On October 20th2012, I went up to Lincoln, to the Retirement Party for my old friend Mick Jones, the Lincoln City Archaeologist, held in the Galleries of the new or newish museum. Highlight of the evening was entertainment provided by Tom Lane, Director of Archaeological Projects Services who together with Anne Irvine hymned Mick’s achievements as Michael ‘Lindiana’ Jones.
Mick was one of the crucial figures from what the heroic days of Rescue Archaeology in the 1970s. The most important year for Rescue Archaeology was 1973, which was the year when ‘Rescue’ was formed and had its great campaign in the pages of the Guardian against the MPs who were building a car park in the forecourt of the Houses of Parliament without doing any archaeology. The MPs cowered under the onslaught and doubled the money for archaeology, and doubled the money the following year. This was the year Rescue Archaeology became properly professionalised and Mick — and Lincoln — were in the thick of it.
When Mick went to Lincoln in 1972, the Lincoln Archaeology Trust had already been formed under its charismatic and controversial Director, Christina Collier. Christina, who sadly died five years ago, was an outspoken figure who sailed too close to the wind in Lincoln politics at a time when Lincoln politics were in turmoil (Dick Taverne, the sitting Labour MP was deselected, stood as an Independent, won a sensational by-election, but was defeated the following year and went on to be one of the founders of the LibDems). It was a time when archaeologists should be treading very carefully indeed, but Christina was not always politically circumspect.
Mind you, a lot was discovered, notably the original church of St Paul in the Bail, where a Victorian church was pulled down and underneath it they discovered the original late Roman/Dark Age church set in what would have been a corner of the forum, and dated by a superb Celtic style hanging bowl. It is still a crucial site in the early story of Christianity in Britain.
Mick, as Deputy Director had to bear the brunt of the storms, always courteous and polite, a beacon of stability amidst the problems. Eventually in 1980 Christina departed, and Mick was made Director, and was joined by Alan Vince as Deputy Director (Alan sadly died several years ago – a great loss)
The 1970s and 1980s were great days of rescue archaeology, with major excavations, both within the City and in the lower town down by the river. We devoted a special issue in Current Archaeology, CA129 to the archaeology of Lincoln. In 1984, there was another crisis and the four units in Lincolnshire were merged into the Trust for Lincolnshire Archaeology, which continued until 2000, when it too was disbanded and the excavations were handed over to commercial bodies and trusts and Mick became City Archaeologist charged with producing the research reports on the earlier work, and walking the tightrope between the demands of the academic archaeologists and the financial demands of City Hall. Now he is retiring to concentrate on some real archaeology.
The following day, Lincoln was looking its autumnal best in glorious hazy sunshine, and I inspected the upper town. Bailgate looked magnificently 18th-century – and I saw the Newport arch, the only surviving Roman town gateway in Britain
The cathedral – which has also had its own upheavals – looked superb and I also explored the huge castle which declined in the later Middle Ages and became a prison, so that today the visitor is director to the horrors of 19th century prison life. They also display a copy of the Magna Carta, one of only four copies extant, on loan to the castle from the cathedral.
The castle however has recently received a £19m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to complete the wall walk around the walls of the castle, from which magnificent views of the cathedral can be obtained. From where I saw it, the huge motte was crowned by scaffolding: whether any archaeology is being done, I could not discover. It appears they are spending a lot of money on a Heritage skills Centre, which seems to be rather more important than a Norman motte.
And then I went down to the lower town to catch my train, going down the Steep Hill, recently voted Britain’s best place – very steep and cobbled but containing the two mediaeval houses one known as Aaron the Jew’s house, and the other known as simply the Jews House.
I returned to London exhausted, but it was good to see Mick again and to relive with him some of the triumphs of archaeology in its heroic days.
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