Obituary: Ralegh Radford

RALEGH RADFORD was the last of the prodigies of British archaeology from the 1930s and the years following the Second World War who, along with the like of Mortimer Wheeler, Christopher Hawkes and Gordon Childe, dictated the intellectual progress of the subject.

Like others of his generation he was a polymath whose interests and research ranged from the prehistoric periods through to the Roman Empire and into the Middle Ages, and thence to more recent aspects of Balkan folk art. He was essentially international in outlook, with a profound knowledge of European sites and antiquities.

A student at the British Schools of Archaeology at both Athens and Rome, he was subsequently to become Director of the British School at Rome (1936- 39). It was, however, in exploring the nature of Celtic monasticism together with the physical traces of early Christianity and its subsequent organisation during the early medieval period across the British Isles that Radford was a pioneer. He once declaimed at a conference in Orkney, "I am a Christian archaeologist."

Coming from a Devon family and with a father who was also a medievalist and fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, he was given traditional Devonshire names of Courtenay and Ralegh as well as Arthur, which was to be doubly significant as his interests developed. At the age of 10 his father took him to the excavations at Glastonbury and this was to influence his future.

He read History at Exeter College, Oxford, and it was while still an undergraduate that he excavated the Pinhoe Mound near Exeter and collaborated with the then Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, C.R. Peers, at the excavations at Whitby Abbey. It was the beginning of a lifelong association with monuments in state care. After further travel in the Balkans and the excavation of the Westland Roman villa, Yeovil, Radford joined the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, Office of Works, in 1929 becoming Inspector for Wales.

Outside Wales he was continuing to excavate sites mainly in Devon and Cornwall although the Roman villa of Ditchley, Oxfordshire, figured strongly. He is especially noted for his work at Tintagel, which he believed to be a Celtic monastic site. Although some of his interpretations have been challenged by a later archaeological generation, his excavations at Tintagel and Castle Dore were highly significant in their day.

He was the first to identify the imported eastern Mediterranean pottery which established the date of the settlement on the headland at Tintagel to the fifth and sixth centuries AD. Excavation, however, was not the only aspect of his fieldwork. In 1936-37 he accompanied Mortimer Wheeler in a reconnaissance of the late prehistoric hill-forts of northern France for a research programme which was to be aborted by war.

Since the Fascist authorities did not allow foreign-run excavations in Italy, Radford, as Director of the British School at Rome, continued with his British projects. He did nevertheless begin a new publication series at the school and supervised the completion of the south wing of the Edwin Lutyens-designed building.

There is a photograph of Radford in the school courtyard standing alongside Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax who had turned from their post-Munich deliberations with the Italian government to make a visit. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Radford had to close down the school which involved much burning of papers in the courtyard.

He returned to Britain to work first in the BBC, then in the intelligence department of the Foreign Office, becoming Chief Intelligence Officer in the department of psychological warfare at Allied HQ in Algiers. He carried the rank of a staff Colonel.

After the war Radford returned to direct more excavations in the West Country before taking over the excavations at Glastonbury in 1951. Briefly, from 1946 to 1948, he was acting Secretary of the Welsh Royal Commission of Historical and Ancient Monuments. His activities then spread to Scotland, where he worked at Whithorn Abbey and other early Christian sites before being invited to Orkney to investigate the Norse settlement of Birsay.

He was later to excavate at Peel Castle on the Isle of Man. His particular interest in early Christianity and what was then termed the Dark Ages led him deeply into Arthurian studies. It was unsurprising that he was one of the instigators in 1965 of the excavation of South Cadbury hill- fort in Somerset with its Arthurian associations.

All the while he produced a torrent of learned papers, excavations reports and guidebooks to national monuments. His versatility and intellectual power had already brought him fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries at the precocious age of 28. He was eventually to receive its highest award, the society's gold medal, in 1972 and honorary doctorates at three universities. He was elected to the British Academy in 1956 and was a member of the German Archaeological Institute. He was given no fewer than three Festschrifts, including one at 80 (The Early South Western Church in West Britain and Ireland, 1982), and another at 90 (The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey, 1991).

Radford's broad experience and practical involvement with the preservation and interpretation of monuments made his advice widely sought in official as well as archaeological circles. He served as a member of both the Royal Commissions on Historical Monuments for England and Wales and on the three Ancient Monuments Boards for England, Wales and Scotland. These were advisory bodies providing archaeological advice to the respective Ancient Monuments Inspectorates and reporting to ministers.

Few individuals have been in such demand before or since. He served as President of the Royal Archaeological Institute, of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, the Prehistoric Society and the Medieval Society and more locally of the archaeological societies of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, the Royal Institution of Cornwall and many local historical societies. He was always courteous and businesslike, as much at home in the committee room as on an excavation. His erudition was formidable, which could make him intimidating, but he was always stimulating. He could be, in the words of Stewart Cruden, "remorselessly informative". To the last he maintained his independent spirit, refusing medication unless accompanied by sherry.

Ralegh Radford was one of the great figures of 20th-century archaeology, never insular in viewpoint and with remarkable intellectual versatility, lecturing, contributing to discussions on site and at conferences. He will always be remembered standing before his audience, eyes closed, rocking from side to side and speaking in a high-pitched clerical voice. It was enthralling stuff and if on later reflection one began to question some of the content, the imagination had been fired and one was all the wiser.

Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford, archaeologist: born Hillingdon, Middlesex 7 November 1900; FSA 1928; Director, British School at Rome 1936-39; OBE 1947; FBA 1956; died Uffcolme, Devon 27 December 1998.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before