rescue • • •
The M.40 Like Son, Like Father by Max Davies
T HE M.40 Archaeological Re search Group, concerned with rescue work on the motorway soon to cross the Oxfordshire and midland plains en route from the Chilterns to Birmingham, boasts the distinction of having on its steering committee the father of the father of motorway archaeology. Bill Fowler, who first interested his son Peter in archaeo logy some 20 years ago and is him self well known to archaeology in Northumberland and the midlands, now lives in retirement in Oxford shire.
The Group which he helped form was set up last November jointly by the Oxford University Extra-Mural Delegacy and the Oxford City and County Museum. It is led by Trevor Rowley, staff tutor in archaeology of the former and Mick Aston, assistant field officer of the latter. It bases itself deliberately on the Peter Fowler model and has recently completed two trial excavations to test evidence provided by systematic field walking over some 300 acres along the nine-mile part of the motorway route on which constructional work will start early in 1972. (Roughly SU 7596 to SU 6404). (Both excavations gave positive results, one of 4th century (SU 645037) and one of 12th century occupation (SU 686014) of sufficient interest to have attracted a £1,000 grant from the Ministry of Environment for further excavations later in the year.)
Other evidence included surface finds of Romano-British, AngloSaxon and medieval pottery, some of them over an area of several acres without any particular focus of concentration (SU 712985), and crop mark indications of three or four possible settlement sites along or adjacent to the route. Of particular interest are crop marks abutting on the Romano-British site already trial excavated. These extend along the gravel terrace surrounding that site and may, together with Anglo-Saxon pottery found in the neighbourhood, give a clue to occupation over an extensive period. A thorough aerial coverage of the whole route is being provided during this summer by the National Buildings Register. Dr. St. Joseph is also hoping to fly some sorties along the route. The Group itself is carrying out documentary research, particularly into the medieval settlements.
The Group consists of a hard core of some 50 part-timers, based largely on membership of extra-mural classes specially organised for this purpose last autumn. The usual grapevine and a deliberate policy of publicity and information through a lively local press and Radio Oxford have added a like number of casuals for peak load, drawn from a radius of some 20 miles around. The Oxford University Archaeological Society is also involved and will provide excavation man-hours under its own director (David Hinton of the Ashmolean Museum) during the summer term and the long vacation. The O.U.A.S. will finance its own excavations.
Field walking started during the uninviting month of January and was scheduled to be completed by the end of April. Actually it was completed by the end of March, such was the enthusiasm and pertinacity of the part-timers. There has not to date been, and there is no sign that there will be any shortage of willing and spirited help for the Group to draw on. This happy state of affairs owes something to a vigorous policy of internal and external communication and to the evident and effective leadership of Trevor Rowley and Mick Aston, who showed it among other things by taking photographs from the open cockpit of a Puss Moth in January and February. Phase one, field reconnaissance, having been completed, the Group is now involved in phase two, assessment and trial. Phase three, excavation at major sites, follows later in the year. Phases four and five, vigilance during construction (with necessary urgent action) and eventual publication are on the horizon.
People... and Money
The two leaders are assisted by a steering committee consisting of three local archaeologists in charge of the various sectors of the route— Bill Fowler is one of these—a representative of the Oxfordshire Archaeological Society, who is the Group's treasurer and the Group's honorary secretary, a retired businessman living in nearby Buckinghamshire. The secretary is responsible for liaison with landowners and farmers, for the communications policy and for such administration as is necessary.
Modest financial support has been given to the Group by the two sponsoring bodies and by the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society. Expenditure is not great, but postage and maps cost money as does fencing for excavations (even on a do-ityourself basis) and there is a certain amount of administrative running about which has to be paid for. The Ministry grant for the excavations so far envisaged came, in fact, none too soon.
Such groups as this, it is thought, can be seen as the skirmishers ahead of the main body of the army that RESCUE will eventually mobilise when that sorely needed body gets off the ground—or on to it.