A life in archaeology

In May we held a small ceremony to celebrate the Directorship of Dr Peter Wade-Martins which included the unveiling of a new plaque on the bench at the top of Dunston Field at Caistor Roman Town. Below is the transcript of the speech given at the occasion by Peter Griffiths, Chairman of the Trust:

‘When Peter retired as Director of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, he was adamant that, at his final Council meeting, there should be no presentation, and no fulsome appreciation of his achievements. In deference to his wishes, at the end of that meeting, I restricted myself to just 84 words. This was far from ideal, but at least it meant that the Trust’s grateful thanks were recorded in the minutes.

So, this afternoon, having not been given any instructions by Peter, I think I have a little more latitude. In fact, I’ve already used more than 84 words! In any case, quite a lot has been written about Peter in the last six months or so, much of it by Peter himself. His book, A Life in Norfolk’s Archaeology, came out just before Christmas, was an immediate sell-out, and needed a re-print only a month or so later. There’s also been a lengthy article in the EDP, and reviews in various specialist publications.

What shouts out from every page of the book, from the reviews and from the interview in the EDP, is of course Peter’s passion for Norfolk’s archaeology, but also how he devoted 25 years of his working life to the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. In his own words – “being the Trust’s director was a dream job, allowing him to develop the organisation as a significant force for conservation.”

And that’s exactly what he did – he helped transform the Trust into the organisation it is today, one which “owns some of the most prestigious sites in the county”. It’s quite a list, and it was Peter who, through skilful negotiation, brought them under the Trust’s wing. In no particular order: Burgh Castle, St Benet’s Abbey, Middleton Mount, Fiddlers Hill, Burnham Norton Gatehouse, Bloodgate Hill, Binham Priory Gatehouse. There’s one other, but I’ll come onto that in a moment.

It wasn’t just acquisition – there were repairs to be done, public access to be arranged, interpretation designed and installed, and guidebooks written. All these things needed money, and Peter was amazingly adept at ferreting out sources of funding – Natural England for repairs, interpretation and day to day management, the Heritage Lottery Fund for the really big projects, Norfolk based charitable trusts, the county and district councils, even the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

And it’s mention of the NHMF which brings me to why we’re standing here this afternoon. In his interview with the EDP, Peter admitted that “it was when, aged just six, I went to Caistor with a schoolfriend I came back with Roman pottery, and that was it, I was hooked”. And more than 60 years later admitting also:

“My proudest moment has to be buying Dunston Field, site of an Anglo-Saxon trading centre – the halfway step between Roman Caistor and Medieval Norwich.”

How many of us can claim that sort of continuum. Not many I suspect.

So, it’s here Peter that you – and Susanna of course – can sit, feast your eyes on this wonderful view, and reflect on all you’ve achieved, knowing that but for your efforts this bit of Norfolk’s archaeology would never have been saved. And remembering, too, that first visit to Caistor which sparked it all off.’


News in brief

Imagined Land at Burnham Norton 

9th June 1030 am - 4 pm BURNHAM BRING AND SHARE DAY Burnham Market Primary: See the finds from test pits, discover more with the researchers and project creatives. We encourage you to bring your photographs and memories of Burnham Norton and its surrounds. You are welcome anytime - no need to book. More information: 
Simon Floyd, Project Manager
Tel: 07896 781574

Free guided tours 2018

The Friends of St Benet's Abbey (TFOSBA) free guided tours are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, May to September. Meet your guide by the Abbey Gatehouse. Please note all tours now start at 3pm. Group tours of the Abbey Site can be arranged by contacting tfosba@gmail.com

Guided tours of Burgh Castle Fort led by Trust volunteers start on Sunday June 3 and continue on every Sunday until September 30th. All tours start at 2.30pm – meet at the information shelter by the main car park.

If you would like to become a volunteer guide at Caistor Roman Town, Burgh Castle Fort or St Benet’s Abbey please get in touch. Training provided. Contact Katie Phillips: natvolunteering@gmail.com