ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 2, March 1995


Ralph Merrifield

by Max Hebditch

The main facts of Ralph Merrifield's professional life can be stated briefly: he devoted his energies mainly to the archaeology of Roman London; he was a curator in the Guildhall Museum and the Museum of London, eventually becoming Deputy Director; and in retirement he continued to play an active part in the study of London.

Around this he did other things, writing on aspects of ritual and magic, and setting up the National Museum of Ghana (1957). The foundation for his career was voluntary work in Brighton Museum, service in the war interpreting air photographs (like so many archaeologists), and gaining a University of London external degree in anthropology.

These few facts disguise an enormous contribution in so many fields, recognised a few years ago by an honorary doctorate from the University of London.

Three strands of his distinguished life may be highlighted. First, he was a great synthesiser. Never a specialist in one aspect of the Roman period, he was able to bring together a wide range of evidence to create his overview of London in Roman times.

Second, Norman Cook's retirement from the Guildhall Museum gave him a chance to flourish as a curator, and to exploit the opportunities provided by the increased financial resources for the new Museum of London. The Roman Gallery, still substantially as he created it, is a tribute to his imaginative approach.

Third, he pressed powerfully and continually for better arrangements to excavate and publish sites in advance of redevelopment. The campaign came to fruition in the creation of the Department of Urban Archaeology at the Guildhall Museum in 1973. He remained a critical observer of official archaeology, particularly of the changes in the organisation of London archaeology in 1990.

Ralph Merrifield was generous with his knowledge and friendship, and remained energetic and active to the end. He will be missed.

Ralph Merrifield: born Brighton 22 August 1913; Assistant Keeper, Guildhall Museum London, 1950; Senior Keeper, Museum of London 1975, Deputy Director 1977-78; President, London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 1974-76; married 1951 Lysbeth Webb (one son, one daughter); died London 9 January 1995.

Dr Max Hebditch is Director of the Museum of London

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