Sunday, 22 May 2016

Trowelblazers - Helen O'Neil and Elsie Clifford

Famous in Gloucestershire!
Helen O'Neil, who was born Helen Donovan, lived at Camp House in Bourton-on-the-Water - the Camp referring to the Iron Age hillfort of Salmonsbury. In 1931, she became involved in the excavations at Salmonsbury, and she became a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute the following year, following that up in 1933 by becoming a member of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. In 1938, she was invited to become Honorary Curator of the new Corinium Museum in Cirencester.
The Director of the dig at Salmonsbury was Dr Gerald Dunning of London Museum, and it was on the dig that Helen met her husband Bryan, who eventually became Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments. Helen carried out work for Ordnance Survey and for the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate, and in 1948 she was elected to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
Following her husband's death, Helen returned to live at Camp House, and became closely involved in archaeology in the county. In 1968, she recieved an MBE for services to archaeology, and published work in the Bristol and Gloucestershire archaeology journal from 1934 to 1977.

Elsie Clifford also did a large part of her archaeological work in Gloucestershire, and at about the same time as Helen O'Neil. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum holds the collection of artefacts from her work on Notgrove long barrow in 1934-5, as well as artefacts from several Romano-British villas she worked on. Notgrove had been dug before, but hers was the first properly scientific excavation of the site.
Although a close associate of such well-known archaeologists as Sir Mortimer Wheeler, she stuck to her status as an amateur. In 1968, she was awarded an OBE for her achievements in archaeology.

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