I’ll start with the good news.
An exciting glimpse of the past has come to light in the market town of Malton, only a few miles down the road from me. Contractors building an extension to a primary school found an Ancient Roman pottery kiln, complete with lots of bits of broken pot. They excavated it and moved it so it can be reconstructed somewhere else, as it couldn’t remain in situ; the school needs its new kitchen and dining-hall.
Before the move, the school’s children had the chance to look at the excavations and talk to the archaeologists. Good – if you want to interest people in history, catch ‘em young!
Mind you, people are already quite used to digging up history in Malton, which was a busy centre for the Romans. There was a fort there, mostly garrisoned by cavalry, and a civilian settlement grew up round it. Those are facts, but another (rather frustrating) fact is that we don’t know for sure what the place was called in Roman times, because the ancient records are contradictory. It was probably Derventio (same root as its river, the Derwent,) but it could just be Delvicia. I’ll stick to Malton for now.
The news reports don’t give much detail about the kiln. What was its date? Was it primarily used for making pots, or for manufacturing roof-tiles? You can often tell this from the kiln’s internal structure. And what else did they find nearby – any coins, perhaps? My curiosity was running at full speed as I wondered about all this. I don’t exactly need this information for the work-in-progress…but when did that ever stop me from following an interesting research trail?
What I do need, I thought, is someone who’s knowledgeable on local history. I’ll ring up Malton Museum, in the market place. They have some interesting Roman stuff there, and are bound to know. Perhaps they’ll even put me in contact with the archaeologists who examined the kiln.
And that’s when I ran into the bad news. Malton Museum closed down at the end of last month.
There must have been publicity about this, but I completely missed it, and the closure comes as a nasty shock. From what I can gather, the Museum lease comes up for renewal in April and apparently the landlords have raised the rent to the point where the Trust can’t afford it. So this month all the precious artefacts are being packed away, to go into storage till a new home can be found. Who knows when that will be?
The trustees bravely maintain that the Museum will “go into the Community”. They’ll continue their educational work, giving talks and presentations in schools, and they’ll display what they can of their collection at events around the Malton area.
Good luck to them, and may they find a new home soon. Museums are important. I hate to see one disappear.