King's Stables Update, March 07

Published in Gilsland Village Magazine, March 2007 Issue

Following supportive responses from the Parish Councils to my letters about the unauthorised change of name of our milecastle, poor Mr A at “Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd” (as if the Wall could be privatised, New Labour style) has been working hard, but not very imaginatively to answer their letters. In one of his responses he tells us that “it is generally recognised as Poltcross (sic) Burn - for example in all (sic) the literature about Hadrian’s Wall.” I know several authoritative books which go out of their way to stress that the proper name is King’s Stables, but Mr A no doubt means “all the more recent literature” and tells us that the oldest book he has to hand dates all the way back to 1961.

This uniformity is hardly surprising, considering the power that English Heritage and the like have to distribute disinformation about the Romans, or whatever else falls within what they fondly imagine to be their remit. One reason why I began the campaign over The King’s Stables was to challenge the conformist steamroller which is busy homogenising local character and its historical roots into a seamless, officially approved piece of PR. HWH’s main points seem to be:
1) that changing names “now” would lead to confusion. To whom, I’m not sure, nor whether it matters more than the authenticity of our place-names.
2) that someone called Collingwood created a list of labels and numbers for the milecastles. So what ? It is magnanimously admitted that his numbering system has imperfections, but how this is linked to the viability of a selection of arbitrary names or a perceived inability to disregard them is not clear.
3) that we have “no powers to change the name”. I’m not sure who is meant by “we”, but I call it The King’s Stables, so presumably more important people than me can also choose to do so. In my original approach I did not ask HWH to change the name, I asked for their support. If several influential bodies along the Wall began to question the standardisation of place names, perhaps others would take notice ?
4) that there is a milecastle called King’s Hill (no. 36) and to change ours would cause confusion (again) !
5) that we don’t know how the Romans labelled the milecastle. Eh ? I am prepared to wager a tidy sum that they didn’t call it King’s Stables or Poltross Burn, but am at a complete loss to understand the relevance of this insight.
6) that it is listed with UNESCO as Poltross Burn milecastle. If the deliberations of British archaeologists are of dubious relevance to our place names, the arcane and politicised imposition of contrived world heritage site “status” is well outside most people’s concept of reality.

A faint glimmer of hope appeared in another letter where the possibility is admitted that future replacement signs could include the local name beneath the official one. I have also responded to the warm, fuzzy feelings emanating from Northumberland National Park by asking what I thought was a simple question: “Do you have a policy on local place-names ?” This led to a Byzantine exhibition of helpfulness stretching over several months and four different media. Eventually the answer popped out. No, we don’t, we’re too busy anyway, and of course we aren’t obliterating local character. W-e-e-ll, actually, not even having a policy (i.e. just accepting what you are told by Big Brother) could be considered carelessness, at least.

Will Higgs, March 2007