THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS OF LANCASTER by David Shotter
Lancaster has benefited from nearly a century of attention from leading archaeologists from away and from groups based locally; prior to that, well-known and not-so-well-known antiquarian writers recorded their observations and addressed questions relating to the Roman history of the City. High amongst these has been Lancaster's most durable monument - the Wery Wall, which has appeared on maps and in descriptions since Tudor times: key questions have related to its origin, nature and purpose - questions which did not move significantly towards solutions until the 1950s.
Then there were questions relating to the military occupation - when did it begin and how did it develop? What was the structural story of the Roman fort believed to lie on Castle Hill, and what was its relationship with the castle itself? What was the relationship between the fort and the river Lune? Was Lancaster a flourishing port even in Roman times? Did the military occupation stimulate urban civilian growth and, if so, where did it lie? What kinds of people lived and worked at Lancaster during the Roman occupation, and what did they call the place where they lived? How did it all come to an end - if it did? The prolonged search for answers to such questions has led to many, often conflicting, hypotheses and to much discussion. It is fair to say, however, that, although advances have been made, much - and certainly the detail - remains unresolved: of course, archaeology is no simple undertaking on a site which, since Roman times, has been covered by a succession of buildings, often with cellars, and, in places, by deep riverine deposits.
Recent publications (for example, Jones and Shotter, 1988; Shotter and White, 1990; Shotter, 2001) have set out to provide a picture of the state of our knowledge and what is still the subject of guesswork, inspired or otherwise. It is not the purpose of the present paper to revisit these questions and the variety of solutions proposed; many years ago, it was truly said that 'archaeology is about people'; it should be added that it is also done by people. The present purpose is, in a series of short papers in Contrebis, to highlight those men and women who have, over the years, been responsible for posing the questions and for attempting to answer them - Miss Alice Johnson, Professors John Droop and Robert Newstead, Professor Sir Ian Richmond, Professor Barri Jones and Dr John-Peter Wild, Dr Timothy Potter and, more recently, successive Directors and staff of the Lancaster University Archaeology Unit. Alongside these - sometimes literally! - have been a number of local individuals and groups, such as Geoffrey Leather, who directed excavations under the banners initially of the Lancaster Civic Society and later of the Lancaster Archaeological Society.
I. Ian Archibald Richmond Although it may seem invidious to make qualitative judgements, few would probably be inclined to dispute the contention that the late Professor Sir Ian Richmond was the most eminent of a distinguished company of archaeologists to have worked at Lancaster.
Richmond, in fact, undertook three campaigns on Northern Vicarage (or Allotment) Field - in 1950, 1958 and, very shortly before his death, in 1965; although the first of these was fully published (Richmond,1953), the only record in print of the second campaign is a brief citation in the 'Roman Britain in 1958' section in Journal of Roman Studies 49 (1959),106-8. The excavations of 1965 were not published, as, during the short interval between their completion and his death, Richmond was involved in his major work on the Flavian legionary fortress at Inchtuthil (in Perthshire).Some work has subsequently been possible on his notes and artifactual archive, and some of the results of this were incorporated in Roman Lancaster (Jones and Shotter,1988); it has to be said, however, that Richmond's notes have proved difficult for others to process, particularly when they were not themselves involved in the work.
Ian Richmond was born in 1902, one of twin sons; their father was a doctor in Rochdale. He graduated from Oxford University and subsequently spent two years in Rome, a period which led to his first book, The City Wall of Imperial Rome (1930), a major study of the third century Aurelian Wall. He also worked on the Mausoleum of Augustus (which has recently been re-opened to the public) and the Camp of the Praetorian Guard (which had originally been placed on the Roman City Wall by the emperor, Tiberius (A.D.14-37), at the prompting of his infamous Praetorian Guard Prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus). He also became involved in a seminal study of Trajan's Column, which was to be published in the Papers of the British School at Rome in 1935; it was Richmond who highlighted the great importance for our understanding of the tactics and activities of the Roman army of the information contained in the Column's spiral reliefs, illustrating Trajan's Dacian Wars of the early-second century. This work was completed in the early 1930s, when Richmond returned to Rome, this time as Director of the British School (1930-32); he also completed (in 1935) the unfinished work of Thomas Ashby on The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome.
In the meantime, Richmond had won his first academic appointment in Britain - a lectureship in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at The Queen's University at Belfast (1926-30). Most academics would be proud to be able to boast a record of research and publication, such as that already summarised, but this was but one string to Richmond's bow during the 1920s and 1930s; he had contributed a paper on 'Ptolemaic Scotland' to the Papers of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (in 1921/22) and another (in 1925) to the Transactions of the Rochdale Literary and Scientific Society on 'The Roman Road across Blackstone Edge', which is still regarded as a seminal discussion of the subject. He was involved in excavation and fieldwork on Hadrian's Wall and on Stainmore, and was, with R.G.Collingwood, F.G.Simpson and Eric Birley, regarded as one of the country's leading authorities on Hadrian's Wall and Roman military antiquities. A quick glance through the contents-pages of the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society during the 1920s and 1930s provides a picture of this part of his activities - excavations at the Hadrian's Wall fort at Birdoswald, discussions of the Roman military development of the Stainmore road, discussions, too, of significant artifactual evidence, such as the important group of lead sealings recovered from the fort at Brough-under-Stainmore.
Indeed, it would not be easy to characterise such work more appropriately than was done by Professor Sheppard Frere in his obituary-notice for Richmond in the Journal of Roman Studies (Vol.55 (1965), pp.xiii-xiv):
"We must record the indefatigability of his labours in the service of archaeology and pay tribute to the wide horizons of his learning, and to the unfailing generosity which placed its resources at the disposal of all who asked. It was not an unusual experience to know that he was engaged on tasks A and B, either of which might strain the leisure of an ordinary mortal, and then to hear quite by chance from someone else how fully he was engaged on tasks C and D: yet all were done with equal thoroughness."
In 1935, Richmond was appointed to a lectureship at King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (now the University of Newcastle), being promoted to a Readership in 1943 and a Chair in 1950; it is an interesting coincidence that both Richmond and (in 1971) Barri Jones were promoted to Chairs in their Universities in the same years that saw them excavating in Lancaster. In 1956, Richmond was appointed to the newly-created Chair of the Archaeology of the Roman Empire at Oxford University.
Two years later, he became President of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies and, in 1964, he was elected President of the highly prestigious Society of Antiquaries of London. The apex of his recognition came with his knighthood in 1964, the year before his untimely death at the all-too-young age of 63, whilst at the height of his powers. His later years demonstrated to the full the range of his interests, as well as his continuing refusal to lighten his load of work; in the fifteen years before his death, we should place his three seasons of excavation at Lancaster, as well as his crucially-important study of Inchtuthil; with O.G.S. Crawford, in 1949, he contributed a masterly treatment of the Ravenna Cosmography for Archaeologia, published his still-important Roman and Native in North Britain (1958), Roman Britain (for the Penguin History of Britain series, 1963), up-dated Collingwood's The Archaeology of Roman Britain (1965), and, with the late Robert Ogilvie, produced a completely new Commentary on Tacitus' Life of Agricola (1967), which is still regarded as the standard treatment. As if all of that was not enough, he published papers on Queen
Cartimandua, Palmyra and Masada, and was planning a book on Roman Spain: we are left wondering what else he would have achieved had he been granted a 'normal' span of life.
Some of Richmond's work at Lancaster was concerned with the Wery Wall, which he recognised both as 'late Roman' and as indicating a strong maritime role for Lancaster in the fourth century: in both regards, he has been shown to have been right, and subsequent work has built on these observations (Richmond, 1953). His later excavation campaigns, however, are not easy to piece together (Jones and Shotter, 1988, 126-28). This work was principally concerned with the Northern Vicarage Field; during some of the time, at least, this area was given over to allotments, and Richmond's holes and trenches had to be restricted to paths between allotments and other 'non-sensitive' areas. Nonetheless, he recognised here the existence of a substantial courtyard-building, which he interpreted - wrongly, as it turned out - as the praetorium (residence of the commanding-officer) of the fort. We have, however, to remember that at the time of these excavations in 1958 and 1965, nothing was yet known of the complex defences of the fort, which were revealed over the next ten years or so at the southern end of the Northern Vicarage Field and in the grounds of the Old Vicarage; the discovery in these areas of defensive ditches and ramparts showed that Richmond's courtyard-building lay outside the area of the fort itself. Nor did Richmond know just how extensive and imposing his courtyard-building really was, since this fully emerged only with the uncovering in 1973-75 by Geoffrey Leather and the Lancaster Archaeological Society of the bath-house at the eastern edge of the field. Had Richmond been in possession of this information, it is certain that, with his great knowledge of Roman military and civilian buildings and his sure interpretative touch, he would have identified its purpose.
The other 'error' in his interpretation of Lancaster concerned the plan of the fort on Castle Hill, which he suggested took the form of an irregular polygon - a reasonable enough hypothesis in the case of a fort built on a hill-top. Again, he had little or no knowledge of the position or configuration of the fort's defences; using his experience, he made his interpretation on the analogy of Bewcastle, another fort on a hill-top, where Richmond had himself excavated in 1937.
It is said that Richmond never failed to respond when asked for his help and advice, and that he was always supportive of those in archaeology who were junior in status to himself; he would undoubtedly have continued to take an interest in a site in which he had himself been concerned and would have published the results of his 1958 and 1965 work; it would be nice to think that we could have asked his advice in the years that followed as more evidence for Roman Lancaster became available. It is also likely that, given his interest in classical geographers, he would have had a sharper instinct to reveal the solution to that long-troublesome conundrum, the Roman name for Lancaster.
Jones and Shotter,1988: Jones G.D.B. and Shotter D.C.A., Roman Lancaster, Manchester Richmond,1953: Richmond I.A., Excavations on the Site of the Roman Fort at Lancaster,1950, Trans. Hist. Soc. of Lancs and Cheshire, 105, 1-23 Shotter and White,1990: Shotter D.C.A. and White A.J., The Roman Fort and Town of Lancaster, Lancaster Shotter,2001: Shotter D.C.A., Roman Lancaster: Site and Settlement, pp.3-31 in White A.J.(Ed), A History of Lancaster, Edinburgh
The next paper in this series will be devoted to three of Lancaster's excavators of the early years of the twentieth century - Alice Johnson, J.P.Droop and Robert Newstead.