5.3.3 At-risk categories of carved stones: loose and vulnerable

A photo of broken figurative stone sculptures laying on the ground surrounded by autumnal leaves

Figure 102: 17th-century sculptures removed from the chapel at Fettes College, Edinburgh, for safety reasons. © Dianne King

Loose and vulnerable stones, often found in and around existing and former ecclesiastical sites (see Figures 102‒103), are an ‘at risk’ group for several reasons. Responsibility for them falls between curatorial stools (e.g. museums, HES, local authorities and the church). They are not well protected by current legislation. Listing does not usually cover loose stones and portable stones by definition cannot be scheduled. In many cases ownership is unclear and, where known, owners difficult to trace. Depending on the exact nature their status as ‘ownerless’ and ‘portable’ they may not be covered by Treasure Trove. When stones enter the Treasure Trove process there is a need for full conservation assessments to be made. Their portability is a risk to their traceability and raises the likelihood of theft and sale. Movement increases the chance of stones being taken out of their historical context. There may be issues over the extent and quality of recording and cataloguing to document their original placement (or to develop biographies of secondary associations) and to evidence claims if stones have been stolen or sold. Ex-situ architectural stones individually, or as assemblages, are fragments that can provide evidence, which may otherwise be missing, to help us to understand what buildings formerly looked like and how they were used. The gathering together of fragments (or equally not) can make them difficult to access physically. Interpreting their potential evidential value requires specialist knowledge and available resources to carry out analysis, meaning that the importance of fragments can be overlooked with their day-to-day care. If neither designated nor owned, their existence, cultural and public values may simply pass unnoticed. The Elgin Cathedral: Case Study 21 shows how interpretation and presentation can improve how visitors experience and appreciate carved stones, particularly where a stone’s historic and aesthetic importance may not be immediately obvious.

A photo of a large broken top of an acorn shaped stone finial lying on the ground next to a stone wall

Figure 103: Detached carved finial from an unknown monument within Canongate Parish Churchyard, Edinburgh. © Susan Buckham

Leave a Reply