Christmas time, mostly definitely wine...

It’s Christmas, and here at AH we’ve been looking into the origins of the festive period.

The concept of a celebration around the winter solstice, as with so many other ‘traditions’, predates the Christian era, probably by millennia. In pre-Christian Northern Europe, the period was known as Jul, still preserved in the English language as Yule, and the custom of burning the Yule Log goes back to at least the Vikings, who traditionally brought in the Yule Log and drank mead whilst it burned, celebrating the return of light after the prolonged darkness of the Scandinavian winter. During the medieval period, an entire tree was sometimes brought into the house with great ceremony. The tree/alcohol traditional is of course still prevalent today!

In the UK, many of our earliest monuments are aligned to the rising midwinter sun, including Stonehenge, pointing to traditions going back many thousands of years to the earliest farmers and settlements in this country.

The Romans knew the season as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which translates roughly as ‘the (re)birth of the unconquered Sun’, and through a period of sacrifice and feasting, the people celebrated the prospect of the lengthening of the days and the return of summer. The Roman Pope Julius I chose December 25th to celebrate the birth of Jesus primarily because that date already hosted two related festivals of birth: the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, and the celebration of the birth of the god Mithras, known as the ‘Sun of Righteousness’.

Christmas decorations too have their roots in earlier pre-Christian traditions. The Romans were said to have decorated living trees with fragments of metal and images of Bacchus, god of wine and revelry, whilst twelve candles on a tree honoured the sun god Mithras. The writings of Tertullian (c. AD155-240) suggest early Christians imitated their pagan neighbours by decorating their homes with candles and laurel at the turn of the year.

Many more historical analogies are available and well worth a bit of online, or perish the thought, library research! 

We at Armour Heritage wish you all a peaceful and happy season, whatever your belief system (or lack thereof), and a prosperous and successful 2016.

Posted on December 21, 2015 .

Heritage Funding and Support

It has recently been reported that, as part of a wide range of cuts to services, Lancashire County Council have tabled plans to cut their heritage services, including provision of an historic environment record (HER), and curatorial input into planning applications.

The requirement for archaeological assessment, survey, excavation and protection is a statutory requirement, set out clearly in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which follows broadly the principles set out in the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (The Valetta Treaty), and to which the UK is a signatory. The need for a Local Planning Authority to maintain and have access to a functioning HER as part of this process is clearly set out in the NPPF (para. 169). LCC’s current proposals effectively indicate that they intend to proceed with a planning system which employs the selective and subjective imposition of national principles and policies. This would leave the authority open to numerous challenges, ranging from grounds of non-compliance with national policy, to having the validity of individual application decisions queried and overturned. 

This could also affect later stages of the development process. The NPPF and its predecessors have been relatively effective at identifying archaeological risk at an early stage, allowing effective mitigation through fieldwork or design iteration. The removal of archaeological input from the early stages of the planning process leaves developers open to the potential to discover extensive and important archaeological remains at a much later stage, i.e. during construction, leading to costly delays. 

Strong letters of objection have been lodged from a number of organisations including the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), and we at Armour Heritage would like to add our protest and would urge our colleagues in the profession to do the same.

On a related subject, Armour Heritage’s offices were recently visited by our local representative, David Warburton MP, at our invitation. We discussed a number of matters, foremost amongst them the changes to the Feed-In Tariff Scheme (FITS) for the renewable energy sector and support for heritage and archaeology in parliament. Whilst we felt the meeting ended on a positive note, issues like that currently emerging in Lancashire emphasise the point that archaeology and heritage are considered of relatively low importance, at least at local government level, and we fear that cuts to services in other authorities may follow a similar path.

The role of companies like AH in the planning system is an important one, both in terms of the appropriate assessment, recording and protection of our nation’s heritage, and in the contribution small businesses make to the UK economy. On either front, a watering down of the value and significance of heritage and archaeology at local government level can only ultimately be detrimental to us all. 

The Archaeology of Vinyl

So, what do archaeologist and heritage professionals do in their spare time? More archaeology, historical research, go to the football?

AH’s founder and director Rob Armour Chelu, has inadvertently found a way to combine a love of archaeology with a lifelong passion for music, thus filling a significant area of his house with vinyl records from the 1960s onwards. He’s also managed to cross-over archaeological techniques with record collecting. 

Written archives (online catalogues) are trawled for information and a number of ‘sites’ (record shops, charity shops, markets and EBay) are investigated for ‘finds’. Once the ‘finds’ are selected (and paid for), they are processed. This involves again a similar process, the vinyl is cleaned, catalogued and added to the archive – which will soon need additional storage space, much like the UK’s museums!

Most recently the collection has begun to be displayed in public, with ‘open events’ recently in Frome (a DJ set at the Wheatsheaf) and upcoming at AH’s home venue, the White Hart in Trudoxhill, Somerset where archive material from the 1970s and 1980s will be played.

70s-80s-night (1).jpg
Posted on October 21, 2015 .

Renewable Energy Policy and the Heritage/Archaeology Profession

Recent changes to renewable energy policy implemented by Westminster will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect, not just in the renewables sector, but in the wider raft of contractors who contribute to the industry as a whole. Latest predictions suggest around 20,000 potential job losses in the solar industry alone, but has anyone sought to calculate the effect on other industries such as manufacturing, haulage, groundworks, solar panel and wind turbine installation, ecology, planning consultancies and, closest to our hearts of course, the heritage consultancy and archaeological fieldwork sectors? All of these industries and many more contribute to both the local and national economy.

At AH we have seen a sudden and fairly alarming drop-off in desk based assessment and heritage statement work – much of our turnover has traditionally been within the wind and solar energy markets, two sectors really at the core of the company’s set-up in the first place. We assume we, as a heritage consultancy, are not alone in this – and whilst we have no figures, we assume similar reductions in turnover in the other related industries mentioned earlier.

Not only will the new policy result in substantial job losses with almost one million fewer solar schemes being installed by 2020, it will also serve to increase the UK’s annual carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes. It will mean it will take longer than 20 years for solar panels to pay for themselves, and only those with thousands of pounds of disposable income will be able to install them. Most private residents, schools, council tenants and community groups will be forced out of the renewable energy revolution, with only an estimated £6 per year reduction in annual household bills as a result.

This proposal will leave the UK trailing behind in the global solar revolution, and needlessly threaten jobs that will be vital to our future low-carbon economy, and the short and long-term survival of many small businesses.

We are obviously seeking to mitigate this, through further diversification into other planning-related markets but it will not be an easy transition. Whilst the reduction in the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) - the scheme which supports small scale renewables - was always on the cards, the dramatic and draconian manner in which they were introduced earlier this year was both unexpected and unprecedented.

We would urge the government to rethink this policy and consider the points raised above. We would also urge our friends and colleagues in the heritage and archaeology industry to petition their MPs, as we have done, to request a broader debate and public consultation on these issues. Surely there is a better way forward than this, for both the UK economy and the environment.


It seems that for some years now our industry has been under pressure. The sources have been many and various: changes in government planning policy, recession, the recent attempts to destroy the renewable energy industry…I could go on, but you get the gist I’m sure.

The most recent incident we are taking more personally, although I’m sure we’re neither the first nor the last independent heritage consultancy to experience this.

A very good client of ours, one of our best to be honest, recently put in a planning application and, as normal, we have supplied the desk based assessment as the first stage of the planning process. They informed us a week or two ago that a local anti-development objector group had been formed, which is not unusual in itself and was kind of anticipated by our clients and ourselves. What we were not expecting was the ‘response’ to our DBA, undertaken by a large consultancy; not a heritage based company I should stress, but rather a large land agency type company with their own in-house ‘heritage consultant’.

The tone of the objector-funded ‘response’ was both aggressive and patronising and ended with the clearly bought-and-paid-for conclusion of ‘substantial harm’, despite the fact that Historic England, the County Archaeologist and the Conservation officer have all conceded ‘less than substantial harm’, as did we in our report. The majority of the ‘response’ comprised nit-picking and repetitive claims of ‘fundamentally flawed’ research, which is really not worth the effort to reiterate – life’s too short.

What was the price of the ‘substantial harm’ conclusion, we’ll never know. We do know that the individual who provided the response could have damaged our company’s good name, with their rather tawdry piece of work now out there in the public domain. 

At Armour Heritage, we have always prided ourselves on our company ethics – there are things we will not touch: nuclear, HS2 and dragging our fellow professionals’ names through the dirt. We also pride ourselves on giving our clients the best advice. Where there really is the possibility of ‘substantial harm’, we will tell them so, even though it will cost us further down the line if the project goes no further based on our advice. 

The title of this piece is ‘Respect’ for a reason. Surely as a profession under constant pressure, we should be respecting and supporting our colleagues in the industry, not undermining them to the highest bidder. To say we are disappointed is something of an understatement, we would expect better.

Posted on September 15, 2015 .

An upturn in housing development?

“Small builders will benefit from a £100 million cash boost to recognise and support their important role in keeping the country building”, Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said on 6th July this year.

The Housing Growth Partnership will act as a dedicated initiative that will invest alongside smaller builders in new developments, providing money to support their businesses, helping get workers onto sites and increasing housing supply.

At AH we’re hoping this projected boom in house building will correspond with an increase in heritage work, both pre-application and further down the planning and post-planning road. It may be that we are already seeing the beginnings of this with, last week, the news that Armour Heritage has won the first of a number of multi-site pre-planning contracts for a single developer which will keep us busy, initially with archaeological desk based assessments and heritage statements, for some considerable time! Unusually for us recently, these sites are all relatively local to our Somerset offices, all of the first batch are located in Wiltshire, so less need for arduous summer travel on holiday-clogged roads; the A303 at Stonehenge, the obvious exception of course!

Of course, from pre-planning work comes further fieldwork, be it pre-determination geophysical survey, earthwork survey or trial trenching, all of which are services provided by Armour Heritage.

Hopefully then, with an already very bright start to 2015, our success will continue in the year’s second two quarters.

Friday, Work Streams and the CIfA

Well, it’s Friday and the sun is shining and things are going well here at Armour Heritage – we may even allow ourselves an early weekend after lunch…

Our heritage consultancy work in the renewables and green energy sector continues to grow, with a recent notable increase in enquiries and projects related to new housing and Listed Building consents, trends which we hope will continue into the future.

Away from our project work and lead by AH Director Sue Farr, is our drive toward Registered Organisation status with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Whilst initially the paperwork seemed a little daunting, Sue has embraced it and our application is well on track. We feel that RO status is important, both as a ‘kite mark’ of quality within the heritage industry, and its focusing of our skills in potentially new directions, such as graduate training or community based schemes.

Time, as always, is against us of course, with deadlines constantly rearing their heads and deflecting us from tasks such as the CIfA RO forms. But, with a fair wind and brute determination, I hope we will be able to submit by the end of next month.


Although the days are getting shorter (!) …

…the list of interesting heritage and archaeological projects at Armour Heritage is getting longer, with a whole suite of challenging development proposals on the go at the moment.

This week we’ve been up in the East Midlands, advising on a farm diversification scheme where the local farmer is hoping to install a new solar PV array whilst he continues to protect an extensive, well-preserved set of earthworks relating to a group of water meadows on the site. We hope the advice we’re including in our heritage asset assessment, which follows a more broad brush historic environment desk based assessment, will help him to overcome the heritage concerns of the planners, and provide a new income stream for the farmer, conserve the heritage assets on his holding, and create some lovely green energy too!

Elsewhere this week, we’ve been preparing a heritage statement for a small housing development in Hampshire, where the setting of a Listed Building is provoking some interesting discussions with the local Conservation Officer, and also seeking competitive quotes to provide best value to our clients on two fieldwork projects. One relates to a pre-determination trial trenching evaluation for a large residential development in Worcestershire, and the other is linked to a post-consent planning condition for an archaeological excavation in Somerset prior to construction of a new agricultural building. We’re also working on a planning statement for an appeal on another renewables scheme in mid-Wales involving a single wind turbine and its impact on the setting of a Listed church, and meeting with the planning and Conservation Officers to discuss proposals for a new school building in Berkshire, where the setting of a Grade II Listed Building and buried archaeological remains are high on the agenda.

So although there’s been a turning point in the celestial calendar this week, at AH HQ the steady increase in project work is making sure our days stay long, bright and sunny!

Posted on June 26, 2015 .

The National Heritage List for England - June 2015 Updates

The NHLE has been updated this month to include 510 new entries, the majority comprising newly Listed Buildings. Amongst the new structures is the Greenham Common Command C building - the former Wing Headquarters at the former US nuclear missile base in Berkshire which has now been Listed Grade II*. The base finally closed in 1993, and was the well-known focus of the women’s peace camps in the 1980s which were responsible for the global attention and protest to the presence of US nuclear weapons on UK soil.

The former HQ was built in the early 1980s, and is Listed along with a number of combat support buildings for their political, historic and architectural interest as well as their group value.

Among the other newly Listed Buildings featured in the Historic England Designation Yearbook are Brian Housden’s concrete house at 78 South Hill Park, Hampstead. Built in the 1960s the now Grade II Listed Building “drew on influences from European modernism to the houses of the Dogon Tribe of Mali, resulting in a truly unique concrete house”, according to Historic England.

Other highlights include a former bus station at Milton Keynes; the Catholic Church of the English Martyrs in Strood, Kent; a 1960s sculpture in Acocks Green, Birmingham; a 19th century bacon smokehouse behind St. John Street, close to London’s Smithfield market; Heap’s Rice Mill in Liverpool, which is currently the subject of major redevelopment plans; and a 1930s hairdresser's in Scarborough which has been converted into a tearoom with the period interiors intact.

But amongst our favourites here at AH is the gravestone of Wallace Hartley, a professional violinist who lost his life aboard the Titanic, and who was amongst the group that played "Nearer My God To Thee" as the ship sank.

And not forgetting, of course, the wonderful Victorian gin palace, the Cauliflower Hotel, in Ilford, Essex, a live music venue where bands including the Small Faces and the late Ian Dury have played. It has been Listed Grade II to protect the well-preserved interior, described as a "riot of stained glass, brass rails, and carved wood". 

You can download a free pdf copy of the Historic England designation yearbook here

Posted on June 17, 2015 .

Solar Power

Got the good news today that another of our solar PV sites has been granted planning consent - this one in Gloucestershire, hot on the heels of last week's Kent success. At Armour Heritage we continue to support green energy initiatives through our heritage and archaeology services UK-wide, and are very happy to work with our many clients in all green energy disciplines.

Posted on June 11, 2015 .

Flaming June?

Well, not so far at least. In Somerset, while the weather might not be behaving itself, AH continues to work with construction and renewable energy across England and Wales. We are pleased to have recently been retained by Northumberland County Council - officially our most distant English client and a good excuse to take the plane from Bristol International Airport to site rather than a long drive up numerous motorways!


Posted on June 1, 2015 .

New Year, New Challenges @ AH

Looking back at previous items on this page, it’s clearly been far too long since it was last updated. A lot has been happening at AH in the past 12 months, with a number of very noteworthy items springing to mind.

At the beginning of December 2014, AH was two years old. Turnover has risen substantially and continues to do so. In fact, in December of last year AH completed more projects than in its first 7 months! Rumour has it that AH now boasts one of the largest throughputs of solar farm planning work in England.

As a result of this very welcome rise in workload, AH is delighted to welcome on board its new co-director Sue Farr. Sue had previously worked as a Senior Project Manager in Wessex Archaeology’s fieldwork team, with an impressive list of projects to her name, not least of which was the Stonehenge Visitor Centre scheme, which, despite the traffic chaos it has caused (anyone living in the area will know exactly what I mean here!), was an important and ambitious undertaking. Sue joins both to co-manage all of AH’s heritage work and to help set up a new fieldwork company, more of which at a later date.

A further consequence of the increase in work and personnel has been the successful search for new premises, actually only around 500m from our current address (and cyclable on appropriately dry bright mornings). The very rural surroundings allow for surreptitious bird watching out of one window and result in extremely dirty vehicles, but such is life!

Existing and new long term contracts with a number of clients suggest a bright and busy 2015.


Posted on January 16, 2015 .

Armour Heritage’s First Birthday

It is one year ago today that Armour Heritage was born as a company. The year has been at times both fraught and elating, tiring and exciting, but twelve months on we are still here and stronger than ever.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my efforts in getting AH up and running and keeping things moving through the past year – friends and clients alike, we couldn't have achieved what we have achieved without you.

Beyond this first year, the future looks bright, busy and buoyant, with a reassuringly large workload both on the books and on the horizon. Year two will, I believe, see expansion and growth for AH both alone and through partnerships and business associations both existing and yet to be forged.

For the present, we’re taking a well-earned day off with the distinct possibility of pizza, cake and beer!

Posted on December 6, 2013 .

To 'green' or not to 'green'

Looking back nearly a year to when Armour Heritage began I find myself surprised at the ‘demographic’ of the clients with whom AH has been dealing. My grounding was in EIA for housing development – normally green field sites and normally of a large scale. Whilst this type of project is still on our books, the vast majority – probably 80% of our turnover – is in the green energy sector. Asking around it seems this is becoming the norm across our industry. So where is the housing boom the media bangs on about? AH is involved in a handful of large and moderately sized housing developments, but most of these are ‘leftovers’ from the 2008 crash that have been hanging around in planning for years.

With the energy companies attacking the so-called green levies and the government’s great leap backward in commissioning a new nuclear power station in Somerset (Fukushima anyone?), is there really a future for green energy in the UK? Recent reports seem to suggest, in Germany at least, that green energy and its associated self-sufficiency in energy production, will lead to lower prices for the consumer – whilst here in the UK our prices spiral out of control.

At AH we support the greening of energy production – for the sake of our environment, for the sake of our economy and for the sake of our pockets!

Posted on November 14, 2013 .

Call for Archaeological Specialists - July 2013

Armour Heritage is looking to create a list of local independent or company-based specialists who could assist with post-excavation on small projects, such as watching briefs and small evaluations. Whilst AH is based in East Somerset and is particularly seeking specialists in that area, the company works UK-wide so we’d be interested in hearing from you wherever you are based geographically.

Currently we’d very much like to hear from specialists in the following areas:

Pottery (please state your period speciality)



Animal bone

Human remains

Please drop us a line at the following email:  setting out your contact details, rates and qualifications/experience.

Posted on July 2, 2013 .

Best site ever!

It seems like a lifetime ago, but as the original project manager for the Cliffs End Farm site near Ramsgate in Kent, I'll always regard it as the most exciting archaeological site it's ever been my privilege to be involved in. 

The site had a rich variety of archaeological remains; Bronze Age burials, a round barrow or two and a Saxon burial ground. The highlights for me were the discovery of a flint knapper buried with what appeared to be a 'teaching kit' of flint tools and arrowheads at varying degrees of completeness, and the realisation that our 'quarry pit' was far far more interesting than originally thought. 

Unfortunately, circumstances dictated that I never got to complete the site myself, but still, it rates for me as the best site ever! 

More detail on the site is available here

It's well worth a look if you're not familiar with the site. 

I've moved on now, but as an independent archaeological consultant you still never know what the next project might have in store.

Posted on June 27, 2013 .

The Glastonbury Festival and the archaeology of Somerset

In about a week-and-a-half’s time the equivalent population of a reasonably sized city will descend on our fair county of Somerset for the Glastonbury Festival. The first festival was held on the 19th September 1970 - the day after Jimi Hendrix died - over a two day period. Acts included  Marc Bolan, Keith Christmas, Stackridge, Al Stewart & Quintessence. The attendance was an impressive 1,500 and it cost a pound to get in (the price included free milk from Worthy Farm). Forty three years on and the festival has itself become an important piece of Somerset’s – and the UK’s – social and cultural heritage. Not all heritage has to be ancient!

That said, all of the hundreds of thousands who attend this year’s festival will be listening to bands, camping letting their hair down, literally and figuratively (and the rest!) in an area whose rich cultural legacy stretches back many thousands of years. This cultural heritage is reflected in the archaeological record of the county – from the Mesolithic ‘Cheddar Man’ (c. 7150 BCE), through a stunning piece of Neolithic infrastructure known as the ‘Sweet Track’ (c. 3807-3806 BCE), a Roman occupation, grand religious centres (Glastonbury and Bath Abbeys, for example), Dissolution, Revolution (Civil War and Pitchfork or Monmouth Rebellion)…I could go on for a long time.

The point is that our history is all around us – reflected in the buildings we use and live in, the landscape we see every day (ancient and modern), churches and ancient farms, wind turbines and solar farms all reflect our changing needs as a society.

 As archaeologists, this is what we at Armour Heritage seek to explore, increasing our understanding of the past to better shape our future.

Posted on June 14, 2013 .

Six Months On

Today Armour Heritage is celebrating a mini anniversary – it’s six months since the company’s incorporation and it has been a very positive start to what was, at the time, rather a risky venture. As things stand the heritage planning work continues to be commissioned with new archaeology, cultural heritage and related projects arriving on a regular basis.

We are particularly pleased to be involved in the new Environmental Impact Assessment project for the final phases of development at Wichelstowe, a major development area to the south of Swindon and a number of other projects in the housing and renewable energy sectors.

AH continues to offer the most competitive pricing schedules with guaranteed response times and delivery dates with an emphasis on sound, pre-application advice based on Rob Armour Chelu’s many years of personal experience of planning and consultation with County Archaeologists and English Heritage across the UK.

Alongside our established heritage planning, AH is now undertaking Heritage Management Plans and archaeological watching briefs as standard, with procurement and tender consultancy for larger scale archaeological fieldwork projects.

Of course it is you, our clients, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for our initial success, a success we intend wholeheartedly to build upon through the remainder of 2013 and beyond. So please do keep in touch, we are here to assist you in completion of your planning applications through pre-application advice and post-determination condition resolution and are always available should you need us.


Posted on June 6, 2013 .

Here Comes The Summer

Not just an Undertones song from 1979 (was it really that long ago – hands up if you remember it!) but a reminder of the onset (allegedly) of the summer sun.

A look at recent enquiries and conversations with other planning and heritage professionals suggests that  the old adage of ‘making hay while the sun shines’ would be more appropriately replaced with ‘make electricity while the sun shines’ given the raft of solar array applications at various stages in the planning process across the UK.

Most applications will need a professional heritage consultant to offer advice, provide documentation such as a heritage statement, heritage asset assessment or cultural heritage environmental statement chapter.

At Armour Heritage we specialise in offering professional heritage and archaeology services to the whole planning industry at the most competitive prices with a guaranteed quick turnaround time on any documentation. Currently we’re working on a number of renewable energy schemes with a number of clients, both wind and solar alongside our continuing work in housing and infrastructure projects.

We’re based in Somerset but we work UK wide so why not look us up and see what heritage support we can offer your company.

Posted on May 24, 2013 .

Time Marches On...

...and with it Armour Heritage continues to add new clients and projects to our growing portfolio. Latest additions include Cultural Heritage Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) work in Cornwall and Wiltshire, archaeological and heritage consultancy in Hampshire, Devon, Cornwall and Mid & South Wales, renewable energy projects in Devon, Cornwall and South Wales and further work in partnership with other archaeological organisations.

If your development requires archaeology, built or cultural heritage input, please contact AH. We aim to respond to all enquiries within 24 hours.

Posted on May 14, 2013 .