Obituary: John Hurst ; Medieval Archaeologist and Inspector of Ancient Monuments

By Saunders, Andrew | The Independent (London, England), May 9, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: John Hurst ; Medieval Archaeologist and Inspector of Ancient Monuments


Saunders, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)


JOHN HURST was a much-loved and respected pioneer of British medieval archaeology, and Assistant Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage.

While reading for a degree in Prehistoric Archaeology at Cambridge in 1950, Hurst set his course towards the then little- appreciated medieval period. Practical experience was gained at the mesolithic site of Starr Carr in Yorkshire but with other Cambridge colleagues he directed the excavation of Northolt moated manor in Middlesex "to train ourselves", remaining as director there for 20 years. His close associate was Jack Golson and both were to be influenced by the Danish archaeologist Axel Steensberg in developing the technique of open area excavation instead of the traditional trench system advocated by Mortimer Wheeler.

After excavations in Norwich came a significant meeting with the historian Maurice Beresford in 1952 at the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy in the Yorkshire Wolds. From this began a research project involving annual excavation and landscape study that lasted until 1990 and is regarded as a "benchmark in the making of medieval archaeology". The project stimulated a wider research group interested in the subject of medieval settlement generally. With Beresford, Hurst wrote Deserted Medieval Villages (1971) and he remained general editor of the Wharram research monographs.

Hurst's second special interest was ceramics, beginning with the publication in 1955 of "The Saxo-Norman Pottery of East Anglia" in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Archaeological Society. His evening classes on medieval pottery held at Goldsmiths' College, London, from 1963 onwards also helped him to develop his own ideas. He was a source of advice to excavators across the country on pottery and his Medieval Pottery from Excavations, edited with Henry Hodges and Vera Evison, appeared in 1974. But his knowledge was not parochial and Pottery Produced and Traded in North West Europe, 1350-1650 was published in 1986 with David S. Neal and H.J.E. van Beuningen as collaborators.

His achievements in these associated fields were celebrated in two festchrifts: The Rural Settlements of Medieval England: studies dedicated to Maurice Beresford and John Hurst (1989), edited by Michael Aston, David Austin and Christopher Dyer, and, in 1992, Everyday and Exotic Pottery from Europe c.650-1900: studies in honour of John G. Hurst (1992), edited by David Gaimster and Mark Redknap. This latter volume listed no fewer than 146 papers by Hurst together with contributions to others' publications - "a legacy unlikely to be eclipsed by any living archaeologist" in the view of the archaeologist and historian Ivor Noel Hume.

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