About the University of Leicester

Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp FBA, FSA

The University was sad to learn of the recent death of its honorand, the distinguished archaeologist Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp. Pre-eminent in the study of the Anglo-Saxon period, Dame Rosemary was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century archaeology. 

Rosemary Cramp was born in south-east Leicestershire; it was here as a child that she had her first encounter with archaeology, when she and her sister discovered Roman remains on the family farm. This led her to contact Dame Kathleen Kenyon – one of the leading archaeologists of the mid-20th century and excavator of the Roman baths at Jewry Wall in Leicester – who emphasised the importance of preserving the evidence and recording the finds. 

Rosemary read English at Oxford but found herself increasingly drawn into the world of the Anglo-Saxons and the nascent discipline of archaeology. In 1955, she was appointed at Durham University, initially teaching English, History and Archaeology! She was soon instrumental in developing an archaeology course there, which would expand into what is now a world-leading Archaeology department. In 1971, Rosemary became the first female professor at Durham. Many former and current staff here at Leicester (and elsewhere) were taught by her or held their first university posts at Durham. As a scholar, Rosemary will be above all remembered for the internationally renowned 16 volumes of Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, and as excavator of the twin monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow in north-east England, where in the early eighth century CE the Venerable Bede wrote his famous Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Inspired by Rosemary, many students went on to pursue research on these and other themes – indeed, two former students of hers were to play key roles in pinpointing the remains of the former Greyfriars church in Leicester. 

Rosemary’s razor-sharp mind was put to good use not just academically but also in campaigning and public service in various national organisations, and she was universally respected by friends and adversaries alike. Ahead of her time, Rosemary was an early advocate of the importance of science in archaeology – until then a subject largely based in the arts. It is no coincidence that four of her earliest appointees had science-based specialisms, and she was indefatigable in raising money for laboratory facilities. Unlike university authorities everywhere who worried about the cost of new subjects, she saw the long-term potential of a discipline bridging the arts and the sciences and concerned with the materiality of past human societies, their environment and the climate for attracting research income on top of its obvious educational value. Rosemary was also among the first to promote public archaeology, seeing the need to give back to local communities and involve them in their own heritage, and was the driving force behind setting up the Bede’s World museum and Anglo-Saxon farm at Jarrow Hall in the 1970s. 

Although based in Durham throughout her academic career, Rosemary maintained her close connections with the city of Leicester and the county, serving as President of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society. In 2004, she was awarded a D.Litt. by the University for her many contributions to the discipline; annually, the School of Archaeology and Ancient History presents the Rosemary Cramp Prize for the best undergraduate dissertation, much to her delight. Retirement did not diminish her work-rate, and until recently Rosemary could still frequently be seen in churchyards across Leicestershire and neighbouring counties, actively working on the volume of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon sculpture for the East Midlands, with colleagues from the university. She will be sorely missed by her many friends, colleagues and former students worldwide.

Written by Colin Haselgrove and Graham Shipley with the assistance of Joanna Story

Funeral and Requiem Mass

A Requiem Mass will be held for Rosemary at St Cuthbert’s Church in Durham at 11.00 a.m. on 19 May 2023. The service will be live-streamed, enabling those unable to travel to Durham to attend. The family have asked that in lieu of flowers donations are made to Dementia UK

Memorial Service

Recognising the many individuals who may wish to commemorate Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp and celebrate her life and achievements, an Evensong Memorial Service will be held at Durham Cathedral in July, with a reception to follow. Confirmation of the date and time for this event will be available soon. 

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