Sue Margeson (1948-1997)

Photograph of Sue Margeson, 1948 to 1997.

Sue Margeson, 1948 to 1997. (© Eastern Daily Press.)

Sue Margeson, who has died aged 48, was a Viking scholar and museum archaeologist, who made major contributions to medieval archaeology. In her private life, she had a natural and uncontrived Christian spirituality.

Born in Canada of an Irish mother and Canadian father (a professor of English), she was six when she moved to England. After Cambridge's Perse school, Sue graduated from York University in 1970 with a first in English and medieval studies. At York, under the influence of Old English literature and Scandinavian sagas, she became interested in the physical evidence left behind by the Vikings and spent a year in Norway researching for a master's degree, before taking a doctorate at University College, London. Her subject was the iconography of the Sigurd legend, analysing the ways in which this violent story was shown by Viking artists and craftsmen.

Following two years working in the British Museum's department of medieval and later antiquities, she became an assistant keeper of archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum in 1979. In 1994, she was appointed keeper. Sue invigorated the archaeological life of the region. A stranger to jargon, she wrote with clarity and precision, and became a prolific contributor to many publications. She published a paper on medieval horse-harness pendants in the 1979 volume of Norfolk Archaeology, and frequently contributed to the Medieval Archaeology Journal, which she co-edited from 1988 to 1993.

Her monograph Norwich Households, on the finds from the 1970s excavations of the Norwich Survey, was published in 1993. This important work, far more than a catalogue of surviving artefacts, will remain a source for medieval and post-medieval archaeologists well into the next millennium. Her 1991 translation from the Danish, with Kirsten Williams, of Else Roesdahl's The Vikings (1991), is a classic.

Sue was a natural populariser, as many people in the region who have been inspired by her lectures will testify. Her work also reached wider audiences through publications such as Life on a Medieval Street, co-written with Malcolm Atkin in 1985, the Normans in Norfolk (1994) and Viking, in the Eyewitness series (1994). Sue’s arrival at the museum coincided with a huge increase in the popular use of metal-detectors. She identified and recorded for posterity tens of thousands of objects brought in to her by the public.

Under very great pressure, and in a local government environment not entirely conducive to rigour, she worked to a very high standard, although often able to spend only minutes on objects of great archaeological significance which could have benefited from hours of study. An impression of the advances in our knowledge which her work has already brought about can be gained from her paper on the Vikings in Norfolk, which appeared in A Festival of Norfolk Archaeology (1996).

Sue also loved early and baroque music, and especially J.S. Bach. While at school she took up the double-bass, and became a very accomplished player despite being physically quite small. She brought an unusual sensitivity to her interpretation. In 1984, she joined a group of amateur musicians at Prussia Cove, near Penzance, for a week of playing and this week in Cornwall became a much-loved, much looked-forward-to annual holiday. It was there that she met Bruce Wall, whom she married in 1990.

Andrew Rogerson (NLA), March 1997.

Published as:

Rogerson, A., 1997. 'Sue Margeson' The Guardian, 25 March.

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