Dorothy Greene: Archaeologist and Historian

In 1941 Dorothy Greene became the Honorary Keeper of Roman Antiquities for Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham. She was later given the Freedom of the Borough for her work with Rotherham’s heritage. What led to this great accolade? As part of our Festival of Archaeology blog series, Karl Noble, Collections Officer for Rotherham Museums, Arts and Heritage, explains all.

Dorothy developed a strong passion for local history and archaeology from a young age. In 1916, as an 18 year old, she volunteered to work on Thomas May’s excavations of the Roman fort at Templeborough. This was a public sponsored emergency excavation, as the site was needed to expand the steel works to create munitions for the First World War. The experience she gained deepened her interest in archaeology, especially that of the Roman period.

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Dorothy Green(e) and Thomas May examining finds from the excavation of the Roman Fort at Templeborough, Rotherham, 1917

Hundreds of boxes of finds were taken from the excavation to be sorted and identified, including ceramics, metal and glass. Much of this is now preserved in the collections of Rotherham Museums, Arts and Heritage. Many buildings were uncovered and recorded during the excavation, including a large stone granary. These were only viewable for a short period of time before the site was bulldozed and covered over. However, it was decided to save the remains of the Roman granary, which was moved to a new site behind Clifton Park Museum, where it can still be seen today.

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The relocated remains of the granary from Templeborough Roman fort behind Clifton Park Museum, circa 1970s

Dorothy’s first paid job was for Rotherham Borough Engineer’s Department, where she was responsible for the care of various sets of maps and recording the Corporation’s property. Part of this job was to act as an unofficial adviser for archaeological and historical discoveries within the Borough of Rotherham. She received further archaeological training for this role from a colleague in the Engineering Department. Dorothy made good use of her role, overseeing numerous excavations and making meticulous records in her notebooks.

The outbreak of the Second World War took her back to the site of her first archaeological experience – the Roman Fort at Templeborough, this time driven by the need to build air raid shelters for the steel works. Dorothy took the opportunity to record and collect more archaeological evidence of Roman life in Rotherham. Many of her finds from the excavation were placed in the museum.

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Dorothy Greene at Clifton Park Museum, as Honorary Keeper of Roman Antiquities

Dorothy’s experience and enthusiasm led to her becoming the Honorary Keeper of Roman Antiquities at the museum in 1946. She was interested in all things Roman and wrote many articles, journals and books on the topic. Dorothy was given an honorary degree by Sheffield University in 1960 for her research.

Roman archaeology was not Dorothy’s only passion. She also wanted to share her interest in the history of Rotherham and the local area. It was during Dorothy’s time as Keeper that the museum’s focus changed, from educating people about the world as a whole, to telling the story of Rotherham and the people who lived there. Working together with Freda Crowder, Rotherham’s archivist, she wrote a history of Rotherham aimed at the general public. Whilst, carrying out her research, she also looked at her own family history and background. As a result of this she changed her name from Green to Greene. This is the reason we often see her surname with different spellings.

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Dorothy Greene’s ‘History of Rotherham’ written with Freda Crowder

Upon her 70th Birthday in 1968, Dorothy requested that her role as Honorary Keeper wasn’t ended just because of her age. She went on to receive the Freedom of the Borough in 1971 as a token of appreciation for her work. Dorothy devoted her life to studying and preserving the archaeology and local history of the Borough and remained an active historian until her death in 1998. In 2018 a number of objects connected with her life and work were displayed at Clifton Park Museum, as part of the museum’s 125th anniversary celebrations.

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A selection of artefacts connected with Dorothy Greene on display at Clifton Park Museum in 2018

Did you know that many of the objects collected by Dorothy Greene are on display at Clifton Park Museum in the Library and Early Rotherham galleries? This includes some of her site notebooks. Further information on Dorothy is also available to view on request by contacting Rotherham Archives. Visit our website for more details.

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