Celebrating the Box Archaeological and Natural History Society

52 years ago Henry Hurst, a young postgraduate at London University, arrived in my village to undertake an emergency excavation on a Roman villa. Much of the sprawling villa had been found in the 19th century and extensively excavated in 1902-3 by John Hardy, the village grocer, and then published by a conservation architect, Harold Brakspear.

Box excavations c1902

The excavations prompted me, at school at Bath, to form an archaeological society in our Wiltshire village, Box, capitalizing on the energy of the dig.

The energy is still there! Fifty years on, the ‘Nats’ as they call themselves for short (Box Archaeological and Natural History Society), celebrated the anniversary of my initiative. The festivities included a lunch in the village hall (the Selwyn Hall, named after the vicar) constructed after the excavations. Eighty of the society’s 120 members were present, and the hall seemed packed as I recollected the years we invented this community.

The Selwyn Hall today

The anniversary cake

What struck me was how on earth, as a sixteen-year old with shaggy hair, did I persuade village grandees to help me form a committee and get it all up and running? Would I now well into my sixties listen to such enthusiasm and patiently involve myself? I find it hard to believe. I find it just as hard to believe that the decades have past and most of the founders are now gone: Alison Borthwick, my high school peer and muse, Frank Hughes, the first chairman, and many of those who dutifully knuckled down to run the society once I had left Box.

1967 dig

Henry Hurst, who was the unwitting catalyst, was present and his cheery mien and gentle fascination with this improbable enterprise brought back those first moments I met him in 1967 and entered a career, as I like to say, in ruins.

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