Gestingthorpe/ Sudbury: Tributes paid to pioneering farmer and archaeologist

Harold Cooper

Harold Cooper - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to a pioneering farmer and archaeologist who has died one week before his 95th birthday.

Harold Cooper was born at Manor Farm, Elmsett, near Hadleigh where in 1936 he assisted his father and brothers in using one of the first combine harvesters to be employed in Suffolk — a Case Model Q pulled by a Lanz Bulldog tractor.

“The introduction of the combine was such a revolutionary development that on one day over two hundred people visited the field to view the spectacle,” said his son Ashley.

In 1945, Mr Cooper moved to Hill Farm, Gestingthorpe, near Sudbury, where he farmed cereal crops and was to be a parish councillor for fifty years.

One day, following some deep ploughing on one of his fields, he was intrigued to discover fragments of red tile, which were identified as Roman remains by the then curator of Colchester Castle. Mr Cooper was encouraged to excavate a trial trench, which slowly led to the unearthing of a Romano-British craftsman’s village with a villa at its centre. With no geophysics technology avialable and no mechanical appliances used, every single crumb of soil from hundreds of yards of trenches was carefully moved by hand.

The painstaking work was to continue at weekends and on bank holidays for almost thirty years until an Official Report was published on the excavations. Many of Mr Cooper’s finds are still featured in a museum he established on his farm.

According to Ashley, the significance of his work was to shed light onto the lives and skills of artisans and craftsmen in a rural community, when so much archaeology had previously concentrated on the very wealthy or the military.

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Mr Cooper’s love of history and farming continued to the end of his life. Until he was taken ill in late March he was still showing visitors and school children the finds in the farm house museum and on fine days walking the fields.

Ashley added: “Even in his last week we were still discussing Roman Gestingthorpe and he was interested in this year’s harvest until the last hours of his life. He had a life blessed with outstandingly good health and as happily married for sixty five years.”

Mr Cooper leaves three children: Jane, Gillian and Ashley, as well as grandchildren and great-grand children. A thanksgiving service will be held at Sudbury Methodist Church on Monday September 2nd at 2.30 p.m