How Lancashire Archaeological Society came to be formed

In the Spring of 1974, The Great Truncation took place. There was no last-minute reprieve. Lancashire became a former shadow of itself. The historic County Palatine had included most of what is now Greater Manchester, what is now Merseyside, the whole of Lancashire-over-Sands, but none of Yorkshire, a situation which suddenly changed. To understand fully just what this meant to Lancashire in terms of territory, you must look up maps of the old and new Lancashire. It is an exercise worth doing.

However, there were other ways apart from loss of land in which Lancashire became bereft. It no longer contained an established university. Manchester and Liverpool Universities now were part of ‘foreign’ territories. Both universities had excellent large libraries, as had their cities, and both had an academic and strong cultural life. Lancaster University had existed for under a decade, having been set up in 1964 and run on a small scale in Lancaster itself, then only in 1968 moving to its present Bailrigg site. It was situated in the north of the new Lancashire, and already looking northwards towards what had been Westmorland and Cumberland. Preston, twenty five miles to the south, continued as the centrally-placed home of the LCC. However, the town had no great seat of learning.

B.J.N. Edwards F.S.A was appointed from August 1st, 1963, as Lancashire’s first County Archaeologist (it was the first such post in the country). This followed the completion of his tenure of the Sir James Knott Fellowship at King’s College, University of Durham. He was elected F.S.A. under five years later on the strength of his publications along with his success in this new post1. For Ben these changes in 1974 altered his scope and involvement very considerably. He had formed close links and working practices with professional and amateur archaeologists throughout the ‘old’ county. He had already become absorbed in studies of its archaeology (for instance, aspects of prehistory and Viking influence in Lancashire-over-Sands). The nature of his job had meant that his involvement was justifiable. However, that was now no longer the case. Many areas of archaeological interest now fell outside his remit. The new local authorities set up their own officers and staffs.

In the years following the great re-organisation of local government boundaries, posts similar to his own were advertised throughout England from time to time; and Ben Edwards did weigh up more than once whether or not to apply for a new position. However, he greatly valued the friendship and support which he had been shown on every side from the start of his career in ‘old’ Lancashire; and he had already grown to love the county, and to value its archaeology both for itself and for its potential. He decided to stay loyal to his adopted county, even though it was very different from what it was when he arrived in it; and he stayed in post until 1995 – the rest of his career.

But, in 1974, what was going to be the way forward? That was something which, naturally as man and wife, Ben and I had discussed as the plans to make radical changes to England’s internal boundaries progressed then were implemented. Lancashire would need a new identity; and Lancashire’s archaeology would need a new identity. I suggested that the formation of a county archaeological society might supply a focal point and so help to build such an identity for the latter. It was a suggestion which Ben received with strong enthusiasm. From that point onwards he approached friends and contacts in archaeology, sounding out their opinions on the creation of a County Archaeological Society; and he found encouraging support for the venture, especially from Mary and Eric Higham, and Ann Hallam. And so it was that LAS was formed. Ben Edwards served as Chairman, in due course handing over the role in accordance with the new Society’s Constitution. Later he was to become its President, then its Life President.

Establishing LAS was a slow business. A few members of the staffs of Lancaster Museum and of Lancaster University gave their support by taking part in the Society’s lecture programmes and visits; but the University otherwise had no other real involvement in LAS; and the people of Lancashire in the north of the new county looked more and more to Lancaster University for knowledge of archaeology and history. An Archaeology Forum had first been held at the University in 1973 and it received very strong support. That pleasing support has continued to the present time. (The 41st Annual Archaeology Forum has been arranged for March 1st of the year in which I write.)

In such a context, and given that LCC showed little willingness to facilitate excavation or publication, the local societies became more important than ever in advancing archaeological knowledge in the county. LCC did, however, allow the new LAS to meet at the Record Office without charge; and in addition it allowed Ben Edwards to direct eleven summer seasons of three weeks of excavation on the site of the old Manor House, at Easington, near Slaidburn, though he had to continue to ‘run his desk’ during that period, as he never had secretarial help or an assistant in the whole of his career. The infrastructure, however, for the Easington digs was provided by the Pendle Archaeology Group. Without that undertaking, the excavations would not have been possible. The results generated a lot of interest, and there was a pleasing spin-off for LAS. Those results were reported in the Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, a publication which during some twelve years recorded and promoted archaeology in Lancashire, supporting LAS along the way and drawing in new members.

This seems a suitable point at which to emphasise that LAB had no formal connection to Lancashire County Council. It was privately owned and produced by Ben and me, and I myself was the Editor. As the epoch was one of great changes and political activity concerning archaeology throughout the whole country, there very properly were many issues to be discussed; and LAB, being an overtly stated independent publication, could carry opinions which might have compromised the LCC, and Ben Edwards as its County Archaeologist. LAS, also independent of LCC in any way, was able to provide a forum for many a lively discussion of the matters of the day.

Much has been made here of the importance of a university in the life of a town or city. Lancaster University no longer has an archaeology department. It has been interesting to observe in more recent years the difference which has been made to Lancashire’s ‘archaeological life’ as a result of UCLAN’s birth and development. UCLAN’s archaeological work does not embrace so wide a range of archaeological periods as in the case of departments of older universities. However, the University can offer its departments very considerable facilities for practical work, research and publication. Its archaeology department has gone from strength to strength. An instance of how its standing is perceived is indicated by the fact that the December 2013 issue of Current Archaeology has featured a splendid article on important research carried out by two of UCLAN’s archaeology staff on how dolmens were made. The Department has teamed up with the holder of the modern equivalent of the post which Ben Edwards held to present an annual Archaeology Day, held at UCLAN, at which recent archaeological work throughout the county is made accessible to the public. The Department’s success and growth have very favourably impinged on the life of LAS, bringing a wider scope of interests into the lecture programmes and, in addition, a boost to membership.

Long may this continue.

This account was kindly written and supplied to the LAS Committee by Margaret Edwards, January 7th, 2014. Many thanks to Margaret for this insight into our history as we approach our 40th year in 2016.

References:

1. ‘His perceived early success in his new post was demonstrated clearly and deservedly by the fact that he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in January 1968, less than five years into his appointment with Lancashire.’ Professor D.C.A. Shotter, F.S.A. : ‘Ben Edwards: An Appreciation 1934-2011’ Transactions C&WAAS CW3, xi, 2011, pp.1,2.

2. Dr. W.D. Shannon has recorded, in a personal email message, that ‘the society was set up on 11th June 1976 June according to the date on the copy of the original constitution which I have. Presumably there had been preliminary meetings before the formal establishing meeting of that date. The objects in the constitution were “to encourage interest in and the practical study of archaeology within the administrative County of Lancashire”. The wording of that is clearly intended to relate to the ‘new’ post-1974 county, not the historic county.’

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