Worthing archaeologist John Henry Pull was ahead of his time, discovering rare British Neolithic finds, among othersWorthing archaeologist John Henry Pull was ahead of his time, discovering rare British Neolithic finds, among others
Worthing archaeologist John Henry Pull was ahead of his time, discovering rare British Neolithic finds, among others

Pioneering South Downs archaeologist honoured with blue plaque at Worthing Museum

​​A pioneering Worthing archaeologist, who carried out cutting-edge investigations on the South Downs for nearly 40 years, has been honoured with a blue plaque.

John Henry Pull was ahead of his time, discovering rare British Neolithic finds, among others, but as an amateur, he was not properly recognised in his lifetime.

Now, more than 60 years after his death, a permanent reminder of his contribution has been placed at Worthing Museum by the Worthing Society.

The blue plaque references John's time as a soldier and postman, and records that he was 'tragically killed' in 1960 but it is only inside the museum, in a permanent exhibition dedicated to John, that it is explained he was shot dead during a bank robbery at Lloyds in Durrington in 1960.

Worthing Society chair Susan Belton said the unveiling ceremony was not a time to reflect on John's tragic end, it was a time to celebrate all his achievements, including uncovering the history of the Stone Age flint mining complex at Blackpatch, north of Clapham and Patching.

Tony Robinson and experts from Channel 4's Time Team followed in John's footsteps, visiting the site in the summer of 2005 for three days of filming. There was little for them to find, as John had discovered the complex in 1922, at the age of 22, and uncovered flint axes, arrowheads, picks made of antlers and shovels fashioned from the shoulder blades of deer, pigs and oxen during extensive excavations.

Proud of his legacy, it was John's granddaughter, Amanda O'Carroll, who approached Worthing Society about a blue plaque. It has been placed on the side of Worthing Museum and it was unveiled by Worthing mayor Jon Roser today.

Amanda said: "As a family, we are very proud of John Pull but we also recognise that what he achieved was done through teamwork and encouragement of friends, volunteers and his very understanding and lovely wife Alice.

"The siting of the John Pull blue plaque is the perfect location as we believe it will encourage more people to visit. The museum should be applauded that entry is free and therefore accessible to all.

"The archaeology walks and talks given by James Sainsbury, curator archaeology, add another level of interest and dimension that would have excited my grandfather and parents, as it would Worthing Archaeological Society members assisting the museum with the cataloguing of all his finds."

John was born in June 1899 in Arundel, where his father was head plumber at Arundel Castle, but the family settled in Worthing around 1906.

He was a gifted student with an early love of nature and his passion grew as he explored the South Downs after serving in the army the First World War.

James said: "John conducted cutting-edge pioneering archaeological practice on the Worthing downland for nearly 40 years. Elements of the upper class archaeological establishment in Sussex rubbished his early work, plagiarised his findings and drove him to leave the Worthing Archaeological Society.

"Undeterred, John continued excavating at Blackpatch, all in his spare time and with close friends, over a period of ten years. The physical scale of the undertaking was enormous, with each shaft fill containing over 50 tonnes of chalk rubble and flint.

"John then excavated at Church Hill, Findon, from 1932 until 1948, where he helped train numerous future archaeologists. Photographs of the dig show that John encouraged people of all ages to take part, with children seen playing in excavation trenches and demobbed soldiers being given tours of the site."

His final work was at Cissbury Ring, where, in May 1953, he found the skeletal remains of a flint miner, dubbed The Cissbury Lady and recently dated to c3700BC, as well as chalk carvings.

James said: "Within the galleries of Shaft 27 were a series of carvings in the chalk, many of animals, including an image of a short-horned bull with a halter, the earliest artistic expression of a domesticated animal in British archaeology."

John's book The Flint Miners of Blackpatch was published in 1932 to great acclaim. He was ahead of his time, imparting his knowledge and sharing his discoveries with the wider public, rather than restricting them to academic circles.

The significant artefacts recovered by John and his extensive paper archive were donated to Worthing Museum in 1961. Volunteers have recently been working on categorising and recording every individual find with a view to a booklet being published on this nationally significant flint took collection.

Dr Miles Russell learned about John's work during the early 1990s while conducting his own research on the Neolithic flint mines of Sussex. He was shown the archive at Worthing Museum and later published John's work in the book Rough Quarries, Rocks and Hills in 2001.

At the ceremony on Thursday, May 16, he said: "What I found there was a revelation, a 30-year treasure trove detailing the investigation between 1922 and 1956 of 21 mine shafts, six quarry pits, 22 flint mounds, working areas, burials.

"His team of workers, at a time when archaeology was the preserve of wealthy men, comprised men and women, young and old, of all classes and backgrounds. Photographs of the time show everyone mucking in together.

"He was one of the first of a new breed of amateur archaeologists, a group who made such a mark on the subject, not just helping to develop it as a respected profession with a defined skill set but also democratising it, opening up the study of the past to everyone. He was a true pioneer and trailblazer."

The blue plaque references John's time as a soldier and postman, and records that he was 'tragically killed' in 1960 but it is only inside the museum, in a permanent exhibition dedicated to John, that it is explained he was shot dead during a bank robbery at Lloyds in Durrington in 1960.

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