English Family Fined for ‘Cynical’ Destruction of Medieval Village
Historic England have announced the remains of Withybrook medieval village in Warwickshire have been irreparably damaged by a family, who wanted to graze horses.
John Mac, 58, his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Heather have been found guilty of causing “irreparable damage” to a medieval village and have been fined £160,000. Historic England formally charged the Mac family after they carried out illegal building works between 2015 and 2018, without having obtained Scheduled Monument Consent.
The family ignored repeated warnings from Historic England and the local council. They kept digging up land at Withybrook village including, according to the Telegraph, “laying a 4m wide track, and installing a water pipe, troughs and gate posts.”
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After the Mac family had damaged the medieval village site in Withybrook, Warwickshire. The substantial work completed can be seen, e.g. creation of large track. ( Historic England )
A Selfish And Unlawful Excavation
Located in the English county of Warwickshire, Withybrook is a rural village and civil parish just west of the old Fosse Way, about halfway between Nuneaton and Rugby on the B4112 road. According to the 2001 census, the tiny village has a population of 242 folk, and it soared to national prominence when, on 20 August 2005, the BBC reported car thieves murdered a local farmer. Before the damage at Withybrook, the medieval settlement had the well-preserved remains of moated enclosures, fishponds, a mill and a toft, land on which a house had been built.
Dating from the medieval period, the village church All Saints' Church , was extensively restored in 1995 but Mr. Macs construction of a track “damaged and destroyed the recorded medieval earthworks on the site.” Andrew Wiseman, Historic England’s General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, said the unauthorized works to the site of the deserted medieval village of Withybrook have caused “the total loss of an important medieval trackway, or hollow way, and damage to the site of a medieval building,” and this is despite written and verbal warnings from Historic England inspectors and Rugby Borough Council.
Close-up view when the unauthorised works to the medieval village were first reported to Historic England. It is a view across where the former medieval trackway was looking up to the site of a medieval building. (Historic England )
Heavy Fines For Negligence Based Crimes
Mr. Wiseman said the remains of the Withybrook settlement are of national importance because the site has so much potential “to help better understand medieval rural life and the people who lived, worked and died in this village have been immeasurably affected.” Regarding ‘why’ the family decided to disturb, damage and destroy archaeological features without any consent, it is thought the Macs, who owned the land on which Withybrook is sited in Warwickshire, carried out the illegal works in order to graze horses.
At Warwick Crown Court, Judge Potter said the Macs had not shown “any remorse” for their actions and neither have they made any attempt or offer to assess and remediate the damage caused. Thus this is why the family have been ordered to pay fines of £30,000 each and total costs of £70,000. Dr. Neil Rimmington and Nick Carter, the Inspectors of Ancient Monuments in Historic England’s Midlands Region who led the case, said: “this is an important judgment and its severity reflects not just the damage caused to the protected monument, but also the absence of engagement with our investigation and lack of remorse or willingness to make reparation.”
The Fight To Save English Heritage
The willful damage at Withybrook settlement unfortunately only highlights the plight of Historic England who recently published Scheduled Monuments at Risk . There are currently 19,861 archaeological sites on the Schedule of Monuments, ranging from prehistoric burial mounds and hillforts to 20th-century industrial and military sites, and many of these are exceptionally fragile and easily damaged.
There are 2,089 archaeology entries on the 2019 Heritage at Risk Register and damage from ploughing and arable clipping are the greatest threats to these monuments, which affects over 37.6% of scheduled monuments on the register. Without any practical, economic uses for these sites, scheduled monuments may be more at risk “from neglect and decay” than buildings or landscapes, particularly where owners already face difficult economic choices.
In many cases stabilizing scheduled monuments is a relatively simple and inexpensive task, and Historic England positively state that the majority of rural sites at risk can be restored to good condition “in ways that deliver other environmental objectives or contribute to rural economies.” And with all this effort going into saving British heritage, the Macs’ excavations and archaeological damage is further highlighted for the disgusting and repugnant act it was.
Top image: Left: Before the damage was completed to the medieval village site in Withybrook, Warwickshire, in 2014. Right: After the damage more recently. The substantial work completed can be seen, e.g. creation of large track. Source: Historic England
By Ashley Cowie