History

The Society was founded in 1960 by John Moss, then Assistant Curator of Letchworth Museum, at an inaugural meeting in the North Herts Technical College on Wednesday 22 June 1960. He involved enthusiastic local volunteers who were participating in his excavations on a field off Green Lane, Letchworth, which was being developed into the Blackhorse Road industrial estate.

The early officers of the society were Col N M Blair (Treasurer), H R J Watts (Secretary) and John Moss (Chairman and Field Director), with other committee members (Mr Bedford Payne, Mrs M W Cherry, Miss I M Traill of Stevenage Museum, Mr V G Fenton, Miss Linnell, Mr R Castledine, Mr J Salkeld, Mrs Lorna Storer and Mr Paul Palmer). The first Annual General Meeting was held on 24 April 1961. The subscription for full membership was set at £1 1s 0d (£1.05 or a guinea) per annum for full members, £2 2s 0d (£2.10 or two guineas) for institutional members, while junior members’ subscriptions were fixed “by arrangement with the Committee”. The stated aims were

  • “To further the aims of Archaeology and local history.
  • To arrange series of winter lectures.
  • To conduct excavations, carry out field work, and publish the results thereof.
  • To arrange excursions.
  • To produce a journal at some future date.”

Although the last of these aims was overtaken by events with the creation of the journal Hertfordshire Archaeology, for which negotiations started in 1963, these aims still largely reflect what the society does for its members. Subscriptions have inevitably been subject to the process of inflation, but the society’s finances have changed dramatically since the first year, in which expenses amounted to £36 1s 8d (£36.03½), spent on printing, stationery, postage, lecturers’s expenses and bank charges, while there was an income of £38 2s 3d (£38.11½), with £2 0s 7d (£2.03) in the bank at the end of the year! There were then 24 full members, 4 junior members and 4 institutional members.

The Society’s first President was Professor Glyn Daniel, the famous prehistorian on BBC TV’s popular 1950s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral series, and prolific author of books on prehistory, of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. All our Presidents have been from or associated with Cambridge University: Dr John Alexander, who led important excavations in the Sudan, an expert on the ancient salt trade; Dr John Moss-Eccardt, who was later Assistant Director of the Horniman Museum in London; Dr Ian Stead, of the British Museum, a world authority on Celtic art and technology; and currently, Dr Francis Pryor, another renowned prehistorian, of C4 TV’s Time Team fame and author of popular books on British archaeology. An early vice-president was James Dyer, a well-known local prehistorian, author and editor of archaeological books, and excavator of Ravensburgh Castle Iron Age hillfort in Hexton parish.

John Moss-Eccardt was elected the first chairman and served from 1960-1976 when he became President. He was followed as chairman by Paul Palmer, 1976-2007. Our current chairman is Diane Burleigh.

The Society’s first lecture was given by Mrs J M Birmingham, MA, of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, in Letchworth Library hall at 7.30pm on Thursday 27th October, 1960. Mrs Birmingham’s subject was “An Archaeological Journey through Persia and Turkey”.

From 1960 to 1974 all Society fieldwork was directed by John Moss-Eccardt. Gil Burleigh has been Honorary Field Officer since 1974 and has directed all fieldwork since that date, both as Keeper of Field Archaeology for NHDC Museums (1974-2002), and after as a freelance archaeologist.

Publications of the results of the Society’s fieldwork have been through journals, interim reports, monographs and, more recently, the web. The volume of work undertaken by the Society means that some sites await final publication, which is in hand.