Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Four Stones and Castle Tomen

There is an interesting Tate Paper by Stephen Daniels on the photographer, antiquarian and promoter of ley lines, Alfred Watkins. It notes a link with the work of land artists Richard Long and Hamish Fulton, but focuses mainly on Watkins' career and the way photography shaped his archaeological theories.

Watkins was a member of Hereford's Woolhope Club and wrote articles for them 'on various antiquarian subjects, chapels, wayside crosses, city walls and ancient pottery, accompanied on his excursions by the manager of the Meter Works, W.M. McKaig, who assisted with the field work including the photography. Nothing, it seems, prepared members for Watkins’s astonishing contribution to field archaeology, his systematic idea of ley-lines, at the Club’s autumn meeting on 29 September 1921. This was an afternoon excursion and evening lantern slide lecture in the Club’s rooms in Hereford Free Library and Museum, reported the following year in the Club’s transactions as a paper on ‘Early British Trackways, Moats, Mounds, Camps and Sites.' His book, Early British Trackways appeared in 1922 and, following further research and elaboration of his theories, a more substantial book, The Old Straight Track (1925) became a popular success.

Daniels reproduces some of Watkins' illustrations, including the frontispiece to Early British Trackways, showing the alignment of the Four Stones and Castle Tomen. 'This takes the form of a collage, with three photographs of the sites, one a telephoto shot of Castle Tomen, superimposed on a woodland glade marking a ley.' However, neither Watkins' ideas nor the illustrations had a strong impact on contemporary art. Instead painters like Paul Nash and John Piper were more influenced by Antiquity, a journal started in 1927 by O.G.S. Crawford, who considered Watkins a crank and refused to accept an advertisement for his book, The Old Straight Track.

1 comment:

snarlerson said...

When I joined the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club forty years ago, I recall asking a member about the Club’s attitude to Watkins. He dismissed Watkins as an eccentric who had gone too far in pursuit of his central idea. But this did not stop me being fascinated by the alignments demonstrated by Henry Lincoln when he produced his TV documentary which eventually led to Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. I remember getting out the Ordnance Survey maps of Sussex and, with my son, drawing lines to see is there were any possible links between the properties owned by the Knights Templar (Saddlescombe, Sompting etc.) I find this rather embarrassing to admit now. However, I do not rule out the value of alignment studies. It makes eminent sense that line of sight should be important in locating military bases and the precise alignment of churches has been the subject of scholarly research. In the latest volume of the Antiquaries Journal (2006), there is a paper on ‘church alignment and patronal saint’s days’. This demolishes the old idea that that churches were aligned to reflect the sunrise of the feast of their patronal saint but it does show a 10 degree difference of mean alignment from the west to the east of England.