Peter Addeyman Short


It was while on my travels visiting Old Sedberghians around York that I found myself at the house of fellow Old Luptonian Peter Addyman. I was at School with his son, but I was meeting Peter for the first time.

What I like about such visits is that I never know quite what to expect. Except that, in my experience, every Sedberghian has a story to tell, and every story is interesting. I was certainly not disappointed and ended up staying far longer than expected as he told me how his time at Sedbergh led to the founding of one of the most successful and influential museums in the world, that of the Jorvik Viking Museum.

In a few words I will try to tell the story and do justice to this remarkable man.

Peter entered Lupton house in 1953. He made the mistake (his words) of mentioning he was keen on archaeology for which he got quite a ribbing. However, once the other boys in the junior dayroom realised he was serious they mentioned that there was a chap in the senior dayroom who was also interested in this field. Thus, he was introduced to Gavin Simpson (L51-55) and their archaeological partnership began.

It wasn’t long before Gavin discovered what he thought to be a Roman settlement at Underbank Farm, just outside of Sedbergh to the north of the Kirkby Stephen road. Peter disagreed, thinking it to be mediaeval. They therefore approached the farmer and asked if they could undertake an archaeological dig.

What is fascinating about this story is that they didn’t receive any outside help and they didn’t ask permission from their housemaster, so the whole dig, lasting months, was conducted in their spare time unbeknown to anyone at the School, and using a chicken shed as their field office.

It was an incredible undertaking and professionally recorded, as evidenced by the write up years later in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. And Peter was right, it was mediaeval.

At the time, news of the dig found its way into a local journal, The Dalesman, and soon afterwards Peter was summoned from his Latin lesson to the Headmaster’s Office whereupon he found Michael Thornely talking to two distinguished gentlemen. John Hirst, an inspector for the Ministry of Works and Prof Beresford, who later wrote ‘The Lost Villages of England’ had heard of the dig and wanted to see it. Michael Thornely, recognising that something quite special was happening, asked if he could come along.

So Peter and Gavin took them down to Underbank Farm. Peter crawled into the chicken coop as the hens scattered to retrieve the site plans from their ‘office’. The inspectors were suitably impressed and told them to carry on the good work. It was the seal of approval they needed, and they never looked back.

Both Peter and Gavin went on to study archaeology at university with Peter being awarded an archaeological scholarship to Peterhouse at Cambridge.  Both later became professors in this discipline.

It was some years later that Peter was approached by York City Council to head up an archaeological team. At the time there was great concern that archaeological sites were being lost through redevelopment without being properly recorded.

One of the plans was to redevelop the centre of York City on the site of an old sugar mill. As it happened Barclays Bank, which lay adjacent to the site, had previously asked Peter to advise them when they extended an underground vault. It was during this work that Peter discovered something invaluable. Fifteen or so feet down lay the preserved remains of Viking York.

He therefore asked York City Council to demolish the mill three years early such that a proper archaeological dig could be undertaken. They agreed. Soon Peter’s team were unearthing Viking artefacts which have been preserved in the anaerobic mud.

It was one thing finding these artefacts, but they had to be preserved. Peter therefore set about creating a preservation laboratory which is now recognised as one of the best in the country, on a par with that of the British Museum.

All this cost money and during the dig, which lasted several years, a fundraising campaign was established. It was through this exposure that Peter received a call from an entrepreneur in Cumbria who had 70 car showrooms. This entrepreneur helped Peter monetise the dig by charging people to view the site. However, this was only a temporary solution, and the question remained what would happen to the site once the dig was complete. It was felt that it was too important to simply destroy.

This is where Peter’s genius came to the fore. He had the idea of recreating the streets using the original artefacts which had been preserved. The entrepreneur, through his connections, designed small cars for people to sit in such that they would be shown around the streets making it easier to bring people’s attention to where it needed to go. These cars would later do 75,000 miles each before they were retired.

Peter wanted visitors to have an immersive experience. They recreated the street sounds which were played through speakers. He invited a top perfumier from Liverpool to recreate the smells of rotting vegetables and excrement. The perfumier did say that this was a most unusual assignment.

The redevelopment of the city was therefore built over the museum and the site itself was preserved. The immersive experience, the unique method of being shown around, and the fact that it was in situ, brought the museum vibrancy and authenticity which was world-class. It set a new standard and the format has since been copied all over the world.

The museum opened in 1984. I was there, I visited it with my mother when I was home from university. It is still a fond memory, something that my mother and I spoke about often when she was still alive. We are two of the 25 million people who have now visited the Jorvik Viking Museum over its 40-year history. It is an astonishing place, conceived by an astonishing man, and its legacy is felt throughout the world.

Peter, it was a great privilege to meet you, to meet the person who has brought so much joy and understanding to so many people over the years, while preserving our history and our heritage.

Jan van der Velde