Dr David Neal at Work on a mosaic.


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There was a packed hall at our November 25th meeting, to listen to Dr David Neal’s extremely interesting talk about his Career in Archaeology.


As Peter Clayton said in his vote of thanks at the end of the evening, David Neal is very much “a local boy made good”.  Recognised as an expert in his field of Romano-British Archaeology, and particularly for his fantastically detailed drawings of mosaics, he was made a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1971 and awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters for his contribution to Romano-British villa studies in 1992. He is also a personality known to many ordinary members of the public from his appearances on the ground-breaking and extremely popular Channel 4 Time Team  archaeology programme which ran for 20 years from 1994.

 Born in North London, he and his family moved to Hemel in 1951 as part of the New Town development, and they were one of the first four families to be given one of the new houses in Adeyfield. They were subsequently invited to meet the Queen on her visit in 1952. (See photo of David meeting the Queen in Society Notes 15.)

David went to Adeyfield School for his secondary education, having first attended Leverstock Green School in Pancake Lane.   At  Adeyfield school he developed an aptitude for art and later went on to art college where he studied graphic design, gaining a national diploma in the subject.  Following art school he worked as a designer with the Eastern Gas Board. 

Having developed an interest in archaeology he helped out during the holidays at digs at Verulamium (St. Albans) with renowned archaeologist Sheppard Frere. Using his artist talents he started drawing  mosaics and other archaeological objects. (See picture below showing David working on one of his earliest mosaic pictures on site in the 1960s.)

Not finding work at the gas board particularly interesting he decided he would like to become a professional archaeologist, and was fortunate enough to be recommended by Sheppard Frere  to go for an interview  with the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate for the Ministry of Works where he obtained a post and was eventually to become in charge of the archaeological drawing office for the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments. 

In 1963, David Neal, now aged 22, was employed to lead the excavation of the Roman villa at Gadebridge, and he told us all about the site, its finds (including the large swimming pool) and conclusions reached. This was the first excavation he had directed and it was a great success. 

This was the first excavation he had directed and it was a great success. 

Between 1963 and 68 the entire villa site was excavated during the summers, following which David wrote and published a 300 page report- Extracts shown below from my recently acquired copy bought for 1p+ £2.95 p&p  - originally from English Heritage's Public reference library, but apparently no longer needed!

David returned to the site at Gadebridge in 2000, together with his son Justin to look for an earlier circular building which they found, together with evidence of a bathing pool which pre-dated the one discovered in the 60s.  The report of this work and the earlier excavation was presented by David to a capacity invited audience of 1,000 at the Hemel Hempstead Pavilion (Shown below, now long since demolished!). It was present and it was an extremely interesting evening with model f the villa, and numerous artefacts available for us to see as well as many photographs, and the chance to talk to David and others involved in the digs afterwards.

 David has also excavated Roman sites at Hemel Hempstead Station forecourt, Box Lane school, Northchurch and Gorhambury (St Albans) as well as the Medieval Royal Palace at Kings Langley.(http://www.kingslangley.org.uk/palace.html) He went on to outline the work he and his team also undertook at WoodLane End where a Romano-Celtic Mausoleum was discovered in 1966 with further excavations in 1982 & 1983. ( See http://bacchronicle.homestead.com/Roman.html#anchor_146 - see also Photo below taken at the Woodlane End Excavation in 1966.


When starting my research into Leverstock Green over 20 years ago, David was kind enough to discuss the finds with me and  gave me permission to use some of his Diagrams in my articles in “Chambersbury News”, the then parish magazine for Chambersbury, (now the Benifice of Langelei) and subsequently on my website.


David then took us into further forays into the many sites he had visited over the years both at home and abroad including his very first professional job in 1953 at Northolt with John G. Hurst. He  later collaborated with John Hurst on other digs and was co-author of “POTTERY PRODUCED AND TRADED IN N W EUROPE 1350-1650”   published in 1986. 


David finished his talk by fascinating us with the details of his current project, recording the Cosmati Pavement in Westminster Abbey, and we were privileged to see a copy of David’s finished drawing.  The pavement is magnificent, and when first laid it must have glowed with colour as David’s drawing does now. (See the Abbey report on the Pavement at http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/art/cosmati-pavement  and also: http: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/conservation/home)

N.B. Despite checking that I had the correctly updated software to play these videos on my computer, neither my husband nor I could get the videos on the latter website to work on either laptops or tablet, getting a message that “plug-in not available”! 

The evening finished with questions and a vote of thanks from Peter Clayton. The photo below shows Mike Stanyon (HHLH&MS then Chairman & Vice-President), Peter Clayton HHLH&MS Vice- President) and David Neal, all of whom have been good friends for many years.

Report by Barbara Chapman Jan 2016

with thanks to Mike Stanyon & David Neale for suggested additions and alterations.