Over 400 people braved the weather to attend the event, with organisers calling it a 'momentus heart-warming display of affection for heritage'.
People assembled for a series of photo-calls as an aerial imaging quadcopter (drone) passed overhead to capture the stunning hillfort and enthusiastic crowd from the sky (A video is available on the group's Facebook page). They were pictured forming a heart shape at the western entrance, then in a ring that almost encircled the hillfort’s expansive top, covering some six hectares.
The event forms part of a long term campaign which has been providing opposition to a Shropshire County development plan which allocates land adjacent to the hillfort for new housing developments.
Heritage representatives including hillfort expert Dr Rachel Pope of the University of Liverpool, heritage landscape specialist Timothy Malim, and archaeologist and rock art expert, Dr George Nash, were on hand with insights into the site’s colourful history. Dr Nash gave a short presentation on the significance of the hillfort and its setting, while overlooking the neighbouring fields and views across the Shropshire plain which would be damaged by development.
The event was coordinated with a national campaign inviting people to tweet selfies of their favourite piece of heritage with the #HugYourHeritage logo. Supported by the CBA (Council for British Archaeology), the heritage love-in peaked across social networks at 1 pm via crowd-speaking platform, Thunderclap, to coincide with the Old Oswestry hug.
Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, Director of the Council for British Archaeology, said: "Oswestry hillfort is of national archaeological importance and much loved by its local community. Any development which impacts on the setting of the monument would be totally inappropriate and goes against national planning policy. The Council for British Archaeology fully supports the strong local campaign and calls on the County Council to seek alternative sites for their housing proposals."
Artie Edmonds of Oswestry said: “The hug was a great success and demonstrated the passion, across all ages, for the protection of our heritage. The fact that it was held on Valentine’s day made it extra special as it showed the love that the people of Oswestry have for our precious hillfort and the wonderful views across the counties that can be seen from the top.”
Pip Davies, also from Oswestry, said: “Walking up Old Oswestry hillfort with crowds of people was spine-tingling. These people, along with myself, are standing up for our history, our heritage and our ancestry. We, as a concerned community, cannot and will not let developers and greed take away our ancient landscape.”
The Hug builds on an 8,000-strong petition against the planned developments. Such strong local opposition has been embraced by the wider heritage sector, and a piece on the Oswestry debacle for BBC Radio 4’s Making History airs this Tuesday at 3 pm, with Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe. A decision by the Government Inspector, Claire Sherratt, is expected in the next few weeks.
Further details on the campaign and the event can be found on Facebook or the HOOOH website.
The CBA continues to support local voices who wish to campaign for the heritage which they value. Communicating this value to politicians and decision-makers is the best way to assure protections for archaeology in the planning system and embed thinking about heritage value in government action on local places.
If you have an issue and would like to get advice from the local heritage team email LHEN@archaeologyuk.org.