Archaeology 50: Malcolm Atkin
- 21st November 2019
Malcolm was County Archaeologist for 16 years, 1993-2009, and he shares his memories with us.
I arrived in 1993 and had the privilege of being the last County Archaeologist of the old county of Herefordshire and Worcestershire and the first of the reborn Worcestershire. A lot of time was spent managing this huge change but equally important for most staff was the move of offices from Warndon to Tolladine and then to the University campus in Henwick Grove. Once we got settled there, and discovered new roles in university teaching, it was time to prepare for a new life as the Archives and Archaeology Service in the new Library – but that is Victoria’s story, not mine!
My best memories are of the staff – such remarkable talent and knowledge, full of ideas. I was no longer a field archaeologist, confined to a desk, but there came one last opportunity to go digging in one our most extraordinary projects. When it was decided to create a mass foot and mouth burial pit on Throckmorton airfield in 2001 we undertook an archaeological watching brief and I didn’t think I could ask people to work in pretty disgusting conditions without doing so myself. This amused the field team, who had to reassure themselves I knew how to use a trowel and was an excellent means of avoiding tedious meetings at County Hall as for some reason they didn’t want me anywhere near the place, after tales of us recording sections at one end of a trench while carcasses were poured in at the other. As a spin off, we filmed an episode of ‘Time Team’ on the airfield (after the site had returned to normal), largely because I sold my soul to QinetiQ, who promised to buy the service a computer if I got them on TV. I became the archetypical grumpy County Archaeologist whose job it was to stop them digging trenches they could not complete in the timescale. But as a bonus, we got to drive a tank that was on site which, if I remember correctly, one of our staff almost crashed into a helicopter. I certainly remember the hysterical instructor yelling ‘Turn left, left, LEFT’ in their ear and wrestling away the controls. I am pretty certain we would have lost our computer if there had been an accident.
We were also lucky to have wonderful volunteers and one of the projects with which I was most pleased to have been involved – and which has had an enduring impact on my life – was the Defence of Britain project to record WW2 monuments. Mick and Colin in particular did an incredible job week after week building up the HER records but at one point we had some unusual assistance in the form of a team from the Intelligence Corps. If I told you why … etc etc.
In 2007 I was diagnosed with MS. The County Council were very supportive and I particularly enjoyed being supplied with a chair and desk whose height I could adjust at the touch of a button. Apparently though, it was not supposed to be used to intimidate staff during ‘one-to-ones’ when I could rise majestically above them! I am eternally grateful to the kindness of my colleagues who increasingly had to take on my responsibilities while I had a little nap or was ‘working from home’ but in 2009 I had to take early retirement. However, I remained fascinated by the old Defence of Britain project and continue to research the Home Guard and early WW2 British Intelligence.