Wainwright, Geoffrey, Antiquity
I had been working in archaeology for about 10 years before my father thought to tell me that he had worked as a labourer for Cyril Fox in 1925 on a prehistoric tomb at Kilpaison Burrows near the village in Pembrokeshire where I was raised. Something may have been passed on to me from that unique experience for that young collier which was nourished and nurtured by the beauty and variety of the historic landscapes of west Wales. My purpose in writing this piece is to provide a personal perspective of the growth of my subject through my own eyes -- not to produce objective history. I cannot be objective about a subject which has consumed my working life and for which I care so passionately. I have not checked my recollections against those of my contemporaries, so as to retain the purity of that personal view, but my salutations and thanks are to them and to the countless friends with whom I have worked to push forward the boundaries of our subject. We are intensely tribal in our love of gatherings, feasting and vendettas and I have a fierce loyalty to them as well as gratitude for their companionship along the way.
In the beginning
In March 1952 the then Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments -- Bryan O'Neil -- sent a memorandum to the Director of his department which contained an account of developments in the heritage field since 1945. One can but envy his brief which was to take a strategic view of the United Kingdom, and his confidence that standards were being maintained. Any opposition to his ideas was dismissed with a lofty disdain: `we hear no criticism of our proceedings except occasionally from dilettante, who worship ruins as such without valuing them for their historical value. These people are sometimes vocal, but they cannot be many in number'. He retained his most cutting remarks for Hadrian's Wall where `some even of the local dilettante are being converted to our ways'. He had already pioneered the preservation of industrial monuments with two windmills in East Anglia and with remarkable foresight estimated the number of monuments which could be scheduled as 50,000 compared to 7554 in the UK in 1951. He had also overseen the expansion of rescue excavations between 1939 and 1945 when 55 such projects had been financed -- mainly in advance of airfields -- 450 of which had been built involving 300,000 acres of land. This programme of work continued after the war using `non-official' archaeologists instead of his own staff `because the system of subsistence for people like us is absolutely iniquitous after a stay of 28 days'. The period between 1945 and 1951 saw 40 excavations in historic cities such as London, Canterbury, Dover, Southampton and Exeter as well as Roman towns at Great Chesterford (Essex) and Caister (Norfolk) and classic post Roman sites at Thetford (Norfolk) and Mawgan Porth (Cornwall). His department was also funding a research excavation at Stanwick in Yorkshire under the direction of Mortimer Wheeler and employed 16 Inspectors of Ancient Monuments.
That 1952 memorandum had been written some years after a conference held in London in 1943 to discuss the contribution of archaeology to the post-war world (University of London 1943). Archaeologists are fond of such occasions which provide an opportunity for tribal bonding as well as forward planning, and this conference was both timely and addressed by front-rank speakers. It is rather disconcerting to realise that the subject matter would be familiar to the archaeologist nearly 60 years on -- research agendas, training, records, museums, education, amateurs and state archaeology. What was lacking in both O'Neil's memorandum and the 1943 conference proceedings was any sense of the legitimate and latent interest of the public in archaeological discoveries. For Britain this was to change in 1954 with the discovery of the Temple of Mithras in London. The queues of people wishing to see the remains, and the political and media interest, demonstrated conclusively that archaeology had a role to play in the cultural life of the country and would no longer be the preserve of the professional. …