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Mayoral praise for Marlborough News Online as we hit six months’ anniversary

Marlborough News Online welcomed its 150th Twitter follower on Friday, in the week that it celebrated its first six months of publication.

It was a landmark for the the site, which saw 1,126 visitors read 5,385 articles. Meanwhile our web stats revealed that while most visitors, predictably, came to our site from the UK, we enjoy quite a following abroad, including 22 visits from America (howdy!), eight from Australia (g'day!), three from France (bonjour!), and two each from Slovakia (ahoj!), Germany (guten abend!), Poland (czesc!), Canada (chimo!), and the United Arab Emirates (مرحبا).

Are you one of our international readers? Are you an expat who misses home, or a resident travelling for business or pleasure. We'd love to know - please get in touch! 

Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, was full of praise for our endeavours....

“Congratulations to Marlborough News on Line for
establishingitself so quickly as an indispensable
part of the townscape,”

“To have published well over 500 articles, and had
so many hits on the site within six months of
starting up, speaks volumes both for the professionalism
of the way you run it, and also for the need for
up-to-the-minute information on issues
concerning the town.  

“Congratulations to you all, and thank you.”

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The mantra that produces New Zealand’s latest Marlborough wines

Liz SaguesLiz SaguesTwice winner the Regional Wine Writer of the year title in the annual Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards, recognised as the industry's most important, LIZ SAGUES provides an insight into New Zealand’s latest wines.

She has been tasting and writing about wine for more than 20 years, and as a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, she regularly travels abroad to taste wines in Europe and elsewhere.  Liz is also deputy editor of the Circle’s own acclaimed newsletter.

As New Zealand celebrates its largest-ever wine harvest, there’s a smile on the face of David CoxAs New Zealand celebrates its largest-ever wine harvest, there’s a smile on the face of David CoxCox, Europe director of New Zealand Winegrowers, is the man responsible for ensuring that the UK remains the top volume export destination for the bottles which will result from the 328,000 tonnes of grapes picked for the 2011 vintage.

Cox’s enthusiasm for the generous 2011 vintage may seem a little surprising give the over-supply problems of a year ago, when the widespread sight of £5 – or even lower priced – Kiwi sauvignon on UK retail shelves threatened to cut into the established quality image.

All that’s over now, he says, as figures show that New Zealand still heads the price-per-bottle league in UK sales, with the retail average at just over £6, around £1.50 more than the figure for all wine.

“Supply is back in balance,” he assured me as NZ Winegrowers showed the first releases from 2011 to UK trade and press. “Worldwide demand is increasing, we are no longer having to discount.

“Our mantra is to go back to a premium position, to sell for a premium price. New Zealand wine is worth it, and the 2011 vintage is good.”

Tasting through the 2011 Marlborough sauvignons on show confirmed that. They are certainly crowd-pleasing, soft yet crisp and generously fruited with the expected variety of flavours. The first should be on sale here soon.

Very nearly three-quarters of those grapes come from Marlborough, by far the biggest of New Zealand’s 10 wine regions and the one which put the country on the world wine map with its distinctive, exuberant sauvignon blancVery nearly three-quarters of those grapes come from Marlborough, by far the biggest of New Zealand’s 10 wine regions and the one which put the country on the world wine map with its distinctive, exuberant sauvignon blancBut as Cox emphasises, there is a lot more to Marlborough than generic sauvignon blanc. Regionality within the main area is being emphasised, with Awatere, the Southern Valleys and Wairau identified as key sub-regions.

Similarly, there is evolution of style, with more barrel fermentation and lees ageing, for example, resulting in more complex wines.

“We are seeing differences that come through in the glass,” he continued. “It is proof there is a place to go above entry level. New Zealand sauvignon, and especially Marlborough, still has legs to grow.”

That increasing variety stretches to the vine choice, too. Marlborough is also the most important region in New Zealand for pinot noir – just over 40 per cent of plantings, against 25 per cent in the cult region of Central Otago. The style is crisply red-fruited – think strawberries and raspberries – but there’s a decent tannic backbone in all but the simplest.

Cox also emphasises the importance of Marlborough’s classic chardonnay. “New Zealand chardonnay is one of the most exciting styles of new world chardonnay. There is lots of really nice clarity and minerality, particularly from Marlborough.”

And aromatic whites have a good future in the region: there are plantings of riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, even a little gruner veltliner. Cox focuses on pinot gris, arguing that the previous broad and sometimes puzzling spectrum of style and sweetness has been narrowed.

“It will be a tertiary brand after sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.”

So what of the future for a country which has such a big name with UK wine drinkers, even though it is one of the world’s smaller wine producers?

Cox isn’t looking for massive growth, though he would love to see New Zealand jump from its current eighth place in the UK to overtake its nearest competitor, Spain. That’s rather a distant prospect – there’s currently a £120 million gap in sales income to bridge – and he is realistic about what is possible.

“New Zealand cannot and does not want to be all things to all men,” he said. But he acknowledges there are two gaps in its offering which Marlborough in particular could help to fill – serious, food-friendly rosé and good fizz.

“We could be the next port of call for people stepping up from prosecco and cava,” he suggested. “New Zealand could be THE new world producer of sparkling wine.”

There’s a prospect to toast!

NB: New Zealand Winegrowers is the national organisation for New Zealand’s grape and wine sector. It currently has approximately 1,000 grower members and 700 winery members. See for more information.

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The odd couple. Review of Nikesh Shukla and Mario Petrucci

They were both poets, Londoners with non-British origins, whatever that means, but that was as far as the similarity seemingly went, in this enjoyable exposure to two very different writers.

Brought together by the Lit Fest to 'explore Britishness and non-British in writing' Nikesh is a poet, writer, screenwriter beloved of the Asian Network and Radio 1 Extra with a Spiderman comic collection, whilst Mario is an Italian 'metaphysical poet of international standing, an ecologist and PhD physicist.'

Nikesh read one of his latest short stories, To Mum, about a British family who've relocated to an Indian houseboat in the wake of a family death. The story deals both with grief and the culture they've gone back to, which should have provided a familiar comfort but which proves to be alien.

Mario related what others had written about Britishness, such as 'stoicism, education and wry humour'. For him, it was “heritage, upbringing, mores and patterns of behaviour,” he said. “I'm besotted by difference: in Britain I feel Italian and in Italy, British.”

Mario read from two of his anthologies, Flowers of Sulphur and i tulips. “I use English as a tool to create different states,” he explained. “English is the most productive; I try to make it as non-standard as I can. Italian can be too voluptuous, it sometimes lacks that hard edge.”

As well as those favourite subjects – love and passion – Mario “attempts to understand what can't be understood” such as the disaster of Chernobyl , or a “what if” exploration of a post-oil world in 2111 – a world of hardship and of stories.

Nikesh was asked where he felt most at home: India or London. His response was not India – neither parent had grown up there though they had tried to impress a good Indian culture on their son.

“When I visited my cousins in India in my mid-twenties,” he said, “they told me I was repressed. The Indian culture I had been brought up in was stuck in the 1940s. I felt more at home in Mombassa (Kenya) where my dad grew up.”

Common ground was found, around a discussion of the centrality of the mother in both Indian and Italian culture and of food. Nikesh is learning family recipes “because that smell of food means home” and Mario is the last in his family who “knows how to cook a traditional Bolgnaise.” He said to Nikesh: “We should have dinner, I love Indian.”

A footnote: at the signing I realised how hard it is to make a living as a poet and how important it is to buy their work if you like it.

The copy I bought of i tulips was one of Mario's personal stash: because with each anthology brought out by his publisher, despite Mario's reputation as a poet, he tries to buy a few hundred copies to increase the print run.

I loved Nikesh's dedication to me in Coconut Unlimited: “To Louisa Hello! Hope you like me. I am a sentient book.” I hope it isn't a warning. 

Also published on We Love Marlborough

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The weird brother - Lemn Sissay

Review of Lemn Sissay.
Marlborough Lit Fest 22.09.11

Lemn Sissay MBE, the first poet commissioned to write for the Olympics, launched his performance like the candidate at an American presidential primary: running at the mainly Marlborough College student audience, clasping hands and laughing when a girl went in for a kiss.

Lots of chat followed, before his first recitation: a play excerpt from Something Dark based on his own complex childhood.

Lots of false starts peppered the poems: rants and musings breaking into recitations, sometimes illuminating the rhyme, sometimes a distraction. Life and art should not be separate, he said, 'you can be a lawyer and a poet.'

Like the play, his first few poems were autobiographical - the unfairness of childhood in Suitcases and Muddy Parks to the 'subtlety' of I Hate You, an ode to his bullying social worker: "I've been reading it for twenty years and will carry on 'til the day I die," he said.

He was fostered when young, long-term separated from his mother by state subterfuge. He recently found the rest of his family: "While I was glue sniffing in a children's home, my brothers and sisters went to schools like this [Marlborough College] and learned to ride horses and fly planes. I am the weird brother."

In contrast, he read an exquisite love poem, and another: a rapid fire poetic list about stuff he liked, ripped jeans, cold tea, people who don't say what they mean.

Apparently (it was joyfully hard to distinguish between fact and augmented memory) he had recited it on a restaurant table when a date asked him about himself. There was no second date.

At the start, I may have wondered what the privately educated audience made of Lemn, but by the end they were cheering, whooping and clapping - as was I.

Lemn's style was not to everyone's taste. Not everybody liked his rambling, his mime of zipping his mouth to stop the chat and carry on with the poetry, his slapstick approach. "I could have done with more standing at the front and reading a poem," said my friend.

Non-converts not withstanding, Lemn gave us an excellent start to the Marlborough Lit Fest.

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Residents take up Transition town challenge

How will we cope when the oil runs out? It's a question being asked in communities up and down the country... and around the world.

At a meeting on Monday (September 12) 55 members of the public – at the behest of Climate Pledge and the Town Council – discussed ways in which Marlborough could become a Transition Town.

The Transition Town movement is described as 'a social experiment on a massive scale' and 'the first viable viral movement in decades'.

In transition towns, like-minded individuals find community solutions to their reliance on oil, and how their communities will respond as oil becomes more and more expensive, and eventually diminishes.

They believe in stronger communities with locally produced food, a strong local economy, good public transport links, green energy and a good local health service.

The solution to the problem of depleting oil reserves – and the inevitable consequence of rising energy prices – is straightforward: consume less and produce energy using alternatives.

Straightforward, the meeting heard, but far from simple to apply. How does a town like Marlborough – whose rural situation makes cars a 'necessity', and where many homes outside of the town centre rely on oil for heating – reduce its dependence on the resource?

And how can the solutions be applied in the historic market town, where the installation of double glazing – let alone the erection of small-scale solar panels and wind turbines – is rejected on the grounds of aesthetics.

The meeting was led by town councillor Richard Pitts, who said: “This is about looking at a sustainable future; looking at energy and recycling, and rethinking the way we do things.”

Vincent Albano, climate change projects officer at Wiltshire Council, helped the meeting explore the cost of heating and lighting our homes – reckoned to be £5 million per year in the Marlborough community area alone.

“That's £5m leaving your community every year,” said Vincent. “The questions are, could you meet some of this energy production yourselves, how would you fund the capital costs of energy production, and once you started making money from energy production, what would you spend it on?”

Attendees split into four break-out groups to mull over the issues surrounding Transport, Energy, Food and Recycling, and to come up with practical solutions.

Some of the solutions are fairly pain-free. While local supermarkets sell unwary shoppers apples shipped from New Zealand and South Africa, an estimated 95 percent of apples grown in Marlborough's residential gardens go to waste.

Suggestions for a food bank or fruit exchange were mooted, while one attendee – Richard Paget – unveiled his own solution, which is already a reality: deliver 10kg of ripe apples to his apple press in Little Bedwyn and he'll squeeze eight bottles of apple juice for £2.25 a bottle, complete with a bespoke label.

Other solutions may prove more controversial: after the meeting, Cllr Pitts said Marlborough Town Council had the authority to ask for the street lights in High Street to be switched off during the early hours, saving cash-strapped Wiltshire Council hundreds of pounds a year to spend on other services.

The idea is bound to attract opposition, although the High Street will not go without any source of light – a large number of the national chain stores opt to keep their windows illuminated throughout the night.

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Massive marrows, colossal carrots and enormous onions scoop awards

Massive marrows, colossal carrots and enormous onions were among the entries in the Marlborough Gardening Association Annual Show, which was held at the Town Hall on Saturday, September 3.

Judges from the Royal Horticultural Society looked over flowers and vegetables, and cups and trophies were awarded to residents with the greenest fingers.

Among the award winners was Bruce Porter, from Minal, who won the Beauchamp Cup for the best fruit or veg exhibit with his trug of vegetables, while Colin Watts was singled out for his onions and parsnips. 

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The government promised NHS patients more choice – it’s on its way

Just imagine it’s October 2012 and your left foot is really painful – as in keeping you awake at night.  In October 2011 it was your right foot that hurt and your doctor sent you to the local NHS hospital for treatment at its podiatry clinic (for foot health - more than chiropody.)

By October next year, your doctor might well offer you a choice for treatment for your left foot – by your local NHS hospital, by a charity, by a social enterprise group or by a commercial company.  Podiatry was one of the services the government wanted put in the fast lane to provide competition to the NHS and choice for the patient by October 2012.

When Health Secretary Andrew Lansley first launched the policy he called it “Any Willing Provider”.  It’s now somewhat more reassuringly called “Any Qualified Provider”. We are not re-entering the era of snake-oil salesmen.  But we are entering unknown territory.

The timescale is tight. NHS Wiltshire were told late in July that they had to complete consultation by the end of September on the government’s list of eight possible services. So on September 12 they held a Stakeholders’ Assembly - gathering about sixty-five local professionals, councillors, representatives of charities and patient groups and some of the doctors involved in the new commissioning groups to help select the first three or more services. 

After much discussion three services came to the top of the list: treatment of neck and back pain (physiotherapy plus), direct access diagnosis (blood tests and more) and memory clinics (for those in the earlier stages of conditions such as alzheimer’s.)  As it turned out, podiatry was one of the services least favoured to be part of the first round of setting up competitive providers – so your left foot’s safe with the NHS till well after October 2012.

Two other services – developmental disorders (ADHD and autistic spectrum conditions) and lymphodaema (swelling caused by lymph problems) – may come into the frame once more work has been done on how they could fit with related treatments and how to specify their work.

There are, of course, a great many hoops for any potential rival provider to go through. Are they a credible outfit – with financial stability, appropriate legal status and so on? Will they improve the service to patients?  Can they find the right staff? Can they respond to referrals from GPs fast enough? What about training?

One thing is certain: there will be no protection for any kind of provider - government policy focuses primarily on effecting choice.  This is a “very explicit political judgment on how to improve the NHS.”

All this will most likely bring added headaches for GPs and their colleagues in the new commissioning groups which will take over the budgets from the primary care trusts.  First it will make control of the budgets much more difficult – even precarious.  Secondly it may often face GPs with conflicts of interest.

Will they advise patients which treatment to choose when that choice may well affect the commissioning group’s bottom line?  We may well see the rise of “patient advisers” attached to surgeries to help patients choose.

Those advisers and the complexity of overseeing and checking the new providers, tracking fragmented sources of cost and keeping clear of the clutches of competition umpires, will all involve a host of backroom jobs – or, as the government likes to call them, bureaucrats. And this at a time when most of the savings from the coalition’s radical NHS restructuring are supposed to come from ‘cutting bureaucracy’.

And no one can foresee precisely how the new commissioning groups will be able to make these services a satisfactory part of continuing and integrated treatment of their patients.

GPs and commissioning groups will be open to scrutiny and public shaming by the competition tsars that want to give non-NHS providers every chance to succeed.  This is already happening with the choice of providers for elective surgery (such as hip replacements) – see Marlborough News Online’s earlier story.

There’s evidence already that social enterprises and charities will not get any favours in this process – in fact the risks in size and sustainability they bring to the NHS may doom them. 

The social enterprise, not-for-profit group Central Surrey Healthcare (CSH) has been running community health for a large area of Surrey since 2006.  Last year David Cameron presented them with the first ever Big Society award – a recognition that CSH’s 770 entrepreneurial nurses, therapists and other community staff have been providing quality care for less money.  Even the Cabinet Office said CSH are delivering substantial improvements in quality and efficiency.

But when CSH bid for a new £500milion contract to spread their work to more of Surrey’s patients, Surrey primary care trust decided to hand the contract to Assura Medical Limited (75% owned by Virgin.)  It seems the main reason was that CSH could not raise enough money for the necessary surety bond.

Has this decision put money before quality of service?  CSH’s own contract comes up for tender in the next twelve months.  The fear is the coalition government’s rules will favour another bid from a private, capital-rich company and dish the social enterprise workers.  

And bearing in mind the experience of the health workers of Surrey, will charities and social enterprises in Wiltshire be successful when they make smaller scale bids for services under the ‘Any Qualified Provider’ label?

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Not for children? Lauren Child review

It was going to be a long shot, taking my five year old to an author's event. He has just accepted that Doctor Who is an actor, so enjoying an event by someone who wrote the books he loves was possibly a concept too far.

I expected a reading of a Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and certainly Lauren Child's new book, Look Into My Eyes featuring teenage detective Ruby Redfort. So it was surprising that we didn't hear the person who wrote them read them.

Instead this was aimed squarely at older literature enthusiasts: a discussion of where the ideas for the books came from, when she started writing, how she illustrated her books, etc. Great for me, boredom for my five year old, though there were some excellent questions from other young children at the end.

Grumbles re missing the mark for the main readership aside, I enjoyed hearing about Lauren's inspiration for Ruby Redfort. Exactly my era, childhood Lauren loved American shows such as Columbo, Starsky & Hutch and Heart to Heart, which “worried my mum,” she said. A great advert for trash TV then, as this was the inspiration for this bestselling author.

Lauren has created a character in the Heart to Heart universe: a fantastically wealthy 1970s-style world with a likeable cosiness and a child-genius lead character.

She didn't set it in modern times because: “I wanted to get away from mobile phones,” Lauren explained, “so she would be in dangerous situations where she had to use her brain. I wanted readers to care about her and – like Hitchcock films – to have its comedy moments.”

Ruby Redfort was born because Lauren was now writing too many words for illustrated book Clarice Bean, and so she was encouraged to write her first novel. Look Into My Eyes took a while to finish because Lauren 'rambled' about the characters and “hoped a plot developed – it didn't for six years.” Now the first book of a six book deal is published, Lauren feels 'terrified' at completing one a year.

In a festival exclusive, Look Into My Eyes is on sale a week before the shops, and it can be bought in the town hall until Sunday. Unsurprisingly there was a huge queue for the post-event signing.

Lauren still writes mostly in Wiltshire and she picked out a few of her local references such as Minal Cricket (Clarice Bean) and the doors of Avebury Manor, photographically featured in The Princess and the Pea.

Lauren is one of (at least) three festival authors to be a former St John's School student (the new building "looks fabulous" she said). The school should be proud.

Also published on

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A sensational autumn line-up for The Theatre on the Hill in Marlborough

The Theatre on the Hill, at the heart of the new St John’s school on Granham Hill, is now in its second season and thriving. This Autumn and into 2012 the theatre is offering with a full and varied programme of events appealing to all manner of tastes.

Well-known names, including BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards double winners Show of Hands (pictured left), described by The Independent as “a class act”, and a touring West-End style show Let’s Do The Twist are certain to attract large audiences. But the top selling show this autumn will undoubtedly be the St John’s student production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The 350-seat theatre is growing in popularity among a diverse and eclectic range of theatre companies and performers from across the UK, as well as providing a venue for performances and events for local community groups.

In addition to school productions, the star turn of the autumn season will probably be Let’s Do the Twist on October 14. The show has been described as an “electrifying” showcase for music from the greatest musical stars of the 1950s and 60s Rock ‘n’ Roll era wrapped up in a Happy Days family-style feel. This hugely successful show has already been snapped up by impresario Bill Kenwright for a week at the Theatre Royal in Windsor.

Kate O’Connor, Events Organiser at St John’s, expects this to be a sell-out evening. “We are very lucky to have been able to get a date in Marlborough on their tour.  I’m sure it is going to be a fun filled, lively evening”

Other highlights of the season include Show of Hands on October 26, organised by Marlborough Folk Roots as part of a tour which culminates in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in April next year. The phenomenally popular duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer hail from rock backgrounds but today their engaging music dips and dives through roots, rock, blues, country and traditional genres to make an unmistakable signature sound played out on a wealth of instruments from slide guitar to mandocello, fiddle to South American cuatro.

Theatrical performances include the highly acclaimed Icarus Theatre Collective with their bold and exciting performance of Macbeth November 16 and Proteus Theatre Company’s Arabian Nights on January 27, a magical journey to the Far East in the company of Scheherazade.

Other musical events include the Celebration Band in aid of St John’s Ambulance defibrillator appeal.

Other regular events at the Theatre on the Hill include Marlborough Downs Movies screenings of Winnie the Pooh on September 9, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, on October 7, Kung Fu Panda 2 on November 11 and Mr Popper’s Penguins on January 13, and monthly Friday night ‘Open Mic’ evenings.

Since the St John’s building opened in December 2009 Headteacher Dr Patrick Hazlewood has been keen that the building becomes far more than just a school and that its range of facilities is used by everyone: “It is good to see the building so well used every evening and weekend, not only by the range of events in the theatre, but also by the many people taking part in sports activities, line dancing, ballet classes and adult education” explained Dr Hazlewood. “It is exciting for us to be able to bring such a wide range of events and shows to the area and to see the popularity of our theatre growing all the time”

Details of performances and how to buy tickets can be found on the “Theatre on the Hill” pages of the St John’s website

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Archaeologist Jim Leary and his work on Wiltshire’s three giant prehistoric mounds

Jim Leary has carried out archaeological research on all three of Wiltshire’s pre-historic mounds: Silbury Hill, the Marlborough Mound (whose provenance as a Neolithic mound he helped prove) and, most recently, on the Marden site in the Vale of Pewsey.

The mound at Marden, which may have been fifteen metres high, was levelled some two hundred years ago.  But during the dig they found its vital remaining fifteen centimetres.  That was exciting enough, but to find the floor of a pre-historic building was amazing. It’s quite a story.

How did Jim Leary become an archaeologist?   He told Marlborough News Online that his interest began when his family lived in Cyprus and he found bits of ancient Greek sculpture in the garden.  Then, back in England as a teenager, he used to walk the family dog near their Sussex home and pick up scores of worked flints.

A-levels in the bag, he went to Cardiff University to study archaeology under Professor Alasdair Whittle. And the professor’s specialism was the pre-history of Wessex and he had written an important book on Silbury and the West Kennet palisade enclosures.  The rest, as they say, is history – very ancient history.

Silbury Hill
Just as the new millennium began (notching up just another thousand years of Silbury’s history), a major subsidence happened at the summit.  This was the result of the failure of past excavators (in 1776, 1849 and 1968) to back-fill their tunnelling properly when they left.

It looked like a disaster waiting to happen – might Silbury collapse altogether? However the mound’s unstable state allowed English Heritage to mount another and this time very expert and technologically supported excavation into the mound.  Jim directed the fieldwork on Silbury during 2007-2008.  Dating the fragments they found inside the mound showed Silbury had been constructed between about 2450 to 2300 BC. 

Using an initial analysis of what they found inside Silbury, Jim and colleague David Field wrote The Story of Silbury Hill (published a year ago by English Heritage.)  This is a general account of the Hill’s history.  Now they are working on the academic monograph which will be a doorstop of a book – “a meaty volume, very technical, telling what happened and what we found.”

It was probably a once-in-a-century excavation: “I cannot imagine anything else happening at Silbury for a long time now. There's always going to be that air of mystery about Silbury.”

The Marlborough Mound
Fresh from his work at Silbury, Jim was asked to help on the investigation in the Marlborough Mound. Jim says “I always believed it to be a prehistoric mound.”  But then he admits that lots of people say that.

He has enormous admiration for the Marlborough Mound Trust which financed the research and for Peter Carey of the Bath architects Donald Insall Associates who manage the conservation work.  (The photo left shows the crane lifting the drill gear to the mound’s summit – October 2010 – copyright Donald Insall Associates)

Financed by a former college pupil, the trust had to dig deep into its funds.  Just drilling the two main cores through the full height of the Mound – each one just ten centimetres across – cost about £25,000.
“As the costs spiralled upwards, I thought they were going to pull out, but they stuck with it – as a really important piece of work. They were brilliant.”   He admits that as the costs rose he began to have doubts about the Mound’s age.

But carbon dating on the charcoal they found at various levels inside the mound prove it was created over a period of about eight hundred years from 2840 BC.  The theory that it was nothing older than the foundations of a Norman castle was blown away.

The Marlborough Mound is almost certainly the second highest man-made prehistoric structure in Europe, but at 83 metres wide at the base and nineteen metres high, it’s quite a bit smaller than Silbury’s 160 metres wide and 31 metres high.

The conservation programme being undertaken by the Trust will take several years to complete and not all the decisions have yet been made about the end result.  It will probably look more like its eighteenth century incarnation with a spiral path to the summit than like Silbury’s grass covering.

See Marlborough News Online news story: Challenge to local author over the future of Silbury’s ‘little sister’.

Marden Henge
It’s a bit of a secret, but west of Pewsey there is a ‘Henge’ at Marden marked on ordnance survey maps. There’s little or nothing there now (see aerial photo below – photo courtesy English Heritage) and recently little archaeological attention has been paid to it. Originally this ‘henge’ included a mound that might, at about fifteen metres in height, have been Marlborough Mound’s ‘smaller sister’.

Just what is a henge?  Confusingly, it’s not something like Stonehenge. It’s a neolithic enclosure which has a ditch inside its bank and is therefore not defensive, but more likely to be a site for rituals of some kind. The Marden henge may be one of the largest and most important in the country.

It hasn’t helped that Marden lies on Pewsey Vale’s greensand and neolithic monuments survive better on chalk – like Avebury. And because the Vale is rich farming land, the area has been well ploughed over the centuries.  It may even have had standing stones like Avebury – and these have all disappeared.

Jim Leary was directing the field work at Marden for English Heritage and he was amazed to find those fifteen centimetres of the mound had survived – in it they found an animal bone fragment that will enable accurate dating.  But another surprise was to come.

The excavations revealed a very rare find indeed: the sunken floor of a Neolithic building (pictured left – courtesy English heritage.)  Jim says of this find: “The building was the most incredible discovery.”  So incredible that it made the national newspapers.

Only a quarter of this has been excavated, but it showed a circular feature that was not an ordinary hearth.  One theory is that this was the floor of a ‘sweat lodge’ into which heated stones were carried to perform cleansing of the human body rather like a Scandinavian sauna – but this was probably for ritual purification rather than for personal hygiene.

And Jim believes the henge has a clear connection to rivers.  Marden may have had an avenue leading down to the Avon – a feature of other henges.  Could it be that rivers provided the routes inland for the people from continental Europe who were bringing their metalwork to England?

The future
Jim Leary lives in Hampshire with his wife and two daughters – one a very recent arrival.  He is employed by English Heritage, but because of the government’s cuts, they have stopped doing archaeological research.

However, Jim is a true enthusiast and is determined to go back to do more work on Marden – and the technology is there to help him and his team:

“Archaeology is no longer just a social science, it’s becoming a really hard science.  What we’re getting now is really refined dating techniques – we can identify a period of thirty years in pre-history.”

Silbury’s place on the tourist map is assured.  The Marlborough Mound may yet become a  must-see site – as and when the college can allow visitors.  “However, it is now time for Marden to step up in our collective consciousness and take its place as one of the truly great prehistoric monuments in the country.” Jim Leary is sure to be there to help Marden take that place.

At the college on Monday, September 19, Jim Leary is giving the Marlborough Mound Trust’s fifth annual lecture: “The Marlborough Mound and the other Giants of Wessex."

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Horse lovers swap four feet for two

Horse lovers Anna Alcock and Chloe Roberts will be swapping four feet for two as they race around Bristol in aid of retired racehorses.

Anna Alcock and Chloe Roberts, who are both 17 and come from Pewsey, will be running the Bristol Half Marathon on Sunday, September 11 in aid of Greatwood, the charity that cares for retired racehorses and children with special needs.

Anna told Marlborough News Online: “Many people clearly go racing for either the joy of watching horses or for the social occasion, but we've realised that hardly anyone knows what happens after racing and when the horses come out of training.

“Similarly some people are unaware of the amazing effect of horses on children with special needs.

“If you would like to sponsor us for the run, it would be very much appreciated by us and by Greatwood, who are very much in need of financial help at this time.”

The pair hope to raise £700 for the charity. To sponsor them, log on to

For more information about Greatwood, go to 

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