The officially sanctioned vandalism of the Nene Valley has continued unabated in 2018, with the extension of Warth Park seemingly unstoppable due to the actions of a few councillors (see full details here) on the East Northants Planning Committee approving the application by Roxhill. The ancient bridleway of Meadow Lane has become a showcase of the latest innovations from JCB and the green fields either side of the lane are being readied for thousands of tons of concrete and steel.
During the planning process, many of the objectors stated the site contained an ancient neolithic henge that, although discovered and catalogued in the 1980’s would be lost forever if the planned development went ahead. During the weekend of 14th April 2018, Winvic Construction announced via Twitter the 4000 year old henge was being excavated and archaeologists were on site. The tweet made no reference as to the fate of the site but we can assume they are not contracted to construct a visitors centre!
The boastful tweet was hastily deleted by Winvic Construction but it soon spread across social media and many Raunds residents who may not have previously engaged with the Warth Park development were angered that such a find would soon be buried under a Howden distribution centre and car park. Local websites such as Raunds Town Voice quickly followed up on the news and their articles, together with many Raunds and Stanwick community groups on Facebook were filled with comments from concerned residents.
On Wednesday 18th April BBC Radio Northampton sent a crew to broadcast live from the site which featured on the Annabel Amos morning show. Tom Percival interviewed residents who explained the significance of such an archaeological site to the community, Councillor Dudley Hughes described why he had voted against the planning approval and his thoughts on how it should be preserved for future generations. The BBC also captured stunning video of the henge in the morning sun using a drone to fly over the area. This can be seen on the BBC News website HERE.
In the week that followed Winvic Construction’s deleted tweet many concerned and interested residents took to the skies to get more photographs and video of the henge. The 4000 year old circle which measures 100 metres in diameter with a smaller inner circle have captured the imagination of the public, especially as they may soon be lost forever under the ‘profitable big boxes’ as the developer coldly describes them.
On Monday 23rd April, ITV Anglia News visited the area adjacent to the henge to discuss the archaeological discovery and listen to the views of local people including pupils from Raunds Windmill School, Cllr Dudley Hughes and Druids from Northampton! The consensus was that had more people known about the historic value of the area, more objections to the expansion of Warth Park would have been voiced during the planning process.
Raunds Henge – Let’s Hear the Views of the ‘Little People’
History without context is nothing but dry facts. Without the literary context, Shakespeare’s house is merely another middle class merchant’s house. Orchard Side in Olney is just another flat-fronted brick building with lots of windows, if you don’t know that it was once the home of the great eighteenth century poet, William Cowper, neighboured by the home of John Newton of John Newton, author of Amazing Grace. Just another building if you don’t know that it celebrates the highly skilled lace-making craft carried out by cottage dwellers.
Much of our heritage is from the little people, the workers without whom palaces and great estates could not have been created and managed. They didn’t live in palaces and manors designed to withstand the ages, unless as servants. They farmed small patches of land to feed their families. Their houses were what they could build from local materials. Yet the majority of our ancestors were little people and they, as much as the moneyed elite, shaped our environment and our culture. If we restrict our view of heritage to the stateliest homes and most massive structures, we are saying that the little people don’t matter, that only the rich deserve our attention.
Northamptonshire sits in the middle of England, linking the urbanised south east with the north of the country. Many Roman roads are routed through the county, and these are pre-dated by tracks and ridgeways dating back to the Iron Age. Alongside the A45 runs the old highway which was once the main road to London. It’s still a bridleway, though it’s history is little publicised, and its link with Raunds, Meadow Lane, is under threat. And with all these linking routes are the relics of the people who lived beside them and travelled along them.
Northamptonshire is fast losing this rich heritage. Development is inevitable, but not at the expense of those who have grown up and brought up families in the area, those who have moved there because they have chosen that rich environment. People need work, and need places to live, but the development they need is not the speculative ‘profitable big boxes’, the vast automated warehouses requiring few workers, which are favoured by predatory developers such as Roxhill / Sergo and their tenant Howdens. Local people don’t want to lose their history to a tin and concrete industrial estate.
Much of what has been published recently has reflected an archaeological perspective which compares Raunds Henge to Stonehenge and similar monuments, with less attention to the perspective of the little people whose local heritage it is, little people who want their children to have the chance to understand that their history goes back four thousand years and more. Raunds Henge may not rival their scale but it is just as important in the local context as Stonehenge is in the national context.
There is local concern that East Northants District Council is belittling the find, whose preservation might obstruct the permission they gave to replace prime agricultural land and panoramic views with noise and light pollution and traffic gridlock.
Just for a change, let’s hear from one of the little people, a small farmer whose land is bordered by Meadow Lane and the old road to London, someone who was fascinated by the earlier investigation of Raunds Henge back in the 1980s. We need these memories because, let’s not forget, back in the 1980s, there was no internet to capture the views of little people.
June Longhurst saw both the first and the recent excavations. Even the early excavation showed an impressive piece of Neolithic history. She remembers:
At the end of March I had the opportunity to see the progress at the archaeological dig uncovering the Henge.
I was viewing from the high point looking south over the area.
I observed a semi circle of symmetrical holes. Each one a rectangle approximately 3 foot by 18 inches and spaced approximately 10 foot apart.
As I looked to the right the circular shape was even and precise. To the left there was a deliberate deviation to the curve forming an inward bulge.
An archaeologist explained how these holes were dug out by antler picks, she steps into the hole to point to the straight short sides of the rectangle (I notice how stony this exposed area is) then she indicates to the sloping long sides and the trench at the bottom explaining this was where the stones would have been placed. She explained that the stones had been removed and there was no sign of them. Then pointing behind the ring of holes explained this is where the ditch would have been with a mound behind.
Pointing to the inner circle not yet exposed suggested that the centre would have been a mound.
We discussed the grandeur of this monument and how magnificent it must have looked and she suggested that it would have stood for a thousand years prior to the ditches being filled which appears to have been done at one time not just weather erosion and probably this is when the stones were removed.
I am therefore bemused at the statement saying there are only ditches at the site and has never contained standing stones.
I also find it incongruous that these holes have already been filled in. Whilst I can understand that weather will deteriorate holes very quickly I do think that the full exposed Henge should have been extensively photographed from the air so that a complete record could be made.
Raunds people value Raunds Henge. It’s history, but it’s also an opportunity to retain the character of the town, to attract visitors, and to create employment opportunities other than the mindless serving of robots in bleak tin sheds.