Oxbow Managing Editor Dr Julie Gardiner remembers Professor Mick Aston

Everyone at Oxbow has been shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Professor Mick Aston. I can’t remember when I first met Mick but it must be more than 25 years ago and while I would never claim to have been a close mate, like everyone else I know, I always considered him to be a friend because he had time and energy for everyone (except Conservative politicians). He was a brilliant field archaeologist – his observational skills were unsurpassed and he could ‘read’ a landscape like few others and then translate it into simple words and descriptions that anyone could understand. His enthusiasm was infectious, he was a fantastic communicator on all levels and he inspired several generations of archaeologists and landscape historians – professional and amateur alike. Time Team would have been nothing without him (and his jumpers). And unlike most archaeologists (who are a fractious bunch) I have never heard a bad word said about Mick.

Oxbow recently published his latest book Interpreting the English Village: Landscape and Community at Shapwick, Somerset , co-written with Dr Christopher Gerrard,  which epitomises not only the quality and scholarship of Mick’s work but also his whole-hearted embrace of public involvement in tracing the history of their own community through active participation in fieldwork and research.  That commitment to public archaeology will be a major part of his legacy.

Richard  Brunning, Mick, and Stephen Minnitt at the recent book  launch in Taunton
Richard Brunning, Mick, and Stephen Minnitt at the recent book launch in Taunton

Just 4 weeks ago I had the pleasure of Mick’s company at a launch for the book at the Somerset Museum in Taunton. He was on great form. We began with a jolly lunch in the museum café where Mick, with his characteristically wicked good humour and notoriously left-wing views, put the world to rights on several points and pontificated on the demise of his arch-Nemesis Margaret Thatcher. In his familiar West Midlands accent , in the driest and most matter of fact tones, he had us rolling on the floor with his description of marching into his local shop demanding champagne (which he didn’t usually drink) with which to celebrate her passing and explaining to a clearly bemused and horrified shopkeeper why he needed it so urgently!

Like everyone who knew him we at Oxbow will miss him greatly. We always looked forward to his visits – his good humour and general bonhomie; his occasional grumpiness over a cup of coffee at some government or bureaucratic misdemeanor; watching Teresa trying to keep his book buying under control (he was like a kid in a sweetshop) and, when in serious discussion about his publications, his attention to detail, meticulous editing, and determination to produce books that people would actually want to read. Which they certainly do.

'And another thing'
‘And another thing’ – Mick discusses the finer points of medieval landscape archaeology with Richard Brunning while signing a copy of his book (or maybe they were trying to decide which cake to have with tea afterwards)

The internet is deservedly alive with tributes to a unique character which we hope will be a great comfort to Mick’s partner Teresa, who is in all our thoughts.