Dunstable archaeological society moved from rented digs to centre ownership

Opening of Les Matthews Archaeology Centre
Opening of Les Matthews Archaeology Centre

It’s the 20th anniversary today of the opening of the Les Matthews Archaeology Centre at 5 Winfield Street, Dunstable.

The photo shows the moment in 1994 when Andrew Selkirk, editor of Current Archaeology, cut the ribbon and declared the centre officially open.

Mr Matthews founded Dunstable’s Manshead Archaeological Society in 1952 and was its charismatic leader until the 1980s, during many famous local excavations and discoveries.

The opening of the centre was attended by Kathleen Matthews, Les’s widow, and other members of his family. Joan Schneider, the society chairman, presided over the ceremony.

The society had rented the top floor of 5 Winfield Street from South Beds District Council since the late 1970s. Rising costs and reduced grants put the society’s future in doubt, but the society’s secretary Barry Horne produced a ambitious plan to purchase the whole building.

This came to fruition with a bequest of £35,000 from the estate of Dr Gerald Ashton, a past president of the society, and generous donations from members and other organisations.

The conversion project was managed by Barry Horne, who was assisted by Bernard Jones during the purchase, and the major building work was carried out over a period of 18 months by members and Thornton Builders. Those who did most of the work were John Hyde-Trutch, Ron Grace and Dave Warren. Glyn James and Mick Thornton used their expertise to add central heating.

The centre, used today for finds-processing and talks, is open from 8-10 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. Society members do field work on Sunday mornings and are currently excavating a site in Drury Lane, Houghton Regis. Its present officers are Ron Hudspith, Dave Warren, Dave Hills, Mike Dalgleish, Jan Costin, Jon Hitchcock and Nathan Twigg.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society.