Archaeological hero

To some, those to whom he has been a thorn in the flesh or worse, Brian Philp might seem an odd sort of hero. Indeed, my own relationship with Brian has been one of ups and downs, if not quite love-hate. But even when I was in a down phase, I admired his strengths, his tenacity, his sheer bloody-minded commitment to rescue archaeology.

As a callow schoolboy volunteer, I first worked for Brian in 1964, at Faversham Roman Villa, a site now buried beneath the town's High School playing fields. I duly appear, a tiny figure put there for scale, on the cover photograph of the report of the exacavation. I was swept along with the breakneck pace of the work, the all-embracing sense of excitement and urgency. I remember the down sides too -- especially the foul tea served in chipped enamel mugs in a barn next to the site, and the thunder storm that struck on the last day as we were desperately attempting to record the last few deposits at the same time as the labourers were refilling our trenches.

One soon became accustomed to Brian's rasping tones, his exhortations of "Chop Chop!" whenever one straightened up to ease one's back muscles, his insistance on discipline and security (hours were worked precicely, and often controlled by the clang of a hand-bell; the entrances to Brian's sites were famous for their snotty guardians, who would often refuse admittance even to exulted archaeologists of an academic or antiquarian turn).

Each excavation ran within the tightest of budgets, and Brian lived within those budgets too. Sometimes dig finances were supplemented by visitor entrance charges. He drove aged cars until they died of old age. He once spent a summer, with his then-new wife Edna, in a second-hand caravan parked inside an abandoned warehouse.

While at university I dug with Brian on his excavations at Gracechurch Street, which examined a corner of London's Roman forum in a vast hole filled with exhaust fumes and mechanical excavators, and where the occasional brick would thud to the muddy ground beside us, dislodged during the demolition of neigbouring buildings.

Perhaps the most exciting (in terms of adrenalin) archaeology of my life (so far) were the summers I spent working for Brian in Dover, Kent. They were my first supervisory jobs. We were discovering all sorts of previously unexpected stuff, including two Roman forts and the best preserved painted wall-plaster in Britain. We lived in condemned houses and saved-from-the-scrap-heap caravans. Brian enforced strange rules like the strict separation of male and female living quarters. But despite the privations the archaeology was thrilling.

I drifted away from Kent, and Brian. I did a few days work at Xxxxxx Roman villa. But I value my days with Brian - I am still the best excavator and recorder that I know, and that's the result of Brian's training.

ARCHAEOLOGY