The Isle of Raasay is in sharp focus in Scottish culture. It is the place whose cleared settlements informed Sorley MacLean’s important Gaelic poem Hallaig. It is the landscape where Calum MacLeod spent ten years in the 1960s and 1970s hand-building a road to keep his community connected.
Torbay will mean only one thing to most people: holidays! In Torre Abbey, however, the area holds a gem of monastic archaeology. The site was founded quite late, in 1196, by the Premonstratensians (reformed Augustinian canons). When it was closed in 1539, its value of almost £400 made it the wealthiest house of the monastic order in England. The site took a standard route after the Dissolution, with the cloister ranges converted into a fine residence for Sir Hugh Pollard.
They are the biggest relics of their age, and there are more than a hundred of them in Britain, yet because they do not easily fit into the modern view of post-Roman society – stripped of its hordes of rampaging Saxons – linear earthworks, or dykes, have become almost invisible.
It was said that astronomy was divided into two: study of the Crab Nebula and the rest. Similarly, in British prehistory, the Beaker Phenomenon with all its expansive bling outshines all others. The last decade has seen an almost nova-like explosion of impressive, Beaker-led, wonderfully illustrated texts, memoirs, and catalogues – notably Woodward and Hunter’s bracer and well-furnished grave (‘bling’) volumes and the Amesbury Archer monograph. Truly our beaker runneth over.
Anyone visiting Hadrian’s Wall is well advised to take a guidebook. There are many available, but one of the most useful is Guy de la Bédoyère’s handy volume. Though a slim book, it is packed full of detail.
The importance of the Clayton Collection extends significantly beyond its home ground of Chesters (Cilurnum), though the focus of the present volume is on the material from Cilurnum. That is set in the context of Clayton’s ownership of, and interest in, the site; his position in the tradition of 19th-century antiquarianism; the formation of the Collection; and its subsequent development.
As the author herself asks, why do we need another book on Hadrian’s Wall? The question is conclusively answered over the course of the book’s 400 pages. It includes the standard sections on, for example, the history, construction, and purpose of the Wall, but it digs deeper than many volumes into the Wall’s management.
Archaeologists do not often get the chance to excavate Hadrian’s Wall. The monument is well protected by law (rightly so) and spared from development, meaning that invasive investigations are few and far between. While that is good news for the preservation of the Wall, it can make resolving long-standing questions about, say, construction or chronology difficult. The exposure of a length of Wall at Wallsend between 1988 and 2015 in a series of excavations ahead of the creation of an archaeological park was therefore an exciting prospect.
Although attempts have been made to strip away later activity and present Roman – usually specifically Hadrianic – ruins to modern visitors, traces of the Wall’s afterlife still endure. Such sparse survivals, though, do not reflect the rich legacy of Hadrian’s Wall. That is the story that Richard Hingley, Professor of Archaeology at Durham University, sets out to tell in a fascinating volume that leads us from the Roman period to the 21st century.
David Breeze’s new book on Hadrian’s Wall began as a series of lectures to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Even wonderful lectures do not always translate well to print, but there are no such fears with this volume, a (forgive the pun) breezy tour of the Wall and its study.