Looking forward ... to learning more about our past
A group picture of the St Richard’s Dig team, October 1963. Ken Wilson, the director, is standing in blue jumper. His wife, Peggy, is standing in the hut doorway holding a cup. Seated, centre, in red jumper is Doreen Roberts, who was Chairman of the Society for most of the 1960s and 1970s.
The main area of excavation, in the orchard.
Foreground: Terry Carney.
Next: Mr Nicholson.
Next: Fred Morris.
Both Pictures: Eric Houlder, LRPS
The big news in 1963 was of the new buildings proposed for Pontefract General Infirmary. Unlike today, the infirmary was expanding, not contracting. Local historians had known for centuries that the site of the Dominican Friary of St Richard (of Chichester) lay beneath the orchards to the south of the old Dispensary buildings.
The Friary had been the home of the Black Friars of Pontefract, who had hosted many royal retinues over the years, as overflow accommodation whilst actual royalty stayed in the castle. It was also the location of Earl Thomas of Lancaster’s Rebellion in 1322, which led directly to the outlawry of one Robert Hode, who later became notorious in his own right.
When news of the new building became known, the Society obtained permission to mount an exploratory excavation. It asked the then Society President, Kenneth Wilson of the Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, to direct the dig. Ken had served in the Royal Navy, was a published poet, and had also excavated all over Britain. His wife, Peggy, began life in the Falkland Islands, performed as an actress before the war (meeting JB Priestley), and became a professional archaeologist after the conflict, working with, amongst others, Sir Mortimer Wheeler.
This was the first excavation which PontArc mounted entirely from its own resources and membership. It was very successful, locating several buildings of the Friary and excavating a number of burials which, unusually, could be identified via documents.