Mr. C. Jarvis
Planning and Countryside Unit
North Yorkshire County Council
Dear Mr. Jarvis,
PLANNING APPLICATION TO EXTEND NOSTERFIELD QUARRY AT LADYBRIDGE
The following comments refer exclusively to Thornborough’s cultural heritage, reflecting my professional status as a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Newcastle. I have an active research interest in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain — and have authored a large number of papers and books on the subject. The below draws on my detailed knowledge and understanding of the Thornborough landscape, based on nearly ten years research into its remarkable archaeology.
Thornborough is now widely regarded as one of Britain’s premier Neolithic and Bronze Age ‘sacred landscapes’, representing the largest known earthmoving exercise undertaken during the period. Its design and layout is unique — regionally, nationally and internationally — and the landscape’s future value to the educational sector and local economy could be significant. The planning application to quarry at Ladybridge proposes the destruction of a significant part of this ‘sacred landscape’. It should be strongly opposed on the following grounds:
It is stated that excavation of the area of the proposed quarry extension “will have a low impact on the broad landscape…..since a large part of the area has already been redeveloped in this way” (Non-technical survey, 72). This statement fails to recognise that an even larger part of Thornborough’s ‘sacred landscape’ has not undergone such redevelopment, most especially in its eastern half, between Chapel Hill and Upsland to the west and east respectively, and as far northwards as Ing’s Goit and as far southwards as Mire Barf Farm. Given that Ladybridge geographically falls within this area, it is impossible to conclude that the quarry extension “will have a low impact on the broad landscape”. Rather, it would represent the marked encroachment of quarrying into an area which, according to the applicant’s own admission, contains major prehistoric settlement concentrations (Non-technical survey, 78; Environmental Statement, III, 122). The presence of a possible Neolithic monument (cursus) at Kirklington suggests that the ‘sacred landscape’ may have extended even further eastward.
It is stated that “As yet very little is known of the settlement sites” (Environmental Statement, III.95). In fact, the archaeological record at Thornborough has produced significant evidence — largely the result of research-driven fieldwork — as to its prehistoric use and occupation. So much so, that Thornborough is currently one of Britain’s best-understood Neolithic and Bronze Age landscapes. The evidence, produced by myself over the last ten years, indicates that Ladybridge is likely to have been a place of special importance during the Neolithic. The most south-westerly part of the proposed quarry extension has, out of a total of fifty-three fieldwalked areas at Thornborough, produced the second highest overall lithic and tool density. Furthermore, the evidence recently produced by fieldwalking at Ladybridge by Mike Griffiths and Associates highlights the full extent of this lithic scatter. These results, which were fully available prior to the application’s submission, demonstrate that Ladybridge is the site of a major area of later Neolithic occupation, and indeed, that it was the only part of the gravel plateau used in this manner.
The application unhelpfully defines this known lithic scatter at Ladybridge in the ‘C’ category, or as “Archaeological sites of uncertain character or date (Environmental Statement, III.95). Yet the number of later Neolithic flints from its ploughsoil, and the presence of over eighty Neolithic pits immediately across the road in the Nosterfield Quarry, suggest it would be better defined in the ‘B’ category, or as a “Known archaeological site”. Its archaeological value can not be over-estimated. Extensive research-driven investigations, both at Thornborough and elsewhere, have demonstrated how most later Neolithic flint is found in the ploughsoil unassociated with archaeological features. But in the south-easterly part of the Nosterfield Quarry, and in all likelihood across the road at Ladybridge, material was being deposited in pits and other contemporary features. This can not be concluded for any other part of the Thornborough landscape, including the extensive scatters immediately to the east of Chapel Hill. It suggests that the builders and users of the henges were occupying this area in a different way to elsewhere and that Ladybridge has a unique contribution to make to understanding both Thornborough’s archaeology and settlement patterns in later Neolithic Britain.
The above demonstrates the applicant’s failure to consider the wider archaeological implications of their planning application.
The application claims that “The existing mineral operations have provided a rich source of information” (Environmental Statement, III.131), but despite this the quarry’s contribution to understanding Thornborough’s cultural heritage can only be described as disappointing. This directly results from a badly conceived methodology, the sometimes poor quality of fieldwork, and the ongoing failure to produce a published account of the quarry’s archaeology. It would be misguided for the shabby treatment of an archaeological landscape of regional, national and international significance to be followed with the rapid and complete destruction of what remains of the settlement area to the north of the henge complex. Rather, the important remains at Ladybridge should be physically preserved as part of a strategic management plan for Thornborough.
Archaeological methods and techniques are constantly changing and improving. The potential and value of today’s fieldwork is very much higher than investigations completed just twenty year ago. Fortunately, there is every reason to assume that future fieldwork will enable archaeologists to ask and answer an even wider range of questions, and it is for this reason that landscapes of regional, national and international significance, like Thornborough, should be protected as a resource for future generations of researchers. The rapid and total destruction of the cultural landscape at Ladybridge runs counter to this eminently sensible approach. Irrespective of whether it was investigated to the highest standards of the day, it would be impossible for archaeologists to return, to produce new evidence and to reassess current interpretations. This issue of ‘sustainability’ is essential to the management of other comparable landscapes, such as Stonehenge and Avebury, and must become equally important at Thornborough.
It is not just methods and techniques which improve — the same can be said of archaeology’s conceptual frameworks and interpretations. Stonehenge’s ‘sacred landscape’ has a long tradition of research-driven fieldwork, but despite this, it is only recently that archaeologists have begun to understand its layout and organisation: a number of publications have proposed a model whereby different activities and meanings were linked to a ‘northern’ zone, an ‘eastern’ zone, a ‘southern’ zone and a ‘western’ zone. Recent work at Thornborough also suggests a zonation of meaning and activity, but Ladybridge is all that currently remains of the ‘sacred landscape’ immediately to the north of the henges, the remainder destroyed by the Nosterfield Quarry. My earlier comments about the distinctiveness of the Neolithic remains at Ladybridge should be considered within this broader context of understanding. It emphasises the importance of preservation over large-scale destruction.
The application takes no account of setting as understood by those studying Neolithic and Bronze Age ‘sacred landscapes’, simply focusing upon present-day patterns of visibility (Environmental Statement III, 110). The available archaeological evidence suggests that the gravel plateau at Thornborough would have been largely cleared when the henges were built, existing as open grassland and without the current field boundaries, roads and buildings. Neolithic peoples using the henges are therefore likely to have enjoyed extensive views, including from, to and across Ladybridge, and my current research demonstrates that visibility was central to how Thornborough’s ‘sacred landscape’ was used and perceived. In this sense, the proposed redevelopment of Ladybridge — the only surviving section of the gravel plateau with a known later Neolithic settlement — would most definitely be to the detriment of the monument complex’s setting.
The destruction of Ladybridge would seriously detract from the enjoyment and educational value of Thornborough’s ‘sacred landscape’. If the latter is to play an important role in promoting and enhancing the region’s unique heritage — surely a priority for NYCC and other stakeholders — then the modern landscape must maintain, as close as is realistically possible, some of its original physical properties. The henges, in other words, should be understood as part of a largely open environment. That is the case for any visitor to Stonehenge, for there it is possible to visually grasp the site’s relationship with its surrounding landscape and with other monuments: and a future priority in the management of Thornborough’s gravel plateau should be a similar ‘opening-up’, in a way which is environmentally-sensitive and in accord with the needs of local farming. The planning application, by contrast, is contrary to this concern. It proposes to plant woodland, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the future visitor to appreciate the close visual relationship between Ladybridge and the henges. The establishment of a lake represents the further alienation of the modern landscape.
After many years of neglect Thornborough is finally enjoying the attention it deserves — from archaeologists, the local community, regional and national organisations, and the wider general public. And to its credit, NYCC has recently played an important role in uniting the various stakeholders. There has been a coming-together — driven by a ground-swell of agreement, goodwill and commitment — which could ensure a successful and prosperous future for Thornborough and the wider region. But NYCC should be in no doubt that quarrying at Ladybridge would act as a running sore for all presently involved in safe-guarding Thornborough’s future and undo recent progress. It would be widely condemned as against the broader interests of archaeology and the heritage sector in Yorkshire, the United Kingdom and the European Community; as contrary to the democratic and economic rights of the local community; and as an act of vandalism which offers nothing to the region’s environment and educational sector. In short, it has the potential to condemn this most important of places to a future which benefits nobody.
The above demonstrates how the proposed destruction of the cultural landscape at Ladybridge would be profoundly detrimental to understanding, managing and presenting Thornborough’s remarkable archaeology.
Dr. Jan Harding
Senior Lecturer in Archaeology
Director of Graduate Studies