CBHC / RCAHMW > News > Setting Sail with the Royal Commission

Setting Sail with the Royal Commission

Dr Julian Whitewright Senior Investigator (Maritime)

On 14 June 2021, I joined the RCAHMW to work on the maritime aspects of Wales’s heritage. During my first few weeks I have been learning about the work of the Commission as part of my induction. This has covered not only the maritime heritage of Wales, but all aspects of the work done by my new colleagues – from surveying the remains of buildings and battlefields, through to the processes of archiving and digitising material, and on to the aim of allowing Wales’s heritage to be accessed by everyone.

Throughout my induction, I have been amazed by the breadth of what the Commission itself does on a daily basis and the varied detail in the records that it holds. But more than that, I have been reminded quite how wonderful the heritage that we have in Wales is, in all its forms, and what a great record of this past we are lucky enough to have access to – both when we step outside, or in archive form.

Living in St Davids means that you are never far from the sea, including small harbours such as Porthclais which has a long, long history of use.

I grew up in Pembrokeshire, surrounded by the cliffs, beaches, islands and castles of west Wales. I left to go to university and study archaeology at the University of Southampton. One of Southampton’s great strengths is maritime archaeology,  a subject which  increasingly fascinated  me  during my BA … which became an MA in maritime archaeology … which (eventually) turned into a PhD.

After this, I was lucky enough to get two jobs as a maritime archaeologist; one in the Archaeology Department at the University of Southampton, and the other working for the Southampton-based Maritime Archaeology Trust. These two roles, both part-time, allowed me a view of the discipline from a commercial and an academic perspective at the same time. My interest has always been in ship and boat archaeology, founded on my own love of sailing and rowing. As well as this, in both jobs, I worked with and alongside colleagues whose specialisms included submerged landscapes, heritage legislation, and geoarchaeology  – to name just a few.

Julian grew up in the village of Little Haven, Pembrokeshire, a stone’s throw from the beach, which he still enjoys visiting.

My work as an archaeologist has, at times, taken me a very long way from Wales. This has included projects in India, Eritrea, and Egypt, as well as a selection of sites in the Solent around Southampton – the latter often involving a lot of deep inter-tidal mud. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 caused my wife and me, as it did so many others, to stop and think. This in turn led us to pursue properly the many conversations we had had about moving back to Wales with our children. The lure of the Sea catches us all eventually.

So, in late 2020 we packed our belongings into a big lorry and headed west to Pembrokeshire. My wife is an NHS Physiotherapist who experienced the first wave of covid through a PPE visor working in Southampton’s intensive care unit, and who now works in our local hospital. When seen against this, being charged with caring for Wales’s maritime archaeological heritage might seem a little frivolous.

But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should value everything, including maritime archaeology. The maritime heritage of Wales, in all its forms, has its own intrinsic value as a record of our shared past. But, perhaps more importantly, the stories that stem from it, and which we can tell as archaeologists, can bring people enjoyment and pleasure, spark an interest, enhance education, and can help us to better understand the country that we live in. So with this in mind, I am delighted to be given the opportunity to work with the archaeology of the place that I am from, for the benefit of all who live, visit, work and play there.

Dr Julian Whitewright Senior Investigator (Maritime)


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John Mansfield
John Mansfield
2 years ago

Looking forward to learning more about your work and revelations of our west Wales maritime heritage.

Deanna Margaret Groom
Deanna Margaret Groom
2 years ago

Welcome to Wales! Hoping you will enjoy all aspects of Wales’ maritime past. Best wishes and the best of luck with it all.

Deanna Margaret Groom
Deanna Margaret Groom
2 years ago

Croeso Cymru! Hoping that you enjoy all the wonders that Wales offers. Very best of luck.

Last edited 2 years ago by Deanna Margaret Groom


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