International Women’s Day 2024

For International Women’s Day we’re looking at women in archaeology, with a very particular link with Folkestone. This just happens happens to coincide with the centenary year of the excavation of East Wear Bay’s Roman Villa too!

Samuel (centre) and Rosalind (centre-right) Winbolt with diggers at Folkestone’s Roman Villa, 1924

For International Womens Day we wanted highlight the work of Rosalind Winbolt, who among other sites, worked on the excavation of Folkestone’s East Wear Bay Roman villa in the 1920s. Rosalind was born in 1906 in the Horsham area, the only child of schoolmaster Samuel Winbolt and his wife Evelyn. Samuel was a keen amateur archaeologist, turning into something of a professional during his lifetime, as well as a writer which included several of Penguin’s tourist guides during the 1930s.

Rosalind not only followed her father on his archaeological journey but became his equal in the work they did together. Her link with Folkestone comes in 1924, with her father’s contract to dig at the villa site. The dig was well photographed, not just for recording the archaeology but also the process of excavation and shows Rosalind hard at work. Folkestone Museum holds many of the artefacts discovered during the dig, and while the records record Samuel Winbolt as the finder we are in no doubt that some may be Rosalind’s discoveries.

Her work, with Samuel, carried on into the 1930s across Southern England. Again, its Samuel that generally has top billing but Rosalind was getting noticed. One widely syndicated (across the world!) article in 1932 quoted her talking about women in archaeology “Girls looking for thrills might do worse than try a little digging. There is no thrill quite like finding these ancient relics in the soil. All sorts of people gather round and watch…[T]here is usually a cry of excitement and hand-clapping when an ancient coil, a portion of a Roman villa, a mill stone, or any-other of the countless relics of pro-Christian days are found.”

In 1937 Rosalind married retired Royal Flying Corps Captain Percy Kent, who had served as an observer in World War One with 15 and 24 Squadrons. It’s at this point that Rosalind’s archaeological work appears to end or does it? The truth is we don’t know and would love to find out, we know that Samuel Winbolt lived until 1944, some of that time with Rosalind & Percy, so there is a chance that she carried on in some way. The unfortunate thing about many public records of the period is that women regularly come second in any record where a husband is mentioned, with no occupation recorded or at best an opaque housewife.

We have learnt a little about Rosalind’s later life. She remarried in 1953, to Anthony Kentish, a wine importer and was living in Chelsea. She was widely travelled, with the Mediterranean and South America showing in passenger records for a number of shipping lines, her travels to the latter having started in the 30s, Rosalind died in 1977, in Surrey, her story having almost been lost since…

If you want to find out more about women in pre-war archaeology we’d suggest starting with a search of the following names; Agatha Christie (yes that Agatha Christie!), Margaret Guido and Tessa Verney Wheeler.

We wish everyone an empowering International Women’s Day!