TLHS recently announced that as part of its HLF funded project, it will be working with Blatella Films. Blatella will produce a number of short videos that promote Thurrock’s heritage. The subject of one of these videos will be Margaret Jones who directed the Mucking excavation between 1965 and 1968. At the time, this excavation was the largest ever undertaken in Europe and uncovered an Anglo-Saxon settlement and two associated cemeteries. The graves dated from the 5th to the 7th century, but appeared to stop around AD 650.
One possible reason that these pagan cemeteries went out of use at this time may be the missionary activities of St Cedd. Bede’s History of the English Church records that Cedd built two churches in Essex – one at Bradwell (which survives) and one just down the road from Mucking, at Tilbury on the banks of the Thames.
The newly Christianised Anglo-Saxons may have decided to abandon their pagan cemetery and establish a Christian cemetery close to Cedd’s newly built church. We don’t know the location of Cedd’s Tilbury church, but it may have been on the site of the present East Tilbury parish church.
Although separated by thirteen hundred years, both Margaret Jones and St Cedd made important contributions to Thurrock’s heritage. Neither currently has a Thurrock heritage plaque; perhaps they should have.
Romano-British Settlement and Cemeteries at Mucking by Sam Lucy and Christopher Evans. Published by Oxbow Books; 456 pages; ISBN 978-1785702686.
Despite the fact that the Mucking excavation began more than fifty years ago, until recently, there has not been a full publication of the findings. The site atlas and a report on the Anglo-Saxon settlement were eventually published in 1993; the report on the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries appeared in 2009 and the findings from the Mesolithic, through the Bronze Age into the Iron Age were published at the end of December, 2015. The final report on the Romano-British settlement and cemetery was published in September.
The Mucking excavation has rightly been given a prominent place in the archaeological literature of the last fifty years. However, as the authors point out, Mucking’s findings on the Roman period have been somewhat overlooked. The latest volume will perhaps redress this neglect. It is has greater similarity to a conventional excavation report than its predecessor (Lives in Land, 2015) although it does provide an abridged version of the background given in the earlier volume. This volume contains detailed analysis of finds, photographs, maps, charts and interpretation from the Romano-British period. Although most of the illustrations are of the finds, there are a few photographs that show the excavation in progress and particularly its proximity to the continuing gravel extraction.
This book is not cheap. It is priced at £40 on Amazon. However, it is essential reading for anyone who wishes to read firsthand the evidence that was dug up on that windy hillside half a lifetime ago. It is sad that so many who worked on the dig are no longer around to read the report.
The cover of the latest (and last) volume
Lives in Land – Mucking excavations. Christopher Evans, Grahame Appleby and Sam Lucy. Oxbow Books, 2015, ISBN: 9781785701481.
The main excavation at Mucking began more than 50 years ago and continued for 13 years. Thousands of people took part including many members of the Thurrock Local History Society. However, for various reasons, the full excavation report has not yet been published. Initially, Margaret Jones, the excavation director, felt that it was more urgent to proceed with the dig, ahead of the gravel extraction, rather than spend time preparing the results for publication. Subsequently, the sheer scale of the task, the lack of funds and in due course the death of many of the key figures made publication a slow process.
The site atlas and a report on the Anglo-Saxon settlement were published in 1993 and the report on the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries appeared in 2009. A great deal of information on Roman and earlier periods has been deposited in the Archaeology Data Service web site. In view of the dramatic changes in the approach to archaeological reporting, a deliberate decision was made to draw a line between the previous publications and the final two reports. These are “more scrap-book like” and include interviews with surviving participants. At the end of 2015, Oxbow books published the first of two volumes entitled Lives in Land – Mucking excavations. The Roman period is expected to be published in August 2016.
These two volumes will cover both the detail of many important structures and assemblages and also provide a comprehensive synthesis of landscape development through the ages. This includes settlement histories, changing land-use, death and burial, industry and craft activities. Volume 1 takes us from the Mesolithic, through the Bronze Age into the Iron Age. This volume also discusses the methods, philosophy and archival status of the Mucking project given the organisational and funding background at the time. The authors talk about the fundamental changes in archaeological practice, legislation, finance, research priorities and theoretical paradigms which have taken place since the dig began. This volume is available from Oxbow books, currently at the special price of £30.