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Former director of Fishbourne Roman Palace who grew up near Grantham has died at the age of 78

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A former Grantham man who became museum director of Fishbourne Roman Palace has died at the age of 78.

David Rudkin spent his early years living in Buckminster and working in Grantham. He attended Melton Mowbray Grammar School until the age of 16 when he left to take up a job as a draughtsman at Aveling Barford.

He studied for ONC and HNC Mechanical Engineering at Grantham Technical College, but he became interested in archaeology and was involved in a number of local digs, one of them being the excavation of a medieval grange in Buckminster.

David Rudkin (50842777)
David Rudkin (50842777)

An evening class in archaeology at Lincoln Museum furthered his enthusiasm and made him think that he could become a professional. With the encouragement of his evening class teacher who was also the curator of Lincoln Museum, he applied for a degree course in Archaeology and Ancient History at Sheffield University where he gained an upper second.

During his years in Grantham he had joined the Young Conservatives, not from any political beliefs but because it was the only decent social club for young people in town. There he met Sue Beckwith and in 1969, while he was still a student, they were married. They spent their honeymoon on an archaeological excavation of a Tell mound in north east Greece and, having very little money, they drove all the way there and back in David’s beat up old Ford Anglia.

After graduating, David spent a year at Leicester University studying for his Museum Diploma and then took up his first post as Curator of Archaeology at Southsea Museum. From then on his career lay in the south of England but he never forgot the debt he owed to his colleagues in Grantham.

David Rudkin at work. (50842779)
David Rudkin at work. (50842779)

After five successful years at Southsea Castle he was appointed as the second only museum director of the relatively newly discovered Roman Palace at Fishbourne and for the rest of his career he developed and extended the range of provision at the site, making it into an exciting tourist experience as well as a national resource for Roman historians.

David’s enthusiasm for life long education was instrumental in ensuring that the palace had strong links with the community and particularly with young people. He continued to conduct excavations on the site alongside his job as director.

David Rudkin had a passion for history and archaeology. (50842781)
David Rudkin had a passion for history and archaeology. (50842781)

He was a frequent contributor to TV and radio programmes like Time Team and Blue Peter as well as writing for journals. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary MA by Chichester University. Even after his retirement in 2008, he continued to work as a volunteer dressing up in his characteristic toga as part of bringing history alive.

The last years of David's life were blighted by Parkinson’s disease and he died last month. He leaves behind a son, Stephen, and daughter Cressida.

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