In the context of an increasingly nationalistic and divided Britain, should old heritage boards for linear monuments be left to fade, rot and become overgrown? Or should they be restored or replaced?
In 2015, I posted about the ‘slow death’ of the heritage sign board beside the footpath where the early 9th-century Mercian monument, Wat’s Dyke, is crossed by the A539 east of Ruabon. In December 2017 I posted again about walking along this stretch with my 2nd-year students but failed to take further images of it. So last weekend, I went out for a walk along Wat’s Dyke and I checked up on its situation.
Who cares? Well, this is one of the very few locations where a heritage board had once been situated on Britain’s third-longest ancient monument, so its fate is of considerable interest to me and importance for understanding this important early medieval dyke in the Anglo-Welsh borderlands. The only effective heritage board that remains extant for Wat’s Dyke is at a location where you cannot readily discern the monument itself: at Gobowen.
Looking back through old photographs, I realise I can chart the final stages of its demise. In 2013, the board was still accessible, if illegible.
In 2015, it was nearly completely overgrown and inaccessible.
Now it is lost to the hedgerow utterly, only a faint memory to me and inaccessible to all.
Will it be reclaimed one day? Will it tell its now out-of-date story about Wat’s Dyke being a 7th/early 8th-century monument, when now we suspect it is an early 9th-century dyke, a successor or augmentation to Offa’s Dyke. Should we leave the board with its dated information hidden from view? Or should it be ‘re-excavated’? Or should new information take its place? Or perhaps we should rehabilitate this old board and supplement it with a new one to illustrate the changing approaches to the monument over the two decades? Is this an opportunity to reflect on the redundancy and folly of such barriers in the contemporary world, when so many are keen to re-establish social and spatial divisions within and beyond the island of Britain? Whether ignore or restore, linear monuments are part of Britain’s complex and divisive ‘island story’ that should be a stark warning for the present.