Jean Cook

Jean Mary Cook, teacher, archaeologist, museum curator and university administrator: born Walmley, Warwickshire 23 December 1927; FSA 1967; died Oxford 24 July 2001.
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The Independent Online

Jean Mary Cook, teacher, archaeologist, museum curator and university administrator: born Walmley, Warwickshire 23 December 1927; FSA 1967; died Oxford 24 July 2001.

Jean Cook was an Anglo-Saxon archaeologist of distinction who used her considerable gifts as an administrator in museums and higher education. The challenges of her many offices never prevented her from caring deeply for all of the colleagues with whom she worked. She was a skilled enabler who helped other archaeologists and historians to publish, often at the expense of her own research.

Jean Cook was born at Walmley, near Birmingham, in 1927 and she went to school in Sutton Coldfield. Her first degree, at Royal Holloway College, London University, was in Botany. On graduating she went to the Institute of Education, London, where she was awarded her Education Diploma in 1950. Her first career was as a teacher at Camden School for Girls, where she taught biology; and in her spare time she studied at Birkbeck College for a BA in English. Archaeology was her subsidiary subject and her tutor was Vera Evison. This introduction to archaeology was to be a turning point for her; henceforward, archaeology became the central enthusiasm of her life.

Jean Cook's second career was in museums; in 1954 she went to work at the Guildhall Museum, London. Meanwhile she completed her part-time BA degree and began to work for a higher degree. Her research was on the wooden buckets sometimes found amongst the grave goods of Anglo-Saxon burials. She began to collect and record material on these and continued to do so all her life. She was particularly interested in the technical details of their manufacture.

After completing a Museum Diploma in 1959 Cook was promoted to the curatorship at the Royal Museum Canterbury, where she set about modernising the collection. In 1962 she was appointed curator of the new museum in Chichester where she built up the collection and displayed it in a converted historic building.

The Chichester experience was to prove valuable when in 1964 she moved to the challenging post of first Director of the Oxford City and County Museum. She established a model museum at Fletcher's House, Woodstock. She was a strong advocate of the need for the museum to be an educational resource and a Schools' Loan Service was quickly established. Even more pioneering was the establishment of the County Sites and Monuments Record under the museum's first Field Officer, Don Benson. This provided the county with an accessible record of its archaeology, available for research and as a tool in planning. Following the pioneering Oxfordshire example, County or District Sites and Monuments Records are now ubiquitous in the UK.

This activity led to her authorship with Don Benson in 1966 of City of Oxford Redevelopment: archaeological implications. The publication was the first in what became a national genre of archaeological implication surveys. She realised that the scale of rescue excavations necessary in Oxford could seriously affect the focus of her fledgling museum, and so she actively promoted the foundation of the Oxford Archaeological Excavation Committee. The success of this committee was to lead to the creation of the highly successful Oxford Archaeological Unit.

The Woodstock museum appeared to be going from strength to strength, but budget cuts began and Cook became increasingly frustrated that it was no longer possible to sustain the initial momentum. To her colleagues' surprise and deep regret she resigned her directorship in 1970. She then began a third career as a university administrator with the newly formed Open University.

The OU had to secure the active co-operation of numerous organisations, especially local education authorities, universities and other institutions of higher, further and adult education. There were important educational and administrative objectives to be met, such as the setting up of local study centres and the creation around them of meaningful "university communities". As Assistant Regional Director for the South Region Jean Cook quickly rose to these challenges and brought to the OU a unique combination of administrative skills, enthusiasm and her warm personality.

Cook retired from the Open University in 1983 and again became actively involved in archaeology in Oxford. She assisted Trevor Rowley at the Oxford University Department for External Studies by introducing a rigour to the embryonic certificate courses in archaeology. She forged links between the Department and the Open University that allowed a structure of courses to be created ranging from intermediate to post-graduate level. A lasting legacy of this period was a volume of essays entitled The Archaeology of the Oxford Region (1986), which she edited with Grace Briggs and Trevor Rowley. Cook was the driving force behind a series of other collaborative local studies that made archaeology and local history available to a wide audience.

At the same time, and also with Grace Briggs, Jean assisted Dr J.N.L. Myres in bringing to fruition the final volume of The Oxford History of England, entitled The English Settlements (1985). The trio collaborated a second time, with the addition of Dr John Mason, to produce The Building Accounts of Christ Church Library 1716-1779, published by the Roxburghe Club in 1988. Myres described Cook as his "Girl Friday"; a role that was made even more apt when she established an allotment in the Myres' garden.

In 1996 Jean Cook was appointed the first woman Honorary Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London. She took a particular interest in the welfare of the society's staff and made the society's library at Burlington House her special concern. After her three years' service she retained her connection with the society through a research project unravelling the evolution of the historic landscape around Kelmscott Manor. She was also President of the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society, 1992-94.

Jean Cook was a grave and private person, full of integrity and deeply devoted to her sister's family. She applied rigour, timeliness and high standards to everything that she undertook. During her sudden, short, illness, she was sustained by her strong Christian faith, and by the support of her friend Mary Hodges.

Tom Hassall