue from the Temple down to West Kennet has been restored, and the remaining two-thirds ought to be dealt with at a very early date. Some of it runs through a road; some of it is in fields, some of which may be ploughed. I think that this ought to be excavated and, where possible, stones re-erected for the rest of the avenue at an early date.
The avenue leads down to the sanctuary on Overton Hill. That, unfortunately, was destroyed in the eighteenth centry. It is not only farmers who plough the land today who are destructive of monuments; a great deal of destruction was done in the eighteenth century by road builders. At that time both farmers and road builders tended to break up many of the circles and to use the stone for repairing or making roadways. The whole of the magnificent sanctuary was destroyed at that time.
Thanks to another archaeologist, Mr. Cunningham, that site was excavated and marks have been made showing where the sanctuary was. I believe that that was done in 1930. It is believed that this avenue from Avebury may lead to the sanctuary, but until there has been excavation that cannot be confirmed. I suggest that the point should be cleared up as soon as possible by the completion of the excavation of that avenue.
Early visitors to the site in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries talked about an avenue going from Avebury as far as Beckhampton. There are still one or two very large stones in the fields there. That, again, needs 1544 some investigation to discover where there was or was not a further avenue in that direction. Most of the land is under the plough at present and, if there are any relics, there is a ranger that they will be completely lost. I suggest that work should be done also in further excavation in the inner "settings" of the temple at an early date.
I should like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon said about the manor at Avebury. It is a mainly seventeenth century house. There is in its grounds, I believe, an early indoor tennis court of the time of Charles II. The house and its surroundings are charming and certainly ought to be retained in any preservation of the area. In this respect, I have a suggestion which I wish to make. A great many visitors already attend Avebury. In years to come the number will be very much larger. Might not this house be converted into an hotel, or otherwise used in connection with the site? Certainly, we do not want to destroy it or the grounds.
I also support what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon said about not completely wiping out the village inside the circle. It is part of the charm of the layout. Some part of it could be removed with advantage, especially some of the Victorian cottages, but there are many small seventeenth and eighteenth century houses, including the small public house, which should be retained, and such parts of the outer circle as they may cover might be left for future generations of archaeologists to look at. It would be a great pity if we had the whole site completely cleared of houses, leaving a rather barren space in the middle of the Down-land. I hope that in any further restoration effort will be made to keep the better houses in the village.
Another point is that somewhere in the neighbourhood a car park ought to be constructed. Many visitors arrive by car and it would be appropriate to have a place where the cars would be hidden by trees so that they did not spoil the appearance of the site.
§ Mr. Parker
I am glad to hear that. I should like to impress upon the Minister the need for starting work once more.
1545 I took up this question with the Minister's predecessor in 1952, and I was told then that all the financial resources of the Ministry of Works were being used in the examination of blitzed sites in London to see whether any remains of archaeological interest, such as the Temple of Mithras, could be recovered before rebuilding took place. Rebuilding has proceeded quite a lot since 1952 and it is now going on very rapidly. Very soon, there probably will be no sites left in London or other blitzed areas where there is a possibility of archaeological work being done. As soon as the opportunity to do any further work in those areas has passed, then the resources should be devoted first and foremost to work at Avebury.
In 1952, when I approached the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor on this matter I received a letter, dated 10th April, 1952, in which the Minister stated:The monument is so closely associated with Mr. Keiller, who has done so much for the site, that had we set out to continue the excavation we should have had no option but to co-operate very closely with him and there is no doubt that Mr. Keiller himself would have expected to have considerable influence over what was done. His methods of excavation are, however, far more costly than could be met from public funds.I have no doubt from what Mr. Keiller personally said to me that the Minister's statement was quite justified. Mr. Keiller was willing to do the work, but he laid down very strong conditions. He wished to be in complete charge and to carry out the work in exactly the same expensive way as it had been carried out before the war. He was not prepared to alter his ideas in any way to meet the suggestions of the Ministry of Works. He wished to select his own assistants, and so on. Only if all his conditions were accepted was he fully prepared to cooperate in any way with the Ministry of Works.
A point of some interest is that he suggested that in the way in which he was carrying out the work when the war came in 1939 the whole would have been completed within ten years by working with a fairly small staff. Working with a fairly large staff and rapidly it could have been completed within six years. I do not know how far the Minister would agree with those estimates at the present time, but I suggest that some of the main work such as completing the restoration 1546 of the circle and the avenue to West Kennet should be among the first priorities. This work should be done in a planned campaign over the next ten years and I would ask the Minister to prepare a plan and put it in hand to try to get the work completed in that period. I suggest that we might turn most of our resources for excavation to that job as soon as essential work in the blitzed towns has been completed.
I would suggest, further, that a competent architect be put in charge of the whole of the works at Avebury, both the preservation of what is there and the actual work of restoration. If the cost would be considerable, as the Minister may say, I suggest that in these days, when there are so many people interested in archaeology, it might be possible for some of the jobs to be tackled by a competent archaeologist using voluntary labour. There must be many people, not only older school boys but people on holiday, who would be prepared to do a lot of work of this kind were the facilities provided. It could be well done if it was adequately supervised, but it would be a bad thing if amateurs were allowed to do the work without adequate supervision. A number of these jobs might be tackled in this way and not all the excavations need be done at one time. Perhaps some of the smaller jobs might be tackled first as an experiment.
Mr. Keiller made a strong point to me three years ago about maintenance. He said that the maintenance was not in such good condition as just before the war at Avebury, and particularly at Windmill Hill. Mr. Keiller put that into good condition in 1937 when he finished the excavations there. When I visited the site three years ago not only was there long grass which had been allowed to grow over everything, but in a number of cases the soil had slipped in and there was barbed wire around most of it which made a proper inspection impossible. The condition may have been improved, but I suggest that the whole of that site should be better cared for.
I agree with the hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) that a Ministry of Works site well looked after, surrounded by well cut turf, and so on, is a very pleasant sight. But when it is neglected, as the Windmill 1547 Hill excavations were neglected and as much of Avebury has been neglected, it is a different story. I suggest that every effort should be made to get them back in good condition both Windmill Hill and the actual temple at Avebury. We should not regard these sites merely from the point of view of archaeological interest, but we should have regard to the actual amenities of the site, by which I mean that all the surroundings should be kept in good order. An example of where that has not been done is at Overton Hill, by the Bath Road, where there is one of the ugliest of transport cafes.
I am not saying that we do not need cafes on the Bath Road for the benefit of lorry drivers. But this one is sited very dangerously on a bend at the top of a hill and completely dominates the site of the Sanctuary Hill, with its seven barrows. I think that it should be moved to a safer site where it does not spoil the whole outlook and that the Ministry should concern itself not only with the actual preservation of sites, but of their surroundings, particularly when the site is upon the open downland, where any feature of this kind presents a far greater eyesore than when it is surrounded by trees.
Not only are these monuments of great historical value to our country, but they attract tourists who wish to visit not only places like Stonehenge but other monuments. When we have completed the restoration of the Stone Circle at Ave-bury we shall attract far more tourists there than at present. The need to attract foreign visitors should be borne in mind when the preservation of these monuments and their surroundings is thought about, and I hope that that point will be remembered when the expenditure on preserving these monuments is considered.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
Unlike the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), I cannot claim to have a constituency interest in ancient monuments. The only thing in Gravesend which might conceivably be called a monument is the tomb of Pocahontas, which looks awful and is preserved privately, and not by the Minister.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman at the commencement of his speech, but perhaps I should make it plain that my only constituency interest is that my constituency is near Avebury. I should like to say how sorry I am that the hon Member in whose constituency Avebury lies has not found it possible to take part in this debate, as I know his predecessor certainly would have done.
§ Mr. Kirk
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I know the area to which he refers fairly well. I was at school at Marlborough—I apologise that this debate looks like turning into an old Marlburians' debate, but as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) has now left the Chamber, I doubt if there is a danger of a third successive speech by an old Marlburian.
I have covered the ground as a schoolboy and have been back to cover it again since then. I have a great love for Avebury and Stonehenge and many of the other less important but no less interesting monuments. Silbury Hill and Windmill Hill have been mentioned and there are various long barrows in that part of the world. The basic problem with which we are faced is that of preserving these places and finding funds for their excavation. The problem of preservation, particularly of the smaller barrows, is the biggest one which at present faces the Minister. As has been said by both the hon. Member for Swindon and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), many farmers are completely unaware that they have a barrow on their land at all, until one of the local museums or archaeological societies rises in its wrath to point out that a barrow has been destroyed. Farmers and local people should be made aware of the value of these historic monuments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch suggested various ways in which this could be done. I rather disagreed with him over the lack of value, as he seemed to suggest, of notices placed on the site. I was glad when the Ancient Monuments Board recommended the placing of notices on these sites, and I cannot see why, if the notices are attractively 1549 designed, they need necessarily detract from the beauty of the sites.
I spent a part of this summer looking at the great stone monuments at Carnac, in Brittany, which are looked after very well by the French Ministry of Fine Arts. In every case but one they were clearly labelled with attractive metal labels which did not detract in any way from their beauty, but made them easy to find. In addition, the labels bore a brief note explaining how the site was found and drawing the attention of visitors to points of interest.
I cannot see that if the labelling were well done and if proper designers were employed, there would necessarily be a disadvantage in having such notices. I do not believe that notices are enough, however, and I very strongly support my hon. Friend's suggestion of an annual reminder to the owners of these sites that the sites are there and must be preserved, at least until the archaeologists have had time thoroughly to investigate them.
I think that the problem here, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), is in the preservation and excavation of these monuments. Where is the money to come from, because, though we should very much like it, we obviously cannot expect the Treasury to be prepared to pay the very considerable sum involved for a full and complete excavation of Avebury? I am a great believer in the principle that those who go to see places like Avebury and Stonehenge should pay for the privilege of doing so. As the hon. Member for Swindon stated, a charge is made for entry to Stonehenge. The hon. Gentleman thinks, and I should be very glad if it is so, that Stonehenge is making a profit.
While I agree that the sites are totally different—Stonehenge is much more concentrated than Avebury—I cannot see why something similar should not be possible at Avebury. Avebury has one road running through it north-south from Swindon to the Bath Road. I rather disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of that road. I think that the heavy traffic tends to go on to the road a few miles to the east, joining the Bath Road at Marlborough. It is true that I have only been there 1550 during week-ends—and during the war—when heavy traffic tends to be much lighter. It did not, however, strike me, that it would be a very great inconvenience to charge a toll for traffic using that road, except in the case of drivers who could produce documents showing that they were using the road for business purposes of because they were local residents.
It would be perfectly possible, if and when the by-pass is completed, to do that, because then the village of Avebury could be sealed off and an entrance charge made to visitors. I know that this is likely to be a controversial suggestion, but by making such a charge a certain amount of funds could be raised with which to enable this very important work to go on. To my mind, the important parts are not only the Stone Circle and the Avenue. The whole village of Avebury, with the exception of certain houses should be preserved.
The church is one of the finest examples of mediaeval ecclesiastical architecture. It has a rood screen which, I think, is one of the best in the West of England. It should be much better known even than it is. Then there is the Manor House and the Hall. With the exception of the few Victorian cottages, the whole village forms a part of the picture with the Stone Circle and the Avenue, and I should be very strongly opposed to any suggestion that the Stone Circle should be cleared of buildings. We have there a picture of the whole civilisation of Britain from the earliest time to present, beginning with the building of the Stone Circle going on to the Manor House and even to the modern houses. It is vitally important that they should be preserved.
It is perfectly true that the excavation work has been halted for nearly twenty years, and it is about time that it was restarted. The gaps in the Avenue, and particularly the missing altar stone, are represented by really rather unbeautiful concrete blocks. Some effort, I think, might have been made to harmonise the marks showing where the stones should be in relation to the existing stones. In these circumstances, I feel that the Minister would be doing' a great service to the cause of archaeological research in 1551 the country if he could give the go-ahead signal for further excavations at Avebury.
I wish to ask a question about the proposed reconstruction of the Trilithon at Stonehenge. My hon. Friend said that the Ministry had done some marvellous reconstruction at various places. I am a little worried about this one. We know that the stones were standing a few centuries ago, but no one knows where. It would be unfortunate if we were to put them back into positions where we only thought they might have been originally. If we are going to reconstruct that arch, might it not be a good thing, if we were certain that we knew where it went, to try to complete the reconstruction with other stones? Whether it is better to keep the stones in their former position or attempt a full reconstruction is a matter for consideration.
I have one further point to make about another monument not very far away, but which is not mentioned in the Motion. The Motion is a little circumscribed: it refers to the South-West. The Uffington group is on the Berkshire Downs and, I think, comes within the area. It consists of the White Horse above the downs at Wantage, with Uffington Castle above it—a pre-Roman fort of great antiquity—with the Ridgeway running between. At the foot of the hill there is the Blowing Stone where hon. Members on the payment of 1s. can raise a noise rather like that created by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) when raising a point of order.
A little farther on is Wayland Smith's Cave. That is in a disgraceful state, and there is no excuse for the condition into which that very ancient monument has deteriorated at the present time. There is a notice board which says that it is Wayland Smith's Cave, but even that notice is in a rusted and almost unreadable condition. The cave itself is overgrown. When taking German visitors to see the cave, I have been ashamed. The Germans are naturally very interested because the legend of Wayland Smith is as strong in Germany as in this country. Many of them have said that it was a horrible way in which to treat what is a very old and famous monument. I urge the Minister to try to do something about the Uffington group and also about Wayland Smith's Cave.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I am sure that the whole House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) for having taken the opportunity which fell to him in winning a first place in the Ballot to raise for discussion today this important subject. I believe it is of considerable value that the House should, from time to time, show both its appreciation and its concern of the work done by the Ancient Monuments Board to preserve our priceless heritage of ancient monuments. My hon. Friend is also to be congratulated in having such a wealth of ancient monuments both in his constituency and in the surrounding area.
I should like to approach to the problem by paying my tribute to the work of the Ancient Monuments Board in the preservation of the many historic monuments in their charge, not only the ruined mediaeval shrines, but also the Roman forts like those at Richborough, Pevensey and elsewhere, and the prehistoric monuments as well. It is unfortunate that Avebury has been allowed to fall into a state of relative neglect, compared to the excellent state of preservation of so many other historic sites. It is especially unfortunate when one recalls the tremendous significance of Avebury in prehistoric times.
I tabled an Amendment to the Motion—which I do not propose to move, because it would limit the debate—because it seemed to me that, in considering how the Ancient Monuments Board should spend the relatively small amount of money which it is allowed by the Treasury at present, we have to think of priorities. As I hoped it would, this debate is ranging not only over problems of excavation but also of preservation, and one cannot help realising from what has been said already that, important though the work of future excavation may be, the work of preservation is of paramount importance, in view of the danger which threatens so many ancient monuments by reason both of agricultural and other work.
I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) has said about the condition of Wayland Smith's Cave, in the Uffington group. I was there recently and noticed that it is in a deplorably neglected condition. I 1553 hope that as a result of this debate the Minister will be able to give us a general indication of the amount of care and attention which his Department is able to give to monuments of that kind, as well as to the more famous sites which I have mentioned and which, as I have said, are generally very well preserved.
It is regrettable that Avebury has been allowed to suffer from comparative neglect. I was there one day last year. Like my hon. Friend, I want to pay a tribute to the work done by the curator, Mr. Young, who is not only most knowledgeable, but most helpful in showing visitors round the museum and explaining the significant features of the circle itself. It is a quite impossible task for him and his one assistant to manage both the work of looking after the museum—which, if I recollect rightly, is open from about 9 a.m. until late at night—and also of maintaining the great circle and the stones.
The real complaint of my hon. Friend and others who take an interest in this matter is that there is inadequate staff at Avebury to keep this important monument in a respectable condition. The grass is allowed to grow, and the appearance, especially in the north-west corner, is very often untidy. I should have thought that if another assistant could be provided to do some of the work of keeping the monument in a state of respectability it would meet the case.
I am not so sure that I agree with my hon. Friend about the desirability of undertaking further excavations at Ave-bury at present. I imagine that that must depend both upon the financial resources available and the kind of priorities which are determined for works of archaeological research in general. As the Minister is aware, although his Department, to its credit, does some notable works of archaeological excavation, it has not been responsible for the major works of archaeological excavation which have taken place in the last thirty or forty years.
Excavation of some of the most famous sites, like Verulamium, Maiden Castle, and others, have been undertaken by the Society of Antiquaries or local archaeological societies, voluntarily organised and supported, and it may well be that if funds could be made available it would 1554 be better if the work of excavation—which is so highly skilled in these days—as distinct from that of preservation, were entrusted to the Society of Antiquaries and other archaeological bodies.
We recognise, of course, that it is with the valuable assistance of the grant which the Minister made to the City of London Roman and Mediaeval Preservation Fund that the very important work which has been done in London in this field since the war has been able to take place. The site where Mr. Grimes found the Temple of Mithras last year is an example of archaeological excavation privately undertaken but supported by a financial grant from the Ministry. I should have thought that that was the better approach, and would have hoped that, important though it is that Avebury should be further excavated in due course, the Minister would agree that at present the emphasis should be laid first upon the adequate maintenance of places like Avebury, Wayland Smith's Cave and many others, which are known, and, secondly, upon the vitally important work of preserving from destruction so many of the ancient monuments which are threatened.
The hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch has referred to the Report of the Ancient Monuments Board, of which he is a distinguished member, with regard to earthworks and barrows. The situation is most alarming and is one in connection with which we must press the Minister to give us some very definite and categorical reassurances. I shall not quote again from the Report of the Board, but I will quote two paragraphs from the Report of the Council for British Archaeology, for 1954, as some indication of the widespread damage which is being done to this class of monuments. The Report says:In Dorset, the attrition by agricultural and other agencies of unscheduled monuments continues largely unnoted and unchecked.Later, it says thatploughing has been carried out over the top of certain barrows in the Lambourn Seven Barrows group, and others …which are nearby.In Sussex, ploughing on the downland has damaged several monuments, notably on Tegdown, near Patcham …That is typical of conditions in other counties. When the Manton Down barrows were destroyed a great deal of 1555 public attention was directed to the matter. Questions were raised, in the House and assurances given, and we must ask the Minister for some categorical answers to certain questions.
I would begin by reminding the right hon. Gentleman of what his predecessor said in answer to a Question which I put on 22nd July, 1953, when we were considering the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Bill. I asked for an assurance that his Department would cooperate with the many local, county and other archaeological societies throughout the country which were most anxious that a proper scheme of co-ordination should be arranged to assist in the work of preserving these ancient monuments.
An assurance was given by the present Minister of Education, who said:We intend to have conversations with the appropriate bodies which are interested in ancient monuments, and I agree that a great deal can be done by administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 518–9.]Would the Minister please tell us whether these conversations have taken place and with what result?
Secondly, I should like to ask the Minister what co-ordination takes place between his Department and the Ordnance Survey run by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not think that this is the time to develop that, but I sometimes wonder whether the Ancient Monuments Board is really best fitted into our administrative machinery in the Ministry of Works. It often seems to me to have a very tenuous connection with the other activities of the Ministry's works and it may perhaps suffer in that respect, but, however that may be, it is no use the Minister excusing 'his failure to deal with this subject through lack of funds unless he avails himself of all the opportunities of supporting all the other available causes.
The Ordnance Survey is constantly patrolling the country, bringing the Survey up-to-date and marking ancient monuments on the various series of maps. Is there some proper system of co-ordination with the Ordnance Survey for seeing that the scheduled monuments are preserved undamaged and are not in danger of destruction?
1556 Thirdly, I hope that the Minister will tell us that he has not abandoned the proposal that all scheduled monuments should be clearly marked. This was a distinct recommendation made by the Report of the Ancient Monuments Board, and although the hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch, I was sorry to see, rather resiled from his own share of responsibility of having signed that Report, surely we shall not ever have a satisfactory solution to this problem unless there is some proper system in mind. It ought not to be very difficult to mark at any rate most, if not all, of these ancient monuments by some label which indicates their historical nature.
It is in that way that local farmers, visitors and others can know that there is something which should be saved from destruction. I agree that no system of scheduling or marking is of itself sufficient unless there is a method of regular inspection, and, therefore, as I have said, I think the key to this problem is a proper system of inspection with which all the interested and available bodies are associated.
There is another matter in which, I think, the Ministry have been remiss in the past, and that is in not taking sufficiently energetic steps to prevent the destruction of important monuments when brought to their notice. There was a case, for example, at Great Chesterford earlier in the year. One must give the Ministry credit for having arranged for a very important Anglo-Saxon burial ground to be inspected before works on the site were completed, but, unfortunately, the Ministry allowed a great deal of destruction to take place while the work of excavation was in progress.
If the Minister had been more energetic at the time, notice could have been given to prevent that destruction, and I hope that the Minister will make sure that the machinery in his Department as between the Ancient Monuments Board and those responsible for prosecuting those who deliberately destroy important monuments of this kind is more tightly co-ordinated.
Reference has been made to Stonehenge. Stonehenge, in my opinion, is one of our ancient monuments where the Ministry is entitled to the greatest credit both for the way in which the monument is preserved, for the way in which visitors 1557 have access to it and information about it, for the booklet which is on sale, and for the general publicity given to it. In view of the very great interest in Stonehenge, I hope that the Minister will today be able to tell us whether he has yet arrived at a decision on the recommendations of the Ancient Monuments Board that the trilithon which they recommended should be re-erected under the supervision of Professor Stuart Pigott is to be re-erected or not.
My own opinion, for what it is worth, is contrary to the opinion of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) that it should be re-erected. I agree with the Ancient Monuments Board when it says:Since there is reason to believe that the state of Stonehenge is in part due to the deliberate destruction by the Romans, there is strong reason for leaving things as they are.That, however, does not apply where there is evidence that particular stones consisting of one of the famous trilithons, fell down during towards the eighteenth century, and where there is evidence which would enable that particular portal to be re-erected with precision on the site in which, until 150 years or so ago, it had stood for centuries.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
Like other hon. Members, I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has made a singularly felicitious choice in his selection of this Motion for today's debate. He has not only raised a matter which is of specific and urgent importance in regard to certain monuments and has asked questions which must be answered by the Minister today, but he has opened up a far wider question. This is no mere constituency matter. Otherwise no doubt the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) would either have been here, or would have written to the mover of the Motion, or would have sent some message through an hon. Member on the Government side of the House.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reply in triplicate to the terms of the Motion. He will reply, first, as Minister of Works in relation to the very difficult task that the Ministry has to carry out, in looking after such a wide range of monuments, and deciding, within the very narrow budget allowed to it, how much it can do towards development and how 1558 much towards preservation in so many different fields. He can reply also on behalf of the Government as a whole in relation to the possibility of co-operation with other Ministries. I am thinking particularly of the Ministry of Education. I also hope, since this is a Private Member's Motion, that he will not be afraid to speak to some extent as a Private Member and give his views on the sort of future policy which ought to be developed.
We shall not get wide public understanding and support for the sort of thing that has been asked for today unless we have a general understanding of the social and educational purpose of archaeological research and the preservation of archaeological monuments and records. In the last few weeks a certain amount of interest has been shown in the House in the development of technological education. I made a remark myself, calling attention to the difference between the fifty geologists trained in British universities and the 2,400 trained per year in Chinese universities. The only result of that epoch-making remark, Mr. Speaker, was that I was called to order and I have no doubt that I should be called to order again if I attempted to develop it now.
"Radio Newsreel" gave a report of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) addressing the younger members of his constituency and urging that attention should be paid to this matter. Only yesterday a number of Questions appeared on the Order Paper pressing the Minister of Education for the development of technological education. Among them was heard the still, small, and usually sane voice of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who said that perhaps the greater Powers and wealthier nations might well be allowed to pursue the development of technological education and scientific training, but we had a duty to maintain our position in the fields of the arts and the humanities.
No doubt it would appear to you, Mr. Speaker, that I should be wildly out of order if I were to speak of certain Hamitic masks which came from Ife in Nigeria to this country a few years ago and received a tremendous ovation from archaeologists and historians; and also if I referred to the visit which was paid 1559 to this House by the Oni of Ife, clad in robes which rivalled even the splendour of your own. There is in this the curious coincidence that not only did those masks, which had been of such sacred importance in West Africa for many centuries, in all probability come from the same centre of civilisation as that from which flowed those who built the monuments in south-west England but that the Oni, like the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, is a railwayman.
I am glad to refer to the need to switch interest in this immensely important subject to the broad field of educational organisation in this country. The Ministry of Works would be the first to agree that we can no longer depend upon the interest of conscientious land owners or the historical hobbies of occasionally eccentric diplomats.
In the next 50 years there is the chance that the world will become sane again, and that vast projects will be undertaken for raising the standard of life and recovering the productivity and fruitfulness of large areas of the world from which civilisations in the past have had to depart, perhaps through the ignorance and folly of man, or perhaps because of climatic and geographic changes. Many schemes are on foot. Some have been attempted on the smallest scale, but with the most brilliant hopes, of restoring the fruitfulness of deserts, by scientists archaeologists and planners.
A day or two ago I was reading of an engineering scheme for restoring the Mediterranean to its previous shape by lowering the level of the water and so releasing a lot more land around it. When these schemes begin to be studied, those who make the final decisions will need the help of those who, in the arts and humanities, have put much patient study and many years of work in trying to find out something about people who lived in those areas in the past and about the reasons for their migrations.
Hidden away in our own country are records and evidence which, for aught we know, may be of tremendous importance. I shall not refer to the age or date of any monument in south-west England today, not from fear of being wrong—because I am almost certain to be wrong—but from fear of being out of fashion. 1560 Dates that are attributed today may very well be altered in the minds of scholars in 10 or 20 years time as the result of one single piece of information.
I am perfectly able to sympathise with the mood of archaeologists today, as instanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, in not wanting too much excavation done. They know how much damage has been done by amateurs. They begin to realise, but with a certain respect, the amount of damage that has been done by their immediate predecessors in digging too enthusiastically. Now they are tending, on sites of major importance, to limit their activities to exploratory shafts and excavations so that they can decide exactly what is of the greatest value and information and what may be left for careful examination later.
We are discussing today the question of barrows. That, surely is a job which could be methodically done in cooperation with some of the extra-mural studies and the broader range of educational work that is developing in this country at present. Varying with the enthusiasm of local organisers, a surprising number of research projects is being undertaken in the counties and remote districts in this country in these days. Sometimes, for instance, the discovery of a store of old manuscripts in a country house will give an opportunity to a local education authority to organise a really important study group of people who can examine the documents and can learn the technique of research.
Learning the technique of research in archaeology is very difficult indeed, in view of the importance of the material on which beginners may be turned loose. The most that is asked is that before the barrows are removed they shall be carefully dug and examined. I think that is the view of the middle-of-the-road school, which accepts the fact that many of the barrows must disappear but maintains that they must be carefully examined.
I think that work could be undertaken by the Ministry of Education. I am not now claiming that the Ministry could produce a new race of trained archaeologists but that it could bring in people who, many years later, might find themselves in administrative posts or in public life. When faced with pleas from scientists for streamlining, mechanisation and 1561 so on, they would be able to bear in mind the rôle to be played by the arts and the humanities in the raising of human standards of living. While having, perhaps, little practical experience, they would take a commonsense viewpoint of what has been called "our" past. It is our past not only as British people but as citizens of the world to which we are addressing ourselves this morning. The monuments in south-west England are of concern, not only to the inhabitants there, but to archaeologists and students of human history all over the world.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I should like to add my word of thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) for demonstrating that this House is concerned not only with mundane bread-and-butter affairs, but also with cultural and historical subjects. I am particularly interested in this subject, as I was born within a short distance of Stonehenge and my earliest recollections are of that wonderful monument. I have seen it at almost all times of the day and night in summer and winter, and remember it best, perhaps, when it stood out so clearly on a snow-covered Salisbury Plain.
I hope that the Minister will not interfere with Stonehenge too much. I know that the barbed wire is necessary for protection, but I trust that he will not be persuaded to dig a trench around it to hide the barbed wire. To do so would make more difficult the explanation of archaeologists two or three hundred years hence who, even then, will, I hope, be studying this remarkable monument. I hope, also, that the right hon. Gentleman will not do too much reconstruction. Where a stone is leaning, it is obviously right to straighten it. Where, from the dowel marks—if that be the right term—from the marks in the stone and in the supporting stone it is obvious that there has been a trilithon, it may be justifiable to re-erect this, but I hope that, otherwise, Stonehenge may be kept very much as it was when I was a very young boy.
Although I have been to Avebury I know less of it; I do know that there are many problems still unsolved. It seems extraordinary that whereas in Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, and most of the ancient camps the vallum or wall is on 1562 the inner side of the ditch, it is on the outer side at Avebury. I have seen the same thing in stone circles in Derbyshire, notably at Arbor Low. That fact still awaits explanation. On one occasion when I was at Avebury work was proceeding on the Avenue to demonstate, by the depressions in the chalk, where stones had stood. Before erecting a stone our ancestors used to dig a depression in the chalk and then fix the stone into it by wedging other stones around it. It is very sad that so many of these stones have gone. I understand that, not so many years ago, farmers used to build a fire around a stone. When it was thoroughly hot they threw buckets of water on the stone so as to crack and then remove it. Their object was mainly agricultural. They did not need the stone for building purposes because, in that district, there is plenty of Sarsen stone on the surface.
I once had the pleasure of spending a week in walking along the Ridgeway to Avebury. The Ridgeway is an ancient British trackway, extensively used when a good deal of the surrounding country was swamp and forest. That walk brought me near to some of the monuments which have been mentioned—Wayland Smith's Cave, the Long Man of Wilmington and one of the most ancient of the White Horses. Everything possible should be done to preserve these ancient trackways. They are, in truth, ancient monuments. They are marked by dew ponds, by groups of trees and by sighting tumps. I would ask the Minister to give those tumps his special attention. In the Chilterns, where I live, there is an ancient trackway marked mainly by dew ponds. There are also sighting tumps on elevations to mark the track. I found such a tump in a friend's garden, but he had no idea of its significance It is simple to distinguish man-made from natural rises in the ground.
I support the suggestion that it would be good, not only that these monuments should be inspected, but that people who have such monuments on their estates should be reminded of the importance of preserving them. I do not want all monuments to be dug up or critically examined at present, but we ought not to destroy something simply because we do not yet understand its meaning or significance. I have already spoken of the past vandalism of the farmers at 1563 Avebury. Let us be sure that now, when the struggle for existence is less keen, we do not allow the same mistake to be made. I would ask the Minister carefully to record every ancient monument, as I know he is already doing, and to inspect any further that come to light, and also and at frequent intervals to remind the owners of land where such monuments are of their importance and the necessity—indeed, their duty to future generations—of doing all they can to preserve them.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
Have the Government considered doing as the Danes have done at Aarhus or the Canadians at Saskatoon? The Canadians have, at Saskatoon, a huge collection of old farming implements, fire engines and vehicles used at different times from the earliest days of Canadian history. At Aarhus the Danes have built a village of typical old houses of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and onwards. They took them to pieces where they found them and re-erected them in that village.
There is an old mill house with an old mill wheel still turning. There is a stream there with ducks on it. There is a mayor's ancient house with the original furniture and other period furniture and a typical garden of the times, with a summerhouse. There are other houses of the kind inhabited by private folk and by traders, and many have the old-time signs over the doors, such as the turner's wheel and other specimens of the turner's craft. It is a typical village of houses of the types built through the centuries. It pays for its upkeep by the sale of postcards and booklets, and by attracting thousands of tourists from all parts of the world who want to see it.
Can we do something like that here? Many historical buildings have to be destroyed in the cause of progress. If some of these ancient and historical relics which are on private property and are never seen by the public could be moved to where they could be seen it would be a great advantage to our country, and if we were to build a village to contain them it would attract thousands of tourists here, and even Stratford-on-Avon would have a powerful rival. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this idea. 1564 I would draw his attention to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Barber) has also seen that Danish village and can support what I say, and I can show my right hon. Friend plenty of photographs of it to illustrate my suggestion.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I think we all want to join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) on moving this Motion, on the way in which he did it and also on having chosen this subject for debate. It is, as he said, a somewhat narrow subject, but nevertheless it is one, I think, of vital importance to the whole of the country.
My hon. Friend, perhaps because he was trying to compress his remarks into as short a time as possible, I think conveyed a slightly wrong impression in referring to there being 62 of these monuments in Wiltshire. That is the number which the Ancient Monuments Board suggested last year should be scheduled. I think the figure of existing scheduled monuments is about 400, and there are probably 300 more ancient monuments in Wiltshire which are worthy of scheduling.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, the interest in this subject is not confined to those hon. Members who have constituency interests. I think the importance of the area consists in the fact that that was the area which was the meeting point of the two main streams of immigration into this country many thousands of years ago. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) in treating dates with reserve, but I suppose it was about two thousand years before Christ that the stream of immigration from southern Europe and the stream of immigration from the Baltic across Germany converged in Wiltshire. The Baltic and German immigrants came across Holland to East Anglia, and then, following the Icknield Way, remained in the area which has been discussed today. It is obviously an area of quite outstanding archaeological interest.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon put Stonehenge into the right perspective by contrast with Avebury, and I wish that the public 1565 would realise that Avebury is so much more important than the much better known monument at Stonehenge. I would ask the Minister to tell us what his plans are for Stonehenge. I do not share the apprehension of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) about the proposal of the Ancient Monuments Board to re-erect certain of the stones. I think it quite clear from the Loggan drawings that it will be possible to re-erect the trilithon in almost, if not exactly, its original place. The fact that stones in the outer circle fell as recently as 1899 suggests that it will be possible to re-erect them with reasonable certitude of putting them in their original position.
Of Avebury, I think it would be true to say that a good deal of the original damage has now been repaired. I hope the Minister will tell us that he is pressing on with the necessary work of repair. I would support my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon in pleading for more generous treatment for Avebury not only so that the necessary repairs can be effected but also so that further deterioration can be avoided.
So far as other monuments are concerned, and particularly the barrows to which some hon. Members have referred, damage is still continuing, unfortunately, and the rate of damage may be expedited during the next few years unless some positive action is taken by the Minister. We have been reminded today how public opinion was aroused by what happened at Manton Down and to the Normanton Barrow, and I think that the House is entitled to claim some credit for the fact that a number of hon. Members during the last few years have helped to concentrate public opinion on the problem. I would mention especially my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), who was a most persistent questioner of the Minister at the time of the damage to which I have referred. The hon. Member for East Bournemouth, and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) also has been active about this matter, and we enjoyed his speech today.
In common with other hon. Members, I would say how disappointed I feel that the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) should not have found it possible to be here to carry on the work which his predecessor, Mr. Christopher Hollis, used 1566 to do in this House so effectively. Mr. Hollis has always been most helpful and wise upon these subjects, and I should have liked to have thought that the constituents of Devizes were to be as well represented in this Parliament as they were in the last one.
The anxiety expressed on a number of occasions in the past on this subject was, I think, fully justified when we read the Report of the Ancient Monuments Board for last year. I suppose it would be true to say that there are three main causes of damage. The first is vandalism, which has always taken place. It no doubt results from some deep-rooted psychological cause, or just plain common ignorance. At any rate, it is not nowadays the kind of vandalism that occurred in the days of John Evelyn who, visiting Stonehenge, spent a night at an inn the landlord of which said he always lent a hammer to his guests so that they could chip away a little bit of Stonehenge and take it with them as a keepsake. Vandalism, of course, still continues, and I suppose only education and growing appreciation can end it.
The second cause of damage is change in the physical circumstances of an area because of rehousing schemes, industrial development, or requirements of the Service Departments. The third cause of damage is the new methods of cultivation, to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred. Now that we have much more deep ploughing, the use of bulldozers and other mechanical aids, it is clear that the threat to barrows and other ancient monuments is increasing as the days go by.
What is to be done about this very important problem? Both today and over the last two years we have had a number of suggestions about action which the Minister could usefully take. I know that some of them have been accepted by the Minister, but it might be helpful if we recapitulated the suggestions made and gave the Minister an opportunity of making a comprehensive statement about the steps which his Department has taken.
I might deal first with the suggestions made by the Ancient Monuments Board. The first was that there should be some sign erected upon these monuments. I join with the hon. Member for Gravesend in saying how effective the method used at Carnac is in this connection. I do 1567 not share the views of some hon. Members that sign-posting of that kind would have a deleterious effect on the amenities of the monument itself. I had expected two years ago that the Minister was going ahead with the proposal, because Mr. St. John O'Neil, whose death many of us regard as a personal loss, made a speech at Trowbridge on 4th October last year in which he referred to the Minister's intention to erect signposts of this kind. They were to be non-corrosive metal plates on posts 5 ft. or 6 ft. high. I should like to know why that plan, which appeared to be accepted at the time, has since been abandoned.
In addition, the Ancient Monuments Board suggested that more frequent notice should be given to the owners and occupiers of land on which ancient monuments are sited, and that there should be a strengthening of the present system of having county correspondents. The Board also suggested that there should be close liaison with the Ordnance Survey and other Government Departments, particularly Service Departments, and that the Ministry of Agriculture should include a reference to this problem in the circulars which it sends out to landowners.
Mr. Grimes, the Secretary of the Council for British Archaeology, suggested some time ago that the six-month period after which the Minister cannot prosecute for damage to scheduled monuments should be extended to give the Ministry greater latitude to take punitive action against people who have done damage to such monuments. He also suggested that there should be much more frequent inspection than is possible at the moment. That links very well with the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Bournemouth, and Christchurch that amateur archaeologists should be called in to help in this connection. Another suggestion came from the Clerk of Tarrant Gunville Parish Council, who proposed that the Minister should send out leaflets to parish councils emphasising the importance of this problem and directing them to keep an eye on ancient monuments in their areas.
On 23rd August last year a special correspondent, writing in The Times, suggested that scheduling should be more extensive than it is at the moment, and 1568 that for this purpose the Minister should appoint more inspectors of ancient monuments. The Times argued that this was very necessary indeed because if at present a monument is not scheduled it is not State-protected and therefore no legal action can be taken. The Times concluded with the remark that the work of scheduling is now a race against time.
I hope that in the light of these suggestions which I have summarised the Minister will be able to tell us what steps have been taken and which of the recommendations he has felt able to accept. When his predecessor, on 27th September last year, opened an excellent exhibition arranged by The Times he made one of the most poignant observations. He said:I am embarrassed because there is so much good I could do and I have so little to do it with.That is at the very foundation of the problem which we are discussing today. On the same occasion, Sir Mortimer Wheeler remarked that the Ancient Monuments Act, 1931, and its administration are the best in the world. I think that all of us would agree both with the aspirations of the Minister on that occasion and with the tribute which Sir Mortimer Wheeler felt it proper to pay. None of us in the House would for a moment dream of criticising either the Ancient Monuments Board or the inspectors of ancient monuments.
I had occasion, when discussing the Historic Buildings Bill two or three years ago, to pay a tribute to the inspectors of ancient monuments, and I should like to do so again this morning. They are doing a wonderful job, unfortunately with too small a staff and too little money, though I want to pay tribute to the Minister for the fact that the amount which his Department is spending on the work is more this year than ever in the history of the Department. The inspectors deserve encouragement of that kind, and certainly need more financial help than they are receiving at the moment.
I started by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon on the way in which he opened the debate. I conclude by hoping that the debate will have served a useful purpose in bringing the problem to the attention of the public, in enabling us to congratulate the 1569 Minister's inspectors, and perhaps in giving the Minister some strength and incentive to fight a little harder against the dead hand of the Exchequer.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Nigel Birch)
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has been almost weighed down by tributes today, but I feel that I should add mine. I thought that his study of the subject had been thorough, and that he was extremely well briefed. As we all know, it is much easier to be briefed when one is a Minister than when one is a back bencher. The hon. Member's points were extremely good and I shall try to answer them.
I was very glad that the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) paid a tribute to the work that has been done in connection with ancient monuments, because it is rarely that we have a chance of debating this subject. We get a few Questions, but naturally and rightly, they are generally directed to something that is wrong. The ninety-nine cases out of a hundred where things are going right are never mentioned at all.
Fortunately, this is a non-party question, and I should like to say how well the work on ancient monuments is done and how much I have been impressed by it. When I go about the country on Ministry of Works' business, or on holidays, or even to make a political speech, I always try to see some of the monuments nearby which we have in our guardianship. I am always impressed by how well they are kept, and also by the custodians. Many of these men, who do not get very high pay, lead dedicated lives. They live for the monuments which they look after. They know the history of the monuments and they have a flow of excellent information for visitors. They are not easy men to get or to replace, but I will come to that point again in a minute.
This debate deals with south-west England, and I want to put the matter in its right perspective. The number of monuments which the Ministry of Works has in guardianship and is entirely responsible for preserving, managing and maintaining, is 600 in England, Scotland and Wales. Those which are listed, or scheduled, however, amount to 9,000. This means that the owner should not do anything about them without giving us 1570 three months' notice. In south-west England we have nearly 60 monuments in guardianship, and nearly 2,000 are listed. There has been speculation about the number listed in Wiltshire; for anyone who is interested, the number is 529.
The hon. Member for Rossendale referred to expenditure. There has been a tendency for expenditure on ancient monuments to increase. In 1945–1946, it was £67,000; in 1950–1951 it was £267,000; and in the current year it will be £522,000. Four-fifths of this expenditure is on maintenance, repairs and excavations. As has been pointed out in the debate, the number of qualified inspectors and assistant inspectors on this work in the Ministry of Works is not great, amounting, in all, to 18.
Much of this debate has been devoted to Avebury, so I will deal with it first. It is not possible to give an exact figure of attendances because, as has been said, there is no charge made for viewing the circle, but only for looking at the museum. Therefore, only those who visit the latter are recorded. Before the war the museum was visited by between 6,000 and 7,000 people a year. So far this year about 11,500 people have visited it, so attendance is increasing.
Complaint has been made about the state of Avebury; I think that some of it has been a little overdone. The difficulty has been that one of the custodians died in May this year and so far we have not been able to replace him. We are taking as active steps as possible, and we are trying to find accommodation, since it will only be possible to get a replacement in that way.
I was asked why there have been no recent excavations there. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) had the right answer. We intend to start again on a limited scheme of digging—and I say "limited" advisedly, because it would be wrong at such a great monument to do the whole work now. It is not a question of money. It is not even a question of qualified staff. The main reason for hastening slowly in these matters is the rapid advance that is taking place in the science of archaeology. In the last twenty-five years there has been a great improvement in excavation methods and in sorting out the different layers. The technique is associated particularly with Sir Mortimer Wheeler. I 1571 am told that as result of Professor Piggot excavating one stone hole at Stonehenge in 1954 more was found out than by excavating a whole quadrant in 1920.
Then there is an interesting development known as Carbon 14 dating. This consists of measuring the radioactive decay in carbon, and this means that we can measure the age of wood. There has also been a considerable advance in the examination of animal bones, by which we can tell at what time of the year a site was occupied.
I do not know whether it is in order to criticise politicians, but if it is I think we can say about them that they tend sometimes to take short views. It is refreshing to talk to an archaeologist who takes the great sweep of history and thinks in thousands of years. If we take the long view, it seems a mistake to hurry too fast in these matters; and we do not intend to do so.
The hon. Member for Swindon raised the question of publicity for Avebury. It is in our guide to the area and it will also appear in what I hope will prove to be a good guide which Country Life will produce next spring, and which will include ancient monuments and historic buildings. This should prove useful for tourists. Avebury was also shown recently on television, which has done a lot for archaeology, since great interest has been stimulated by various television programmes.
On the question of the proposed bypass around Avebury, its course has been agreed by the Ministry, though I cannot say when work will start. However, it will be done in due course.
Several hon. Members mentioned the question of leaving Avebury village standing. That is an interesting suggestion. I would not like to pronounce on it finally today, but we have plenty of time because there is no question of pulling it down. Buildings have only been removed when they were falling down, and we have twenty or thirty years to reflect upon this problem. There is a great deal to be said for leaving some of the village there. Avebury Manor was also mentioned. This is in private occupation and is well-kept. I understand that it is to be opened to the public. What will happen in the future is a 1572 hypothetical question which we need not deal with at the moment.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Will the Minister answer the question I asked: was the house offered to the nation, either to the National Trust or to the Ministry, and turned down?
§ Mr. Birch
Negotiations took place with Mr. Keiller, but they did not result in the nation taking it over.
The hon. Member for Swindon asked about the attendance at Stonehenge and the financial results. In 1947–48 80,000 people were there. Now the attendance is running at a rate of between 160,000 and 170,000 a year, so it has more or less doubled over the last six or seven years which is satisfactory. Receipts are between £6,000 and £7,000 a year, and outgoings between £2,000 and £3,000 a year, and therefore we make a profit at Stonehenge. It is the only monument in the guardianship of my Ministry which makes a profit; it is unique.
The question of the staff at Stonehenge was raised. We are short of one custodian there. We have a house for him, and at the moment we are interviewing candidates. I believe that the problem there can be solved.
We must have a fence round Stonehenge to prevent damage. The fence has been approved by the Ancient Monuments Board. It would be a mistake to have a sunken fence, for it is undesirable archaeologically to dig round Stonehenge for that purpose. I understand that an underground tool shed will be tacked on to the lavatory which has been built, and the existing tool shed will be removed soon.
An important question was raised which concerns the recommendation of the Ancient Monuments Board about the trilithon. This is a very important matter and we do not want to rush it. Stonehenge has been there for some time and will be there for some time in the future. I intend to adopt the recommendation made by the Board. It involves certain limited movements of stones and the re-erection of one trilithon. It will not be done next year. It requires to be very carefully planned, as it is a very difficult technical business, and we want to embark upon it with the greatest possible care and to be 1573 certain that we are not making any mistakes.
Many hon. Members have spoken about long barrows and round barrows, and damage done to them. It is true, and deeply regrettable, that a certain amount of damage has been done, though it is fair to say that most of it was done during the war. As to the scale of the problem, 2,000 barrows are listed, and 400 of them are in Wiltshire. The list is being added to all the time, and we have made a concentrated effort in Wiltshire.
What can be done to stop the damage, and what is being done? The first and most important thing is that there should be mutual information, so that everyone shall know about the barrows, not only owners, but local authorities and so on. We have taken great trouble to cooperate with local planning officers, and there has been very good co-operation with my inspectors. There has also been very good co-operation with agricultural executive committees, a matter referred to by the hon. Member for Rossendale. These committees are now sending round, with the forms connected with ploughing grants, reminders about the importance of sparing barrows. The committees are furnished with the lists of the scheduled monuments. This has proved extremely effective.
We also do everything we can to cooperate with local archaeological societies, and we have county correspondents working directly with my Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments. We have recently gone into the matter of co-operation with the Ordnance Survey very carefully, and we think that our co-operation with that Department is as good as it can be. Some hon. Members have spoken as if the Ordnance Survey could do everything. Very often those who are the correspondents of the Archaeological Department of the Survey are the very people who are our own county correspondents. The real reason why the Ordnance Survey cannot do everything is that our work starts where it leaves off. The Ordnance Survey records the monument on the map and may inform us, but our job is to list it and to try to ensure that it is preserved.
There are two other things that we have done about which I am particularly 1574 keen. Several hon. Members have mentioned the importance of reminding people about the monuments. We have an arrangement now by which people will be notified, not every year, I fear, but certainly every five years or less.
There is something else that we have recently instituted. Not everyone agreed with it, but I am sure it is right. When we schedule a monument, if it is at all possible we visit the people on the site, point out the monument to them and tell them why it is important. The system in the past was simply to give them a printed form. The key to the problem is to obtain the interest and co-operation of the owners or the farmers who may do the ploughing. That is the only way in which any good can be done.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
If the right hon. Gentleman decides to signpost monuments, will he consider not merely saying that they are ancient monuments, but giving a fairly simple description of what they represent for the benefit of casual visitors, or soldiers driving tanks, which have in the past caused a great deal of damage?
§ Mr. Birch
I was about to say a word on that subject and to explain what is really going on. Labelling is a difficult question to decide. The hon. Member for Rossendale mentioned the late Mr. St. John O'Neil. Mr. O'Neil was violently opposed to the labelling of monuments. The reason it is a difficult problem is that 9,000 of these places are scheduled and it would take a very long time, as well as being expensive, to label them all. Also, labels are easily removed. If, therefore, someone sees something which is not labelled, when it is known that the practice is to label monuments, he may say "This is fair game".
Labelling would occupy a tremendous amount of the time of my inspectors and other people, who might be better employed elsewhere, and also cost money, and I am not certain that it would not lead to worse difficulties than we have now. My hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said that he had previously liked the idea of labelling, but had now decided that he did not like it any more. I do not absolutely rule out labelling, but I feel doubtful whether, on balance, it is the right thing to do.
1575 I was asked whether some extension could be made of the period during which proceedings may he taken. In the 1953 Act the period was, in fact, extended from six months to twelve months, so some improvement has been made.
I have tried to deal with the very large number of points which have been raised. If there are any which I have not covered, I will write to the hon. Members concerned. I should like to conclude by saying how grateful I am to the hon. Member for Swindon and also to the hon. Member for Rossendale for paying a very deserved tribute to the work that men in the Ministry of Works have done over many years.
§ Mr. Parker
Could the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question of screening Larkhill Camp, which is an eyesore in relation to Stonehenge? Has his Ministry considered seeking the collaboration of the War Office in, for example, planting a belt of trees?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to make further provision for the maintenance and excavation of ancient monuments in South-Western England, in particular at the Stone Circle at Avebury, at sites in the neighbourhood and at Stonehenge.