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Tom Holland and guests discuss heritage crime, Matt Pope is at a 4,500-year-old boat graveyard and Charlie Higson explains to Helen Castor why dressing up makes for real history.

Tom Holland presents BBC Radio 4's popular history magazine programme which takes listeners on a journey in time and space to catch up on the latest research and celebrate the ways that we all engage with the past.

In today's programme Tom is joined by archaeologist and landscape historian Professor Francis Pryor and the public engagement specialist, Professor Owen Davies from the University of Hertfordshire.

We hear how ignorance is a defence when it comes to wrecking an internationally important heritage site. The one in question is the 8th century fortification built by a Mercian king that we know as Offa's Dyke. The damage was done in August 2013 when a landowners ripped out 45 metres of it. Police decided not to prosecute because they couldn't prove that the landowner in question knew how historically important the dyke was. So: is this a loophole in the laws which protect our ancient monuments; what's being done to close it; and how widespread a problem is this throughout the United Kingdom?

Archaeologist Dr Matt Pope from University College London takes a trip to the Irish Republic's biggest freshwater lake, Lough Corrib near Galway. There an off-duty ship's captain, Trevor Northage, has spent years mapping the lough bed using high-tech sonar equipment. In the last three years he has discovered 12 boats, vacuum-packed in the silt, which span the period from the Bronze Age to that of the Victorians. Matt meets Trevor and hears about the archaeological importance of these finds to Dr Kahl Brady of the National Monument's Service in Eire.

Finally, we report from what's been called the Glastonbury of history: the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival which culminated last weekend in a riot of re-enactment and historical discussion. Helen Castor was at the festival and she caught up with the writer Charlie Higson who confesses to his fondness for dressing up and acting out the past.

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Producer: Nick Patrick.
A Pier Production for BBC Radio 4.

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28 minutes

Last on

Tue 1 Jul 2014 15:00

Damage Done by ‘Forgetting’ History

Archaeologists, heritage workers and walkers are angry that a landowner hasn’t been prosecuted after he destroyed 45 metres of Offa’s Dyke close to the English/Welsh border. Police claim that they took legal advice and decided they couldn’t bring a case under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979) because they couldn’t prove that the person in question understood the historical significance of the Dyke. The concern now is that until this legal loophole is closed other historical sites might be damaged.

Tom Holland spoke to John Griffiths the member of the Welsh Assembly with responsibility for Culture and Sport who has responsibility for the organisation that looks after historic sites in Wales, CADW; and Paul Belford who is Director of the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust

Wales On-Line 

John Griffiths 


Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979)

Clywd/Powys Archaeological Trust 

Lough Corrib Boats

Trevor Northage spends six months of the year teaching people to pilot cargo ships up the Amazon. In his time off he likes nothing better than getting out on Lough Corrib near his home in Galway in the west of Ireland and using his sonar-gear to map its bed. Back in 2011 he started coming across ancient objects that are transforming our understanding of a range of periods in Irish history from the Bronze and Iron Ages through the Viking period, right up to the Victorians. These objects are boats and they include everything from finely constructed log boats from 4,500 years ago to a grand nineteenth century racing yacht.

Dr Matt Pope from University College London went to meet Kahl and Trevor.

Trevor Northage’s website

National Monument’s Service (Eire) 

Please note that is against the law to dive on archaeological sites with our prior permission from the National Monument’s Service (EIRE).




Working with Dr Kahl Brady of the Underwater Archaeology team from Ireland’s National Monument’s Service, Trevor has come across 12 boats so far and is confident that there are many more.


Dr Matt Pope from University College London  went to meet Kahl and Trevor.


JPEG  Matt Pope and Kahl Brady




Trevor Northage’s website


National Monument’s Service (Eire)


See video of sonar pictures of one of the Lough Corrib log boats

(C) Trevor Northage



Please note that is against the law to dive on archaeological sites with our prior permission from the National Monument’s Service (EIRE).

Public History

The writer Charlie Higson joined Helen Castor at the Chalke Valley History Festival to share his enthusiasm for historical re-enactment.

Chalke Valley History Festival  

Making History is produced by Nick Patrick and is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4