The Society's seal and three photographs


Stephen Speak, 7 December 1953 – 19 September 2016

 “Steve the Dig”, Steve Speak, was born in Lancashire. His parents soon moved to London, and then came to the North-East when Steve was 11. As a teenager he joined one of Colin Burgess’s classes in prehistory, run at the then Department of Adult Education, Newcastle University. He quickly gained excavation experience on Colin’s digs at Hetha Burn, Ell’s Knowe and Fenton Hill. Aged 19 he got further experience working as an archaeologist for the Nene Valley Research Committee who were conducting extensive excavations near Peterborough.

Between 1975 and 1978 Steve studied at Bristol University, pursuing a joint honours degree in Archaeology and Geology. For his final year dissertation he selected the topic Scooped Settlements of the Border Region, reflecting his lifelong interest in the prehistoric archaeology of our region. He continued to excavate under Burgess in the summer months, assuming increasingly more responsible roles, at Kilellan Farm, Islay, and Meldon Bridge, Peeblesshire. When Colin Burgess secured funding from the Scottish Development Department to publish the two Scottish digs, Steve was employed for three years (1978-81) to deal with the post-excavation work. The final excavation report on Meldon Bridge (Speak and Burgess, 1999, PSAS) runs to 118 pages.

While working for Colin Burgess, Steve was encouraged by Colin to take over the teaching of evening classes in archaeology at various places in Northumberland. He found this work most congenial and over the years until his death, developed and gave adult education classes in a wide variety of archaeological topics, for several different authorities. In this way he made many loyal friends throughout the region. His classes were informative, lively, well-received and often punctuated with humorous jokes and asides.

Steve was increasingly involved with the Romans from the early 1980s onwards, working with Paul Bidwell at Tyne & Wear Museums and beginning a long association with Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, South Shields, where he was briefly curator in the 1990s.  At Tyne & Wear Museums Steve progressed to the post of Senior Keeper of Field Archaeology and helped build up an archaeological team, based for many years in Jesmond Cemetery Gates, which carried out many important excavations in the region.  Most notably in 2002-4 he initiated and co-directed excavations in advance of opencast mining and housing developments north of Newcastle which revealed for the first time the longevity and complexity of Iron Age settlement in lowland Northumberland.  He retired early from TWM in 2009, having been diagnosed with an incurable heart condition.

As well as archaeology Steve had many other interests. His love of walking, and the hills and moors and prehistory of our region, led to him and his wife Jane becoming Voluntary Rangers for the Northumberland National Park in 2002. He was also a lifelong supporter of Newcastle United and of the RNLI, had a great interest in military aircraft, was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic amateur astronomer and enjoyed relaxing with friends over a pint of beer.

Gordon Moir

In the future, don’t forget your past