MARGARET URSULA JONES
Born 16th May 1916, died 23rd March 2001
|Margaret Jones was known to us in
Thurrock through her gruelling years of work as Director
of the huge archaeological excavation on the Mucking hill-top.
She took a great interest in our Society and we were
honoured in 1977 when she agreed to become a Patron.
Margaret Ursula Owen was born in Birkenhead where she was educated in the local high school and at Liverpool University reading Geography under W.J. (Bill) Varley. Bill Varley was an archaeologist and also coach of the University eights in which latter task he was helped by Tom Jones. When Varley was invited to excavate a number of Iron Age hill-forts in Cheshire during the late 1930s, Margaret Owen and Tom Jones were amongst his assistants. They were married in June 1940.
Margaret spent the war years working in the censorship office in Liverpool and in London. After Tom returned from service in the infantry they made a living together in freelance photo-journalism, Tom taking the photographs and Margaret marketing them and writing articles for the Birmingham Mail. Her subjects included rambling and cookery (those who worked at Mucking will remember her enthusiasm for bread making and the diet of the volunteers). This work allowed them time to develop their archaeological skills as volunteers on a number of sites in this country and in Greece.
In 1952 they bought Snowberry Cottage near Hereford where Margaret could indulge her interest in plants rather than gardening (I still have an acanthus and a bronze fennel which she gave me). It was to this cottage that they returned when their archaeological work allowed and to which they eventually retired.
In late 1965 Margaret was asked to carry out a brief exploratory excavation at a site, then known as Linford, which was slowly being destroyed by gravel digging. As a result of this, of the aerial photographs taken by Dr St. Joseph of Cambridge University and of the earlier excavation carried out by members of this Society, under Ken Barton, on the western side of Buckingham Hill Road, Margaret's contract was extended. She was joined by Tom and so began the mammoth task that was to last for the next 14 years on the Mucking hill top.
In the days before the sophisticated instruments of current archaeology, Margaret had the guidance of the excellent crop marks recorded by Dr St. Joseph. The crop marks produced by the deeper soil of features on this gravel terrace could often be seen at ground level. Tom Lindsay, who farmed the land, used to say that he wasn't growing barley on the thin soil, he was growing crop marks!
The Joneses were assisted by many younger archaeologists and 'volunteers' from Britain and abroad and the organisation of the camp, the feeding, the pay and the volunteers' welfare involved many members recruited from this Society, guided by terse memos signed by the initials 'muj'.
The importance of her work at Mucking and in particular the light thrown on a period known as the 'Dark Ages' is recorded in many publications, including earlier editions of Panorama, and more recently in the first two volumes of the Mucking Excavation Reports, sadly perhaps, produced by others.
It is for us important also to remember the very generous interest, advice and assistance Margaret gave to the historians and archaeologists of Thurrock and Essex. Margaret was an active member of archaeological committees throughout Essex and willingly gave of her time with lectures and guided tours of the site. For one who could appear abrupt she was remarkably good with children and school parties, stimulating many a young interest in archaeology. Apart from the contributions to Panorama, Margaret and Tom appeared regularly in the Society's lecture programme from January 1967 culminating in 'The Mucking Symposium' in the Thameside Theatre in February 1981.
Sadly after their retirement to Snowberry Cottage, Tom Jones had a severe stroke and died in 1993. Margaret herself suffered the slow decline of Parkinson's disease
The Independent of 31st March 2001 carried an obituary of Margaret Jones from which I take this quotation 'for a generation of respectable middle-aged archaeologists ... to have dug with Margaret Jones at Mucking remains a badge of honour'. I can do no better than echo that sentiment for all of us who knew her.
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