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Aileen Fox

At the age of 93, Lady Aileen Fox has just published her autobiography-

Aileen- A Pioneering Archaeologist (not I suspect her choice of title) which proves to be a very good read

(published by Gracewing, 2 Southern

Avenue, Leominster HR6 OQF, price £12.99)

Aileen Henderson - as she was originally - came from a well-off,

middle class background. Her father was a successful solicitor but the money came from her mother's family, who had invented those wire contraptions which used to send invoices whizzing back and forth in department stores.

She had a happy childhood, growing up in Kensington, and eventually being presented at court. But she had a struggle to do what she really wanted to do, which was to go to university which girls simply did not do in those days. But she was insistent and eventu-

ally she went up to Cambridge to read

English, in the days when the English department was at its most stimulating.

But what should she do when she graduated? Should she become a librarian? Or how about going on an excavation? She consulted a young classics don, Jocelyn Toynbee who sent her off to dig at Richborough.

Archaeology rapidly ensnared her - she had found her career. Money was no problem, as she had her own allowance,

but one cannot help thinking that the training that she devised for herself was rather broader than that of a modern

PhD student. To the British School of

Rome for 6 months where she did what

I have always wanted to do, that is to

'do' Rome, century by century - though by the end of her time, she had only got as far as Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. On her return, she continued work at

Richborough, digging in the summer, writing up reports in the winter in the

Antiquaries, helped by the learned young Ralegh Radford - and visiting the opera and ballet in the evenings. She decided she needed to learn

German, so she went to Wiesbaden for 6 months

She also began to acquire boyfriends - something which in those days one only did after one came down from Cambridge.

She fell for

Christopher Hawkes, as all the girls did in the 1920s -

but he had already fallen for Jacquetta. Her Father took her on a Hellenic cruise organised by Sir Henry Lunn (the origins of Swans Hellenic

Cruises) where she found herself going around sites with an older man, Sir Cyril Fox, the director of the National Museum of Wales.

The following summer her life changed dramatically. Cyril Fox's wife,

Olive, died tragically in a swimming accident, leaving him with two teenage daughters. She wrote a cautious letter of condolences, he replied, and within a year they were married. He was 50, she was 25, and she found she had stepdaughters of 14 and 10. It proved to be an idyllically happy marriage. Cyril Fox was at the height of his powers. He had already written his great book, The Personality of Britain - the beginning of landscape archaeology, and she threw herself into the archaeology of South

Wales while at the same time bearing him three sons.

In 1946, Cyril Fox retired. Aileen however was still not yet 40 and was invited by lan Richmond to undertake the task of attempting to rescue what she could of Roman Exeter from the debris of the German bombing. She was shortly afterwards offered a post at the University in the expanding History

Department and she and Cyril, by now Sir Cyril so she was Lady Fox, moved with their large family to Exeter.

Her career at Exeter was sometimes stormy. She wanted to establish a free-

standing department of archaeology, but Frank Barlow, the Professor of

History whom she describes as 'tyran-

nical', would have nothing of it.

She continued her teaching, specialising in the Iron Age,

excavating Bronze Age huts on

Dartmoor and writing her very successful book, on South West

England. In 1967 Cyril eventually died and five years later it was time for

Aileen to retire, at the age of 65.

When one retires it is often a good idea to get away from one's place of work and Aileen did this in style: she went to New Zealand. In New Zealand the Maoris had built hillforts known as

'paa', which bear a striking resemblance to our own Iron Age hill forts and Aileen threw herself into the study of the paa, eventually writing a standard textbook on the subject. For five years she had a part time job at the university museum and then she went back for five more years as a volunteer, publishing a number of unpublished excavations till eventually in 1983 she returned to Exeter and wrote this book which has been waiting for a publisher ever since.

It is now updated to bring the story down to her 93rd year.

The book is a very good read. There is a nice balance between the story of a happy family life and the public life of an archaeologist, and though it may appear on the surface to be polite and refined, in fact it is full of percipient judgements and juicy titbits of gossip. There will be those who will find it not to their taste, but the rest of us will find it fascinating, while it provides, inciden-

tally, an insight into the history of archaeology in the 20th century. Buy it now, and pack it away to read after

Christmas pudding.





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