Asterix the Ship #2

I’ll be posting a fair few bulletins about Guernsey’s Roman ship over the next couple of years, but I thought this time I’d look back to the very beginning.

During the winter 1984/85 I was working on my PhD research on North Kent Roman pottery. For much of that time I was huddled over a paraffin stove in my little study in Chatham, drawing and describing pottery with the radio for company. One Wednesday Radio 4’s Midweek programme had an archaeology special, featuring Professor Barry Cunliffe and Dr Margaret Rule who were arguably Britain’s most famous archaeologists at that time.

Margaret Rule was of course questioned about her work raising the Mary Rose, but she swiftly moved on to excitedly describe her new project – a Roman ship found in St Peter Port harbour. A group of divers from the Mary Rose had teamed up with Guernsey divers and work had started raising ship’s timbers in November 1984.

So there was I, a young Roman post-excavation specialist six months from the end of a postgraduate grant, undergoing the soul-crushing task of applying for jobs at the back end of a recession. Cheekily I typed a letter to Dr Rule, explaining how I was newly married to a Guernsey girl and would love to join her project.

A few days later, the phone rang and the voice at the other end said. “Hello, this is Margaret Rule.” I was 25 years old and nearly melted with surprise to be suddenly talking to Dr Rule and in effect being interviewed by telephone. After a brief conversation I was invited over to meet the Guernsey Maritime Trust (always a treat as I loved Guernsey). After just a couple of minutes at the shed where the first of the Roman timbers were already soaking in freshwater tanks, I couldn’t wait to become involved. Dr Rule needed a Research Assistant on the spot in Guernsey, and it was a case of “We have a job going – can you start next month?”

Lives can turn on strange chances, but mine had changed overnight.

Tonight I learned that Margaret Rule has died, aged 86. She has made her mark on history.

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