The Berkshire Archaeological Society: celebrating its first 150 years

by Professor Michael Fulford, the Society’s President

The Berkshire Archaeological Society celebrates 150! -13th June 2021

Around 45 people, BAS members and guests met on Zoom on the afternoon of Sunday 13th June 2021 to officially celebrate 150 years since the founding of the Society.

After the official welcome and an introduction from Alison McQuitty, Co-Chair of the Society, Professor Fulford began his address saying that this is both a momentous year and a momentous event.  The address would be a retrospective of how the conservation of heritage has changed since Professor Fulford came to Reading in 1974.  

In those days archaeology was a joint honours subject at Reading University.  The Archaeology Department did not become independent until 1977.  Back then much archaeology was of a rescue nature on gravel extraction sites, etc.  The advent of PPG16 in the early 1990s meant that from then onwards developers had to take regard for the archaeology.  In terms of documentation the Sites and Monuments record (SMR) leading to the Historic Environment Record were established during this time.

Since then, the knowledge we have of our past has grown exponentially.  Now so much information that we are reliant on depends more and more on specialist disciplines such as bioarchaeology and environmental archaeology. 

The Berkshire Archaeological Society (BAS) is a hub to which there are very many spokes.  The fragmentation of Berkshire in 1974 and then in 1988 have been reflected in the growth of archaeological societies and their works.  But BAS has survived these local government changes and stands as a hub for the whole county, with spokes coming in from different sectors.  The Berkshire Archaeological Journal (BAJ) is a source of record reflecting those spokes such as the University of Reading, local museums, professional organisations, etc.

Cecil Slade initiated archaeology at the University of Reading against the wishes of the University Grants Committee.  Students and volunteers have learnt the practice of archaeology at the University’s later excavations at Silchester, which in Roman times was the administrative centre of the area extending into modern Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.  Consequently, this practice of archaeology has been deployed into the Society.  The loss of the University’s School of Continuing Education is a source of regret as it has made it difficult for those interested in archaeology to learn more about it as courses elsewhere are often too expensive.   

There is work to be done fostering links between the Society and the University in understanding our past in all areas which is vital for both organisations and wider society.    Gabor Thomas of the University is working with others on the Middle Thames Project covering this geographic area in the period 400-1000 AD of which there is currently very little knowledge.  It is hoped that the University will continue to play a role in both local archaeology and the Society.

The Society is made up of amateurs in the true sense, people who love their subject.   It is both a Society and a community.  Each year it stages a magnificent lecture series, a form of continuing personal development, which it is hoped will continue in person in the autumn.  

It also does fieldwork which is so important for bringing people in the Society together.  Its annual Day School brings people together to talk about what is going on.  It would be marvellous to reinstate the tours and to get out and about.    

The community is fostered by contributions of people at all levels.  Professor Fulford thanked the Society’s trustees, newsletter editor, web master, and all the others who contribute to its success.  However, there is a need to look for succession planning.  

The BAJ has not always had an easy run, but it is a key part of the Society and marks it out as one of the great archaeological societies of Great Britain. 

The Society has been knocked sideways by COVID-19 but looking to the next 150 years there will be new activities, new partnerships and new spokes coming into the BAS hub.  Listed buildings is an area which needs to be tackled for knowledge both in Berkshire and at a national level.  New knowledge needs to be synthesised, but we can engage in this and keep this process going, the need for it will not diminish.

Professor Fulford closed by thanking everyone for their contributions to the Society.

Celebratory posters

Julie introduced Tim Lloyd who said a few words about the celebratory posters and demonstrated how to access them.

report by Julie Worsfold

Exploring the archaeology, history and heritage of Berkshire