Review – The Pilgrimages of Hadrian’s Wall 1849-2019: a history

3 mins read

David J. Breeze
Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Historical Society, £10
ISBN 978-1873124840
Review Nick Hodgson

To obtain this book, write to Ian Caruana, 10 Peter Street, Carlisle, CA3 8QP, phone 01228 544120, or email [email protected]

The decennial Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall is an act of veneration for the most-substantial Roman monument in Britain, and the outstanding frontier-work of the Roman Empire. Professionals and amateurs mingle, travel the Wall, and hear and discuss the latest discoveries. It is a highly convivial occasion. A book is issued, charting the previous decade’s research. Following the pattern of the 1999 book, the most recent (2019) publication, edited by Rob Collins and Matt Symonds, is the essential means of keeping up with what is new on the Wall (see CA 357).

But here is a different sort of Pilgrimage book: David Breeze offers a delightful history of all 14 pilgrimages to-date. The first, in 1849, saw the pilgrims doing impromptu digging and carrying away finds from sites they visited; 170 years on, things are more scientific – but still strongly inclusive, with local people heavily involved through the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne and the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Historical Society, the joint organisers.

The Victorian pilgrimages look like predominantly male occasions, but one thing that emerges from this book is the early presence of women as excavators and expounders, such as Elizabeth Hodgson in 1920. Charmian Woodfield, Valerie Maxfield, and Lindsay Allason-Jones subsequently played leading roles.

Breeze’s richly illustrated book forms an invaluable extension to Eric Birley’s history of the Pilgrimage and its place in Wall studies (Research on Hadrian’s Wall), which carried the story only to 1959. It also complements Richard Hingley’s study of attitudes to the Wall (Hadrian’s Wall: a life, 2012; see CA 353). Breeze lets participants, past and present, tell the story. The poignant reminiscences of retired scholars communicate the intense motivational aspects of the Pilgrimage for those starting out in their careers, while the last word goes to two Robert Kiln Bursary students (Katie Mountain and Ivana Protic), who attended the most recent – pointing reassuringly to the future.

This review appeared in CA 362. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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