9th March 2015:
With colleagues up and down the country, Oxford Archaeology was saddened to hear of the death of Professor Sheppard Frere at the age of 98 on February 26th. For a generation of Romano-British archaeologists, amongst others, he was a dominant figure, and Britannia: a history of Roman Britain, first published in 1967, was the fundamental text. This appeared just after his appointment as Professor of the Archaeology of the Roman Empire at Oxford in 1966, a post which he held until his retirement in 1983.
His archaeological association with the Oxford region had meanwhile begun in 1962, when he undertook the first of two seasons of excavation at Dorchester on Thames, in advance of anticipated development which, in the event, happily never materialised. The scale of these excavations, while modest, provided a level of information about the origins and development of this Roman small town which formed a basis for many of the issues identified as research questions when Oxford Archaeology and the Institute of Archaeology established a programme of research and training excavations at Dorchester in 2007. The principal excavation undertaken under this programme is in an area partly examined by Professor Frere in 1963 and he took a keen interest in this work, visiting as recently as last summer.
Perhaps less well-known is Professor Frere's role in relation to Oxford Archaeology itself. From its inception, as the Oxfordshire Archaeological Unit, in 1973, OA (as it is now) was the 'operating arm' of the new, consolidated Oxfordshire Archaeological Committee, initially chaired by Professor Barry Cunliffe. In due course Professor Frere was asked to chair the Committee and took up this post in 1978, serving until 1990 when he retired. At this point, changes in the operations of what was by then the Oxford Archaeological Unit, not least those consequent on the introduction of PPG16, resulted in reorganisation of unit management structures. Professor Frere was succeeded as chairman of the Committee by another eminent Romanist, Professor Peter Salway.
Professor Frere's term as chair of the Oxfordshire Archaeological Committee ensured continuity over a very significant period in the development of 'the Unit', with major changes in terms of size, scope of operations and aspects of professional practice. Development was not always straightforward and the presence of a firm hand at the Committee's tiller was an important factor in ensuring the continued success of the organisation. Whether we were there at the time or not, we are all immensely grateful for this contribution.