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archaeologist; marking the Great War; why schools are federating

News Insight: The naked

Every week on the Strawberry Line Times website ( Harry Mottram looks behind the stories you read in your local paper, scan from the internet or overhear in the pub that concerns this area

The late Mick Aston: revealing our past through a medium of TV

Last month the country’s most high profile TV archaeologist died suddenly at home leaving his partner, family and colleagues devastated and a Strawberry Line village in mourning. Professor Mick Aston of Channel Four’s Time Team programme was just 66. He was a well-known figure in Winscombe and Sandford where he lived with his new partner Teresa, often appearing at village functions explaining local history with huge enthusiasm to those drawn to the exhibitions of archaeology – his wild hair blowing in the wind, his arms gesticulating and his face bright with excitement.

Speaking on the BBC’s Radio Four programme Last Word with Matthew Bannister, Tony “Baldrick” Robinson spoke fondly of his colleague and of how he looked and dressed. Tony said Mick wasn’t a conformist and had a strong anti-establishment streak in him – and looked like anyone who had been to the Isle of Wight Rock Festival in 1969. He said Mick’s hair was a permanent feature of every interview finding its way into many camera close- ups. Phil Harding said he was a superb scholar who could make history come alive for TV viewers - and Phil said he loved the banter they had on air.

The programme revealed how Mick was accused by fellow academics of dumbing down to make the first series – but ironically quit the show at the end as he felt the producers were beginning to dumb down the programme. It was announced earlier this year the programme was to end after the 20th series.

Perhaps the least known aspect of Mick’s life was his love of naturism. Tony Robinson said that at any chance he’d get his kit off, while Phil Harding joked that he was glad he wasn’t around when this happened.

Despite his love of Somerset Mick hailed from the

Black Country and kept his distinctive Midlands accent. He taught at Bristol University and was in demand as a speaker on the ancient history of the British Isles – with some of his finest work being on the history of Shapwick and Winscombe. On the Channel Four show (which he helped invent over an all day breakfast at the Happy Eater on the A303 in Devon) he broke new ground in the understanding of our past. He retired in 2004, but was made emeritus professor of landscape archaeology, and an honorary visiting professor at Exeter and Durham universities. He is survived by son James and step-daughter Kathryn, both children of his former partner Carinne Allinson.

A century since the Great War: a call to arms for a role of honour

With the British and American Governments pledged to supply arms to the rebels in Syria are we on the slippery slope to the Third World War? If we were sucked into the conflict and Iran, Turkey and Russia became involved it would only take one spark to send the world up in flames - although this time Germany would be on our side.

There’s been a series on Radio Four called 1913: The Year Before, narrated by Michael Portillo. The programme reappraises society, the Empire and social conditions as tensions rose between the competing nations. The situation then and now has some uncanny similarities with two interlinked blocks of countries fighting proxy wars and seeking economic domination.

The outbreak of the so-called War to End All Wars is being marked across the country – with films, books and exhibitions. Thousands of school children are being ferried to the battlefield sites as part of Government sponsored project to allow today’s school kids to fully understand the conflict and to research the era as part of their education. The Government has launched a website (


uk/ww1centenary) and even a special logo for as they describe it “for the four-year programme of remembrance marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War between 2014 and 2018.” And it won’t come as a surprise that there’s even a First World War Facebook site which along with the Government’s website has a wealth of information including news of events connected to the project.

In Axbridge Baz Hamblin of the town’s museum is on a mission to create a Roll of Honour of residents who were involved in the conflict – rather than just those whose names are etched on the war memorials of the district. To qualify are those awarded with the British War Medal 1914-1920, the Victory Medal 1914-1918, the 1914 Star and the 1914-1915 Star.

The museum wants to record as much detail as possible about residents who were involved in the war from their relatives and friends – particularly because much of the official information stored in Sidcot was destroyed by a German bomb in World War II.

If mission creep develops in Syria and we do end up in a third world war - then one thing seems secure - no German bombs will fall on Sidcot this time. Instead the combined air forces of Russia, Iran and China could take the place of the Luftwaffe. At which point we might as well give up.

More details of the project are available from King John’s Hunting Lodge Museum, The Square, Axbridge or from Baz Hamblin on 01934 733939 or 07979 994126.

Getting together: why are schools forming federations?

Michael Gove is if nothing a busy Education Secretary determined to push through his reforms in schools - from changing the GCSE exams to altering the length of school holidays. It’s safe to say he’s not particularly popular with many teachers - although those with a traditional view of education find his views chime with theirs.

One of the policies being rolled out is that of school federations. In May Winscombe and Sandford Primary schools got together to form The Strawberry Line Federation when to “celebrate” the schools reported that “children from both schools walked along the Strawberry Line and hung ‘wishes’ on their newly planted federation tree near a commemorative bench and filled a time capsule with their writing about their hopes for the future. John Penrose, MP attended the ceremony and wished the two schools good luck in their new venture.”

Meanwhile in Cheddar consultations are taking place between the village’s first and middle schools along with first schools in Draycott & Rodney Stoke and Shipham over plans for a federation. The question is why? The answer it seems is simple: to save money. By pooling resources such as teachers, governors, purchasing of equipment and resources, significant savings could be made. With the average primary school spending over £4,000 on each pupil and 56% of its budget on wages including around £60,000 on a head teacher’s salary the Government feels a lot of cash could be saved. This may or may not be true as only time will tell if federations work - but if you simply had one head between two schools - clearly costs could be slashed.

And if these savings could be made with federations it beggars the question - how much longer can the middle school system in the Cheddar Valley continue? A legacy of the move to end the grammar school system decades ago the format means there are three schools, three sets of teachers and three sets of buildings. Could they be the next target for cost cutting?

Strawberry Line Times

August 2013

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