Congratulations to Rescue News on reaching its 100th issue.
The foundation of Rescue in 1973 was one of the most dramatic and certainly one of the most exciting happenings in archaeology in the second half of the 20th century. There was a realisation that instead of digging on ‘sun-drenched hillforts’ – as the phrase went, we should be doing something about rescuing the archaeology that was being destroyed before our very eyes. But Rescue’s real success came from a highly successful PR campaign run by Graham Thomas and Graham Arnold with help from Martin Walker of The Guardian, castigating MPs for building a new car park in the forecourt of the Palace of Westminster without doing a full scale investigation beforehand. MPs were put through the mill, and reacted as they always do if enough mud is thrown at them by throwing money back in return. The money spent on archaeology – a mere £200,000 a year – was doubled, and then doubled again, and when the increase fell to a mere 50% a year, archaeologists began to complain that the ‘cuts’ were upon them. But the trouble for Rescue was that it was too successful. In those early days, we all believed in setting up a new body to rival the National Trust, that we would get millions of members and raise enough money to be able to purchase threatened sites and carry out our own excavations. Alas, so great was the PR success that everyone felt that far better results could be obtained by pressuring MPs rather than joining an archaeology society. Numbers for Rescue soon achieved 1000 members, then 1,500, but it has never really gone beyond that number and has survived due mainly to subventions from the Robert Kiln Trust.
The big success however has been Rescue News, which is published three times a year and edited with sure-footed equilibrium by Pam Irving. The latest issue opens with an alarming account of the disaster at St George’s Church in Southwark where funding has been totally inadequate. It then gives an inside story of the workings of commercial archaeology, with a fascinating account of the tornado which struck a cabin in which Northamptonshire archaeologists were working and carried it about 70 feet- thankfully the injuries to the team were not too serious. And then Martin Carver, Professor of Archaeology at York and editor of Antiquity contributes his rescue reminiscences ending with a hope that ‘all future archaeological opportunities will be addressed by self-selected academics, consultants, planners, developers and archaeological companies getting together to dream up project designs that will maximise research, maximise developments and minimise costs’. Dream on Martin, dream on. Membership of Rescue, which includes Rescue News, is still only £15 a year, and subscriptions should be sent to Rescue, 15a Bull Plain, Hertford, SG14 1DX.
This opinion comes from CA issue 207