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‘Digging for Lullingstone’ – Dr Anne Thick shares her memories of the excavations of Lullingstone Roman Villa over 60 years ago. By Caroline K. Mackenzie.

How outdated have been you once you have been concerned in the dig at Lullingstone?

I used to be 14 and 15 because it was in 1959 and 1960. I used to be born in 1944 and am 78 now.

I really like the photograph of you on the dig!

Thank you. The story behind that’s that the Daily Mail (I believe) got here all the way down to do an article on the dig. I by no means truly noticed the printed article. After that they had been and brought their images, Lieutenant-Colonel Meates, chief of the excavations at the moment, gave me that photograph so I assume it wasn’t utilized in the article however that they had distributed images that that they had taken.

 Anne excavating the nicely at Lullingstone Roman Villa in 1959, aged 14. 

What I actually like about it’s that you’ve got a pen and pocket book in your pocket!

Yes I did, though I had forgotten that till you pointed it out! I’ve checked out that {photograph} a quantity of instances. I’m not certain what I used to be placing in the pocket book, thoughts you!

You don’t occur nonetheless to have the pocket book, do you?

Not that I do know of, no. All I’ve courting from that point is my trowel. I used it on each subsequent dig that I went on. When I used to be accepted onto the Lullingstone dig, my Dad purchased a trowel from a neighborhood ironmongers nevertheless it was too huge so he needed to reduce it down for me to make it the proper dimension for me to make use of on the dig. I do know that I nonetheless have it someplace!

Perhaps you must body it! That’s a beautiful story about your Dad. What did your dad and mom make of your fascination with the dig? Were they inquisitive about Roman issues in any respect?

(*60*). My Mum didn’t have any formal training over the age of about 14 however she was inquisitive about tons of issues and historical past was definitely one of them. I can’t bear in mind a time when (nicely, we didn’t have a automobile after I was little or no however, as quickly as we have been cell) we weren’t going to locations like Lullingstone. My Dad simply went together with it! He did the driving and he was humorous as a result of he would go to those locations after which faux to do the guided tour afterwards – he was fairly hilarious. But anyway, my Mum and Dad have been completely pleased about me being concerned in the dig – in any other case they wouldn’t have stored taking me every week.

They should have been fairly tickled as a result of I believe it’s sensible that you just did it at that age. You have described the time you spent on the dig as an adolescent as the ‘golden days’. My equal could be my teenage years spent at Greek summer season college! But I might even have cherished to have gone on a Roman dig! It is so onerous to seize that feeling once more.

(*60*). It is an element of being younger. Your teenage years are fairly formative in some methods (I don’t assume you actually know the place you’re going at that age) and so to go to Lullingstone and be concerned was for me an incredible factor. For me it has all the time been that contact with unique sources and, of course, in the finish I went into archives (though that was partly as a result of there weren’t at the moment many roles for archaeologists) and archivists have been barely higher paid! The parallel is that in case you are on a dig and dealing with artefacts, or dealing with paperwork as an archivist, you might be in direct bodily contact virtually with these individuals who created both the artefacts or the paperwork and meaning a really actual reference to the previous. That was crucial to me.

Would you be capable to inform me a bit about your profession as an archivist and the way it began? You have been doing all your O’ Levels once you have been concerned with the dig.

Yes. I keep in mind that after I handed my O’ Levels I used to be given a jewelry field as a nicely completed current from Mr and Mrs Rook who have been the custodians of the web site at the time. I nonetheless have that jewelry field and I positively know the place that’s as I take it each time we go on vacation. The Rooks have been a beautiful couple and I’ve sturdy memories of them – they have been very good, sort individuals and that’s what counts.

Mr and Mrs Rook, the first custodians of Lullingstone Roman Villa. 

© Dr Anne Thick.

(*60*). And how sort of them to understand that, at your age then, passing your O’ Levels was such a milestone for you and so they wished to mark that.

After O’ Levels I did A’ Levels in History, French and Latin. I then went to the University of Cardiff (which was then half of the University of Wales) to review History and Archaeology. In the first yr we needed to do three topics so I did Latin however I in a short time gave up the Latin because it was past me! My Latin was by no means superb.

I’m certain you might be simply being modest!

The humorous factor was (my Latin mistress might not likely get over this) that after I began digging at Lullingstone all of the sudden my Latin bought an terrible lot higher. I’m not certain I might have even handed my Latin had I not been on the dig, however all of the sudden I appeared to attach with Latin.

I really like that you just have been impressed by Lullingstone and that you just one way or the other channelled the Latin which you noticed at the Villa. [Lullingstone Roman Villa boasts a beautiful mosaic which is accompanied by a Latin inscription –  See earlier blog on Lullingstone .] I ponder if, even subconsciously, it spurred you on!

Europa mosaic, with Latin inscription (see additional under). c. AD 330-60.

© Historic England Archive.

I believe once more it was that actual connection as a result of Latin was the language spoken by the individuals (or at the very least some of the individuals) who lived there.

At University after I gave up Latin I did Ancient History as an alternative which is a beautiful topic to do. In the second yr I did Archaeology and History as I used to be learning for what was often known as a ‘Mains degree’ and for that we centered on two topics and I had already determined by then to enter archives.

I had met Frances Neale whereas on the dig and he or she was on the archive course at London University and he or she went on to a job at Bristol City Archives and so I had that at the again of my thoughts. Getting a job in archaeology was fairly troublesome in these days (mid Nineteen Sixties) – there have been barely higher prospects in archives. So I then did a diploma in archive administration at Liverpool University and bought my first job at Berkshire Record Office in 1966, in Reading. I used to be there till 1971 by which period my husband and I had bought married (in 1969) after which we went to get a job in Southampton and I bought a short lived job in Hampshire Record Office. They created a job for me later which was very good so I used to be an archivist there till the finish of 1974. I then was away for 11 years after I had my kids. I then had a brief stint at Southampton archives then again to Hampshire Record Office in 1987. I used to be in submit there till 2010 after I retired. So that’s my profession. But most of my work after I returned to the report workplace was enterprise archives. It had so much of fascinating sides to it. It was the time in the Nineties when so much of companies have been collapsing and so there was so much of work to rescue archives in that interval, speaking to individuals whose conditions had fully modified, as a result of privatisation and so forth. It was very fascinating to listen to what individuals needed to say about the state of affairs.

So it was dwelling historical past at the moment, in a approach.

Yes, virtually. I began my PhD in 1994 – I used to be 50 after I began it – and I completed it in 1997. It was based mostly on Southampton archives and medieval stewards’ accounts. The cause I began it sounds loopy! I did a college course in the historical past of science and know-how – not that I’m in any respect scientific or technological! It was simply for curiosity.

That’s a adequate cause!

One of the issues we needed to do was a dissertation and mine was on whether or not Roman backyard design had continued by to the medieval Roman interval or if it had simply been rediscovered. I had completed some earlier work utilizing the medieval stewards’ accounts which have been the monetary information for the metropolis and what it might inform me about the dockside cranes there. Southampton was a vital port in the fifteenth century – extra vital than London – primarily as a result of it had commerce coming in from the continent, particularly Venetian ships. The two cranes there have been city property used for unloading, and the stewards’ accounts report the expenditure of the city on restore and construct. So I puzzled what we might study their construction from references to repairs and rebuilding. There are only a few cranes which survive from that interval, none on this nation in any respect. Germany has a couple of, the greatest identified one being at Trier. The cranes in the finish contributed a chapter to my thesis which was based mostly on utilizing the stewards’ accounts to say that Southampton contributed to its personal success by managing its funds so nicely. Whereas the acquired thought is that Southampton simply bought jolly fortunate. But they did issues themselves like bettering the monetary system and sustaining and growing their property so they might maximise earnings.

And you talked about Roman gardens?

The e book I used extensively on this subject was about the gardens of Pompeii by Wilhelmina Jashemski. The inspiration on this nation got here from Fishbourne Roman Palace as a result of we’ve the plan of the place the hedging had been planted and it was preserved in the floor there in order that they have been capable of replant the place the hedges initially had been. There is a few proof of Roman gardens on this nation however not very a lot.

Reconstruction drawing of Great Witcombe Roman Villa, with backyard, in the fourth century AD (illustration by Ivan Lapper). © Historic England Archive

On the topic of gardens, do you recall if there was any signal of a backyard at Lullingstone? Do you bear in mind it being mentioned?

No, in no way. Although it wasn’t one thing I used to be even eager about at that stage, or I might have requested the query. It will primarily rely, of course, on the soil and whether or not you discover proof of holes the place shrubs might need been or trenches dug. That might simply be destroyed by later ploughing, and so on.

Lullingstone Villa in its panorama, with imagined backyard, in the later fourth century AD

(illustration by Peter Urmston). © Historic England Archive.


I do know they discovered varied fruit tree pips and seeds in the kitchen space. I’m certain there would have been some kind of backyard however it’s unlikely to have been fairly as grand as Fishbourne!

As , it additionally is determined by whether or not they’re wanting for it.

How pretty {that a} fellow digger, Frances, impressed you. It feels like she was an incredible function mannequin.

Definitely. She was all the time superb to me – I believe she took me below her wing! Just like Mrs Rook did, which was somewhat good. It’s been a lifelong friendship.

Frances Neale, Anne’s mentor and lifelong good friend, on web site at Lullingstone Roman Villa.

© Dr Anne Thick.

Frances was often known as ‘Pixie’ on the dig and I requested her why and I believe it was as a result of she used to put on a hood and in order that was what Mr Rook referred to as her. She did so much of sketches of us all whereas on the dig. Her sketchbook resurfaced in 2019 at the 70 yr reunion of the diggers and he or she was actually happy to see it once more.

Frances Neale’s sketch of Anne busy at work throughout the excavations. 

© Dr Anne Thick.

Who else do you bear in mind from the dig? For instance, what was Lieutenant-Colonel Meates (‘Meates’) like?

I didn’t have so much to do with him personally however of course he was round. My reminiscence was that he was the kind of man who was fairly well mannered to the ladies however might need instructed the boys what to do. He seemed like a army man along with his moustache and so forth and his bearing. But I all the time bought the impression that, though he wasn’t a educated archaeologist, he did the job nicely. I don’t know if there has ever been any criticism of him in his recording or his publishing. My impression at the time was that he knew what he was doing and he stored fairly a well-run dig so far as I might inform. There was no messing about!

I believe he lived in the Gatehouse at Lullingstone Castle at the time of the dig?

I believe that’s right, simply as Mr and Mrs Rook lived in some half of Lullingstone Castle too, though I don’t bear in mind which half. I bear in mind visiting them there with my Mum and Dad and I believe it was a flat.

Mr and Mrs Rook have been custodians of the web site – how did that differ from what Meates was doing? Did they organise visits to the web site, for instance?

They have been doing what the Ministry of Works did once they had a custodian on web site – e.g. take the cash from individuals coming in, give them some details about what was occurring there and so forth. I can’t bear in mind when the Ministry of Works turned concerned however I do have a reminiscence of Mr Rook carrying a uniform.

Lullingstone Roman Villa throughout excavations, with viewing platform for guests.

© Dr Anne Thick.

I learn that you just wrote to Meates and had a beautiful reply from him. How did you first discover about out him and the dig?

I went with Mum and Dad as a customer as the dig was already occurring. I most likely spoke to Mr or Mrs Rook and requested if it was attainable to affix (I noticed different younger individuals there) and so they most likely mentioned simply write to Col Meates. I’m certain that someplace I’ve both a draft of my letter to him or his reply to me. At the second I can’t discover them however I’m certain I’ll come throughout them once more sooner or later!

I really like the pictures of Mr and Mrs Rook- and it’s fascinating how neatly everyone seems to be dressed – fairly totally different apparel from a dig in the present day! You additionally talked about Jim and Hilda?

Jim used to smoke a pipe. He and Hilda have been most likely of their 40s.

Tony and Evelyn have been the identical kind of age as Frances who was about 5 years older than me. Evelyn was about 10 years older than him. I didn’t know them nicely however I bear in mind them being there.

             Lullingstone Roman Villa throughout excavations.

© Dr Anne Thick.

Were you supervised or simply given a job to do?

I used to be simply given a job to do. The one the place the photograph was taken was in the nicely, simply beginning it off in reality. I’m certain somebody got here alongside and mentioned what I ought to do however I don’t bear in mind anybody specifically supervising me however that isn’t to say that somebody wasn’t! I’m certain they might not have simply let me unfastened!

Perhaps they thought you have been so environment friendly along with your notepad and pen that you’d be superb! I like your recollection of seeing Mrs Rook washing the mosaics and the mosaics coming alive.

Yes, as the web site is on a slope, so we might be above and will look down and see her with her mop and the colors actually got here out brilliantly then. I don’t know if they might try this now nevertheless it labored at the time!

Apparently should you moist mosaics it’s an actual trick to bringing the colors out.

Mrs Rook washed the mosaics periodically in order that they seemed good for guests – housekeeping, should you like!

The mosaics are one of the issues that many guests get most enthusiastic about. As chances are you’ll know, one of the 4 seasons is sadly lacking. Do you keep in mind that being mentioned or once they uncovered the bit that was broken?

That was all earlier than my time.

Bellerophon on Pegasus, spearing the Chimaera, surrounded by the 4 seasons. c. AD 330-60.

© Historic England Archive.

One of my private favourites in the Villa is the wall-painting of the water nymphs. These are in a cult room (also referred to as the Deep Room) which was created c. AD 180, round the identical time as the baths in the Villa and display the Villa proprietor’s reverence for water. The area of interest which housed the wall-painting was later lined up with plaster and will have escaped the excavators’ discover however, in a twist of destiny, the web site flooded mid-excavations and dislodged the plaster concealing the water nymphs. Do you bear in mind something about this?

I heard about that from Frances and, if I bear in mind rightly, it was Mr Rook who found the water nymphs however I didn’t know the preamble to the discovery.

Reconstruction of ‘Deep Room’ proven at underground stage, c. AD 380

(illustration by Peter Dunn/Richard Lea). © Historic England Archive.

It was a fortuitous discovery and one which I believe was somewhat magical, given it was a cult room to the water nymphs, and it was water that exposed them once more. I believe the Lullingstone proprietor would have cherished that.

Yes, it was water ‘wot dunnit it’!

Have you been again to Lullingstone typically since the dig?

Whenever we’ve had a vacation in Kent we’ve gone again – so a handful of instances. The final time was in 2019 however, of course, we’ve had the pandemic since then. If we’re in the space, I all the time need to return and see it!

Does it look totally different? Does it convey all the memories again?

What may be very totally different is that after we have been digging there was no cowl over it and when, many years in the past that cowl was placed on, that was the greatest shock and alter that I had seen. When I used to be on the dig and we broke for lunchtime for our sandwiches, and so on. we might sit at the high of the financial institution and you could possibly look proper down on the web site so you could possibly see all of it after which the river past it. Of course, you couldn’t try this now with the cowl on however that was half of the magic of it – being there and with the ability to look down over the web site and it was so stunning to my thoughts – it was simply one thing we did. I believe it was simply seeing the complete factor and simply soaking it up – it was very atmospheric. I believed the cowl was an excellent factor to do as a result of it preserved it. I additionally assume it’s a good exhibition inside – it will get the proper steadiness between explaining to individuals who maybe don’t know so much about Roman archaeology however then additionally has panels which broaden if you’d like a bit extra data so it’s nicely set out. It is an excellent concept that it has been lined like that as that may protect it and just about the complete Villa is inside the cowl.

             Lullingstone Roman Villa throughout excavations.

© Dr Anne Thick.

Yes, it does virtually really feel like you might be strolling spherical somebody’s residence. With a bit of creativeness, you are feeling like you’re going spherical all the totally different rooms and I like the truth you may go upstairs to a primary ground gallery and look down on the Villa.

Getting that view from above is essential to grasp a spot like that. We went to Vindolanda after we have been at Hadrian’s Wall just lately and I’ve been there earlier than however to attempt to get a way of the buildings if you find yourself there and you might be solely on the identical stage as the foundations, I discover extremely troublesome. Some buildings I might determine as a granary, and so on. however on Countryfile just lately they did a bit of bit on Vindolanda and so they confirmed it from above, the aerial view, after which of course it makes a lot extra sense. You can see the highway going into the fort after which its common form and the shapes of the buildings inside it however you don’t get that sense should you don’t see it from above.

I agree, and since so much of the time it’s simply the foundations which can be there, it makes it even more durable, as you virtually must create a 3D picture in your thoughts. You talked about a granary, which jogs my memory to ask should you noticed any of the Lullingstone granary once you have been digging?

I don’t keep in mind that – I wasn’t concerned in that. I’ve seen that there was a granary from later reconstructions however I don’t bear in mind the excavations of it.

If you had to decide on your greatest reminiscence of the complete expertise, what would that be?

That’s a troublesome one! I’ve no reminiscence of any particular factor in phrases of discovering something specific. I dug up some pottery however you may’t dig a Roman web site and never flip up some pottery! I believe what I bear in mind was simply that sense of being there and that connection – that was the fundamental factor that I introduced away, nevertheless it was my first dig so it bolstered the love that I’ve had of Roman archaeology ever since. I did excavations whereas at University – I used to be at Corbridge for a pair of weeks and for two years working I used to be on at the excavation at Winchester Cathedral on the Cathedral Green web site with Martin Biddle. Then I used to be on an Iron Age dig at Oxford – we truly discovered an Iron Age skeleton which was very uncommon, I imagine. I used to be additionally concerned with an Iron Age hillfort in Shropshire.

So Lullingstone was simply the starting!

That’s proper – that was my actual introduction so it needs to be my favorite!

Which web site in Roman Britain could be your second favorite?

That must be Fishbourne. We are Friends of Fishbourne Roman Palace and we do like going there very a lot, it’s a nice web site.

This might sound like an odd query however one of the issues I take into consideration so much at Lullingstone is who might need lived there. We don’t know for certain who lived there though we will speculate about the kind of individual she or he was, whether or not the proprietor or inhabitant. Whoever that individual (or household) was, somebody did reside there as their residence and that’s one of the issues I really like about the Villa most. Whenever I go to, I really feel as if I’m there as a visitor, similar to I’d go to a good friend’s home in the present day, so there’s an imaginary host there. Assuming that, should you might communicate to that individual what would you say to him/her?

That’s a really troublesome query! It’s not one I’ve ever thought-about.

I puzzled should you had imagined it as a 14 yr outdated once you have been there. It is one thing I take into consideration so much though I’m not certain what I might say to them! I might have tons of questions for them, reminiscent of why they put the inscription on the mosaic and would similar to them to speak to me about why that they had completed sure issues.

Or maybe you’ve gotten some ideas typically about the attainable proprietor of the Villa?

It could be very fascinating to know what kind of individual was there. Obviously, that they had sufficient depth of studying that they might put that inscription on that mosaic and in addition I’m inquisitive about the significance of the photos on the mosaic. Presumably additionally the marble busts that they present in the Deep Room means that they have been a bit greater than your common household. Of course, we don’t know what the continuity of the household there was, or whether or not a number of households lived there. The incontrovertible fact that Christianity was launched there’s one other issue once more – does that signify a change of household? Or only a change of perception? There was additionally the temple-mausoleum at the high of the slope behind the Villa (which I used to be not concerned in throughout the dig), though it isn’t seen to guests in the present day.

 Lullingstone Villa with temple-mausoleum behind, in the late third century AD

(illustration by Peter Urmston). © Historic England Archive

The skeleton of the man (however not the girl) who was found in the temple-mausoleum is on show in the Villa.

Were these individuals linked with the busts in the Deep Room? There are tons of questions it could be pretty to have the solutions to about who lived there.

Wouldn’t it’s sensible to know who lived there! Although perhaps that can also be half of the attraction of the Villa: the thriller surrounding it.

I might additionally love to listen to whoever lived at the Villa talking Latin! Latin spoken by a Roman!

(*60*)! And did they pronounce their ‘v’ like a ‘v’ or a ‘w’?

Exactly! There has been a lot written about that by individuals who assume they know in subsequent centuries however no person is aware of for certain, until they’ve a recording.

There is one thing else that I’ve been looking for a solution to in my analysis: whether or not the Villa proprietor/inhabitant truly composed the two strains of the inscription himself. There is a well-liked view that he did and I are likely to subscribe to that, as a result of we haven’t discovered these two strains anyplace else, they match with the mosaic so he might have chosen the picture after which written one thing particularly to accompany it. It is clearly somebody who has had a Classical training, given the strains seem to have been impressed by Ovid and Virgil. It’s intriguing. I additionally love the approach the strains are a bit wonky – they don’t look as if they’ve come from a sample e book, as the letters have been squashed in to suit. It’s wonderful and the inscription nonetheless will get a lot of protection in tutorial papers and books, which is nice.

Europa mosaic (element of inscription). c. AD 330-60. © Historic England Archive.

We are additionally fortunate that the mosaicist was literate or cautious sufficient that when he put in the inscription he bought it proper as there are examples the place the mosaicist didn’t have the talent to place down what he was given to do and has bought it fairly flawed.

Quite. In some methods it’s most likely greatest that it’s that half of the mosaic that was undamaged. It is, of course, a disgrace that we misplaced one of the 4 seasons however we will fairly simply think about what would have been there whereas who might have guessed the inscription? I’m so intrigued by the complete web site and I’m all the time dabbling a bit and updating my analysis into it so it has been fascinating to listen to first-hand a bit extra about the dig and I’m actually grateful to you. I additionally wished to say thanks for collaborating in the dig as a result of, though you mentioned you didn’t discover something particular, you excavated half of the Well, and also you contributed in so many different methods too. For individuals like me researching the web site, we couldn’t have completed any of that if it wasn’t for you and all the volunteers and your onerous work all these years in the past so I believe you might be all owed an enormous thanks.

Well, it was enjoyable! I wouldn’t have completed it if it hadn’t been enjoyable!

Illustration of the baths, together with the nicely (far left) which Anne excavated, at Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent as they could have appeared in the late third century AD. (Illustration by Peter Dunn/Richard Lea.) © Historic England Archive.

It’s great that you just had such a beautiful time, it’s given you a lifelong friendship with Frances, and it impressed you in your work. Lullingstone is hopefully going to be sorted ceaselessly so itis an incredible legacy that you’ve got been half of it.

I hope so. It deserves it – it’s an incredible web site.

It is wonderful. Loads of college kids nonetheless go to – they’ll gown up in Roman outfits and play Roman video games, which all the time goes down an actual deal with!

Finally, is there something we haven’t mentioned that you just want to discuss?

I don’t assume so. I’m shocked how a lot we’ve mentioned as I didn’t assume our dialog would take very lengthy! It has been good speaking about it, it has definitely made me give it some thought much more. I’ve very fond memories of my time there. I believe additionally it is good that the employees at Lullingstone worth that as nicely – the truth they organised the reunion for the diggers in 2019 was a really good tribute.

They positively worth what you all did. Part of what they’re doing is carrying on taking care of what you delivered to gentle and found. Maybe there can be one other reunion in 2024, which might be 75 years since the graduation of the excavations. That is likely to be a superb excuse to have a bit of a celebration at the Villa!

We’ll must counsel it to them!

At the finish of every season, Lieutenant-Colonel Meates used to host some kind of social gathering. I don’t bear in mind them in any respect, I might have been too younger. Frances went to some of the events however when it bought to the stage the place a bit an excessive amount of drink was flowing, her dad and mom collected her and took her residence!


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