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Archaeology loving Norwich GP dies

PUBLISHED: 06:00 19 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:15 02 July 2010

Dr Keith Knowles.

Dr Keith Knowles.

Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

A Norwich GP, who unearthed one of the most important Roman towns in Norfolk, has died at the age of 82.

A Norwich GP, who unearthed one of the most important Roman towns in Norfolk, has died at the age of 82.

Dr Keith Knowles's lifelong passion for archaeology has left a valuable collection in the Castle Museum, Norwich, which has provided remarkable insight into 250 years of economic life during the Roman era.

Dr Knowles, who was the first medical officer at the University of East Anglia, spent 25 years excavating the Roman town of Brampton, near Aylsham.

A family affair, it also involved volunteers as a large area of the 80 acre site, was investigated between 1965 and 1989. His youngest son, Peter, found the double-headed fish or dolphin decorations of a military helmet, now featured as part of the village sign of Bramtuna.

Born in Cheshire, he went to Rydal School in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, where as a teenage member of the Home Guard was issued with a Sten gun, kept under his bed.

He went up to Cambridge, where he read medicine at St John's College, and then qualified at the Middlesex. He then did a short service commission with the RAF and took part in the Berlin airlift.

After serving as medical officer at RAF Watton, in 1955 he became a general practitioner in Norwich. Later, he started a solo practice in Larkman Lane and became the University of East Anglia's medical officer, when it was established in November 1963.

As the university expanded, he joined Geoff Clayton and Sheila Jackson, who later opened a new surgery at Clover Hill, Bowthorpe, in October 1977, to serve students and staff.

In his 31-year career as a GP, he was also Remploy's factory doctor and was a great supporter of efforts to employ the disabled.

Fascinated by tracing Roman roads across Norfolk, he discovered that several converged near Aylsham. He was given permission by landowners including Dr Charles Briscoe, of Dudwick, and Tom Crane, of Oxnead, to undertake trial digs. His efforts and finds revealed the extent of Brampton's importance as an industrial centre between 80AD and 350AD.

He also discovered a Roman bath house by the Bure in 1970 and excavated a Roman road and cemetery at Bawburgh. He was a former president of the Norfolk Archaeological Research Group and the Norwich Medico-Chirurgical Society.

He was made MBE and with his late wife, Vivienne, at Buckingham Palace, he was invested with his decoration by the Queen.

Dr Knowles, who also lectured on Roman medicine, spread surplus Roman pottery shards to make paths at his former Norwich home.

He leaves children, Robert, Stephen, Jeff, Jane and Peter, and 14 grandchildren. His wife, Vivienne, and a son, predeceased.

A funeral service will be held at New Costessey Methodist Church, Norwich Road, on Tuesday, February 23 at 2pm.

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