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Blast from the Past VIII

Image 1 for Blast from the Past VIII Blast8/1.jpeg. Mr Nicholson and Madge Horner relax in the site hut during a tea-break in 1965. Mr Nicholson had been a high-ranking diplomat in Africa, and after his retirement involved himself in the St Johnís Dig. Madge Horner was a local housewife living near the Grange who eventually became one of the siteís most important workers.

Image 2 for Blast from the Past VIII Blast8/2.jpeg. Peggy White, digging an apsidal chapel in 1960. Peggy had been an actress before the war, dug with Sir Mortimer Wheeler after it, and eventually married Kenneth Wilson, Society President during the 1960s. Her tuition was instrumental in elevating PontArcís members to some of the most sought-after archaeologists of the 1960s and Ď70s.


The Priory of Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle was founded in Pontefract in 1090. It was closed by Henry VIII in 1538, and the materials used in the construction of New Hall. Local historians had tried to locate its remains during the nineteenth century, but it was not until construction of a sewer through the Grange field in the Ď30s that the site was positively identified.

In 1957, Vince Bellamy of Leeds University, working for the WEA obtained permission to excavate the site using his class members. Here most of the early members of PontArc gained their first experience of excavation, and here the first ideas of forming a local archaeological society were aired.

An early press picture of the dig shows a number of people who were destined to become important members of the new society. Significantly, three of the people on the picture were to participate in the countryís most important dig, the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, only ten years later. Typically, they are excavating a burial. Sadly, that picture is no longer extant in a reproducible form. However, a number of pictures of the dig do survive locally, whilst all the record images are in the site archive.