The faded photograph of Dr Lawrence Butler, 1934-2014

It is fitting for my Archaeodeath blog to begin 2016 with a landscape obituary.

Today I visited Dolforwyn Castle, Abermule, Montgomeryshire with my pack of unruly offspring on a wet but mild winter’s day. On my last visit in 2014, I wrote about the archaeology of the castle here, noting the important work through many seasons of excavation directed by Dr Lawrence Butler. I have also discussed Cadw health and safety signs at Dolforwyn and elsewhere here.

The world moves on fast it seems. At the very start of 2016, only 14 months after writing about the castle, the place has changed while looking the same. For while the weather is similar, and the site is identical in appearance, its significance has changed in the archaeological fraternity. This is because, the principal excavator of Dolforwyn has now passed away. You can read online an obituary for Lawrence written by Paul Barnwell here.

Panorama from within Dolforwyn

Lawrence was passed away: a well-respected medieval archaeologist. I never met Lawrence, and my only contact had been via email. Indeed, I posthumously published one of his last articles in the Archaeological Journal on the west front of Lincoln Cathedral. This follows on from an earlier publication by Lawrence in the same journal in 1964, an influential piece that comprised part of his doctoral research on medieval gravestones.

The beautiful Montgomeryshire countryside from Dolforwyn

Visiting Dolforwyn today I reflected on a man I never met but whose published works I’ve read over the years and whose career is closely tied to Dolforwyn among a range of other sites and monuments.

Yet Lawrence’s contribution and death have no formal presence in this location. However, on the approach to the castle, I did observe an A4 poster appended to the gate at the entrance to the footpath leading to the castle. The photograph shows Lawrence with giant white beard. The text reads:

Dr Lawrence Butler.

This was his place.


I reflected on how many sites are indelibly linked to their excavators and how few receive memorials at these locales.

As the sign suggests, in many ways this was, and through the legacy of his work on the site it still is, his place. The signs, the information upon them, the management and the character of the site owe so much to the work of Lawrence and his team of excavators.

Perhaps Dolforwyn will, in time, receive a lasting and fitting memorial to Dr Lawrence Butler.

Remember Lawrence. Remember Dolforwyn.

The new Cadw sign boards owe much to information derived from the Butler excavations
The walls of Dolforwyn
The faded photograph of Dr Lawrence Butler on the gate beside the official Cadw sign