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My Cardiff

Professor Geoff Wainwright

Eminent archaeologist and author Professor Geoff Wainwright provides an insight to his life as a Cardiff University student in 1955.

Professor Geoff Wainwright

Professor Geoff Wainwright

I came from Angle in south Pembrokeshire and went up to Cardiff in 1955 wearing my father’s raincoat and clutching a cheque for £80 which was my grant that term from Pembrokeshire County Council. It was more money than I had ever seen before. A hostel was out of the question - I was sure they would be full of wimps posting their laundry home to mam.

My first year at Cardiff University was a blur of student lodging houses. I was a very unruly tenant, culminating in a share with eight medical students which has prejudiced me against that noble profession for life. Everything was secondary to my social life, particularly the University Rugby Club for whom I played twice each week home and away, leaving little time for anything else. Trams ran through Cardiff and Saturday night was incomplete without a precarious journey for a Chinese meal in Tiger Bay; which on one occasion was paid for with my blazer!

Somehow I emerged in 1956 still part of the student body and read Archaeology which is my lifelong profession and passion. The Department was then based in Corbett Road and the course was unrelenting in its pragmatism and preparation for a future career in the subject. Only three of us took the course and to this day I can recognise a piece of Dragendorf 18 Roman Samian pottery at 20 paces on a dark night!

Every weekend we made the trip out to Dinas Powys for the departmental excavation. Cardiff Bus Station at 9 am on a Sunday morning after a heavy night on Worthington E and a dodgy Chinese meal left an indelible impression on me and on the tarmac, but it has also given the legacy of being impervious to my physical comfort and condition - very useful in Beirut and Albania!

My social life was now limited to my passion for archaeology. My embryonic rugby career was in ruins but I compensated by becoming a travelling supporter of the women’s water polo team.

My political philosophy was shaped indelibly by the Suez debacle and a speech by Nye Bevan in Sophia Gardens. I went on my first protest march with the captain of the water polo team, carrying a blazing torch in one hand and clutching her with the other.

The city may have changed - gone is the cinema where I saw Bill Haley and his Comets perform and the Old Arcade is a shadow of its former self - but I can still see the blossom in Cathays Park, Cardiff Market on a Friday morning and the river. In 1958 I had to choose between Cardiff and London. My head took me to London where in the wilderness of the Euston Road my heart yearned for a pint of Felin Foel. But that is another story…

Geoff Wainwright is the President of the Society of Antiquaries and Chair of Wessex Archaeology. Born in Pembrokeshire he studied in Cardiff and London and was a Professor of Archaeology in India before becoming Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage. As such he has been at the centre of debates and discoveries for the past four decades. He has undertaken many excavations in England and Wales including Stonehenge. On leaving English Heritage in 1999 he set up a field project in north Pembrokeshire – in partnership with Tim Darvill of the University of Bournemouth – to investigate why the bluestones were brought from Preseli to Wiltshire to build the first stone monument at Stonehenge. He is the author of over 100 books and articles and has held a number of honorary positions including Cardiff University and is an honorary member of the Institute of Field Archaeology. The British Academy have awarded him the Grahame Clark medal for contributions to the study of British Prehistory

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