Mr. C. Jarvis
Planning and Countryside Unit
North Yorkshire County Council
County Hall
Northallerton
North Yorkshire
DL7 8AH

Dear Mr. Jarvis,

PLANNING APPLICATION TO EXTEND NOSTERFIELD QUARRY AT LADYBRIDGE

The following comments represent a response to the results of the additional archaeological investigation recently completed at Ladybridge Farm in support of Tarmac’s planning application to extend the Nosterfield Quarry. As such they complement my two previous letters of objection, and similarly, refer exclusively to Thornborough’s cultural heritage. My comments are informed by my detailed knowledge and understanding of the Thornborough landscape, based on nearly ten years research into its remarkable archaeology, and my professional capacity, as a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, with an active research interest in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain.

The planning application to quarry at Ladybridge proposes the destruction of a significant part of Thornborough’s ‘sacred landscape’. The additional archaeological investigation at Ladybridge, and its interpretation in the report, has done nothing to alleviate my objections as expressed in the original letters. To the contrary, the work appears to confirm Ladybridge’s cultural significance. It is therefore regrettable that the report, like previous submissions from the applicant, fails to appreciate the significance of the results from Ladybridge Farm by offering a selective and distorted interpretation. I wish to emphasise the following

  1. The results confirm, as previously predicted, that Ladybridge was an important area of occupation. This additional 4% sample produced no less than 8 pits with Grooved Ware and 9 undated features, despite the trenches being located in areas which produced fewer surface flints than the south west quadrant of the field. By extrapolation, the area in question can be expected, in its entirety, to produce over 200 features. The close association with the ‘wet’ area to the north only adds to the area’s significance. It has long been known that polished stone axes, a prestige object exchanged over long distances, were deliberately deposited in rivers, streams, and marshes during the Neolithic, and it is consequently no coincidence that the only polished stone axes from Thornborough have all been found in the vicinity of the ‘wet’ area around Nosterfield. There is, then, the tantalising prospect that at Ladybridge we are dealing with occupation areas linked to both the henges and the deposition of polished stone axes. This would be a first for British prehistory and highlights the importance of preserving the area in situ for the benefit of future researchers.

  2. The total count of known later Neolithic features from Ladybridge compares extremely favourably with other ‘sacred landscapes’, of which the best investigated is the Stonehenge landscape. As mentioned in my previous letter, the most comparable information from the latter is across King Barrow Ridge, sited under a kilometre to the east of Stonehenge itself, where excavation located as few as 5 pits, and on Wilsford Down, where extensive fieldwork only located 1 small pit. In other words, there are fewer than at Ladybridge, where we have an archaeological resource unparalleled anywhere else in the UK, sited next to one of the country’s largest and most impressive later Neolithic monument complexes.

  3. Despite this the applicant continues to argue that the “pits recorded on Ladybridge Farm are common features within a landscape of this period” (pg51). But they come to such a conclusion by not comparing like with like. Remarkably, no mention is made of the above evidence from Stonehenge, or indeed from any other ‘sacred landscape’, information which is freely available through publication. Rather, they refer to the evidence from Rudston, where the only henge is a small site located around 5 kilometres from the known later Neolithic pit groups; Sewerby, where the majority of features contain pottery likely to be earlier than Grooved Ware and where, to the best of my knowledge, there is no henge; Melton, where again, and to the best of my knowledge, there is no henge; and finally, Milfield, where the henge is atypical and has been radiocarbon dated to late in the currency of these monuments. Not comparing like with like matters because people were highly mobile during the later Neolithic and we know that many different types of places and landscapes existed in third millennium Britain. Hence, the landscapes to which the report refers would have been used and understood very differently to the ‘sacred landscape’ at Thornborough. And surely, as a nation, we are interested in preserving the best examples of such diversity?

  4. It is also stated that “There is also no reason to suggest that similar pits do not exist in and around the monument complex on Thornborough moor” (pg 42), but fail to say what this assumption is based on. This seems another instance of special-pleading given that my own work at Thornborough has found no indication of pits and that investigations at other later Neolithic ‘sacred landscapes’ have highlighted the rarity of associated contemporary occupation pits.

  5. Special-pleading is also used to undermine the possibility of a chronological relationship between the Thornborough henges and the pits at Ladybridge (pg 53-4). They continue to argue that the henges are late, based on a single radiocarbon date which I have already dismissed in print as being unreliable, whilst completely ignoring that henge building nationally is known to have ended by the final Neolithic. The charcoal from which the Thornborough date is taken is likely to be intrusive, as I am arguing in my Thornborough research report, and there is no reason to think that their inner ditches and banks do not generally date to the period of ‘classic’ henge construction between 2800-2200 BC. Unsurprisingly given the close link often drawn between henges and Grooved Ware, this pottery has the same timespan. In other words, there is a high likelihood that the Ladybridge pits with this pottery and the henges are indeed contemporary with one another (rather than the henges being later than the pits as implied by the applicant). Put another way, the pits are very much part of the monument’s wider setting.

Finally, I would note that the applicant is still to outline their publications strategy for what they describe in a previous report as a “unique opportunity to discuss the changing use of a wide tract of landscape from the Mesolithic to the modern day”. After all these years, and for a landscape of such significance, this is unacceptable.

I therefore call upon NYCC to reject this planning application and embrace the alternative and far more positive visions being proposed by the landscape’s other stakeholders. It is imperative that the mistakes of the past are not repeated by granting permission for the further destruction of a landscape of both national and international importance.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Jan Harding
Senior Lecturer in Archaeology
Director of Graduate Studies