Today, the Royal Mail have released a set of ‘Ancient Britain’ Stamps, continuing a long tradition of depicting historic subjects on stamps that dates back to the 1960s, when the Post Office began to issue sets of special stamps on a regular basis. Around twelve sets of ‘special stamps’ are issued every year.
Eight historic sites and archaeological finds from around Britain are depicted on the new Ancient Britain stamps: five in England and one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Stamps such as these literally travel the world, promoting the central place of the historic environment in both our national history and in our modern lives.
Joe Flatman, Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England takes us through the featured historic places:
Maiden Castle, Dorchester, Dorset.
Maiden Castle near Dorchester, Dorset is depicted on a new £1.05 stamp. A dramatic hill-fort of primarily Iron Age date (80 BC–AD 43), it is a scheduled monument managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. The castle is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hill-forts in Europe, one of 376 other hill-fort sites across England that are formally protected by the government as scheduled monuments.
Star Carr: Headdress
An antler head-dress from Star Carr in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire features on another new £1.05 stamp. This rare find is housed in the British Museum, but the site that it originates from is a scheduled monument of the Mesolithic period, dating to around 9000 BC.
The site has recently been the subject of a long-term research programme, which we part-funded. Star Carr comprises the exceptionally rare remains of an Early Mesolithic settlement. There are only 39 sites of this period on the List (out of nearly 20,000 scheduled monuments in total in England), of which Star Carr is arguably the most important Mesolithic site of all.
The popular tourist attraction of Avebury in Wiltshire appears on a new £1.33 stamp. Avebury’s impressive ring of Neolithic (2400-2000 BC) standing stones is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in Britain, having been the subject of endless speculation, as well as popular folklore and visits, since at least the 17th century.
The site was one of the first ever to be formally scheduled on behalf of the nation in 1884 via the Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882. In 1986 the site’s significance was further recognised when it became a World Heritage Site together with Stonehenge.
Less well-known but no less important than Avebury are the similarly aged Neolithic flint-mines of Grimes Graves near Thetford, Norfolk. This site is shown on a new £1.52 stamp. Grimes Graves was first settled much further back in the Mesolithic period (about 9500–4000 BC), but about 2650 BC flint mining began at there – about the same time that the first standing stones were erected at Avebury. The earliest recorded archaeological investigations of the site took place in 1852, but it was not until work in 1868–70 that Grimes Graves was proved to be a Neolithic flint mine, the first to be recognised as such in Britain.
River Thames: Battersea Shield
The fifth English site depicted in the stamps series is the Iron Age (800 BC–AD 43) Battersea shield, which was discovered in 1857 during dredging works on the River Thames in the borough Kensington and Chelsea. The site is shown on a 1st class stamp. Unlike the other English sites, the precise find-spot of the shield is not known nor protected under law because it was discovered so long ago, but the shield is on display in the British Museum.
Three other stamps in the series depict ancient sites and finds in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These are:
- Skara Brae on the Mainland, Orkney, Scotland: a Neolithic site managed by Historic Environment Scotland that is depicted on a 1st class stamp;
- The Mold Cape from Flintshire, North Wales: a significant archaeological find from a Bronze Age site that is depicted on a £1.52 stamp. The cape itself is now displayed in the British Museum, and the site that it comes from is not open to public;
- The Drumbest Horns from County Antrim, Northern Ireland: dating to the Bronze Age and depicted on a £1.33 stamp, these finds are now displayed in the National Museum of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Museum, and the site that they come from is not open to public.
If you’re interested in these sites perhaps you’d like to go a step further and help share your knowledge and experience of them with other people. Learn more about how you can help us to #ListEngland and Enriching the List.
- Find out more about Special Stamps from the Royal Mail