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On a personal note - my father, Roy Hodges

In March 1969 after the inaugurial meeting of the Box Archaeological and Natural History Society (Box, Wiltshire, UK), my father invited the celebrated speaker and members of the new committee for coffee at our house. Professor Richard Atkinson, the speaker, had become a household name at that time, thanks to his televised excavations of the pyramid-sized, prehistoric mound at Silbury Hill (one of David Attenborough’s many initiatives when he was D-G of BBC2).

Roy Hodges in front of Box Roman villa

Atkinson, who had also excavated at Stonehenge, was a patrician archaeologist who took the village meeting capably in his stride. My father, characteristically protective of me, the 16-year-old co-founder of the local society, discretely asked the prehistorian as he was leaving about my prospects as an archaeologist. Atkinson in an instant shot back that on no circumstances should I be encouraged; there was no future in archaeology. My father took a deep breath, kept the disturbing thought to himself, and nonetheless, encouraged my next tentative steps into the profession.

My father repeated the question two months later when the genial director of the Box excavations visited. He had become a kindly mentor to me, and Dad valued his professional opinion. The same advice was proffered.

I realize now I never asked him why exactly he took this decision to encourage me, much as in later years he was amused to recall the episode. Encourage me he and my mother did, and I am forever in their debt.

Possibly my father believed in the risk of trying, just as he had taken other risks in his life. His parents forced him to forego an opportunity for tertiary education in 1939 and so he left school aged 14 to become an errand boy in a grocery store. During the war he tried to enlist in the RAF to broaden his horizons but was rejected on grounds that of poor eyesight. By the 1960s, after marrying my mother in 1949 - the beloved compass point of his life - he had created a successful business and a similarly successful homelife in Box.

In September 1967 he decided to take me – aged 15 - on Tuesday evenings to the local Workers Education Association (WEA) meetings devoted to archaeology – something I expressed interest in. Given by the excavator of Avebury, Donald Grant King, we were treated to a passionate if idiosyncratic overview of the origins of western civilization.

My father, who by his reckoning had only just started reading books in his early forties, was hooked. He encouraged me to participate in the salvage excavations that serendipitously occurred that December at Box Roman villa. After that, he and my mother transported me each weekend around Cotswold and Wiltshire archaeological sites and accompanied me across Box’s ploughed fields searching for Roman sherds and prehistoric flints. Soon, too, we were hiking on holiday in English, Scottish and Welsh national parks to Roman forts and stone circles.

With the Box dig having a second season in the summer of 1968, I became addicted to archaeology. This led to the formation of a village society – known fifty years on as “the Nats” – with my father joining the first steering committee. He remained on the committee for forty years, serving as chairman for a good part of that time


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