Born Margaret Markham Dean in London in 1911, Peggy spent much of her childhood in the Falkland Islands where her father was in government. Here she learned several useful skills, including sewing and how to strip down, load, and fire a Lee Enfield. Educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, and the Polytechnic School of Speech and Dramatic Art, she eventually became an actress, touring Britain under the name of Peggy Dean. During these years she met and became friends with many of the literary personalities of the day. At this time she was briefly married to an actor called Richard Meadows White, with whom she had a son and a daughter.
When the war began, Peggy was rejected by the Home Guard because she was a woman. She got her revenge by actually training many of the early recruits in rifle-drill. She relished this, though when it became known by those in authority , she was relegated to being in charge of collecting clothes for bombed-out civilians, under the aegis of the Home Guard.
How she entered archaeology we never discovered. She appears in the background of a picture of Mortimer Wheeler at Maiden Castle, and we knew she dug with him after the war. Peggy was never forthcoming about her origins in archaeology, but her friends eventually discovered that she had worked as a supervisor for Wheeler. Before this she had done the archaeological rounds of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and when prompted could relate hilarious and scandalous tales about well-respected archaeologists.
Peggy was a meticulous digger, and a brilliant tutor. It was said of her that she out-Wheelered Wheeler. Several of her protégés became supervisors on some of the major digs of the 1960s, including Mucking, Sutton Hoo (second dig under Rupert Bruce-Mitford & Paul Ashbee), West Stow, and Silbury Hill. She worked as deputy director for archaeologists like Paul Ashbee and Laurence Butler, and unfailingly supported her husband Kenneth (married in 1962) in his career in archaeology.
The couple retired to Alderney in 1967, and immediately were press-ganged into directing a dig on an Iron Age site there. I suspect that little arm-twisting was required! Kenneth died in 1989, and Peggy moved into genealogical research into island families. Characteristically, she was brilliant at this too. She died in 2004, shortly after handing over the reins of the island’s genealogical database.
Post and photo by Eric Houlder