ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 4, May 1995


Leslie Grinsell

by Paul Ashbee

Leslie Grinsell, though an amateur archaeologist most of his life, to a great extent determined the direction of field archaeology in the second half of this century. He came to prehistory via the classification of flint implements, but soon turned to barrows, long and round. With rucksack, maps, notebook and tape, he had by 1941, when he produced The Bronze Age Round Barrows of Wessex, made inventories of Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, scrutinising some 6,000 barrows. His widely acclaimed book The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, which outlined numbers, forms, and regional distributions, had been published in 1936.

In 1941 he became a Pilot Officer in the Air Photographic Branch of the RAF. Posted to Egypt, his sparse spare time was devoted to a succinct account of the pyramids. After the war he left Barclays Bank, for whom he had worked as a bank clerk since 1925, and became the Devizes professional archaeologist, producing the magisterial gazeteer volume of the Victoria County History of Wiltshire. He was Treasurer of the Prehistoric Society from 1947-1970, and his financial skills secured its post-war reconstruction and rise to eminence.

After Devizes, he became Keeper of Archaeology at Bristol's City Museum, remaining there until his retirement in 1972. Besides developing an active department, which became a focus for the region's archaeology, he organised the SW Regional CBA Group. As an accomplished pianist he also contributed to the city's musical life.

In 1958, The Archaeology of Wessex reflected his Devizes years. Articles and reviews flowed from his pen, while the barrows were not neglected. By the 1970s, he had listed the barrows of Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Devon. During his career, some 10,000 barrows were examined and recorded - a remarkable achievement.

Leslie Grinsell made active field archaeology his own in an age which had yet to look beyond the glamour of excavation. The vital Sites and Monuments Records owe much to his examples and prescriptions. The barrow surveys began before agriculture devastated our relict landscapes, and without them there could be neither geographical nor statistical study, and prehistory would be greatly the poorer.

Bristol University bestowed an honorary degree upon him, while he was made an OBE and awarded a Festschrift in 1972. His directness, whimsical humour and sound common sense were legendary, as were his walking, youth-hostelling and penchant for traditional afternoon teas of the cream variety.

Leslie Valentine Grinsell: born London 14 February 1907; barrow surveys and Barclays Bank, 1925-47; RAF Air Photographic Intelligence, 1941-6; FSA 1947; Victoria County History, Wiltshire, 1947-52; Keeper of Archaeology, Bristol City Museum, 1952-72; OBE 1972; died 28 February 1995.

Paul Ashbee is a prehistorian, who was formerly based at the University of East Anglia

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