Our Pioneers

The Stourhead, Heytesbury, Tollard Royal connection

Until the early 19th century the archaeological heritage of South Wiltshire lay dormant, waiting to be discovered. What was needed was someone with the wealth, skills and time to oversee and bankroll the work, someone else with local knowledge of the sites and a ‘ground force’ to do the digging.

Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead  came forward as the backer. His talents and resources would have otherwise been employed in classical archaeology on the continent had the Naploleonic wars not intervened. William Cunnington of Heytesbury was the man with local knowledge who also had a good reason for being out on the downs – his doctor said his medical condition demanded that he should ‘ride out or die’. The spade work was done by the inspired but sometimes grumpy Heytesbury father and son team of Stephen and John Parker, who indeed contributed more than their physical labour, helping to develop the tools and methods for what was a new kind of work. In reading the reports and correspondence of Colt Hoare  and Cunnington, there is no doubting the passion of all four men for their subject – amply reflected in Colt Hoare’s beautifully produced two volume Ancient History of Wiltshire (1812).

A tribute to a friend and colleague: William Cunnington – from the Frontispiece of Colt Hoare’s History of Ancient Wiltshire (1812).

Later in the 19th century General Augustus Pitt Rivers, another man with money, time and drive, but also a desire to educate, consolidated and further developed the work of Colt Hoare, Cunnington and the Parkers on his land in Cranborne Chase. Pitt Rivers was able to refine archaeology as a scientific discipline and was not limited, as had been his predecessors in the early 19th century, by the Church of England view that the creation, and hence prehistory, began on 23 October 4004BC – rather a short time scale to work with.

wor barrow

Not a railway cutting but a well regimented excavation of the Neolothic Wor Barrow (Oakley Down) by General Augustus Pitt Rivers.

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