The battle for the 'King of Bling'





Demonstrators in a seaside suburb of Essex have staged a five month long protest to angry at plans to widen a road over the burial site of a Saxon king dubbed the King of Bling.

Local resident Ant Bailey, 39, co-founded the camp five months ago with local environmental campaigner Shaun Qureshi.

Several different things inspired him to set it up, he said, including "the trees, the park, the burial site" he thinks are at risk from Southend Borough Council's £25m Priory Crescent road-widening scheme.

"We're just totally against it. People are putting everything into this, some people are leaving their jobs, some people are leaving their homes, living here, putting their life into it, and it's what we feel is the right thing to do."

The council, on the other hand, says the road is needed to tackle terrible congestion, and that efforts have been made to reduce the environmental impact.

They also point out that the road has been through an exhaustive planning process - including a full public inquiry in 2004 and central government agreement - and that it has been democratically decided.

'Incredible find'

This is not convincing the protesters, however.

A burial chamber of a Saxon king, dubbed the Prince of Prittlewell, or the King of Bling, after the number of grave goods he was buried with, was found in 2003 - ironically, during excavation work in preparation for the road-widening scheme.


Anthony Bailey believes it is right to stand up for what you believe in

Marion Pearce, a local historian who does not live at the camp, but visits it as a supporter, says: "It's been an incredible find, just incredible.

"It's a great sacred site and it should be venerated. We are an ancient country and an ancient people, and this site should have a proper veneration."

She also believes more burial sites could be found in the area.

"We have only scratched the surface... Haven't we got a responsibility to our future generations?"

Water brought in

Mr Bailey, who used to be employed as a sheet metal worker, says about 15 people now sleep at the camp, with about 25-30 people there in the daytime.

The protesters have been very active in the last five months - building dwellings and communal areas in the camp, hosting visitors including a group of scouts, and planning a "proper" visitors centre to teach people all about the king.

The council says they have not applied for planning permission for any of their makeshift buildings, but it is content to "keep an eye on the situation" for now.

THE 'KING OF BLING'

Burial site found in 2003 during road preparation work
It was 12ft wide, 5ft high and wood-lined
Believed to be burial site of a 7th Century Saxon king, possibly Sigeberht or Sabert
Body had dissolved but goods included flagon, bowl, folding stool and gold-foil crosses
These goods now in the Museum of London
Road scheme has cleared all planning hurdles and is now in final funding stages


In pictures: Burial chamber
Supporters donate water, food and cash - and local people offer them hot baths and showers, says Mr Bailey.

He says most at the camp are local residents, but there are also activists from elsewhere, including 22-year-old Christiana Tugwell, who hit headlines in 1999 when at age 15 she began a protest in nearby Hockley.

Ms Tugwell has been at the site for four months along with 16-month-old son Aaron and partner Owen. She says the camp was set up as a last resort after protesters became "disillusioned with the political process".

"You can tick the box in a survey and sign as many petitions as you like, but nothing seems to make a palpable difference," she says.

"But at least here you feel you are doing something."

But are they right to be there?

The road plan is now at an extremely advanced stage.

It was originally mooted about six years ago and has cleared all planning hurdles, including the public inquiry in 2004. Now all that remains is for central government to decide whether to release the funds need for it - a decision widely expected some time in the spring.




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