My Brighton: John Funnell

October 30, 2017

Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society

 

 Photo by Adam Bronkhorst

 

Are you local?

 

Yes, born and bred. In the early days we lived up Elm Grove, then my family moved to the new housing estate at Lower Bevendean in about 1952. I lived there until I got married, then we moved up to Seven Dials, down to Park Crescent, then to Islingword Road before moving out to Coldean in 1978. 


What do you like about the place?

 

It’s a diverse, vibrant place. We had a gentleman from London who joined our digs, as he did in all the towns from Hastings to Torquay, and he always said that Brighton is there all year. So many of the other places shut down in the winter months but Brighton never shuts down.


How did you get interested in archaeology?

 

Through a book at school, Six Great Archaeologists. I read the book and that was it, I was hooked. I didn’t do anything other than reading until 1985, when I joined a class called Introduction to Archaeology, at Brighton College of Technology. It was led by my mentor, David Rudling, and after two terms he said ‘if you want to, you can come digging’, so I went along to an excavation in Worthing. I’ve been involved ever since. 


What are the most important archaeological sites around Brighton?

 

Whitehawk Hill is probably the earliest known settlement, dating back to around 3500 BC. Excavations in the 1920s and 30s revealed a couple of female burials, a complete burial of a roe deer, and decorated pottery. The earliest pottery found in the country is from Hembury in Devon, but the earliest decorated pottery comes from Stone Age Brighton. Hollingbury hill-fort is the second most important site, it dates back to the Iron Age; about 700 BC. The major digs in Brighton that I’ve been involved with are in Stanmer Park and at Ovingdean. The Stanmer dig was started in 1946 when two locals started digging on a hunch and, in the first morning, found a cemetery. In 1987 we cut a small trench in the nearby field and found loads of archaeology. There were seven burials, which are believed to be Saxon, and nearby we found Roman items and evidence of farming activity. At Ovingdean, in a field just north of the church, there are lots of lumps and bumps. In 2002 we dug some test pits and found a very complicated picture with finds dating it from the Saxon to medieval times.


What’s the most interesting thing you’ve dug up?

 

I’ve always been right next to the person… I’m going to write a book ‘The things I would have found if I’d been in the next pit’. We’ve found lovely Roman brooches, coins, and a nice bronze piece from a Roman horse harness. It’s amazing to think that the last person to touch that lived two or three thousand years ago.


What do you like to do at the weekend?

 

I go on digs on Saturdays. On Sundays I like pottering in the garden and walking on the Downs, but I’m always looking for things. My wife’s not particularly interested in archaeology but, if we walk past a ploughed field, even she’ll pick up flint flakes and pieces of pottery. One of the worst things about doing a walk with a group of archaeologists is, when you come across a ploughed field, everything stops. 


When did you last swim the sea?

 

The last time was around 15 years ago; I must confess that I prefer the pool. When I was aged between ten and fifteen, I practically lived on Dalton’s Beach, to the east of the Palace Pier. It was wonderful. 

 

brightonarch.org.uk

 

 

Photo by Adam Bronkhorst

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