CBA North West A History: Part 2 – 1948 to 1958


CBA Group 5’s first set of rules, from 1952

We left the story of the development of the Council for British Archaeology in North West England in 1948, at the end of its first four years, which had been dominated by the aftermath of the Second World War in the region. The following decade of the Group’s history saw a number of changes to its geographical remit and the emergence of several themes which are still relevant to the 21st century.

When originally founded the Council for British Archaeology Group 5 (CBA North West) encompassed the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire (which included parts of southern Cumbria – Lancashire-over-the-Sands), and Staffordshire. However, the Staffordshire archaeology societies seldom attended the early committee meetings, rather looking to the West Midlands group of CBA Group 8 and by 1948 Group 5’s remit had shrunk to include just northern Staffordshire.

The Group’s first Chairman, Dr J Wilfred Jackson, FSA, retired in 1954 and was replaced by Dr Graham Webster, curator of archaeology at the Grosvenor Museum. Graham’s work at Wroxeter and his teaching at Birmingham University led him to give up his role as Chair and to leave the Grosvenor Museum. He was replaced in 1956 by J V H Eames of the School of Archaeology at Liverpool University. The Group’s secretary since 1945, Dr J E Spence, FSA, of the Ancient Monuments Society, stepped down in 1950 and was replaced by William Silvester (of Cheadle Hulme), who in turn stepped down as the same time as Dr Jackson in 1954. He was replaced by Dr John D Bu’lock of the Department of Chemistry at Manchester University. The committee met at a variety of locations including Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, and Salmesbury Hall near Blackburn. 1954 was the first time that both the chairman and secretary resigned at the same time – a problem of continuity that the group would face on many occasions in the following decades. The departure of Graham Webster in 1956 was unexpected and left the Group having to re-organise its activities at short notice. This seems to have been behind Dr Bu’Lock’s comment to Beatrice di Cardi in June 1957 that the group had recently been ‘in the doldrums.’

As the Group’s interests evolved it was felt that the rules of its membership needed to be revisited and what in effect became CBA Group 5’s first constitution was formulated in 1952. The group’s membership continued to be made up of at least one representatives from local societies and in April 1952 its membership included the Ancient Monuments Society, Blackburn Society of Antiquaries, the Bromborough Society, Chester Archaeological Society, Fylde Historical Society, the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, the North Staffordshire Field Club, Prescot Historical Society and the University of Manchester. Members paid a small subscription to the group. The Honorary Secretary was to be elected annually, but before March 31st of each year. The Group’s affairs continued to be managed by the Chairman, secretary and the committee, liaising with central CBA, the Chairman normally acting as the group’s national representative.


Beeston Castle in the early 20th century

Issues that the group dealt with included the popularisation of archaeology to a wider audience through extramural classes and the promotion of cheaper archaeology books. A number of the committee’s members undertook extramural lectures, such as Dr Jackson, for the local Workers’ Educational Asscoiation. Access to Beeston Castle, which had been closed to the public in the 1940s, was gained again in the early 1950s although its ruined and dangerous condition remained a worry. In contrast, the Affetside Cross north of Bolton was protected by a new enclosed public garden. The committee also received regular updates on digs around the regions, such as work on Roman Manchester and the mysterious prehistoric site at Radcliffe, in 1952. Several members conducted a watching brief on pipeline construction work affecting the Portfield Camp in the Ribble Valley. In 1957 investigations reported upon included clearance work at Birkenhead Priory, recording at the Calderstones burial monument in Liverpool, the medieval undercroft at Norton Priory, and recording work during the construction of the Preston Bypass – which would become part of the M6. The committee were also increasingly worried from 1955 onwards by the demolition of timber cottages and halls in the region without adequate recording.


The first regional archaeology conference organised by CBA Group 5 appears to have been this event in Blackburn in September 1951

An important innovation in this period was the staging of an archaeology conference. The earliest reference to such an event, the forerunner of the current Archaeology North West day school, came in September 1951 when a ‘whole day conference’ was held at Samlesbury as part of the centenary celebrations of Blackburn Council. 88 people attended, including the mayor and mayoress of Blackburn. Speakers included the Group’s chairman, Dr Jackson, who discussed ‘the prehistory of Lancashire south of the Sands’, and the CBA’s assistant secretary, Beatrice de Cardi. Subsequent gatherings took place and in October 1958 a joint day school held with CBA Group 4 at Sheffield City Museum, attended by 125 people, on the topic of ‘Roman forts in the Pennines’.

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