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A Passion for the Past

A Passion for the Past: The Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    A Passion for the Past
    Book Description:

    Ivor Noël Hume has devoted his life to uncovering countless lives that came before him. InA Passion for the Pastthe world-renowned archaeologist turns to his own life, sharing with the reader a story that begins amid the bombed-out rubble of post-World War II London and ends on North Carolina's Roanoke Island, where the history of British America began. Weaving the personal with the professional, this is the chronicle of an extraordinary life steered by coincidence scarcely believable even as fiction.

    Born into the good life of pre-Depression England, Noël Hume was a child of the 1930s who had his silver spoon abruptly snatched away when the war began. By its end he was enduring a period of Dickensian poverty and clinging to aspirations of becoming a playwright. Instead, he found himself collecting antiquities from the shore of the river Thames and, stumbling upon this new passion, becoming an "accidental" archaeologist.

    From those beginnings emerged a career that led Noël Hume into the depths of Roman London and, later, to Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg, where for thirty-five years he directed its department of archaeology. His discovery of nearby Martin's Hundred and its massacred inhabitants is perhaps Noël Hume's best-known achievement, but as these chapters relate, it was hardly his last, his pursuit of the past taking him to such exotic destinations as Egypt, Jamaica, Haiti, and to shipwrecks in Bermuda.

    When the author began his career, historical archaeology did not exist as an academic discipline. It fell to Noël Hume's books, lectures, and television presentations to help bring it to the forefront of his profession, where it stands today. This story of a life, and a career, unlike any other reveals to us how the previously unimagined can come to seem beautifully inevitable.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2996-5
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. ACT ONE: In the Old World

    • 1 Off the Tumbrel
      (pp. 3-7)

      “Never forget that you’ve Bourbon blood in your veins.”

      Had I been born where I wound up I might have deduced that my parents had a taste for Virginia Gentleman. In reality my mother was referring to the French royal family.

      “Your father’s mother was Princess mariede Bourbon, but she made the mistake of marrying beneath her. He was just a poor Scotsman,” Mother explained in one of her familiar lectures on the importance of breeding. “Had it not been for the War, your father would have had an estate in Jersey. But as it is, all we have is...

    • 2 Pour le Sport
      (pp. 8-22)

      The Ealing Tennis Club was eminently respectable, stolidly middle-class, and stupifyingly dull—at least to a butterfly in suburbia yearning for the bright life of Belgravia. Gladys Mary Bagshaw Mann (a name that might have been coined by Noël Coward for any young lady from Ealing) preferred to be called “Dimps,” an abbreviation for dimples. She had two, and used them to winning effect—to the horror of her family (which persisted in calling her Glad) and the delight of the “Tennis, anyone?” crowd at the Ealing Club. She was rail thin, yet robustly athletic; she played tennis of championship...

    • 3 Poppet and Son
      (pp. 23-41)

      For my father, picking up the pieces proved relatively simple. Although he had no parents to help him, he had many friends ready and eager to welcome him back into the club. The bad financial news from America initially brought no hint that his job was in peril, and no one at the bank had expressed disapproval at his discreetly handled divorce. The Hume future seemed bright enough; “Poppet” Noël Hume’s prospects, on the other hand, were less clearly charted. Key ground rules had changed; with Hans Place gone and reduced to apartment living, she had lost her social place...

    • 4 Eggesford to Sutton Hoo
      (pp. 42-48)

      The Morrisons’ kindness was such that they deserved a well-thumbed place in the scrapbook of my memory alongside my friend Bluebottle, but perhaps because they neither had wooden legs nor wore long blue coats, they are nowhere to be found. Even their name remained lost for decades, popping out only as I began to write about them. Fortunately, however, the lasting significance of my caravan adventure rested not on them but on where they took me.

      The caravan was not of the horse-drawn, gypsy variety. In 1930s terms it was as up-to-date and as streamlined as they came, though by...

    • 5 Displaced Persons
      (pp. 49-64)

      The British remember September 3, 1939, as universally as Americans recall where they were on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked or John Kennedy was shot. My mother being away for the weekend, Nanny Bolton and I were alone in the Kensington apartment listening, like millions of others, to the prime minister as he told us that his government’s ultimatum given to the Germans at nine o’clock that morning had expired at eleven o’clock without any response, and that in consequence Britain was now in a state of war with Germany.

      Chamberlain had barely finished speaking before the air raid...

    • 6 Yo-Yo Years
      (pp. 65-86)

      My mother was a mistress of the heart-rending and guilt-stirring letter. Recipients were known to pale at the sight of them, and sometimes, on the grounds of ill health, to destroy them unopened. of sterner stuff, however, was Renée Redfern, a yachting acquaintance from the good years, who responded to my mother’s plea by offering us temporary shelter at her summer home near Salcombe in Devonshire. If any further encouragement was needed, the Luftwaffe provided it. On May 1, 1941, Göring sent over the first of eight hundred bombers to begin seven consecutive night raids on Liverpool. As far as...

    • 7 Toward the Last All Clear
      (pp. 87-98)

      With the war over in Africa and British and American armies pushing though Sicily up into a capitulating Italy, southern England became a vast military camp. Its ports, harbors, and estuaries were crowded with supply vessels and landing craft of every description, all waiting and rehearsing for the second front to open. Salcombe was almost exclusively American. Troops camped on the farms and manned concrete bunkers overlooking the harbor, and navy personnel charged about in landing craft, slamming their bows onto sandy beaches to disgorge splendidly equipped and fed young marines who assaulted the rocks with grim determination. As far...

    • 8 Overture and Beginners
      (pp. 99-110)

      The haunting, yearning songs of the war promised a return to the old values once the dark years were behind us. Britain had risen to Churchill’s challenge and had given of her blood to preserve the British way of life, yet only a tiny minority (my mother and a few others) wanted a return to thestatus quo ante bellum.When servicemen joined Vera Lynn in singing “The Homecoming Waltz,” they were looking to a new day and a new way, and in July 1945 they made that painfully, almost cruelly clear at the ballot box. The Sergeant Burtons were...

    • 9 Things That Went Bump
      (pp. 111-121)

      The fall of 1946 saw the end of the John Gay Theatre, and me out of a job and far from any sources of new employment. Postwar austerity was squeezing the small theater companies on which so many actors relied for a thin living. And mighty thin it could be. I was paid four pounds for a week of seven working days. In American currency that would have been about nine dollars and sixty cents. Fortunately, however, my weekly board with the Belingers (with its three meals, laundry, and mothering) cost me only one pound, five shillings, or three dollars....

    • 10 Curtain Down
      (pp. 122-133)

      Back in London in February 1947 there was nothing to do but cook baked beans on a small electric ring in my garret and to make the rounds of the theatrical agents, while keeping a wary eye on the soles of my shoes, which daily grew thinner—as did I. The agents were spread all over London’s West End from Piccadilly to Holborn, and just getting from one to another took time, time that all too often translated into a familiar “Nothing today, sorry. What a shame you weren’t here half an hour ago. We just filled a spot that’d...

    • 11 Treasure from the Thames
      (pp. 134-152)

      Being penniless and out of work anywhere, at any time, is not a good idea, but being broke and jobless in London in January had nothing whatever to commend it. Openings for stage staff were nonexistent. The Christmas shows were still running, and few repertory companies or touring productions would be hiring before March. Always too impoverished to afford union dues, I had failed to join Equity, and now found that film companies were no longer willing to hire nonunion bit-part players. For the same reason, I had failed to keep up my National Insurance payments and so had insufficient...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 12 White Knights and Yellow Press
      (pp. 153-167)

      Returning from foraging beside the river one damp, gray day in October 1949, I chanced upon an extraordinary procession making its way down College Hill toward the Church of St. Michael, Paternoster Royal. Led by trumpeters in medieval garb and the banners and staff bearers of the Worshipful Company of mercers, marched a miscellany of clerics and black-coated dignitaries. Joining the thin crowd of roadside spectators, I asked who they were.

      “It’s a bunch of them archi . . . watcha call’ems, them antique diggers,” a man explained. “They’re going to dig up Dick Whittington.”

      “Whatever for?” asked a woman...

    • 13 Dead Birds and Stupid Statements
      (pp. 168-179)

      December’s press attention had accomplished precisely what Raymond Smith wanted. His museum was now squarely in the public eye, and so were its archaeological rescue efforts.

      For me, the publicity had already had one salutary result. By the first week in January 1950, Johnny Johnson was no longer my sole volunteer helper. Londoners who had read the newspaper stories or had heard reports on the wireless were calling the museum and offering their services—among them the girl who had also failed to be impressed by the Sutton Hoo ship. By this time Audrey Baines had earned a history BA...

    • 14 A Bit o’ the Old Roman
      (pp. 180-193)

      Within days of finding the “amphora pit,” the publicity propelled us into revamping Adrian Oswald’s small Bygone London exhibit in the Guildhall Library’s Bridge to enable lunchtime Londoners see what we were finding. But both Audrey and I well knew that showmanship was not enough. The specter of Grimes’s disapproval hung heavy over us, and only a demonstration of academic responsibility could hope to change his mind. So along with the digging, the pot washing, the mending, and the restoring, we worked at nights to write publishable reports on the Walbrook pits, a project that called for the drawing of...

    • 15 Walbrook to Williamsburg
      (pp. 194-208)

      Rain fell hard in London on Saturday, September 30, 1950, the day of both my twenty-third birthday and Audrey’s and my wedding. It was a big day but a small wedding. Neither of us had any money, and we were hard-pressed to find enough to buy something suitable to wear. The Marylebone Street Registry Office was as no-frills as one could get, but if Audrey yearned for a traditional veil and confetti wedding she never said so. Her mother gave her away; my best man was our senior volunteer digger, Skip Allen, and our official photographer Bill Davis—who came...

  6. ACT TWO: In the New World

    • 16 Martinis, Bourbon, and Half-Read Plays
      (pp. 211-219)

      In 1956 flying anywhere was considered a rare adventure, and crossing the Atlantic in one of those huge TWA Super Constellations was akin to a later generation flying aboard the Concorde. Stewardesses were still hired as much for their looks as for their tray dexterity, and at the flight’s end (after stops at Shannon in Ireland and Gander in Newfoundland), they gave you a full-color parchment certificate of achievement—fit for framing.

      Colonial Williamsburg had agreed that Audrey should accompany me, but she was unable to secure a visa in time. So I traveled alone, seated in relatively luxurious coach...

    • 17 Putting on a Show
      (pp. 220-231)

      Although living above one’s mother-in-law had been less than ideal, leaving Wimbledon was hard to do. The closer the time came to pack our library and our collection of antique bottles and to give away the furniture, the more uncertain we became.

      But the decision had been made, and that was that. Audrey’s friends in the London press came to see us off and to photograph the departing tortoise that had made her famous. Tigillinus was coming with us, and was photographed again as Audrey carried him aboard the plane. We were, to say the least, an odd trio.


    • 18 Lucy Locket and Martha Washington
      (pp. 232-244)

      In 1958 Carlisle H. Humelsine became president of Colonial Williamsburg on the retirement of Kenneth Chorley. I scarcely knew Chorley and had met him to shake his hand only twice. On each occasion he informed me that we had something in common in that he had been born in Bournemouth. I remember him best, however, as the president whose aides issued numbered tickets to the staff to hear him lecture on his visit to the King of Morocco. By taking the tickets back at the high school entrance he would be able to know who did and did not take...

    • 19 Presidents and Pirates
      (pp. 245-254)

      Nineteen sixty-six was to be a year in which the discipline of historical archaeology came of age. In the spring the Smithsonian Institution hosted a three-day conference to promote the setting up of an archaeological department within the institution. Headed by the historian Wilcomb E. “Wid” Washburn, the gathering included most of the names then prominent in American anthropology, among them the Smithsonian’s own senior curator, Malcolm Watkins, who had previously played a contributing role in the Amelung glass factory excavation. Although creating a new department proved too grandiose an aim, the conference did endorse a proposal to create a...

    • 20 Virginia Is Forever
      (pp. 255-265)

      In 1967 the still-continuing digging and filming at Wetherburn’s Tavern became the genesis of a separate archaeological film. The idea had been on and off the table for eighteen months, during which time the audiovisual director, Arthur L. Smith, had hired two successive scriptwriters who, knowing nothing about colonial archaeology, failed in their assignments. In the process it had become apparent that I was the only person who knew what we were trying to achieve, and so it fell to me to write the script and direct the film. TitledDoorway to the Past,it tried to show how events...

    • 21 National Geographic to the Rescue
      (pp. 266-275)

      Although Audrey and I had become almost exclusively immersed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we still retained an affection for a “bit o’ the old Roman,” and so we took ourselves to Italy in the winter of 1968. At a black-tie dinner in Rome I told my host that we were on our way to Pompeii. A fellow guest (a cardinal as I recall) asked whether I planned to dig there. Before I could say “Of course not!” he assured me that he could arrange a permit for us to do so. My point is this: even the educated...

    • 22 Bawn Again
      (pp. 276-283)

      I don’t remember who first thought Wolstenholme Towne might have had Irish parallels. It may have been field supervisor Eric Klingelhofer, who already had an archaeological interest in Irish castles. But regardless of whose notion it was, he (or even she, if the credit belongs to Audrey) was right. The layout of the Wolstenholme settlement followed a pattern already established in Ulster and known as “bawn villages,” a bawn being a defensible livestock enclosure separated from the homes of the villagers.

      Ever since one community felt the need to defend itself from its neighbor, it chose either of two methods:...

    • 23 Following the Pharaohs
      (pp. 284-292)

      The painted sign on the door of a Williamsburg gas station read “Toot-an-kum-in.” The date was 1923 when the world press was agog with reports of Howard Carter’s discovery in Egypt’s valley of the Kings. Finding the undisturbed tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen proved to be the most spectacular archaeological discovery of the twentieth century. In its wake, public interest in the treasures of the Nile reached a height unparalleled since Napoleon’s savants began to study and publish the art of the ancient Egyptians in the 1790s. Amid Tut songs, Tut dances, and Tut cartoons, it was only to...

    • 24 A Museum for Wolstenholme Towne
      (pp. 293-300)

      The 1976 Bicentennial year had not provided the expected visitation bonanza that Colonial Williamsburg had hoped for, but for me it had been the best of times. The martin’s Hundred film,Search for a Century,was close to completion and would air several times on PBS and on the BBC. It won a Gold medal at the 24th Annual Film and TV Festival in New York and a Cine Golden Eagle in 1981, and much later the Palme d’Or at the International Film Festival of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Louvre in Paris. Carl Humelsine’s credo that his people should...

    • 25 Handing the Baton
      (pp. 301-305)

      While the museum at Carter’s Grove was still under construction I happened to arrive at the site before the rest of the committee showed up. To fill the time I walked northward along the ridge behind Wolstenholme Towne and found that graders had turned up a scatter of colonial brickbats and mortar. There could be little doubt that they came from a building that preceded the mansion, which was not completed until 1755. This, I thought, had to be the site of the “old house” referred to in the records, and probably the home of the Burwells while the mansion...

    • 26 Colonies Lost and Found
      (pp. 306-313)

      Colonial Williamsburg’s ploy to expunge employees with fond memories of the Humelsine era by offering early retirements was for Audrey and me a blessing not even thinly disguised. Coming as it did with a five-year contract to finish the Martin’s Hundred archaeological and historical studies, the opportunity gave us everything we desired. It also freed us to focus on other projects associated with the approaching 400th anniversary of the founding of the Virginia Colony.

      As North Carolinians are quick to point out, the first English colonizing attempts were made in 1585 and 1587 on Roanoke Island, and not in 1607...

    • 27 Plunging to the Deep Ocean Floor in Bermuda
      (pp. 314-325)

      From my first visit to the unfinished Jamestown fort in 1956, the fate of Virginia’s earliest colonists has frequently intruded into my eighteenth-century archaeological studies. Sir Walter Raleigh’s failed settlements of 1585–90, the massacred people of Martin’s Hundred in 1620–22, and the ruined Mathews’ Manor of about 1630–40, all were leading me back to Jamestown and its fractious, starving, and doomed inhabitants. The legacy of one group, more fortunate than most, landed on my Williamsburg desk in April 1980.

      The truism that one thing leads to another is never more so than in archaeology. It should have...

    • 28 Jamestown Discovered Yet Again
      (pp. 326-332)

      In 1994, with me remarried, and with Carol as secretary to the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological committee and Audrey’s disapproving ghost watching us from the wings, Virginia launched into the most important excavation ever undertaken in the state, or anywhere else in America for that matter.

      Walking along the levee between the James River and the ruined church, Bill Kelso asked me where he should begin digging. I pointed to a shallow depression in the grass and replied, “If I were you, I’d start there.” That advice was not entirely a guess. Pinky Harrington’s 1939 excavations had included a trench in...

    • 29 A Really Big Party
      (pp. 333-340)

      In spite of Senator Hunter Andrews’s pessimistic forecast, I was still alive as Virginia’s 400th anniversary bore down on us. Bill Kelso’s excavations on the Jamestown fort were expanding and yielding one newsworthy discovery after another, and the APVA’s plans for building a museum in which to exhibit them were going ahead and boded well for the big celebration. Nearby, the state-operated Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, with multimillions of appropriated dollars to spend, was busily replacing its fifty-year-old Jamestown Festival Park buildings with a huge exhibit structure whose brick exterior looked remarkably like a prison. At the same time the National Park...

  7. Index
    (pp. 341-350)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-351)