Obituary: Jacquetta Hawkes
Wednesday 20 March 1996
She was born Jacquetta Hopkins in 1910, the third child of Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins and Lady Hopkins (nee Jessie Stephens). Her father was a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where his researches into biochemistry led to his discovery of vitamins for which in 1929 he was awarded a Nobel Prize. He was a cousin of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. His younger daughter combined the rigours of scholarly research with the imagination of a poet and a writer.
Jacquetta was a remarkable child. She seems to have had an idyllically happy childhood. Her mother had trained as a nurse and had met her future husband when both were working at Guy's Hospital. She took her children round the museums of Cambridge, where Jacquetta was fascinated by the exhibits of ancient pottery and jewellery. When she learned that their house, 71 Grange Road, had been built where a Roman road was overlapped by an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, and that a beautiful amber necklace had been dug out from below one of the gateposts, she was determined to try her own excavations on the family lawn. This was firmly forbidden. Nevertheless Jacquetta crept out after dark with a torch and a trowel and proceeded to try and dig up the lawn. Alas, she was only able to unearth a few fragments of "dull earth" and her right hand was badly blistered. But her future was determined.
She was educated as a day girl at the Perse School and became the first woman able to study the newly established full degree course in archaeology and anthropology, then the only one in the country. She enrolled at Newnham College, Cambridge.
At the end of her second year, as a particularly promising student, she was sent as a volunteer to her first serious excavation of a pre-Roman Celtic capital just outside the Roman town of Colchester. The director of the excavation was a brilliant young archaeologist, Christopher Hawkes, who soon fell in love with this beautiful young girl, as did a number of other male excavators. She received several proposals of marriage. Christopher Hawkes was preferred.
Jacquetta obtained First Class Honours in her finals and was awarded a travelling scholarship. Accompanied by a photograph of Hawkes, she went off to Palestine to excavate caves on the lower slopes of Mount Carmel, where she supervised the unearthing of a Neanderthal skeleton. This exciting dig left a lasting impression. On her return to England, she and Hawkes became engaged, and were married in Trinity College chapel in 1933.
Several years of a pleasantly companionable marriage followed. They carried out excavations on their own and singly. Jacquetta was alone in the Channel Islands and wrote her first book, The Archaeology of Jersey, published in 1939. In 1938 her son Nicolas was born. Early the following year Jacquetta was supervising her own excavation in Ireland.
During the Second World War she became a civil servant. In 1941 she was appointed Assistant Principal of the Post-War Reconstruction Secretariat. She moved to the Ministry of Education, became an established Principal and Secretary of the UK National Committee for Unesco, which post she held until 1949.
The war saw Jacquetta and Christopher Hawkes separated for considerable periods, never a good thing for marriage. She found herself becoming increasingly restive with a desire for more imaginative writing than she could then find in the purely scholarly world of archaeology, though she continued to publish scholarly works, Prehistoric Britain (with Christopher Hawkes in 1944) and Early Britain in 1945.
During the war Jacquetta met and fell passionately in love with the poet W.J. Turner. This affair stimulated her imaginative and creative faculties and she published her only book of poetry, Symbols and Speculations, in 1948. It is a clear result of her joy with Walter Turner, and her desperate grief when he died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in December 1946.
Meanwhile, as Secretary to the UK Committee, Jacquetta was occupied in preparations for the first Unesco conference in Mexico City in 1947. When she learnt that the writer J.B. Priestley was to be one of the senior UK representatives, she went to Sir John Maud, head of the department, to protest on the grounds that Priestley was merely a popular author of insufficient literary calibre. Luckily for her Maud insisted that Priestley, with his experience of the theatre as well as of literature and the fact that he was already well known abroad, would be an eminently suitable representative. In Mexico City Jacquetta and Jack Priestley fell deeply in love; they remained so for the rest of their lives.
Jacquetta, partly by nature, and partly from her early training at home, was a person of almost compulsive honesty. At the first dinner she and Jack had together in Mexico, although immediately attracted by him, she said that she had to tell him that she didn't like or admire his work. As she had read very little, and none of his serious or critical writings, he was justifiably annoyed. However, love soon surmounted this misunderstanding.
Jacquetta Hawkes was and remained an outstandingly beautiful and fascinating woman, assisted by her impeccable taste in dress. She presented a cool and rather formal exterior. But there was a suggestion of hidden fires. She had a lovely but ambiguous smile, a kind of Mona Lisa look, that presented men with a challenge. She seemed a classical figure, something of a goddess, a mixture of Athena and Aphrodite - "ice without and fire within," commented Jack after their first meeting.
Jacquetta did not suffer fools, and could be sharp with re-marks or actions she considered foolish. She could also be demanding and imperious, but if she felt she had wounded anyone or behaved unreasonably she was quick to apologise and make amends. Some tended at first to be intimidated by her formal manner and her erudition but she inspired great love in women as well as men.
In 1949 Jacquetta left the Civil Service to devote herself to imaginative writing. Her first great success was A Land, published in 1953. It was not until 1953 that her and Jack's marriages were dissolved, and they were able to marry and live together, at first at Brooke House in the Isle of Wight and from the early Sixties until Jack's death in 1984 at Kissing Tree House, Alveston, outside Stratford-upon-Avon. Here they lived and wrote, entertained their many friends and travelled extensively. Together they wrote an interesting experimental play, Dragon's Mouth, and in 1955, soon after their marriage, Journey Down a Rainbow, a series of letters written to each other from different areas of America, Jack's from the brash new America in Texas, and Jacquetta's from the ancient Indian societies in New Mexico.
Jack introduced Jacquetta to the psychological writings of Jung, to whom Journey Down A Rainbow is dedicated. Jung's influence is clearly evident in the writings of both of them. Following Jung, Jack Priestley attributed the outstanding success of their marriage to a balance of the masculine and feminine aspects of each - Jack with his deeply intuitive approach to life and Jacquetta with her masculine intellect. "Jacquetta is an introvert," he said. "She needs me to warm her towards people and the world." Whatever it was, it certainly made for a rare and lasting union.
Jacquetta Hawkes pursued a distinguished career in literature and in archaeology. From 1949 to 1951 she had been archaeological adviser to the Festival of Britain. She became a governor of the British Film Institute, and in 1971 she was made a vice-president of the Council for British Archaeology.
Once the Priestleys had settled in Alveston, Jacquetta, who had a strong sense of civic responsibility, became involved in local affairs. She was president of the Warwickshire CPRE (Council for the Preservation of Rural England) and a life trustee of the Shakespeare Birthday Trust. She was an active governor of the Boys' King Edward VI Grammar School, and also of the local girls' grammar school. Although generally left-wing, she was strongly opposed to the introduction of comprehensive education. It was late in 1957 that the Priestleys together with my husband Canon John Collins were instrumental in founding the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. So began our singularly happy and enduring friendship.
After Jack's death in 1982 Jacquetta moved to Littlecote, an attractive house in the Cotswold town of Chipping Camden. Here she pursued her early delight in church architecture and old buildings, and in all forms of natural history, especially ornithology.
Jacquetta Hopkins, writer and archaeologist: born Cambridge 5 August 1910; FSA 1940; Principal, Post- War Reconstruction Secretariat 1941-43; staff, Ministry of Education / Principal and Secretary, UK National Commission for Unesco 1943-49; Vice- President, Council for British Archaeology 1949-52; Archaeological Adviser, Festival of Britain 1949-51; OBE 1952; books include The Archaeology of Jersey 1939, Prehistoric Britain (with Christopher Hawkes) 1944, Early Britain 1945, A Land 1951, Guide to Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales 1951, Journey Down a Rainbow (with J.B. Priestley) 1955, Atlas of Ancient Archaeology (editor) 1975, Shell Guide to British Archaeology 1986; married 1933 Christopher Hawkes (died 1992; one son; marriage dissolved 1953), 1953 J.B. Priestley (died 1984); died Cheltenham 18 March 1996.
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