Ralegh Radford

Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford (7 November 1900 – 27 December 1998) was an English archaeologist and historian who pioneered the exploration of the Dark Ages of Britain and popularised his findings in many official guides and surveys for the Office of Works. His scholarly work appeared in articles in the major British journals, such as Medieval Archaeology or the Proceedings of the British Academy and in the various Transactions of archaeological societies.


Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford was born on 7 November 1900 at the Cedar House, Hillingdon, the only son of Arthur Lock Radford, FSA (1862–1925), an antiquary, and his second wife, Ada Minnie Hemyng Bruton, daughter of John Bruton, of Clifton.[1][2] Radford's sister, Evelyn Hilda Mary, married Sir Francis D'Arcy Cooper, 1st Baronet.[3] Radford received his M.A. from Exeter College, Oxford, where he read modern history. He was involved with the excavations at Whitby Abbey, North Riding of Yorkshire, in the early 1920s. In 1929 he was appointed Inspector of Ancient Monuments for his chosen territory, Wales and Monmouthshire, entrusted with preliminary surveys of numerous sites.

In the 1930s he excavated the site of The Hurlers, a group of three stone circles in the civil parish of St Cleer, Cornwall. He partly restored the two northern circles by re-erecting some stones and placing marker stones in the positions of those missing.[4][5] In 1935 he excavated the Roman villa site at Ditchley, Oxfordshire.[6]

He travelled in Central Europe and the Balkans and held scholarships at the British School at Athens and the British School at Rome. He was appointed Director of the British School at Rome in 1936;[7] when the school was closed at the outbreak of World War II he returned to take up war work. He was awarded the OBE in 1947.

He then resumed his archaeological work, and was secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire between 1946 and 1948. His specialisation was in the early medieval period, with particular interests in the Arthurian sites of Glastonbury and Tintagel, which resulted in his classic survey, Arthurian Sites in the West (1975). The volume was occasioned by a conference and was intended to present the hard archæological and literary evidence for the traditional associations; it is still in print in a revised and enlarged edition.

His pioneer excavations at Tintagel in the 1930s have come under modern criticism, partly because the site documentation was slight, by modern standards. Radford, influenced by the historian Henry Jenner, led a considerable interpretative shift when he suggested that Tintagel was in fact a Celtic monastery and not an "Arthurian" site. In the mid-1980s a fire on Tintagel Island led to considerable erosion of the topsoil, and many more building foundations than were recorded by Radford could be seen.[8]

His excavations at Glastonbury were undertaken in the 1960s.

In 1972 he received the gold medal of the Society of Antiquaries of London, of which he was a Fellow; he held many honorific posts, at various times President of the Prehistoric Society, Royal Archaeological Institute, Society for Medieval Archaeology[9] and the Devonshire Association (in 1947).[10] He was appointed Devon Local Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London in May 1929, and was resident at Bradninch Manor, Devon, at this time. He was also elected as a Bard of the Gorsedd of Cornwall in 1937.

He retired to Uffculme near Cullompton, Devon. For his ninetieth birthday a festschrift was produced in his honour, The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey: Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C.A. Ralegh Radford (1990).

Radford died on 27 December 1998,[11] and bequeathed his private library and his papers to the University of Exeter.[12]

Some other official site guides by Radford:

  • Radford, Courtenay Arthur Ralegh (1959). The Early Christian and Norse Settlements at Birsay, Orkney. Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO).
  • Glastonbury Abbey the Isle of Avalon (also The pictorial history of Glastonbury Abbey)
  • Tintagel Castle
  • Tretower Court, Breconshire
  • Valle Crucis Abbey, Clwyd: Abaty Glyn y Groes


  1. ^ Malcolm Todd, "Radford, (Courtenay Arthur) Ralegh (1900–1998)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., May 2009)
  2. ^ A. C. Fox-Davies, Armorial Families (1929), vol. ii, p. 1611
  3. ^ Charles Wilson (rev.), "Cooper, Sir (Francis) D'Arcy, baronet (1882–1941)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  4. ^ R. Radford 1939 Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
  5. ^ "cornisharchaeology.org" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 9, 2013. Retrieved Jun 21, 2020.
  6. ^ C.A. Ralegh Radford (1936) "The Roman Villa at Ditchley, Oxon", Oxoniensia I, pp24-69.
  7. ^ There is a scholarship at the British School in Rome in Radford's name.
  8. ^ "Early Medieval Tintagel: An Interview with Archaeologists Rachel Harry and Kevin Brady". Archived from the original on August 21, 2014. Retrieved Jun 21, 2020.
  9. ^ "Obituary: Ralegh Radford". The Independent. 1999-01-08. Retrieved 2019-12-24.
  10. ^ "Past Meetings and Presidents". Report & Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 146: xv–xix. 2014.
  11. ^ Thomas, Charles (1998). "C. A. Ralegh Radford 1900-1998" (PDF). Medieval Archaeology. 42: 104–106 – via Archaeology Data Service.
  12. ^ At the time of his death, notices appeared in numerous publications: should be consulted: B[osanko], J. "Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford." in Devonshire Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, Lit. and the Arts, Report and Transactions 131 (1999), 376-78; Williams, J., and W. F. Cormack. "Dr Ralegh Radford." in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society 73 (1999), 239, etc.