thanks all but unfort. no joy.
i don't know whether this applies, but i did say in the first post that the .htaccess file already works to deliver a custom 404 page, to limit access and parse .html pages for ssi.
however, i added the following lines to httpd.conf
but it made no difference. and httpd -l still gives me:
suexec: enabled; valid wrapper /usr/sbin/suexec
still confused, surely after adding the LoadModule lines to the httpd.conf, httpd -l should also list mod_rewrite.c?
i am sure i have not loaded the mod_rewrite correctly. i have also made no reference to the mod_rewrite.c file in the httpd.conf as apache didn't like that (see first post)