A volume that I helped to edit and write 21 years ago, entitled ‘Living on the Edge’, seems an appropriate book to revisit during the current health crisis; with so much of the population self-isolating life does really feel on an edge. The monograph is a collection of 10 papers from a conference about the Roman rural landscape of North West England held at Manchester University in November 1995, held jointly by the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit, the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit and CBA North West. The speakers included myself, Prof Barri Jones of Manchester University, John Walker then director of UMAU, Peter Carrington and Keith Matthews both from Chester Archaeology, Richard Gregory and Keith Maude both of the Department of Art History & Archaoelogy at Manchester University, Jill Collens of Cheshire County Council, Mark Adams from Liverpool Museum, Norman Redhead of GMAU, and Keith Sugden of Manchester Museum.
Since then much more has been written and discovered about the Romano-British landscape in the region – not least in the pages of the North West Regional Research volumes on the archaeology of the region, the Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society, the Greater Manchester’s Past Revealed series, and through the Romano-British rural landscape research project run from the University of Reading and recently published in three stunning volumes. A number of the sites discussed in a preliminary way in the volume, such as Irby, have since been fully published, the objects reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme have vastly increased the known database for random finds from the period in the region’s landscape, and major new rural sites at Mellor near Stockport and Poulton in the lower Dee Valley have been discovered and investigated. Some of this new research was captured in the CBA North West follow-up volume, ‘Roman North-West England: Hinterland or “Indian County”?’, edited by Tom Saunders and published in 2011.
Despite two decades of research, the ‘Living on the Edge’ publication remains a foundation document for anyone exploring the Romano-British landscape of the region. It contains, for instance the most detailed discussion of the lowland promontary site at Great Woolden Hall in the lower Mersey Valley and the palaeo-environmental evidence from the Castleshaw Valley in the Pennines. Yet, the ideas and research questions posed in this monograph around the use of material cultural, social stratification in the countryside, and the impact on the environment of the Roman occupation, have been a driving force in the exploration of the Romano-British countryside in the region ever since.
I have a more personal memory from the final editing of the volume. Archaeological monographs of conferences typically take several years to produce. Speakers have to be persuaded to write up their lectures. Often, as was the case with ‘Living on the Edge’, new material was added due to the fast-paced development of the subject. Then there is the business of image and figure editing, typesetting, proof reading, and production on a shoe-string budget. We were lucky enough to have the full support of CBA North West but the production process still took three-and-a-half years. Thus, I found myself in the early summer of 1999 with a complete volume, fully typeset apart from the preface, which was being written by Prof Barri Jones. I managed to catch up with him in the department offices just before the end of the summer term and got him to dictate changes to his draft preface, before he left for a holiday and then field work. He stood at my shoulder as we went through the text on the computer. It was a rushed moment, though he still manged to find a fine turn of phrase before bustling off for his holiday. I sent the volume off to the printers and looked forward to receiving the printed monograph and the launch that autumn. Sadly, Barri was not to see that, dying unexpectedly on holiday. So in a way the volume, though not dedicated to him, is certainly a tribute to his encouragement of the project and of Romano-British research in general in the region.
Your can find a link to a pdf copy of the ‘Living on the Edge’ volume here: