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BRITARCH-NEWS  September 2001

BRITARCH-NEWS September 2001

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Subject:

Obit of Jean Cook, archaeologist and museum curator

From:

Mike Heyworth <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Mike Heyworth <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 22 Sep 2001 13:28:43 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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From: Liz Walder [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: 19 September 2001 15:05

Unfortunately Jean Cook, archaeologist and museum curator, died back in
July.

I only found out today and therefore enclose her obit here for those of you
that may have known her.

Apologies for cross-posting:

Jean Mary Cook
Jean Mary Cook, FSA, teacher, archaeologist, museum curator and university
administrator: born Walmley, Warwickshire, 23 December 1927; died Oxford, 24
July 2001.

Jean Cook was an Anglo-Saxon archaeologist of distinction who used her
considerable gifts as a pioneer administrator in museums and higher
education. Far more important than just knowing about organizations and how
they worked, she cared about people and cared for them. She was always as
much at ease with support staff or students as with professional colleagues.
She played a crucial role in the establishment of the Oxfordshire County
Museum and the South Region of the Open University. She was also a skilled
enabler who helped other archaeologists and historians to bring their
research to publication, often at the expense of her own work.

Jean Cook was born at Walmley, near Birmingham, in 1927. She went to school
at the High School for Girls in Sutton Coldfield, where she concentrated on
science. She was determined to go to university, rather to the consternation
of her mother. Her first degree, at Royal Holloway College, was in botany.
On graduating she went on to the Institute of Education, London, where she
was awarded her Education Diploma in 1950. She began her teaching career at
the Frances Mary Buss Foundation Camden School for Girls, where she taught
botany. In her spare time she studied at Birkbeck College for a BA in
English, with archaeology as a subsidiary subject. Her archaeological course
tutor at Birkbeck was Vera Evison. This introduction to archaeology was to
be a turning point and henceforward archaeology became the central
enthusiasm of her life.

She excavated with Vera Evison at Great Chesterford in 1954 and spent a
season in Helgö in Sweden. In 1955 she conducted the excavation of a small
Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Broadway Hill in Worcestershire for the then
Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. The report was meticulously
published three years later in the Antiquaries Journal and she was able to
demonstrate the early nature of Anglo-Saxon settlement in the West Midlands.


She began her second, and distinguished, career in museums in 1954 when she
went to work at the Guildhall Museum, London, under Norman Cook. She
published work on early medieval finds from the museum. She completed her
part-time BA degree and began to work for a higher degree. Her research was
on the down-to-earth subject of the wooden buckets sometimes found amongst
the grave goods in Anglo-Saxon burials. She began to collect and record
material on these and continued to do so all her life. She was particularly
interested in the technical details of their manufacture.

In 1958 she was promoted to the curatorship at the Royal Museum, Canterbury,
where she set about modernizing the collection. After completing a Museum
Diploma in 1960 she was appointed the curator of the new museum in
Chichester in 1962. She built up the collection from scratch and the
material was displayed in a converted historic building, which included a
flat for the curator. 

The Chichester experience was to prove valuable when in 1964 she moved to
the challenging post of first Director of the Oxford City and County Museum.
Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum had effectively fulfilled the function
of the local museum, but the need for a specifically locally focused museum
had long been recognized. She set about the task of establishing a model
museum with energy and enthusiasm: collecting representative objects for
display and establishing an excellently equipped conservation laboratory,
under Brian Arthur, capable of handling not only delicate archaeological
objects, but also farm machinery. Pride of place went to the typical red and
yellow Oxfordshire farm wagon restored by David Smith, which became one of
the centrepieces of the early display at Fletcher's House at Woodstock. In
1965 she was elected to a fellowship of the Museums Association. The new
museum opened its doors on 15 October 1966. As at Chichester, a small flat
was created for her in the attics of Fletcher's House, and once again she
'lived above the shop'. 

Two aspects of the museum deserve special mention. She was a strong advocate
of the need for the museum to become accessible to schoolchildren. Jeff
McCabe was appointed Schools Officer in 1965 and a Schools' Loan Service was
quickly established. Stacks of red painted boxes containing a treasure trove
of material for children to handle in their own schools became a familiar
sight at Fletcher's House. 
Even more pioneering was the establishment of the Field Department under its
first Field Officer, Don Benson. Both Jean Cook and Don Benson believed that
the new museum should be actively involved in research through excavation.
This led to the excavation of the Neolithic long barrow at
Ascott-under-Wychwood, which was threatened by road building; parts of its
re-erected burial chamber were displayed in the museum. Even more
significant was the creation of the first County Sites and Monuments Record,
which provided the county with an accessible record of its archaeology
(stored on optical coincidence cards in those pre-computer days) and
available not only for research, but as a tool in planning. Following the
pioneering Oxfordshire example, county or district Sites and Monuments
Records are now ubiquitous in the UK and indeed may soon become a statutory
requirement of local government.

A spin-off of this activity was the authorship by Don Benson and Jean Cook
in 1966 of City of Oxford Redevelopment Archaeological Implications. The
report was not intended to be an exhaustive survey of the archaeological
knowledge of Oxford, nor was it intended primarily for archaeologists and
historians. It was an attempt to provide basic information for those who
were directly concerned with planning in the city. It succeeded admirably in
its aim. The publication was the first in what became a national genre of
implication surveys and is the ancestor of the Urban Archaeology Databases
and Strategies and Extensive Urban Surveys currently being promoted by
English Heritage.

Jean Cook realized that the scale of excavations necessary in Oxford could
seriously effect the focus of the fledgling museum and would also require
resources that might not be available to the local authority alone.
Accordingly, she actively promoted the formation of the Oxford
Archaeological Excavation Committee as a rare example of the city, the
county and the university coming together in a joint project to rescue
Oxford's buried past. The success of the excavations in Oxford was to lead
later to the formation of similar archaeological committees in the county
and ultimately to the creation of the highly successful Oxford
Archaeological Unit, on whose committee she was later to serve. 

The creation of a new museum was an extraordinarily exciting enterprise for
all those associated with it and she became a highly respected part of the
museum world both locally and nationally as a member of the Council of the
Museums Association. A glowing report on the museum by the then head of the
Department of Museum Studies at Leicester University appeared in The Museums
Journal, which commended Jean Cook's zeal, the team-working, the new
thinking and the new museum image that had been created. The museum appeared
to be going from strength to strength, its future was assured and proposals
were in hand for a branch museum in Oxford, a farm museum and a permanent
site for storage. But budget cuts began and she became increasingly
frustrated that it was no longer possible to sustain the initial momentum.
In spite of the support of her committee, and in particular John Edwards,
its secretary, she was not prepared to contemplate the compromises that were
going to become inevitable. To her colleagues' surprise and deep regret Jean
Cook resigned from the museum in 1970. It was to be left to her successor,
Richard (later Sir Richard) Foster, to carry forward the work that she had
so ably begun.

Jean Cook left the Woodstock museum to begin a new career as a university
administrator, working as Assistant Regional Director for the South Region
of the Open University (OU), which had been founded the year before. She was
enthusiastic about wanting to be involved in developing the new educational
opportunities it offered. Crucial to the success of those pioneering years
of the OU was the need to secure the active co-operation of numerous
organizations, especially local education authorities, universities and
other institutions of higher, further and adult education. This was not just
a matter of politics: there were important educational and administrative
objectives to be met, such as the setting up of local study centres and the
creation around them of meaningful 'university communities'. All of this had
to be achieved in a very short time-scale. She had a great concern for the
supply of the academic needs of the students under her care: she had to make
sure that they had tutors for all their courses and a counsellor, and had to
arrange registration, examination and summer schools. But, perhaps more
importantly, her regional office was there to make the OU more personal and
less a faceless institution for students studying at home. Her own previous
experience as a part-time student made her especially qualified for this
work. Jean Cook brought to the OU a unique combination of professional
experience, administrative skills, enthusiasm and warm personality in
helping to meet these challenges. 

She retired from the Open University in 1983, followed by a year's study
leave. She once again became actively involved in archaeology in Oxford. In
the first instance she brought her considerable talents to assisting Trevor
Rowley at the Oxford University Department for External Studies in
developing his extensive archaeological programme for continuing education
students. She had herself helped to persuade the Department to appoint a
full-time archaeology tutor when she had been at Woodstock. As an Associate
Tutor of the Department she helped to introduce a rigour to the embryonic
certificate courses in archaeology. In particular, she forged links between
the Department and the Open University that allowed a structure of courses
to be created, ranging from intermediate to post-graduate level. She thus
was able to combine her love of archaeology with experiences gained at the
Open University and to bring a special element of pastoral care to the
students at Rewley House, who were devoted to her. A lasting legacy of this
period was a volume of essays entitled The Archaeology of the Oxford Region,
which she edited with Grace Briggs and Trevor Rowley. An important part of
her role in this collaboration was to cajole reluctant authors into
completing publishable texts based on what were originally University
Extension Lectures, given in 1980. The resulting book provides an important
benchmark for the region's archaeology and has fulfilled the editors' wishes
of providing a volume of scholarship that has survived into the 21st
century. A similar co-operation with Trevor Rowley led to Dorchester through
the Ages in 1985. Other local studies followed of buried Oxford, Old
Headington (with Leslie Taylor), of Sutton Courtenay (building on the
research of John Fletcher and Christopher Currie), and of Great Marlow,
which was compiled with the help of an adult education group. Jean Cook was
the driving force behind these publications, which made archaeology and
local history available to a wide audience.

At the same time, and also with Grace Briggs, Jean Cook was assisting Dr J N
L Myres to bring to fruition the final volume of The Oxford History of
England, entitled The English Settlements. As Dr Myres put it, they
'collaborated most generously and efficiently in relieving me of nearly all
the tiresome and time-consuming incidentals of authorship'. The trio
collaborated again, but this time with the addition of Dr John Mason, to
produce The Building Accounts of Christ Church Library 1716-1779, published
by the Roxburghe Club in 1988. Dr Myres described Jean Cook as his 'Girl
Friday', a role that was made even more apt when she established her
allotment in the grounds of the Myres' manor house at Kennington.

In addition to her adult education work and facilitating the publication of
the research of others, Jean Cook found time to be involved with
archaeological societies at a local and national level. She was Honorary
Secretary of the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society from 1985
to1990, organizing the Society's 150th birthday celebrations in 1989, which
included a dinner in Corpus Christi College and a notable joint meeting with
the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in Stamford. She was President of this
Society between 1992 and 1994. During this time the Society underwent a
renaissance which was very much due to Jean Cook's concern for the needs of
the membership. She was also a life member of the Oxford Preservation Trust,
serving on the Environmental Awards Panel. 

In 1993 she became a member of the Council of the Society of Antiquaries of
London, to which she had been elected as a Fellow in 1967. In 1996 she
agreed to become the Society's Honorary Secretary and was the first woman to
hold this post. In her typical forthright way she announced that she would
hold the post for three years only. During those three years she certainly
made her mark. She took a particular interest in the welfare of the
Society's staff and made the Society's Library at Burlington House her
special concern. The successful computerization of the Library's catalogue
and its recent availability on the web is a tribute to her interest, while
her background in museum conservation led to her encouragement for the
conservation of the Library's books.

After her three years' service she retained her connection with the
Antiquaries through her active involvement with a research project sponsored
by the Society to understand the evolution of the landscape around Kelmscott
Manor in Oxfordshire. Typically Jean Cook was anxious to involve and to
inform the residents of Kelmscott and make the work of scholarship relevant
to them.

For the last twenty years of her life Jean Cook was a resident of the newly
developed area of St Ebbe's in Oxford. From the beginning she was an active
member of the community there. She helped to found the St Ebbe's New
Development Residents' Association, known as SENDRA. She acted as chairman
and secretary to the Association on several occasions, doing major work for
the public inquiry of 1997 into the building of a so-called 'Leisure
Village' in Oxpens. She established beautiful gardens to her house, which
were seen and admired by all her neighbours. She often said that her
preferred career would have been as a gardener at the Oxford Botanic
Gardens. The community showed its love and respect for her during the
illness that led to her death, by their constant and diligent help in all
her needs. 

Jean Cook was a grave and private person, full of integrity and deeply
devoted to her sister and to her sister's family. She applied rigour,
timeliness and high standards to everything that she undertook. But above
all she was selfless and always put others first. She deserved the affection
and the respect in which she was held. During her sudden, short illness she
was sustained by her strong Christian faith and the support of her friend,
Mary Hodges.

Tom Hassall FSA
9 August 2001


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Royal Institute of British Architects
66 Portland Place, London, England W1B 1AD
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