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New milestone for intrepid archaeologist

A well-known Leicester man who has helped to make the study of archaeology an international pursuit retired from the University of Leicester after a 40-year association with the University.

Dr Alan McWhirr came to Leicester when it was a University College and students took the degrees of London University. As an active member of the Students’ Union he saw the university gain its independence and met the Queen when she opened the Percy Gee building. At the same time it gained its Royal Charter, and Dr McWhirr has remained associated with the University to see its 80th anniversary!

In all that period he has been associated with the School of Archaeology and Ancient History - rated as a top 3 department by national media league tables. Dr McWhirr is retiring as Director of its distance-learning programme which has students ranging from lifelong learners to PhD students from around the world.

Dr McWhirr has taught archaeology in the department and also to Leicester people at Vaughan College, part of the University’s Institute of Lifelong Learning, since 1960.His specialisms include urban archaeology, Roman brick and tile industry/craft and Leicestershire archaeology.

Originally from St Albans, Alan McWhirr was educated at this University. He directed excavations at Cirencester for 20 years and also dug at Verulamium and Catterick. Long interested in urban archaeology and Roman technology (particularly brick and tile), he is currently focusing on the archaeology of Leicester, Roman Leicestershire and brick making and use in the county.

He is Honorary Secretary of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society. As the society owns a number of topographical prints and paintings he will be reviewing the place of such material in the study of the past.

He chairs the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and the Trustees of the Leicestershire Historic Churches Preservation Trust, and recently compiled Century to Millennium: St James the Greater, Leicester, 1899-1999.

Dr McWhirr is a popular ‘media figure’ frequently appearing in the Leicester Mercury and on BBC Radio Leicester.

He said: “When I first came to the University of Leicester in 1956 it was a small and friendly university. Although numbers have increased, it still remains a very friendly university with excellent teaching and research. The School of Archaeology and Ancient History is one of the leading departments in the country and my involvement with distance learning has introduced me to a wide range of students from over 15 countries. The development of such courses - Leicester is the first University anywhere in the world to develop postgraduate distance learning courses in archaeology - has been very exciting.”

Friends and colleagues gathered to wish Alan well for the future at his retirement party on Wednesday, September 25 in the Attenborough Building [see pictures below]. Alan's wife Helen, was also present. Dr Marilyn Palmer, Head of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, thanked Alan for his valuable contribution to the work of the School, and Dr Patrick Clay a Director of ULAS (University of Leicester Archaeological Services) also expressed thanks for his help and support. Some of Alan's distance learning students were also present to wish him well for the future. Alan was presented with a framed print depicting Leicester's Jewry Wall, two cheques, and gifts from distance learning students. 

Dr Alan McWhirr (centre) assembled colleagues and friends at Alan McWhirr's retirement party

October 2002

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Last updated: 4 October 2002 17:00
Created by: Rachel Tunstall
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