Obituary | Tim Schadla-Hall, 1947-2023 - Museums Association

Obituary | Tim Schadla-Hall, 1947-2023

A major figure in British archaeology, Tim brought deep knowledge – as well as fun and mischief – to all he did
Archaeology Obituary
Hedley Swain
Tim Schadla-Hall, 24 September 1947 - 9 January 2023 Photo by Lisa Daniel

Tim Schadla-Hall, who died on 9 January after a long illness, was a major figure in British archaeology, museums and academia, working across disciplines and with a special interest in promoting public archaeology internationally.

Tim was particularly noted for his tireless campaigning and his incredible support for fellow professionals, particularly those developing their careers. British and indeed international museums and archaeological organisations are full of people who Tim has advised, mentored, helped and encouraged, often in very practical ways.

Tim was educated at Bridlington Grammar School where, perhaps as a foretaste of things to come, he ran the school paper and, needless to say, was suspended. He was also a choir boy at Beverley Minster. He attended St Catharine’s College Cambridge, where he studied geography and then completed a PGCE. He had discovered archaeology at 12 when he joined different digs in Yorkshire.

After university and a short period as a teacher he began a career in archaeology working on a number of important sites, including Mucking in Essex, and at Milton Keynes in advance of the new town being built. He then became the first Winchester district archaeologist and went on to be the first Wessex archaeology field officer.

From there he moved into museums with Hampshire County Museum Service, working first with Ken Barton as senior keeper of archaeology for the county and curator of the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. He went on to be the senior keeper at Hull City Museums, and eventually became director of Leicestershire County Museum Service. At Leicestershire he led on the creation of Snibston Discovery Museum and oversaw innovative staff development and community archaeology programmes.


He left Leicestershire in 1998 after fighting the break-up of the service as Leicester City became a unitary authority. Tim fought the changes to the end, famously appearing on the cover of Museums Journal with boxing gloves draped over his shoulders.

Tim joined the Institute of Archaeology at University College London in 1998 as a lecturer, later promoted to reader, where he taught public archaeology and museum management. He established the innovative MA course in Public Archaeology and helped create the international journal Public Archaeology.

Tim called on a long list of friends and peers to help deliver courses and built a powerful reputation for supporting young professionals start their careers and deliver research. He was incredibly popular with students and stayed in touch with many as their careers developed after leaving UCL. He supervised a wide range of PhD students from across the world.

Tim Schadla-Hall pictured in Basingstoke

Throughout his career Tim continued to undertake archaeological fieldwork in Yorkshire, including most notably with Paul Mellors at Star Carr, but also in the Channel Islands and elsewhere. He also played a major role in sector organisations, including RESCUE – the British Archaeological Trust, the Royal Archaeological Institute, the Society of Museum Archaeologists and others. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

More recently, Tim was a trustee of the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at the time the idea of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) was turned into reality in 2009. It was natural that with his passion and knowledge he found a place as a trustee of the new museum. He commanded huge respect, not least from the senior naval personnel on the board.  He chaired the Collections Research, Learning and Access Committee, the HMS Caroline Preservation Company and the board of NMRN Hartlepool.


Tim continued to chair those two subsidiaries after his term of office on the main board ended. He was particularly committed to both projects, a commitment that was undimmed by illness. He travelled to Belfast in November 2022 to chair what turned out to be his final board meeting for HMS Caroline despite undergoing medical treatment.

Tim was a ferocious campaigner, recognising the importance of agency and building a large and diverse network of close friends and colleagues across museums, archaeology, politics and the media with whom he was constantly plotting to make the world a better place.

He was a prominent supporter of many initiatives, notably the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Waterloo Uncovered and more recently DigVentures at UCL. Tim always worked internationally with a particular interest in China.

Tim had his demons. He could be obstinate, chaotic and infuriating. He made enemies, but he made many more friends and those friendships were deep, long-lasting and loyal. He cared passionately about museums and archaeology but most importantly about other people and what he could do to help them. He brought deep knowledge and experience to all he did, but also a sense of fun and mischief.

I am grateful to Tim’s wife Caroline, sons James and Ben, and good friends and colleagues Martin Millett and Dominic Tweddle for contributing to this piece.

Hedley Swain is the CEO of Brighton & Hove Museums

Comments (6)

  1. Malcolm Watkins says:

    Many years since I worked with Tim, but he was all that Hedley says. I believe he espoused the real work of museums as repositories of the evidence for our world and our place in it. That world is diminished without him being in it any longer.
    Requiescas in pace, Tim.

  2. says:

    Hedley’s phrase “obstinate, chaotic and infuriating” is just right but he was also very entertaining! Brian Loughbrough and I worked hard with Tim to unravel the mess caused by local government reorganisation in Leister/Leicestershire – this period was very painful for him. But it was great to see him find new roles at the Institute of Archaeology and as a trustee of heritage organisations.

  3. Ian Simmons says:

    Having worked with Tim on the development of Snibston Discovery Park I have to say that “obstinate, chaotic and infuriating” does ring true. However, I owed my career to his determination to get the project up and running in difficult circumstances and having the confidence to let me loose to make the hands-on side work, and we always got on cordially when our paths crossed in subsequent years.

  4. says:

    I would just like to say that Hedley has captured the essence of Tim in his excellent Obituary.
    I am grateful to have known Tim for over four decades and more recently in his role as Chair of the NMRN ( Hartlepool) Board.
    He will be sorely missed.

  5. Michael Taylor says:

    I will always remember Tim as someone unafraid of the big guns and willing to take them on. With his support many a meeting delivered unexpected results and although based in England he earned respect north of the border. He was a real terrier and will be missed.

  6. Jason Finch says:

    I have only just heard this terrible news and I must admit I am in a state of shock.

    I did an MA in Public Archaeology at UCL back in 1999/2000 under Tim and he made a hell of an impression on me. I remember my interview for studying on the course, I turned up on time, knocked on his office door. He yelled “come in”, he was on the phone and carried on a rank call while he waved me to a chair. I sat there in a suit slightly uncomfortable (I was a mature student so used to job interviews, not academic ones) as he ranted at someone down the phone, while smoking. Eventually he put the phone down, picked up what turned out to me my application, stared at me, stared at it, stared at me then the form…you get the idea…this went on for about five minutes before he screwed up my form, threw it in the bin and looked at me. “Why do you want to come here?” he asked “If I had references like that, I wouldn’t waste my time here.” My response made him laugh and I became an admirer of him.

    I lost at least one job because I admitted that I admired him but I always felt if you were annoyed at Tim and didn’t like his approach, the problem was you not him. I didn’t always agree with him but if I were honest, he was always way more likely to be right than me!

    He inspired a lot of people and always liked to argue, but for the right reasons. I feel the UK Heritage sector is a lot poorer now.

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