our tribute to archaeologist Carl Crossan

 Carl boxes x

Carl Crossan

Yesterday (1st February), we received the very sad news of the death of archaeologist Carl Crossan. Carl worked for the Trust for almost 34 years, from September 1972 until his retirement in July 2006. Carl loved archaeology. He began his career with us as an excavator in 1972 and became a deputy director of the Trust in 1974. He was also a senior archaeologist here. Carl knew the Trust from its earliest years, and he was a veteran of our series of large excavations in Colchester in 1972-1985. For six months in the 1990s, Carl was seconded to the Essex County Council Archaeology Section. He was also a member of the Council of the Essex Society for Archaeology and History.

Carl made a massive contribution to the Trust and our work and to the archaeology of Colchester and Essex. He worked on-site with clients, contractors and other subcontractors on a very wide range of field projects, for which he supervised the sites and wrote the reports. Carl was also heavily involved in the administration and management of the Trust and in curating our report archive. Carl completed a huge number of field projects. He wrote a large number of reports in both our unnumbered and numbered series: the reports in the numbered series are published in our online archive. Carl’s work was published in a number of issues of the Trust’s Catalogue and later our annual magazine, and also in the journal Essex Archaeology and History *.

Carl’s most important projects in Colchester include the significant Balkerne Lane site, Colchester Castle roof, several projects at St Botolph’s priory, the Roman cremation cemetery on the Abbey Field in 2001, the Northern Approach Road in 2001, Grey Friars in 2004, and the site of firstsite in 2004. The Trust has been conducting investigations at the old garrison at Colchester for over 15 years and Carl undertook only our second fieldwork project here, way back in 2000. (We are now based in a former Army building in the old garrison and manage the Roman circus centre and site here.) Carl’s most significant project was the excavation of the very important and interesting site of St Mary Magdalen church in Colchester. This excavation was conducted in two stages, in 1989 and 1995, and was followed by a watching brief during the redevelopment of the site. The hospital and religious foundation of St Mary Magdalen had been founded by Eudo Dapifer on the site between 1100 and 1120, apparently at the request of King Henry I. It was a leper hospital or refuge and it was under the direction of St John’s abbey. The hospital gave its name to Magdalen Street. The hospital was re-founded in 1610 and seems to have become an almshouse for housing the ‘poor and infirm’, before being demolished in 1832. Carl’s report on the site describes the archaeology of the hospital and of the later church and churchyard.

Trust director Philip said of Carl today: ‘… News of Carl’s unexpected passing leaves all of us who knew and worked with him in shock and greatly saddened. Carl was a quiet and unassuming person who was as good with budgets and figures as he was with the shovel. His excavation and published account of the site of Mary Magdalen church and leper hospital showed him to be the fine all-round archaeologist that he was …’.

Carl was a very pleasant and likeable man, with a dry sense of humour. He was a highly valued colleague to his fellow archaeologists at the Trust. Carl was also our most reliable member of staff: he never missed a day of work. Carl lived in a village near Colchester and, in his private life, he loved cats and classical music, and enjoyed attending concerts and smoking his cigarettes… We hope to publish a fuller obituary for Carl in the next volume of the journal for Essex Archaeology and History.

At the Trust we remember Carl with much affection as a valued colleague and good companion over many years. We are grateful to Carl for his years of dedicated service and for his great contribution to the Trust and to the archaeology of Colchester and Essex, and this is our heartfelt tribute to him.


*** VALE ***

Amicitiae nostrae memoriam spero sempiternam fore
(‘I hope that the memory of our friendship will be everlasting’ – Cicero)


The images show Carl in the 198os in his office at 12 Lexden Road which, at the time, he was sharing with boxes of bones; with his fieldwork team on the roof of Colchester Castle in 1988 (Carl is at the front on the left); and enjoying one of his leaving presents – a toy digger – at his retirement party in 2006.


Carl castle roof z


Carl party


















* Carl’s published work:
Carl Crossan et al – ‘Mersea Island: the Anglo-Saxon causeway’, in Essex Archaeology and History, 14, 77-86
Carl Crossan et al – ‘Salvage recording of Iron Age and Roman remains at Ickleton Road, Great Chesterfield’, in Essex Archaeology and History, 21, 11-18
Carl Crossan & the late P Christie – ‘A detached kitchen at Great Yeldham: excavation and building study at Old Post Office Cottages, 1988-89, in Essex Archaeology and History, 26, 174-91
Carl Crossan – ‘Excavations at St Mary Magdalen’s hospital, Brook Street, Colchester’, in Essex Archaeology and History, 34, 91-154

P Crummy, N Crummy & C Crossan – Colchester Archaeological Report 9: Excavations of Roman and later cemeteries, churches and monastic sites in Colchester, 1971-88

‘The house of Lazarus’, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 3,
‘Digging in the bus park’, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 4,
‘Quarrying for the past’, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 5,
‘The missing link’, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 9,
‘Roman burial ground – cremation cemetery under a sports field’, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 14,
the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 15,
‘Camulodunum east’, with R Masefield, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 17,
‘Beyond the walls’ and ‘New arts centre’, in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine, 18,

Catalogue, Winter 1978
Catalogue, Winter 1979
Catalogue, Winter 1980
Catalogue, Winter 1983