Another instalment of our ‘Inside the Mind‘ series brings responses to our now familiar questions from Steve Hartgroves.
After an initially unsuccessful time at college, followed by a short career with British European Airways (BEA) operating their fledgling computerised reservations system, Steve set off for the almost obligatory ‘trip to India’, which was abandoned before completion due to various conflicts causing a change of plans en route. After a variety of jobs on his return, in 1976 at the age of 27, he discovered archaeology, volunteering for a dig on a Roman villa site in Bradford on Avon, being conducted by Roy Canham of the Wiltshire County Archaeological Service.
Based upon his computer experience with BEA, Roy then employed him to computerise the Wiltshire SMR – a radical idea in 1976 – and he also got involved in all the other routine work of the Archaeological Service. Having decided that this was his vocation Steve applied to Cardiff and studied for a degree in Archaeology (under Professors Richard Atkinson and Mike Jarret).
After obtaining his degree in Archaeology at Cardiff in 1979-82, Steve had various archaeological jobs, including excavations at a glassworks at Nailsea South of Bristol, which had been demolished with explosives. Interesting stratigraphy!
He was appointed Sites and Monuments Officer for Cornwall Archaeological Unit in 1983 and worked with this organisation until his early retirement in 2012. His main claim to fame must be the Cornwall Aerial Survey Project (CASP) which he inaugurated in 1984 with funding from the RCHM, then, following their merger, from EH. The funding continued every year after that and altogether he did 100 flights (which works out at almost four flights a year). This resulted in an important archive of 7,348 B/W prints and 5,711 colour slides and, from 2004, 5,995 digital images – a grand total of almost 20,000 aerial images of every aspect of the historic landscape of Cornwall and Scilly.
He was also involved in four or five episodes of Time Team, mostly head-down in a trench, not usually a speaking part. His ‘big break’ came when they did the programme about a multi-period settlement he had photographed as cropmarks at Lellizzick on the Camel estuary near Padstow (“From Constantinople to Cornwall”), but unfortunately he was struck down with laryngitis and after the initial setting of the scene at the start of day one, was completely unable to speak for the rest of the weekend.
The Ten Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
As a teenager, I read a book called Patterns of the Past by Guy Underwood and was impressed with his account of dowsing the energy patterns of prehistoric sites. I also liked Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track. When I lived in Plymouth I would go up to Dartmoor and cut a hazel or willow wand and dowse the stone rows and so on. I decided that I needed to know more about the people that made these sites but it wasn’t until several years later that I was able to follow this up.
How did you get started?
It’s a long story….I had a checkered academic career and after leaving college with little sense of vocation, I passed an aptitude test and was employed by BEA (remember them) operating the online seat reservations computer in West London; this was in the late 60’s, when there were very few commercial computers in use, and ‘my one’ had a console like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and occupied a site the size of several tennis courts. This lasted a few years, then, like many of my generation, I dropped everything and headed off overland to India – I learned more in those 6 months than I had learned in all my time in school. I tried lots of jobs after that – landscape gardener, portrait photographer, builder, astrologer, etc, etc, but none seemed to suit me. Then one day I read in my local paper about an excavation on a Roman bathouse discovered beneath the turf of the playing field of the local school – just a few fields from where I was living in Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. I went along and volunteered; it was the summer of 1976, every day was hot and sunny and the site was impressively well preserved and full of finds. Chatting during a coffee break with the site director, Roy Canham (Wiltshire’s County Archaeologist) I learned that he was looking for someone with computer experience to help digitise the county Sites and Monuments Record…
Who has most influenced your career?
Roy Canham (see above), my first archaeological employer, my mentor and role model. I worked for Roy on various projects over the next few years; excavating, fieldwalking and surveying. I also infiltrated his aerial survey project, first by offering to develop and print the films from his flights overnight, so that he had the results the following day (the alternative being to send the films off to get developed and printed and returned a week or two later), then I sat in as navigator when no-one else was available, then I finally got my hands on the cameras.
When I realised that an archaeologist could get paid to play with computers, walk over fields picking up interesting stuff, and flying around taking photos I sensed that I had found my vocation at last. With Roy’s encouragement, I signed up to do a degree in Archaeology at Cardiff.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
Undoubtedly the Cornwall Aerial Survey Project, which I inaugurated in 1984 when I got the job as Sites and Monuments Officer with Cornwalll Archaeological Unit in Truro. One hundred flights (from 1984-2010) produced 7,348 B/W prints, 5,711 colour slides and, latterly, 5,995 digital images – a grand total of almost 20,000 aerial images of every aspect of the historic landscape of Cornwall and Scilly.
Possibly more significant in archaeological terms though, and no less exciting, was my work computerising the Cornwall and Scilly Sites and Monuments Record, and overseeing its transformation, via GIS, into the Historic Environment Record, thereby linking the sites database, with a few clicks of the mouse, to historic maps of various dates, modern maps at various scales, ground and air photos, project reports (Grey Literature), digital terrain models, and much much more.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
I would rather not let on because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to go there – I like to be quiet and enjoy it alone. Suffice to say it’s a stone circle.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
I would have liked to work abroad – in the Middle East and Africa, but I struggled, as a humble archaeologist on low pay, just to find the rent and provide for my family.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
The current system seems pretty good and is a huge improvement on how things were when I first started out. However, I’d like to see it properly enforced by people who understand what the point of it all is.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
I don’t think that I would have much to say to them; I don’t think that they have as much influence over events as they seem to think they have. They don’t seem to understand what’s important and what’s trivial. Overpopulation and climate change need to be addressed urgently; compared to these threats archaeology can take a back seat.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I have absolutely no idea – I’d have liked to have been an astronaut.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
I like gardening and building dry stone walls – that is, Cornish Hedges; I like cycling (I have renovated my father’s racing bike – a Raleigh Record Ace from 1936), and I still take lots of photos.
As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Steve for his participation.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.