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Henrietta Quinnell :
Rescue Archaeology, Adult Education and South West Britain

Susan Pearce.

Henrietta Quinnell

In 2009 a conference entitled ‘Current Research in the Prehistory of South West England’ was held at Tavistock under the joint auspices of the Devon Archaeological Society and the Cornwall Archaeological Society, to celebrate Henrietta’s sixty-fifth birthday and her achievements in archaeology over her working life so far. It was attended by some 140 people, almost all of whom knew Henrietta personally, and whose lives had been touched by her work. Since she first came to the south-west, in 1968, Henrietta has dedicated herself to her twin roles of working practical archaeologist and archaeological teacher, and during this time, she has gathered around her a large band of devoted friends, who hold her in great regard and affection, amply manifested at the Tavistock Conference. This volume is the outcome of that meeting, and it is appropriate that its opening paper should explore how Henrietta has shaped archaeological practice in the southwest, and how this relates to the broader context of archaeology as it has unfolded through her life.

Henrietta was born a war baby in 1944, and spent her early years during the period of austerity and high socialist hopes. Her father, Henry, after whom she was named, was the first member of his family to attend a university, and did so in style, achieving scholarships to Christchurch, Oxford, where, in 1932,  he took a First in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. In 1947, he became Vice-President of Ruskin College, Oxford, one of the places where Labour Party political thinking was formed.  Her mother, Margaret, also a socialist economist, similarly followed the adult education route to a university post at Bristol. In 1949, they bought a run-down cottage in the Cotswolds, and their elder daughter, soon joined by her sister, Catherine, went to the local primary school and Witney Grammar School. The young Henrietta imbibed a strong sense of social responsibility, particularly in relation to educational opportunities, and in the need for collective care for what was just beginning to be known as ‘the heritage’; these convictions were to shape her working life.

Both were deeply significant contemporary issues. The development of new universities was to wait until the nineteen-sixties, but the pre-war network of Ruskin, Workers Education Association classes, and external degrees, from which the new institutions would come, flourished in post-war Britain. A conference in London to discuss the destruction of archaeological sites, which the huge development of the military was causing, and what might be done, had already met in 1943, probably largely at the instigation of O.G.S. Crawford, who had become the first archaeology officer at the Ordnance Survey (OS) in 1920. At the OS, Charles Philips had already begun the massive task of creating the modern OS Record of British archaeological sites. Meanwhile, Bryan O’Neil, on behalf of the then Ministry of Works (MoW), was carrying out emergency excavations ahead of the Army, particularly on the southern chalk lands, and Cyril Fox was similarly digging. This needed substantial numbers of volunteer diggers, for whose benefit Richard Atkinson, already a veteran excavator, wrote Field Archaeology in 1946. This was a practical, hands-on manual of how to do digs, which guided generations of excavators.

By the time she was eight years old, Henrietta knew that her life’s interest would lie in the past and its interpretation; by then she had discovered, and fallen in love with, Homer’s Odyssey, read in Rieu’s Penguin translation. It was clear that she needed more than her grammar school could provide, particularly in Classics, and so arrangements were made for her to study Greek and Latin privately, while her mother taught her geology and history herself. When she was fifteen, she made contact with Oxford University Archaeological Society, and began her career in archaeology by digging with them regularly for two years. A bad road accident in 1961 necessitated a break, and when she returned to action, Henrietta started excavating on what became known as ‘the circuit’, the sequence of excavations, generally in advance of site destruction, carried out by an itinerant but close-knit body of site directors, supervisors, and diggers, funded (to a modest degree, which made little or no provision for write-up and publication) by MoW. She dug on the circuit for three years.

The pre-war network created by Crawford was still effectively controlling archaeological thinking, particularly at the most senior levels. Its members embraced Gordon Childe in London, Cyril and Aileen Fox at Cardiff, Christopher Hawkes in London and then Oxford, Clarke at Cambridge, and Stuart Piggott at Edinburgh. Overwhelmingly, archaeology was seen as a form of history, in which the course of events could be understood by defining ‘cultures’, assemblages of similar material culture plotted over space and given chronological depth by typological studies. Cultures acted in the place of the unknown individuals, moving about Europe and taking over new areas by displacing their existing cultures, creating an historical framework, based on what has become known as the ‘invasion theory’. Following Childe and Hawkes, the thrust of this was employed to create an over-arching narrative of early European prehistory, in which the perceived uniqueness of Europe and its especial significance for the rest of the world could be explored and explained.

The pressure of the new wave of excavation the circuit represented was bringing new people to the fore, but the majority of these were linked to the old network. Atkinson had dug with Crawford at Dorchester henge and was Hawkes’s cousin; Sonia Chadwick was to marry Hawkes; Paul Ashbee combined excavation and teaching until 1969; Philip Rahtz gave up his photographic and teaching work and dug full time for the Ministry between 1953 to 1963, at the request of O’Neil. While Henrietta was on the circuit, she excavated with Chadwick, Ashbee and Rahtz, and became a supervisor on sites like Staines and Alcester. She remembers three archaeologists from this period as providing significantly to her practice and thinking. Paul Ashbee had been meticulous in the proper and appropriate use of equipment. George Boon at Caerleon spent much time teaching her surveying and the basic elements of the study of ceramics. Philip Rahtz provided great insights into the understanding of stratigraphy and the beginnings of modern contextual recording; he also used machinery to strip large scale sites skilfully and to great affect. Henrietta was amused to find that she had lived until the age of three in the same street in Bristol as Philip and that all the early photographs of her sister and herself were taken by ‘Studio Rahtz’!

In 1963, the Robbins Report into higher education was published, and it triggered the foundation of new universities like East Anglia and York, and new Departments of Archaeology in universities, in which most of the senior people running the circuit found academic posts, and many of those working as diggers became students. By 1965, Henrietta knew she wanted a career in British practical archaeology, and she chose to go to the Department of Archaeology, University of Wales (University College, Cardiff), which at the time, under Richard Atkinson, promised the best education for such a career. In preparation she took Greek, Latin, and Ancient History at A Level, achieving three Grade As: this classical background was central to archaeological thinking as it then stood.  She was awarded the Sir Alfred Thomas Prize after her first year examinations, and a first class single honours degree in 1968; the external examiner was Aileen Fox. While at Cardiff she started on a ten year association with the then Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Andrew Saunders, as main supervisor of work at Launceston Castle, Cornwall. She married Trevor Miles while still an undergraduate in 1967; they divorced in 1975.

Atkinson wanted Henrietta to do a doctorate on aspects of stone axe production, the subject of her undergraduate dissertation, but, characteristically, she decided to become involved again in excavation. She particularly wanted to widen the scope of sites she was familiar with and to put into practice ideas gained digging on circuit and built on during her University days and the excavations, especially those at the Roman Fortress at Usk under William Manning, with which she had been involved. She directed excavations for the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments at, among other sites, the Iron Age settlement at Westonzoyland, Somerset, Roman villas at Cosgrove, Northamptonshire, and Seaton, Devon, and the multi-period site at Rhuddlan, Clwyd. This directorial experience encouraged imaginative use of earth moving machinery, and, more importantly, showed that few sites were limited to the periods and features initially expected. At Rhuddlan the site as initially stated was that of a Norman borough; in fact it produced in addition extensive evidence for the Mesolithic, the Roman and the Early Medieval periods. At Fisherwick, Staffordshire, a rural Roman settlement proved to overlie a Late Neolithic structure. Henrietta could see that rescue excavation, if sufficiently extensive and adequately financed, would continually provide totally new classes of site and data. This made careful targeted ‘research excavations’ – something she never undertook herself – appear somewhat limited in their scope. Research excavations also absorbed resources that could, in her view, often be better expended on sites about to be destroyed.

In January 1970 Henrietta came to Exeter to take up the newly established post of Staff Tutor in Archaeology in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Exeter. The region into which Henrietta had moved rejoices in its particular character. It is bounded by the sea on all sides except the east, and geomorphically it takes the form of a series of upland areas, mostly granitic, beginning with Exmoor in the east, followed by Dartmoor, and then, west of the Tamar, Bodmin Moor, Hensbarrow, Carnmenellis, Penwith and finally the Isles of Scilly. All of these areas, together with much of the better agricultural land around them, are replete with surviving ancient field systems, monuments and settlements. The principle risks to these sites are, and always have been, mineral extraction, forestry, and modern arable farming. The area has historically been difficult of access to the rest of Britain, but it is set at the heart of seaways, which run south down the Atlantic coast into the Mediterranean, west to Ireland, east to Brittany and beyond, and north to Wales, the Irish Sea coastlands, and the Scottish peninsulas and islands. In its own history, archaeology has tended swing back and forth between stressing the significance of this Atlantic/Irish Sea cultural province, and emphasising connections between eastern Britain and continental Europe. The area has a strong sense of itself as ‘the South West’, but within this, there is a rivalry between Devon, which sees itself as the western land of milk and honey, and Cornwall, which identifies itself as one of the ancient Celtic lands distinct from England to the east.

In 1970, the region already had an impressive history of antiquarian and archaeological enquiry. In the1930s the excavation by Dorothy Liddell of Hembury hillfort in east Devon, which first demonstrated hill top Neolithic, as well as Iron Age, use, was a major landmark, and so later were the excavations carried out by Aileen Fox in war damaged Exeter. In Cornwall there had been the excavation by C. A. R. Radford at the hillfort of Castle Dore and extensive rescue work by Dorothy Dudley. The present past, visible throughout the peninsula, had stimulated a great deal of smaller scale archaeological work, much of it of considerable value, and had resulted in an exceptionally strong local structure. The Royal Institution of Cornwall, founded in1818, had set up its Library and Museum in Truro, as major resources and repositories; by the 1970s the Museum held, and displayed, very substantial archaeological collections. In Devon, the County Museum Service and the two City Museums of Plymouth and Exeter, were doing the same. The Devon Archaeological Society, founded in 1929, has carried out excavations and field work, and published its Proceedings more-or-less yearly since then. In 1961 the West Cornwall Field Club turned itself into the Cornish Archaeological Society, and since then has done the same.

When Henrietta came to her new Staff Tutor post in 1970, this was the structure within which she quickly found her natural place, and she continued to work hard in many offices for both Societies throughout her career, eventually becoming President of the Devon Society in 1987-9 and of the Cornwall Society in 2004-7. In particular she had been Editor for Cornish Archaeology 1975-81, a post she enjoyed as much of it then involved solving problems with the publication of long-overdue excavation reports. These were the heady days of the later sixties and seventies, and hers was not the only new post. Aileen Fox, now appointed to a position in the new Archaeological Section within the History Department at the University of Exeter, was the force behind the creation of the Staff Tutorship, of additional lectureships in Archaeology in the University, and of the Curatorship of Archaeology at Exeter City Museum. Interestingly, all of these posts were filled by women, from which a number of conclusions might be drawn. Charles Thomas was the prime force in Cornish archaeology, working from the Universities of Edinburgh and Leicester, until he returned to Cornwall to the Chair of Cornish Studies at the Institute of the same name, part of Exeter University, in 1971.

For Henrietta, there followed  three crucial developments. When she accepted the Extramural Department Staff Tutorship, she was briefed (in both senses) in her duties by Tom Daveney, then Head of the Department. He said simply that she should give three or four weekly classes, which were usually based in Exeter and Truro, in the two Winter terms, a Summer School, and should arrange for other tutors to give classes as she saw fit. This gave her tremendous freedom to harness the local enthusiasm for archaeology, and organize it productively. It put her squarely in her family tradition of working within openly available education, which offered personal fulfilment and the chance to significant work to all comers. It is the philosophy of ‘giving something back’, perhaps the greatest of the British traditions. In practical terms lecturing and digging were to feed into one another. Extra-mural students were keen to assist with rescue excavation work, while well-publicized excavations increased the audience for lecture classes and several special series were set up to accompany excavations.

Secondly, at that time Extra-Mural work was closely linked with rescue archaeology, and the pressure group Rescue, formally founded in 1971, arose from beginnings at the annual meetings of Staff Tutors. Rescue was created by the then younger generation – Charles Thomas, Barry Cunliffe, Paul Ashbee, Peter Fowler, Philip Rahtz- all of whom were descended from the old Crawford network, and with all of whom Henrietta had worked closely. The group identified the twin needs as a comprehensive listing of data about existing archaeological sites region by region, and the creation of a network of field archaeology units, who could carry out excavation in advance of development, all funded by central government. Bit by bit, this structure emerged. In Devon soon after her arrival in 1970 Henrietta became secretary for a ‘Roads’ sub-committee of the Devon Archaeological Society set up to continue the pioneering work of the M5 Committee under Peter Fowler further north. The work of the DAS Roads Committee continually expanded and became in 1975 the Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology (DCRA), with Henrietta still its Secretary and guiding light. DCRA employed Field Officers and established one of the first County Sites and Monuments Registers in the country. Out of this eventually came the present County Archaeology Service and Historic Environment Record. In both Devon and Cornwall, where the equivalent body was the Cornish Committee for Rescue Archaeology, connections with the county Archaeological Societies were exceptionally close, and this did much to relieve the differences between amateurs and professions, which has proved so corrosive in some other parts of the country. The way in which a good deal of archaeological activity was organised around the two societies in the two counties had always meant that high quality volunteers were usually available; or, to put it another way, the relationship between ‘amateurs’ and ‘professionals’ was much kinder in the south west than in some other parts of the country. Rescue archaeology was very close to Henrietta’s heart, and she threw herself into its very considerable demands in both counties with great skill and enormous enthusiasm.

Finally, archaeology itself was changing. In the Archaeology Departments of the new universities, people were less interested in broad European historical narratives and were developing new ideas drawn from post-modern thinking and were stressing the probability of indigenous development rather than the influence of wise men from afar. New universities also promoted methodologies for new scientific dating and analytical techniques. The new Field Units soaked up the archaeology graduates from the newly founded universities, and created the second wave of insecure, itinerant diggers. Hard men and women, these, with dirt under their finger nails and wanting little truck with theory, but they were interested in the notions of local and regional development, and in archaeology as a practice which could unravel the landscapes within which local pasts had been embodied. Henrietta’s deepest archaeological instincts had always centred upon the landscape and its capacity to reveal the pasts of individual communities through time.

Henrietta brought together landscape, rescue, and outreach education in an outstanding series of excavations during the seventies. There were the barrows on the china clay area near St. Austell at Cocksbarrow, Caerloggas, Trenance Downs and Watch Hill between 1970 and 1973. The ring cairn at Shallowmead on Exmoor followed in 1977.  In these early years in the south west Henrietta was gradually beginning to concentrate on prehistory, and in particular the importance of local traditions and practices in the formation of material culture. This found clear expression in her reports on barrow excavation, where both monument form and ceremonial activities were interpreted as based in their local backgrounds and not, as in the current literature, merely offshoots from Wessex.

Trethurgy round on the china clay followed in 1973. This had been found by a local archaeologist Peter Sheppard who had initially failed to get its potential recognised. Henrietta was able to make the case for funds for the complete excavation of its interior to the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments: no interior of enclosed settlement in Cornwall had previously been excavated. It had been expected, prior to excavation, that the site belonged to the Iron Age. It belonged in fact to the Roman period and to the immediate post-Roman centuries. Its interior buildings, very well preserved, were new to the county, but have since been recognised as typical of the period. Henrietta, in working toward the publication of the site, carried out a complete review of Roman period sites and artefacts in Cornwall. This revealed among other things that courtyard houses were of Roman, not prehistoric date. The excavation report still the forms the basic work of reference on Roman Cornwall.

Hillforts had first been addressed with the long line of road widening through Woodbury, East Devon in 1971. In 1975-6, the continued damage caused by the extensions to a pig farm – outside the remit of planning leglislation -  led to work Killibury, near Wadebridge, and this excavation was set up as a training exercise. This was necessarily taken at a slower pace than general for excavations and enabled considerable refinements in recording and methodology. Killibury was, for example, the first site in the south west in which wet sieving for charred plant remains was carried out. Henrietta regards the Killibury excavation, and the innovatory follow-up classes on the preparation of the excavation report as one of the greatest satisfactions of her teaching life, and a glance at the publication in Cornish Archaeology for 1977 shows why. Six members of the Cornish Archaeological Society are listed in the Acknowledgements, several of whom contributed to the publication. Moreover, the same section includes this unusual note:     

The contributors to this report would like to express their gratitude to Mrs Miles for all the help, criticism and encouragement she has given them; they appreciate more than any one else could the difficulties of the unprecedented task she undertook, of coordinating the efforts of a dozen individualists scattered over the county from the Tamar to the Lizard (p. 120).

Just so; it was an enormously generous enterprise on Henrietta’s part, which created a life –changing opportunity for those who took part, some of whom, like Daphne Harris, went on to become excavating archaeologists in their own right. And this process locally blurred any specious distinctions between ‘professionals’ and ‘amateurs’.

By 1978, continuous over-work took its toll, and Henrietta needed a two-year break to recover. She started to teach again in 1980, and went part-time in 1987. Meanwhile, she began the serious work on her excavation publication backlog, which she had not had space to do before. In the 1970s and 80s excavation finance did not normally include finance for publication work and this inevitably led to worrying backlogs for many energetic excavators. By 1991, the ethos in the former Extra-Mural Department, now Continuing and Adult Education, encouraged more formal study and allowed a two-year Certificate in Archaeology, something which Henrietta had had wanted to initiate since the late 1970s. The first three intakes of the Certificate, 1991/2 to 1995/6, covered methodology and British prehistory in great depth and demanded a great deal from both tutor and students. These, after Killibury, provided the second great satisfaction of Henrietta’s teaching career. The course attracted groups of highly dedicated students, which made the teaching a great joy. Henrietta retired formally in 1999, but continued to teach for the Department until 2005. She was appointed an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter in 2001, a position that she still holds.

Henrietta has always been a brilliant teacher, one of the rare band who can hold a fee-paying class not merely for one year, but for years in succession. For her, also, teaching has been a highly rewarding experience. During the first run of the Archaeological Certificate, the students bonded as a group, and called themselves ‘HQ’s Guinea Pigs’ because they were aware that they were the trial run for the course. They still meet as a group. The flavour of those two years can best be appreciated by the accounts contributed by one of the Guinea Pigs, Judith Cosford. From 1996 the format of the content of the Archaeology Certificate underwent changes in line with Department policies. One advantage was that at long last students were allowed the credit of one year’s full time study towards an Exeter degree in archaeology. Sue Watts was a certificate student in the late 90s and her contribution (below) provides an additional view of the certificate experience.

Henrietta’s post-excavation work came to fruition in 2004, with the major publication of the excavation at Trethurgy.  Trethurgy: Excavations at Trethurgy Round, St. Austell: Community and Status in Roman and Post-Roman Cornwall, some three hundred pages long and published by Cornwall County Council, was chosen by Current Archaeology  as one of its Books of the Year. Another important publication, with Jacqueline Nowakowski, is planned for 2011, also to be published by Cornwall County Council. This will cover the results of C. K. Croft Andrew’s 1939 excavations at Trevelgue Cliff Castle, and will contain a major review of Middle Iron Age ceramics in the region.

One consequence of the shift of interest away from the grand European narrative and towards indigenous developments was a resurgent focus on the region as a topic of study in its own right, with its own characteristic role in the broader scheme of things. As already set out, the southwest in general, and perhaps Cornwall in particular, is so constituted as to make this approach especially fruitful. This local distinctiveness was fully apparent in prehistoric ceramics but, until the 1990s, south west regional studies had lacked resident specialist. This was the role Henrietta took up after her retirement from the University and still carries out today. She is concerned both to establish a clear chronological sequence from the Early Neolithic through to the Cornish local ceramics, and to define regionally distinctive patterns and the individuality of local traditions. This period coincided with expansion of developer funded excavations, undertaken by field archaeology units, especially the Historic Environment Service, Cornwall Council and Exeter Archaeology. Henrietta no longer directs excavations but collaboration with archaeologists such as Andrew M Jones and Jacqueline Nowakowski has proved both fruitful and enjoyable. She would also, I know, wish to acknowledge her great debt to her geologist colleague, Dr Roger T. Taylor formerly of the British Geological Survey, who works with her on petrology and sourcing. Now, in 2011, the chronological sequences are nearly complete – some gaps remaining for the Middle Neolithic and for the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age, but much of Henrietta and Roger’s work is still ‘forthcoming’, fully prepared for, but awaiting publication.

Henrietta first published a paper on distinctive artefacts, in this case stone objects, in the Cornish Roman and post-Roman periods in the Festshrift for Philip Rahtz in 1993, and her further illumination of the south-west as a regional theatre will be extremely interesting. But if archaeology can cast light on Cornwall and Devon as peripheral to a Mediterranean or European centre, it can also show how this must be balanced by its particular status as core in other respects. Tin production and distribution, illusive though it often is in the record, is a case in point, and the peninsula’s role in the post-Roman exchange system, which bound together the Irish Sea and the eastern Mediterranean, is another. Henrietta and her collaborator, Roger Taylor, are currently unravelling another distribution pattern, involving the sources of pot clays. It has long been known, through David Peacock’s pioneering work, that the pots made from Lizard gabbroic clays were moved long distances. Now work on the distinctive Bronze Age Trevisker material is demonstrating that much gabbroic clay was moved before potting and mixed with local materials, both within Cornwall and right up onto Dartmoor. Other important and intriguing work on sourcing has located the precise sources of some clays used for the Iron Age South Western Decorated (Glastonbury) wares are in Devon. There is much food for thought here, at a number of levels.

I know that Henrietta would wish me to write about Norman Quinnell, who became her partner in 1975. They married in 1980, and lived together in Exeter until his death in 2008. Norman had a reputation as a very fine archaeological surveyor, who made a considerable contribution to the record of the Ordnance Survey. His own Festshrift , From Caithness to Cornwall,  was published by British Archaeological Reports on his retirement. Norman always supported Henrietta’s archaeological work, and provided many of the drawings for her reports and input into the more practical aspects of certificate teaching. His children and grandchildren have become important to Henrietta, and travel with Norman was always a great joy.

This volume of papers reflects Henrietta’s life and work in archaeology, her great contribution to the discipline, and the very many friends she has made along the way. It is offered to her by those same friends, with gratitude, admiration, and the very best of good wishes for the future.

Exeter, one of the new universities of the then recent wave, was the only university in the south-western peninsula, and therefore the remit of the Department of Extra-Mural Studies covered the counties of Devon and Cornwall