Alan Davison (1930-2006) by Chris Barringer

Photograph of Alan Davison, 1930 to 2006.

Alan Davison, 1930 to 2006. (© NCC)

All of us in the archaeological and historical circles of Norfolk were devastated by the sad news of Alan’s death in a car crash. We realised what a gap his going would leave. His quiet guidance to many in the field, in his teaching and in his writing and his exemplary co-editing of Norfolk Archaeology are things we have all come to accept as parts of our establishment.

Alan was born in Norwich and later his family moved to Euston in Suffolk, his father was a Customs Officer and his mother taught at the village school. His father came from Berwick and the Scottish influence has always been a powerful one in his life. This year he and Joan took their annual month’s holiday in Skye as they have done for over 30 years. Alan’s knowledge of Gaelic place names and of Scottish history never ceased to surprise me; as did his wide general reading and his knowledge of natural history.

At the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society’s AGM in 2002 at Thetford Grammar School we noticed the two honours boards in the school hall; Alan was on both the academic honours board and the school service board. From Thetford, after National Service, he went to Fitzwilliam College to read geography where I first met him. Not surprisingly he specialised in historical geography in his third year when he married Joan who was training as a nurse at Addenbrookes.

From Cambridge he taught at Bexhill before returning to Norfolk to Thorpe Grammar School; there he taught geography and later became head of sixth form. I met him when examining his students’ geography field projects and realised from the range of subjects they chose and their obvious enjoyment of the subject what an excellent teacher he was.

In 1985 Alan took early retirement and began his by then real passion for contributing to the understanding of the early history of the Norfolk landscape. He steadily acquired his well-merited reputation for fieldwalking through which he added an enormous amount of information to the archaeological map of the county. This took him also to his fascination with deserted medieval villages and led him to produce the standard text on this subject in the Poppyland series. His field walking led him to use documentary sources of the Norfolk Record Office and of Cambridge University Library in writing up his fieldwork. His reports on this work produced a steady flow of articles in Norfolk Archaeology and East Anglian Archaeology. He often worked at the request of Norfolk Landscape Archaeology and his reports are in many of the Norfolk volumes.

Alan’s study of Six Deserted Medieval Villages in Norfolk, The Evolution of Settlement of three Parishes in South East Norfolk, with George and Alayne Fenner and The Earthworks of Norfolk with Brian Cushion are all highly regarded. In 2005, together with Trevor Ashwin, he edited the acclaimed new edition of The Historical Atlas of Norfolk. This is an outstanding publication list, as Dr Andrew Rogerson pointed out in his address at the well-attended memorial service held at Sprowston Church for Alan.

I had the pleasure of teaching a variety of courses with Alan for Continuing Education at the University of East Anglia and many former members of these groups, of NARG and later NAHRG, had their enthusiasm for fieldwork triggered off by his guidance. His enthusiasm will be continued by many who worked in the field with him, heard him lecture or read his publications which always followed the work he had done.

C. Barringer


Published as:

Barringer, C., 2006. ‘Alan Davison (1930-2006) An Appreciation’ in The Annual, No 15, 3.   

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