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News > Alumni News > 50 Years On: Old Stop pays homage to SGS Art teacher

50 Years On: Old Stop pays homage to SGS Art teacher

Robert Fred Hartley (OS 1973) reflects on time at SGS leading to a career in archaeology
18 Jan 2024
Alumni News

Having recently caught up with some of my closest friends from my school days fifty years ago, I thought it might be an appropriate moment to report back on my progress since then to the place, and the community, that launched my career. I enjoyed my school days, particularly the lessons in Art, English and History and have good memories of being involved in several school plays, and organising some interesting outings for "The Venturers". This included a visit to the Liverpool Road Station in Manchester, which was then a very dilapidated railway goods depot, but was later restored to form the core of the North West Museum of Science & Industry.

I probably did not work hard enough on my studies, but my A Levels were reasonable, with "As” in Art and General Studies, a "B" in Geography and a "C" in English. This gained me a place at the University of Leicester, where I obtained a BA degree in 1976.

In 1979, three years after graduating from the University of Leicester with a BA, I started work as an Assistant Archaeological Survey Officer. While there I met a remarkable local resident, Jim Pickering who was a wartime Spitfire pilot, he was also Britain's greatest amateur aerial archaeologist. I was fortunate to be able to spend hundreds of hours in the air with him photographing prehistoric cropmarks each summer, flying all over the Midlands, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Eventually I got a job at Leicester's Newarke Houses Museum, and as things turned out I spent the rest of my working career as an archaeologist and museum curator for Leicestershire County Council, and enjoyed every minute of it. As a field archaeologist I made detailed survey plans of some 500 medieval and post-medieval earthwork sites in Leicestershire and Rutland. These include castles, moats, fish ponds, water mills, and also the very important series of deserted villages which exist in the wonderful landscape of east Leicestershire. I have published these plans over the years, and continued to revise them ever since I left the archaeology team in 1995. In July 2023, we published a revised and enlarged edition of The Medieval Earthworks of Rutland, and I am hoping to publish revised editions for much of the remainder of Leicestershire over the next year or two.


In 1995 I took over as Curator of the Harborough Museum in Market Harborough, and spent five very busy years organising exhibitions and giving hundreds of talks to all kinds of community groups. From 2000 I was Keeper of Collections for Leicestershire County Council Museums. I took early retirement in 2012 but soon returned to work on contract doing parts of my old job for much of the next three years. Since then, I have returned to archaeology as an amateur, revising my surveys of Leicestershire & Rutland, and this year I published a new report "The Medieval Earthworks of Rutland" with a launch event in August at the Rutland County Museum in Oakham. I have recently been elected a Vice-President of the Leicestershire Archaeological & Historical Society.


Back in 1972 when I was at school, an SGS art teacher, suggested a subject for the Dissertation for my A Level Art exam. He thought I should look at the architecture of railway stations, and I have been doing so ever since. In fact, I am currently publishing a series of articles in the RCHS Journal on the architecture of the early railway lines of Ireland, and as a member of several railway history societies I am once again writing pieces on the vanished railway stations of the Manchester area. I like to think that art teacher would approve.

In addition, over the past decade my wife Lynda and I have visited most of the Record Offices in the North of England as part of my research to write a completely new biography of George Stephenson, drawing also on much recent work, including scientific and historical studies of surviving early locomotives. All being well this book - "The Master of These Marvels - George Stephenson and his Circle of Genius" will be published by the Railway & Canal Historical Society during 2024, in time for the Bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. The exact date, and venue for the launch event, still remain to be confirmed.

More information on work published by Robert Fred Hartley can be found on the Leicestershire Fieldworkers website.  

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