Artist, archaeologist, broadcaster and lecturer.
Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, 1923-2001, was an artist, archaeologist, broadcaster and university lecturer, who made a significant contribution to the understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period. He is best known for excavating the Anglo-Saxon royal residence site at Yeavering, Northumberland. However, he also excavated a number of important sites in Surrey, where he was born.
After a reputed period in naval intelligence he joined the RAF in 1943 where his artistic talent was put to use as a model-maker for bombing targets identified in aerial photographs. Many professional archaeologists were among the photo-intelligence staff, who encouraged his growing interest in archaeology. This had developed through his discovery of prehistoric field-systems on Farthing Down in Surrey, the survey of which he undertook during periods of leave. These early studies led to numerous excavations in Surrey which included a Norman motte (earthwork castle) at Abinger, published in 1956, Preston Hawe, War Coppice Camp and the Moorhouse Sandpits.
During this period of his life, Hope-Taylor worked as an artist, the profession ascribed to him when he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1950.
Later his archaeological interests turned to an earlier period, through his identification of the Anglo-Saxon site of Old Yeavering revealed in an aerial photograph. Shortly after starting his excavations at Yeavering, Hope-Taylor started work also at another Anglo-Saxon royal site, recorded as being an 11th-century palace, at Old Windsor in Berkshire.
These two excavations were both undertaken for the Ministry of Works at a time when such employment meant being paid only for work in the field. Resources were not then forthcoming (as they would in some cases today) for post-excavation study and the writing of reports for publication. Unfortunately many sites he excavated still remain unpublished, partly because of this.
In order to advance himself professionally, Hope-Taylor was permitted in 1958 to register at St Johns College, Cambridge, to undertake a PhD thesis on Yeavering, despite not having a first degree, never having been to university. He was awarded his doctorate in 1961 and appointed as a University Assistant Lecturer in Archaeology at Cambridge. He was promoted to full lectureship in 1967, by election to a fellowship at University College (now Wolfson College).
During the 1960s, Hope-Taylor was recruited by Anglia Television to write and present two successful archaeological series, “Who were the British?” in 1965, which was nominated for a Bafta award, and “The Lost Centuries”.