“My thoughts and respect go out to Professor Grimes…, and to Audrey Williams, his unsung assistant in 1954 without whom he simply would not have been able to achieve as much as he did.”
That is John Shepherd summing up the work of Audrey Williams (1902-1978) in his publication on the Temple of Mithras. Audrey was a professional archaeologist who excavated and published sites throughout the Second World War and after. Although awarded much recognition during her working life, she is under-represented in today’s tales of archaeology from the era, and she is often only seen at the side-lines…Her CV is a glorious list of key sites still referred to today: Fairwood Common in Swansea, Rhosilli in Gower, Verulamium, Canterbury Roman Pavement, Barbican, Fleet Street, St Brides, and last but no means least the Temple of Mithras in London. And her colleagues and mentors were a reputable list of who’s who: Mortimer Wheeler, Sheppard Frere (cousin of Mary Leaky), Kathleen Kenyon and of course Professor William Grimes.
Audrey Williams was born Audrey Davies in 1902 in Dinas Powys, South Wales. In 1920 she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford. This was a notable year as on 9th October 1920 the Statue for Degrees for Women was enforced, finally allowing women to be awarded degrees. Prior to this women could study alongside men but not receive recognition.
Audrey graduated in 1923 with a lower second class degree in English. After graduating she returned to Swansea and took a teaching position at a local school. She soon married her first husband Percy James Williams, and although in possession of a new degree she followed the norm of the 1920’s and resigned from her post, as very few married women continued in work. This did not last long…
It was through her husband that she became involved with Swansea Museum and the Royal Institute of South Wales (RISW) , and also how she met Professor Grimes who at the time was Assistant Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum. In the 1930’s Audrey helped her husband to reorganise and catalogue ceramic collections within Swansea Museum, and went on to complete work in her own right within the Department of Antiquities. She became the Honorary Curator of Antiquities, and in 1936 compiled an accession register of all the objects, information from which is still used today. This work, and her early excavations, gained her recognition within the RISW and she was elected as a representative on the Court of Governors of the National Museum. In 1939 she was invited to be on the local committee for the British Speleological Association, for whom she organised a special exhibition. She was also a section leader for archaeology at the Swansea Scientific and Field Naturalists Society.
Between 1941 and 1944 she was appointed Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments by the Ministry of Works and Buildings. She was to excavate archaeological sites before they were developed for defences or military instillations, again working alongside Grimes. She excavated a number of sites, and in recognition of her work she was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
It was at this point she left Swansea, and moved to the Verulamium museum in St Albans. From there she began her excavation career in London and the South East. It was also during this period she divorced her first husband, and had a very short lived marriage to a second. The most notable site was that of the Temple of Mithras, which often only features the name of Grimes as the director; however Audrey was on site every day. Grimes was running another site in London at the same time, and in fact it is Audrey’s work that makes up much of the archive.
After a career comparable to many modern archaeologists in 1959 she retired from professional archaeology and, having divorced her second husband, married none other than William Grimes…
Many thanks to the RISW, particularly the editor and authors of “Audrey Williams (1902-1978)” Minerva Vol 10 Bernice Cardy, Jennifer Sabine and Gerald Gabb for their help and invaluable research.
post by Jessica Bryan – an archaeologist following in Audrey’s TrowelBlazing footsteps!
Edited by Brenna
Shepherd, J. 1999 The Temple of Mithras, London: Excavations by W.F.Grimes and A.Williams at the Walbrook.
Find out about the 60th anniversary of the excavations: http://www.mola.org.uk/blog/remembering-london%E2%80%99s-greatest-archaeological-discovery
For more information on the Temple of Mithras and recent excavations: http://walbrookdiscovery.wordpress.com/