The CORIA Project

Early Excavators

The Northumberland County History Committee gave overall control of the excavations to Francis Haverfield, Camden Professor of the History of the Roman Empire at the University of Oxford.

At the suggestion of his colleague Arthur Evans (excavator of Knossos), Haverfield appointed a young (and inexperienced) Leonard Woolley as the director of excavations at Corbridge. Woolley in turn engaged the services of J.P. Gibson, the Hexham pharmacist and archaeologist (and, importantly, prize-winning photographer) to document the excavations photographically. After a successful first season, Woolley was back in 1907, but had to leave prematurely for work in the Near East (and in fact never returned to digging at Corbridge).

Woolley was succeeded by two local men who had acted as supervisors for him. Robert Forster, although trained in the law, became a professional writer (both a historical novelist and a poet) as well as an archaeologist, and he assumed overall direction of the excavations. William Knowles was a distinguished Newcastle architect who acted as the surveyor for the project, producing beautifully detailed plans of the site and most of the published excavation plans.

In addition to these leading characters, a succession of Oxford students were brought in to act as supervisors and finds specialists in charge of the labourers who actually did the hard work of digging. Many of these went on to hold prominent posts in inter-war British archaeology and Corbridge was briefly hailed as a training-ground for new archaeologists.

The labour force was mainly composed of local miners. Their principal tools were the pick and shovel. Gibson evidently found them as interesting as the archaeology, and his striking portraits of the labour force provide much of the background 'feel' of an Edwardian excavation in rural Northumberland.

workman with pickaxe