Roy Rainbird Clarke (1914-1963)

Photograph of Roy Rainbird Clarke, 1914 to 1963.

Roy Rainbird Clarke, 1914 to 1963. (© NCC)

Roy Rainbird Clarke was a man of tremendous energy, with a deep and consuming interest in the archaeology of East Anglia. This interest he was keen to communicate to specialist and layman alike. His curiosity about the past was perhaps inherited from his father, W.G. Clarke, a local journalist, self-taught archaeologist and local historian, who helped to found the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia, now the Prehistoric Society. W.G. Clarke died in 1925, but Rainbird's archaeological interest was fostered by the Rev. H. Tyrrell-Green, Rector of Santon. Together, in 1926, they excavated a Roman site at Santon (Clarke 1933).

Rainbird Clarke read archaeology at Cambridge, where fellow students included Glyn Daniel, Shepherd Frere, Terence Powell and Peter Hunter Blair. While there he founded an undergraduate archaeological society and helped to found the Norfolk Research Committee. This latter, inspired by the Fenland Research Committee, was set up as a meeting-place for people working on all aspects of Norfolk's history, natural history and geography. While still at Cambridge he published his paper on the Brandon flint-knapping industry (Clarke 1935), still the standard work, and began the revision of his father's In Breckland Wilds (Clarke 1937, 2nd edition published 1974). In 1933 he began one of his most enduring contributions to Norfolk archaeology; he became one of the local correspondents appointed to assist O.G.S. Crawford, the Ordnance Survey's Archaeology Officer, with the revision of antiquities on OS maps. For this he began to index archaeological objects and sites, recording new finds as they were made and extracting information from published sources. He assisted too in a survey of Norfolk barrows, organised by J.E. Sainty, A.Q. Watson and L. V. Grinsell.

After Cambridge he worked as a voluntary helper at Norwich Castle Museum until, in 1937, he became Assistant Curator of the Somerset County Museum at Taunton. In 1940 he joined the army, eventually taking part in the war in Europe. While there he spent his spare time studying local archaeology, particularly in Holland. After demobilisation he returned to Taunton but, in 1946, he was appointed Deputy Curator of Norwich Museums and then, in 1951, Curator. Here he remained for the rest of his life. Much of his working day was spent administering four museums - most of his archaeological work, even though he was also Keeper of Archaeology, was done outside normal working hours.

Rainbird believed in popularising archaeology. He wrote articles in the local papers and journals, and he lectured to groups all over the county and beyond. He persuaded the Museums Committee to invest in a series of archaeological dioramas in an attempt to bring to life the flints, bronzes and pots displayed in the archaeology gallery above. He appeared on local radio and television to talk about new finds. The most important was probably Once a Kingdom, a series on the archaeology of Norfolk and Suffolk produced by Anglia Television in 1962.

As a result of this publicity for archaeology, large numbers of people brought their finds to the museum for identification and recording in his Sites and Monuments Index. This record formed the basis of the scholarly surveys he produced. These included: a general survey of the prehistory of Norfolk (Sainty and Clarke 1946); the Iron Age (Clarke 1940); the Roman period (Clarke 1950a); the Early Saxon period (Clarke and Myres 1939-40); and general summaries of finds (e.g. Clarke 1950b; 1957). He wrote many papers on important new finds, of which perhaps the two most significant were those on the Ringstead Hoard (Clarke 1951) and the Snettisham Treasure (Clarke 1954 and 1956), both of which date to the Iron Age, his favourite period. He was less interested in the medieval and post-medieval periods, as the Sites and Monuments Index shows, but this did not prevent him working actively with other members of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society to arrange excavations in post-war Norwich before redevelopment began (Jope 1950).

Rainbird's enthusiasm fired the interest of many people. He was unfailingly kind and helpful to those who wished to study archaeology of any period. He gave the same welcome and attention to students and renowned scholars alike who came to work on the Museum collections and records. 

Photograph of Roy Rainbird Clarke (centre) during excavations at Caistor St Edmund.

Roy Rainbird Clarke (centre) during excavations at Caistor St Edmund. (© NCC)

Although Norwich City Council, who ran the museums, refused to support excavations, Rainbird was able to carry out a number of short-term, small-scale excavations through the Norfolk Research Committee, using a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Although many were local members of the Committee, some diggers came for several years from other parts of the country. Unfortunately, pressures of work prevented Rainbird from writing up many of these excavations; some are the subjects of this volume.

For a number of years much of his archaeological research was directed towards the publication of East Anglia (Clarke 1960), a volume in the Ancient People and Places series. Although the dating and some of the cultural terminology have been considerably revised after twenty-five years, much of the basic description and many of the conclusions still stand.

In the Museum he established a collecting policy based on preserving evidence for sites, that is, whenever possible he kept the broken potsherds and waste flint flakes when the provenance could be recorded, as well as items more suitable for display in the gallery. This integration of museum collections and sites and monuments record has proved to be one of the most valuable aspects of his work and is a continuing policy.

In such a short summary it is impossible to do more than touch on certain aspects of Rainbird Clarke's contribution to Norfolk archaeology. His two greatest achievements were the establishment of a sites and monuments record and its integration with the Museum's collection to provide a coherent picture of the study of archaeology in Norfolk. His interest was regional but his standards of scholarship were always of the highest.

Barbara Green (NCM).

Published as:

Green, B., 1986. 'Roy Rainbird Clarke, 1914-1963: An Appreciation', East Anglian Archaeology 30, x-xi


Further Reading

Clarke, R.R., 1933. 'A Roman site at Santon', Norfolk Archaeology 25, 202-206.

Clarke, R.R., 1935. 'The flint-knapping industry at Brandon', Antiquities Journal 9, 38-56.

Clarke, R.R., 1940. 'The Iron Age in Norfolk and Suffolk', Archaeological Journal 96, 1-113, 223-5.

Clarke, R.R., 1950a. 'Roman Norfolk since Haverfield', Norfolk Archaeology 30, 140-55.

Clarke, R.R., 1950b. 'Notes on recent archaeological discoveries in Norfolk (1943-8)', Norfolk Archaeology 30, 156-9.

Clarke, R.R., 1951. 'A hoard of metalwork of the Early Iron Age from Ringstead, Norfolk', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 17, 214-25. (NHER 1331)

Clarke, R.R., 1954. 'The Early Iron Age treasure from Snettisham, Norfolk'., Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 20, 27, 86. (NHER 1487)

Clarke, R.R., 1956. 'The Snettisham treasure', in Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S. (ed.), Recent Archaeological Excavations in Britain (London), 21-42. (NHER 1487)

Clarke, R.R., 1957. ' Archaeological discoveries in Norfolk, 1949-54', Norfolk Archaeology 31, 395-416.

Clarke, R.R., 1960. East Anglia, (London).

Clarke, R.R. and Myres, J.N.L., 1939-40. 'Norfolk in the Dark Ages, 400-800 AD', Norfolk Archaeology 27, 163-249.

Clarke, W.G., unknown. In Breckland Wilds, revised Clarke, R.R., 1937, 2nd edition 1974 (Cambridge).

Jope, E.M., 1950. 'Excavations in the City of Norwich, 1948' Norfolk Archaeology 30, 287-323.

Sainty, J.E. and Clarke, R.R., 1946. 'A century of Norfolk prehistory', Norfolk Archaeology 29, 8-41.

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