An Appreciation for Donald Haigh (by Eric Houlder, Trustee)

Posted on 29/Apr/2018 Under Blog, News

In 1971, I expressed my desire to resign the post of Roman Roads Co-ordinator for the Roman Antiquities Section of the YAS. I had held the post for five years, had directed one dig at Ilkley, and was about to start a family with Joan, my wife. I was gratified to discover that Donald had volunteered to take over. Though I had never met him, I had heard of him, and we had much in common besides Roman roads, as we were both schoolmasters.

We arranged to spend a day together on his current dig on Margary 712. I was supposed to advise Donald, but found that he had little to learn, though I was able to help the recording of the site using photo-planning. Less than a month later, our daughter was born and amongst the first visitors were Donald and Vera, his wife.

We remained in touch, and much later, in the 1980s, as PontArc dug Margary 28b in several locations around Thorpe Audlin, Donald visited the digs as often as he could. His input and advice were invaluable, whilst his completely waterproof outfit, more suited to the high moors around Saddleworth than the softer climes of the Went valley, added much colour to my progress photographs.

Donald Haigh on site. Photograph by Eric Houlder.

For many years Donald was a regular attendee at the Council for British Archaeology Group 4 Annual Symposium (which was the previous name for CBA Yorkshire – Alistair, Acting Digital Comms Officer). Like me, he was an early member of the Group, joining shortly after the CBA allowed individual members to join the regional groups. We both looked forward to catching up on news of Roman roads, and both reported on our respective digs at the events.

It is little known that Donald had taught David Hockney when the latter was a pupil at Bradford Grammar School. He asked me to photograph an artwork by the latter, but could not bring himself to remove it from its frame, and I was unwilling to risk a valuable signed original, so the photograph was never taken.

Our last field contact occurred when PontArc discovered a milestone of Florianus. Donald’s visit to the site at Hundhill just happened to be on the day that Yorkshire Television chose to film the dig. He was as excited as any of the participants, being more fully aware of the rarity of the discovery. Following his publication of the stone in the RAS Bulletin, I heard from him less frequently, and apparently he gradually withdrew from active participation.

Donald Haigh (left) in 1972. Photograph by Eric Houlder.

The death of Vera, his wife and soulmate, hit him hard, as his letters and telephone calls amply demonstrated. He had arranged to leave all his records and photographs to the YAS, but his death during the disposal of Claremont and the re-allocation of the YAS library and collection meant that most of his ephemera was lost to posterity. Luckily, much of the significant material was published, but the invaluable collection of photographs and plans disappeared.

Donald Haigh was very much a man of his times: a schoolmaster/archaeologist whose enthusiasm encouraged many pupils and evening class students into archaeology as a pastime or even as a career. His knowledge of Roman roads was extensive, as was his mastery of the techniques of excavation. He will be missed.

Eric Houlder

Past Chairman, CBA(Y), Past Editor, Heritage Photography, Chairman PontArc. Supervisor, Sutton Hoo, 1968-9.