British Archaeology, no 11, February 1996: Obituary


Hugh Thompson

by Kenneth Painter

Hugh Thompson, former General Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London, was a man who gave his all to whatever he was involved in. This was true of the young man, as well as of his mature years, and led to the award of his Military Cross in 1945 for outstanding bravery and leadership.

After the war he completed his education and had a short spell in industry, moving to the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments in 1949. He never really enjoyed living in London, however, and he became successively Keeper of the City and County Museum at Lincoln and Curator of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. In both cities he not only cared for and developed the museums but pursued the archaeology as well. This included the major excavation of his career, the Chester amphitheatre, which was to occupy him for ten years from 1960, and overlapped with his move to the University of Manchester. Success and international renown came from that project, but not merely as a result of academic ability. He was also able to lead and inspire a team. His archaeologists at Chester, for example, worked all the more effectively because of the annual Christmas play or pantomime, which is described by those who were there as `a riot'.

He was head-hunted from Manchester and became Assistant Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries (his title was later changed to General Secretary). His years there were a period of continuous growth in all spheres of the Society's activity, with all that implies in the management and deployment of the Society's resources. Yet, while all this was going on, the Fellows found their rooms in Burlington House to be still a centre of calm research, where he recognised everybody who came in and always found time to talk to them.

In addition to his duties at Burlington House, Hugh Thompson developed his personal reputation as a scholar in Britain and abroad. He maintained his interests at Lincoln and Chester, and he was President of the Royal Archaeological Institute from 1984 to 1987. He continued his research, in particular his great study of the archaeology of ancient slavery, which was to occupy him almost until his death. This is being prepared for publication, and its in sight and originality will be seen to be characteristic of his contribution to our understanding of the ancient world.

Frederick Hugh Thompson, MC, MA, FSA: born 23 July 1923; Inspector of Ancient Monuments 1949-51; Keeper, City and County Museum, Lincoln 1951-5; Curator, Grosvenor Museum, Chester 1955-62; Lecturer, Manchester University 1962-6; Assistant (later General) Secretary, Society of Antiquaries of London 1967-88; died 24 October 1995.

Kenneth Painter is a former Deputy Keeper of Greek & Roman Antiquities at the British Museum


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