CA 401 Letters – July

Your thoughts on issues raised by CA.

Archaeological legacy of Lancashire 

Congratulations on your 400th edition! In March 1967, not long out of university, and doing an archaeology night-school class in Manchester led by John Hallam (who died in 2009), my wife and I signed up for that first edition – and we have read every one since.

As Lancastrians, though, we have to challenge the statement in CA 400’s column that ‘1974 saw… the funding of the first ever local-government funded archaeologist (for  Winchester)’. In fact, I believe that accolade goes to B J N (Ben) Edwards, who was appointed County Archaeologist for Lancashire on 1 August 1963. In 1975, following The Great Truncation of 1974, when Lancashire lost Merseyside, Manchester, and Lancashire North of the Sands to new authorities, Ben and his wife Margaret began publishing the Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin (LAB), which ran up to six times a year from 1975 to 1990. It was intended to keep everyone up to date with what was going on in archaeology  in the (new) county, in a typed and duplicated subscription journal, profusely illustrated, mainly with Ben’s drawings. A full set of digitised copies has recently been posted to the website of the Lancashire Archaeological Society, which  Ben helped to co-found in 1976. Long all-but-inaccessible itself, LAB provides a treasure trove of information, dating  to long before the Portable Antiquities Scheme made small finds more accessible ( 

Ben retired in 1995 and  died in 2011. In his career, he published nearly 100 books, articles, and papers, but possibly the highlight of both his and John Hallam’s career was their joint excavation in 1970 of the Poulton Elk, showing evidence of Late Upper Palaeolithic man in Lancashire, now redated to c.13,500 years ago (Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, vol.39, 1973).

Bill Shannon, Preston, Lancashire

Missing Maurice

Congratulations on the appearance of CA 400, but I was disappointed that the article on the 50th birthday of York Archaeological Trust failed  to mention the fundamental contribution of Maurice Barley.  His work in other historic towns, like his native Lincoln and Nottingham, where he was professor, made him the right man at the right time to recognise the threat of development to the archaeology of York. So, in 1971, with Peter Addyman and Martin Biddle, he determined that an archaeological unit had to be set up there. He chaired the Trust from its establishment in 1972 to 1990, and Barley Hall (BELOW) is named after him.

Brendan O’Connor, Edinburgh

Image: Christian Bickel, CC BY-SA 2.0

Search for stables 

I enjoyed the article ‘Rural Romanitas’ (CA 399), which suggested that buildings we traditionally describe as villas might actually have had a range of roles.

I was particularly interested in the comment on p.27 that Piddington Roman Villa might, at least in part, have been a mansio: ‘given that part of the site has now been identified  as a stable block’. 

The absence of either  stable blocks or coach houses among the buildings identified on villa sites has long troubled me – because there must have been such things, for travel to and from town, or over to see neighbours and friends further afield. Think of the world of Jane Austen’s novels.

These thoughts remain  just as relevant whether  we consider the sites to have been farmhouses, palaces, temples, tax offices, factories, or whatever. What do mansio stables look like? Should we expect structures along  the lines of Middle Eastern caravanserai? What do villa coach houses look like?

Dylan Bickerstaffe, Loughborough, Leicestershire

Leaf it to Leif 

New evidence may suggest  that the ‘Norse’ imported wood (‘World News’, CA 400), but the Greenland sagas  state that Leif Eiríksson did indeed bring back timber  from what was probably the New England area, as well  as grapes – around AD 1001. The sagas also argue that Thorfinn Karlsefni did the same around 9-10 years later. They do not say what  use the timber (which on one  occasion had been left to weather for a year before loading for the return journey) was put to, but these men had high standing in Greenland,  so the wood could have been used for their own dwellings.

Frances Mason, Mistley, Essex

Illuminating  Elmet

I was very pleased to  read your news article in  CA 399 about the excavation of the cemetery in Garforth (ABOVE). You say that the Kingdom of Elmet is little known: maybe outside the area, but it is known about locally due to the book by Edmund Bogg, published in 1902, called  The Old Kingdom of Elmet. It has had different names over the years. My copy, reprinted in 1987, is called Round about Leeds and the Old Villages  of Elmete. It is an antiquarian work, which of course would need to be  updated, so  I am glad that archaeology is taking over and I hope that more will be found.

I was born and lived the first part of my life  in the Kingdom of Elmet, and am glad that its part in history is becoming better known.

Jean M Gidman, Ormskirk, Lancashire

Edible Archaeology

This is my recent birthday cake, which depicts Swinside stone circle (sometimes called ‘Sunken Kirk’) in the south-west of the Lake District, a smaller version of the Castlerigg Circle near Keswick.

I have an image of it as my computer desktop. The sheep are Lakeland Herdwicks, among the trees, mountains, and drystone walls of the North-West. The pre-1974 (WR=West Riding) signpost is in the village where I live, in the Yorkshire Dales.

I am a founder member of Ingleborough Archaeology Group and of Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group, and I still attend lecture meetings. Arthritis stopped me digging many years ago, but I helped with finds and was tea-lady at group excavations for many years. I’ve enjoyed Current Archaeology for about 20 years.

The cake was envisaged by my daughter and was made by a cake-lady in Settle. It tasted good too!

Jill Sykes, Austwick, North Yorkshire

CA Online: What you have shared with us this month

Ben Cottam @TheCottam

Exciting to see @TheDig Venturers #DigCaerfai dig on front of @CurrentArchaeo this month along with an excellent article by @LisaWWilkins on social value of #archaeology including new opportunities from public value priorities in procurement.

Dr Joe Flatman @joeflatman

For #FindsFriday it’s a cake with 400 candles for @CurrentArchaeo! Tons of awesome features, including my attempt to summarise the main milestones of UK archaeology from 1967 to 2023 in 2,400 words!

Jane Harrison @JaneHarrison865

Congratulations to Current Archaeology @CurrentArchaeo on reaching 400 issues! Delighted that the AAARP excavations feature in a short article in the issue @AppletonAARP #CommunityArchaeology

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