Tony Gregory (1948-1991)

Photograph of Tony Gregory, 1948 to 1991.

Tony Gregory, 1948 to 1991. (© NCC)

Anthony Keith Gregory, known by all friends and colleagues as Tony, was born in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire on December 16th, 1948. After Nottingham High School he went up to Peterhouse, Cambridge, to read Archaeology and Anthropology. Whilst at university he took part in the excavation of the important Iron Age and Roman site at Dragonby, Lincolnshire, and having graduated he spent three years as a Research Assistant working on the ceramics from this site. In 1974 he was appointed Assistant Keeper of Archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum where he remained for four years. He transferred to the Norfolk Archaeological Unit to take up the post of Field Officer with particular responsibility for the Roman period, becoming Deputy County Field Archaeologist in 1983. Six years later he left the Norfolk Unit and settled in Yorkshire to become an independent archaeological consultant and to dedicate more time to broadcasting work. He was soon to join Heritage Projects in York as Research Officer, and it was whilst in this employ that after an illness of six months' duration he died of cancer on June 26th 1991.

When Tony Gregory first joined the Archaeology Department at Norwich Castle Museum there were very few entries on the Sites and Monuments Record which concerned objects recovered with the use of metal detectors. He soon realised that metal objects brought in for identification and recording were frequently the result of deliberate searching with detectors, and that if the obvious enthusiasms of a growing number of detector users were to be harnessed in the right direction then the archaeological data-bank for the county would be vastly enhanced. Thus he began to foster close liaisons with detectorists, to encourage correct procedures of recording, and to inform finders through his uniquely entertaining yet intellectually brilliant methods of identification. All of this he did for two reasons: a strong desire to see information recorded in order to further knowledge, and a genuine affection for the rich variety of characters who pursue the detecting hobby. He was thus an academic of the highest calibre as well as a populariser with the 'common touch'.

Norfolk is littered with people whose interest in the past was first inspired by Tony Gregory, not only at the meetings of Detector Clubs which he had helped to establish, and during Cambridge University Extra-Mural courses which he taught in Norwich, but also by his frequent appearances on local radio and television. His final TV series, 'Now, Then', was broadcast nationally by the BBC. Its aim was to help young people understand the past, and its method involved the interaction of modern children and child actors taking the parts of ancient children. The distinctive figure of the presenter, with his shirt less unbuttoned than normal, was a great success. There is no doubt that the public appreciation of archaeology would have continued to improve had the presenter lived to make further 'media' appearances.

Throughout the earlier part of the period when Tony Gregory was attempting, very successfully, to encourage the responsible use of metal-detectors, a large section of the archaeological establishment was keen to see detecting brought to an end, or at least rigidly controlled by a licensing system. Much exaggerated propaganda was put out to this end. Tony realised that an outright ban or strict control by licence was not possible, and argued at various meetings and by polemic that education and encouragement hand-in-hand would bring out the best in the vast majority of detectorists who were honest and would serve the long term interests of British archaeology (Green and Gregory 1977-8; Gregory 1983a and b). In all of this he showed great courage as well as erudition, and in the end the somewhat hysterical and certainly ill-informed anti-detector campaign was abandoned.

At the same time as encouraging the honest, Tony Gregory kept his nose to the ground in the pursuit of 'nighthawks', those who plundered sites illegally. His patient intelligence work, which was aided by his ability to communicate with all manner of people, and by a close rapport with the police, resulted in many prosecutions, and helped to bolster the respectability of the large law-abiding majority. Tony's most spectacular coup in his role as 'detecting detective' was the bringing to light of the Thetford Treasure. Here his ability to win confidence was of paramount importance in extracting the truth under very difficult circumstances. He saw that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a metal detecting device, that the guilt was to be born by the incorrect user of the machine, not by the machine itself, which was simply another tool of archaeological prospecting. How useful such a tool can be within the process of excavation was first demonstrated by Tony in the pages of Antiquity (Gregory and Rogerson 1984).

Tony Gregory's capacity for work was extraordinary; his activities with metal detectorists did not prevent him from finding time to expend tremendous energy in the more traditional roles of the field archaeologist: excavation, survey, synthesis and publication. Numerous papers have appeared on Iron Age and Roman metalwork (Gregory 1975-6, 1976, 1979, and 1986; Gregory and Martin 1985; Green and Gregory 1985). Several articles brought together the evidence from old unpublished excavations (Gregory 1977; Gregory and Gurney 1986) and Iron Age and Roman Norfolk was summarised in a masterly work of popular synthesis Celtic Fire and Roman Rule (Robinson and Gregory 1987). Tony began the process of co-authoring a definitive work on the Iceni, a project which it would be good to see bearing fruit.

A paper written with John Davies (Davies and Gregory 1991) demonstrates the enormous potential that the systematic recording of large site assemblages of Roman coins has for the understanding of the history of Roman Britain. In this paper the subject area is Norfolk, and the source material is the series of massive groups of coins collected by metal detectorists and recorded by Tony and his co-workers. This article will go far in vindicating the stand that he took and the work that he did while in the County.

Two of Tony Gregory's greatest talents were a capacity for working extremely hard for very long hours, and a natural ability to get on with and enthuse all sorts of his fellow men and women. Both of these qualities were essential to the success he achieved in excavating the extraordinary site at Fison's Way, Thetford (NHER 5853). A description of the methods and circumstances of excavation used at the site would not indicate to readers who did not visit the excavation a hint of the strengths the project demanded from its leader to produce the success that it undoubtedly was. Tony's decision to plan and record the site to 'see what was there' before starting on the sample excavation of features was probably a hard one to take, but in retrospect was quite correct. He then had to control his own impatience (which anyway did not show) and more importantly that of his youthful workforce. There were no riots on that windswept hill outside Thetford; there well may have been if a lesser person had been in charge and had taken the same hard decision. The cleaning and planning of so many square metres of dry gravelly sand must have been tedious for every member of his somewhat wayward workforce, but this has not stopped several team members from entering careers as professional archaeologists. Tony's gift as an inspirer must have been at work here. The production of this report is in itself no small achievement. That period of British archaeology when so much depended on the use of unemployed people is not seen as a period which has left a complete legacy of published reports. The two years or so that Tony excavated at Thetford saw no diminution in his other activities as Field Officer at the Norfolk Unit, as lecturer, broadcaster, and coordinator of metal detecting. The huge workload took its toll on his bodyweight, but did not otherwise seem to bother him.

During a brief career Tony Gregory achieved a great deal in bringing archaeology to the public without ever compromising the highest academic standards. He has left behind a countywide system for the identification and recording of topsoil artefacts on ploughed sites which is foremost in Britain and which will in future form a secure base for the regional study of many periods. This volume, which describes a remarkable site, provides a fitting memorial to a remarkable man whose enthusiasm for antiquity was such that in a different order of time it might have turned Boudica's energies away from hostility to Romans and towards an interest in the past, perhaps a study of the Later Bronze Age in Icenia.

Andrew Rogerson (NLA), July 1991.

Published as:

Rogerson, A., 1991. 'Tony Gregory, 1948-1991. An Appreciation', East Anglian Archaeology 53, xi-xii.


Further Reading

Davies, J.A .and Gregory, T., 1991. 'Coinage from a Civitas: a survey of the Roman coins found in Norfolk and their contribution to the archaeology of the Civitas Icenorum', Britannia 21, 65-101.

Green, B. and Gregory, T.,1977-8. 'An initiative in the use of metal detectors in Norfolk', Museums Journal 77,161-2.

Green, C.S., and Gregory, T., 1985. ‘Surface finds,' in Hinchcliffe, J., and Green, C.S., 'Excavations at Brancaster 1974 and 1977', East Anglian Archaeology 23, 190-221.

Gregory, T., 1975-6. 'A hoard of Roman bronze bowls from Burwell, Cambridgeshire,' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 66, 63-79.

Gregory, T., 1976. 'A hoard of late Roman metalwork from Weeting, Norfolk,' Norfolk Archaeology 36, 265-72. (NHER 5636)

Gregory, T., 1977. 'The enclosure at Ashill,' East Anglian Archaeology 5, 9-30. (NHER 8712)

Gregory, T., 1979. 'A Romano-British bronze bound bucket from Burgh Castle,' Norfolk Archaeology 37 , 223-6. (NHER 10471)

Gregory, T., 1983a. 'Archaeology and treasure hunting; a view from the other side,' Treasure Hunting (April), 45-8

Gregory, T., 1983b. 'The impact of metal detecting on archaeology and the public,' in Bewley, R. (ed.) 'Archaeology and the public,' Archaeological Review Cambridge 2(1), 3-65.

Gregory, T., 1986. 'The Bunwell horse,' Britannia 17, 330-1. (NHER 10007)

Gregory, T. and Gurney, D., 1986. Excavations al Thornham, Warham, Wighton and Caistor St Edmund, Norfolk, East Anglian Archaeology 30.

Gregory, T. and Martin, E., 1985. 'An Iron Age terret from Rushmere,' Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History 36(1), 34-5.

Gregory, T. and Rogerson, A.J.G., 1984. 'Metal-detecting in archaeological excavation,' Antiquity 58, 179-84.

Robinson, B. and Gregory, T., 1987. Celtic Fire and Roman Rule (North Walsham).

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