Rick Turner

It is with great sadness that we said goodbye in 2018 to our dear friend Rick Turner. Rick was instrumental in the development of the Living Levels programme from the early days and many of our partners and friends from the community enjoyed listening to his incredible knowledge and passion about Gwent Levels history and archaeology. His ideas have inspired many of our projects, in particular the Recapturing the Historic Landscapes project, which will launch in 2019.  We hope that these projects may inspire a new generation of pioneering archaeologists and researchers to follow in his footsteps and we deliver them in his memory and honour.

Professor Martin Bell of the University of Reading, a great friend of Rick’s and fellow contributor to the Living Levels programme, remembers Rick below.

Rick Turner, BA, FSA, PhD, OBE

Rick Turner played a key role in the setting up of the Living Levels Project advising on Heritage aspects, it was an area and topic on which he was passionate. This was the final part of his very substantial contribution to coastal and wetland archaeological research in Wales, particularly in the Severn Estuary. In this he was a facilitator, encourager and, when necessary, an activist. He also made many other major contributions to archaeology in Wales and beyond.

Rick came from Burrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Perhaps the striking coastal landscape and evident environmental changes there later helped him to appreciate the significance of those attributes in other areas. A different aspect of Barrow, maritime engineering, almost captured his career. He went up to Cambridge initially to study engineering but changed after a year to complete his degree in Archaeology and Anthropology. On graduation he worked as an assistant in Archaeology at Lancaster University, then as an archaeological surveyor for British Gas on the North Sea gas supply pipelines.

He moved to Chester to work on historic buildings listing, then became County Archaeologist for Cheshire between 1984-1989. There he played a key role in many heritage projects including the analysis and publication of the Chester Rows (Brown et al 1999) and the study of East Cheshire Textile Mills. Most internationally significant of his Cheshire projects was the discovery of the Lindow Man bog bodies. The British Museum led by Dr Ian Stead was involved in the subsequent analysis along with bioarchaeological specialists JB Bourke and Don Brothwell. An exceptionally wide range of scientific techniques was deployed in the study of the Lindow bodies in the first monograph (Stead et al 1986) and a subsequent monograph edited by Turner and Scaife (1995). These studies between them set new standards which have transformed the analysis of bog bodies in North West Europe and preserved human remains worldwide. None of this would have come about without Rick’s attention to detail in recovering the bodies and his willingness to involve such a range of scientists in their study.

In 1989 Rick moved to Cadw as Inspector of Ancient Monuments. His colleague at Cadw Jonathan Berry writes of Rick’s sense of responsibility for the publically funded projects which he managed and his determination to ensure that decision making was on the best possible advice. He was colleagially minded, helping and supporting the new generation of inspectors. He made a major contribution to Cadw’s Conservation Principles and after retirement as Inspector worked with the Bill team for 2 years on the Historic Environment Wales Act. These many contributions ensure that his legacy is soundly preserved in all aspects of Cadw’s work in monuments, positive case outcomes, published Conservation Principles and many other ways.   

He was responsible for the recording and analysis of some of the most important historic buildings in Wales, including St Davids Bishops Palace (Turner 2000), Chepstow Castle (Turner 2004; Turner and Johnson 2006) and work on Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road (Quartermaine et al 2003). He played a leading role in three award winning conservation projects: Plas Mawr, Conwy; Ty Mawr, Powys; and St David’s Bishops Palace, Pembrokeshire. He wrote the Cadw guides to two of these and several of Cadw’s other medieval properties.

In his work at Cadw he was able to draw on his Lindow experience to encourage research on wetland and environmental archaeology.  He oversaw an environmental archaeology contract which was run by Astrid Caseldine at what was then St David’s University Collage, Lampeter. He was the Inspector responsible for archaeological work in the Welsh Severn Estuary and oversaw many significant wetland excavations including Caldicot, and Magor Pill, led by Mr (now Professor) Nigel Nayling and excavations at Goldcliff, Peterstone and Redwick led by the writer. He was alert to the importance of the historic reclaimed wetland landscape behind the seawalls and the value of preserving the distinctive landscape characteristics of that area.  He commissioned Dr (now Professor) Steven Rippon to undertake a landscape- and map-based retrogressive analysis of the Gwent Levels. This was a pioneering study in historic landscape characterisation which has led to the more effective preservation of historic landscapes in this area and more widely. Of the 9 monographs published on Severn Estuary archaeology Rick Turner was responsible for commissioning the work included in 6 of them (the others being in Somerset, or in the case of Barland’s Farm commercially funded).  Alongside others he also played a part in ensuring the recovery, analysis and ongoing conservation of the Newport Ship for which very substantial resources were provided by the Welsh Assembly Government.  

Rick was a key member of the Steering Committee of the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee for 28 years from 1990 until his death and played a very active role in everything it did.  He always said he was involved in this because it was fun and that positive sense of enjoyment permeated his work generally. He helped organise a conference in Abergavenny in 2000 which took stock of a decade of archaeological research in the Estuary and looked to the future (Rippon 2000) and also organised a subsequent conference in 2010 at the National Museum Cardiff on the theme of Fishing and Ships. He also edited Archaeology in the Severn Estuary vols 21 and 22.

Rick Turner was somebody who got things done. When the Second Severn Crossing was being planned, there was an obvious need for archaeological survey of the area affected. No intertidal survey took place on the English side. On the Welsh side Derek Upton had already made some discoveries and expressions of interest for archaeological survey were solicited. None of those submitted proved appropriate; one proposed direction by an archaeologist standing on the seawall with binoculars. Rather than give up Rick stepped up to the plate and undertook direction of the survey himself, assisted by Stephen Godbold and others. The results were impressive: the discovery of many medieval fish traps and some woven baskets (Godbold and Turner 1994).  Subsequently medieval fish traps have been found widely round the British and Irish coasts. He published more widely on medieval fish traps and the value of preserving traditional fishing practice. Later when heavy erosion around the bridge led to exposure of many more medieval fish traps he commissioned Dr Alex Brown to undertake recording and analysis and later also commissioned Alex to do a palaeoenvironmental survey of the Wentwood.

Rick was awarded an OBE in 2012 for services to the ancient monuments of Wales and retired from Cadw in 2014. Since then he has continued to be involved in the study of historic buildings and has helped Gwent Wildlife Trust and The Royal Society for Protection of Birds on a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for the Living Levels Project which was successfully launched just before his death. As if further proof were needed of his polymathic qualities, another of his retirement projects was a PhD thesis in the History Department at Swansea University ‘Sir Gawain, the Virgin Mary and St Winefride: cult and chivalry in the late Middle Ages’. The PhD was awarded 2 weeks before his death which followed a battle with cancer.  

Rick was an essentially modest and understated person who did so much to encourage and facilitate the work of others. He was able, perhaps more successfully than anybody else of his generation, to combine the increasingly demanding duties of Inspector of Ancient Monuments with his own original and pioneering research and publication conducted to the highest academic standards. The historic buildings and landscapes of Wales, as well as all coastal and wetland archaeologists, will be forever in his debt.

Prof. Martin Bell


  • A. Brown, P. de Figueiredo, R. Harris, J. Grenville, J. Laughton, A. Thacker and R. Turner, 1999, The Rows of Chester, English Heritage.
  • S. Godbold and R. C. Turner 1994, ‘Medieval Fishtraps in the Severn Estuary’, Medieval Archaeology, 38, 19-54.
  • J Quartermaine, B Trinder and R C Turner 2003, Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road: The A5 in north Wales, CBA Research Report, no 135.
  • S.J. Rippon 2000 Estuarine Archaeology: the Severn and Beyond. Archaeology in the Severn Estuary 11. Exeter: SELRC.
  • I M Stead, D Brothwell and J Bourke 1986, Lindow Man: the Body in the Bog, British Museum Press.
  • R C Turner and R Scaife (eds) 1997 Bog Bodies: New Discoveries and New Perspectives, British Museum Press.
  • R C Turner 2000, ‘St Davids Bishops Palace’, Antiquaries Journal, 80, 147- 236
  • R C Turner 2004, ‘The Great Tower, Chepstow Castle, Wales’, Antiquaries Journal, 84, 1-96
  • R C Turner and A Johnson (eds) 2006, Chepstow Castle: its history and buildings, Logaston Press.
Rick Turner leading guided walk at History Day, 2016.

Rick Turner leading guided walk at History Day, 2016.