Verulamium archaeologist dies

Sheppard Frere

Sheppard Frere - Credit: Archant

The archaeologist whose ground-breaking excavations at Verulamium revealed that the Roman city was destroyed by Boudicca’s army in AD60-61 has died at the age of 98.

Sheppard Frere, professor of the archaeology of the Roman Empire at Oxford University, was best known for his work at Verulamium from 1955-61.

The excavation was among the largest undertaken in Britain up to that time and Prof Frere oversaw eight-week stints during three summers at Verulamium helped by more than 100 volunteer assistants.

He substantially revised the outlines of the history of Verulamium carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler 25 years earlier and as well as establishing Boudicca’s sacking of Verulamium by the discovery of a thick layer of burnt material which demonstrated that the city had been sacked, he also discovered that Verulamium had been enclosed by a defensive bank and ditch.

In addition, his work enabled him to revise the date the Romans left this country - he found that in Verulamium Roman buildings were still being constructed for at least 50 years after the Romans were thought to have relinquished control of Britannia.

Prof Frere read classics and ancient history at Magdalene College, Cambridge, but it was not until the 1950s that he took up a post as lecturer in archaeology at Manchester University. He was then appointed reader in archaeology of the Roman Provinces at the Institute of Archaeology, London University, taking over from Sir Mortimer Wheeler who had retired.

During his time in St Albans he was known as a colourful character who used to arrive at the site in his vintage Rolls Royce.

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In the years that followed his time at Verulamium, he worked on many other sites until his retirement in 1983 but continued publishing works on Roman Britain until late into his life.