Ralph Mills

Historical archaeology, research, writing, editing


Beginning as a schoolboy volunteer in the mid 1960s, I have accumulated some 30 years of field archaeological experience, most of it in supervisory positions on rescue excavations, from Somerset to Northumberland, Kent to Monmouthshire, Neolithic to C19th. At the same time I was writing and editing, in roles that varied from "Hawkeye" — assistant to Big Chief I-SPY of I-SPY Books — to editing corporate communications at a major London PR agency, from subbing a local newspaper to copy-editing scientific journals beside Shannon Airport, as Concorde practiced circuits and bumps. In the 1990s I worked in Vancouver, Canada, promoting and selling an advanced educational software system. Recently I followed a freelance path, interrupted by a few years as marketing manager of a PC hardware manufacturer.

During 2009-10 I studied for an MA in historical archaeology at the University of Leicester, and in 2017 I was awarded a PhD by Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD), the research arm of Manchester School of Art, itself part of Manchester Metropolitan University.

I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

More of my stuff (not all of it up to date!):

Ralph Mills

Last updated 2nd February 2022


February 2022

I am in the process of updating and changing my web presence. I am developing a new web site which you will find HERE. It is a work in progress, so there will be gaps and broken links, for which I apologise in advance.

I shall no longer be updating this site, and most of the content here will be accessible via the new site.

Small fungus, Vancouver Island

September 2020

Canada again...

I now live in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, Canada

Two volunteers working on the Waterway Recovery Group canal camp, one steering a motorised wheelbarrow

September 2019

Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camp, Ty Coch

Once again I led two canal restoration camps on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, at Ty Coch, near Cwmbran, Wales

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A small soft toy bear reading a book at Helsinki Toy Museum

June 2019


At the Industrial Labour & Literary Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century, Tampere, Finland. I spoke on Milton on the mantelpiece: interaction with literary culture in three-dimensional miniature by nineteenth-century working people. I grabbed the opportunity to visit Helsinki Toy Museum.

Small wooden railway wagon in Leeds Industrial Museum
The 54th railway wagon in Leeds Industrial Museum's collection

January—May 2019

In early 2019 I was employed to carry out a fun project placement at Leeds Industrial Museum, reviewing and recording its collection of industrial raiway wagons

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The Figure Merchant, 1852 (detail)
The Figure Merchant (detail) 1852. Frontispiece for Godey’s Lady’s Book

January 2018


Mills, Ralph (2018). 'A chimney-piece in Plumtree-court, Holborn': Plaster of Paris "Images" and Nineteenth Century Working-Class Material Culture. In Paraphernalia! Victorian Objects. Kingstone, Helen and Lister, Kate (Eds). London: Routledge, pp 99-121.

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November 2017


To The International Conference on the Image, Venice, Italy. I spoke on Italian Image-sellers, Plaster of Paris and Working-class Mantelpieces.

May 2017


At The Working Class at Home symposium, the Geffrye Museum, London. I spoke on Images of taste. The nineteenth-century working class mantelpiece – plaster parrots, Napoleons and Venuses de Milo.

July 2017

Historical Archaeology:

Excavations at Ty Coch, on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

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January 2017


Awarded PhD by by Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD), the research arm of Manchester School of Art, part of Manchester Metropolitan University. My thesis title is Objects of Delight: An investigation of miniaturisation focusing on nineteenth century mass-produced miniature objects in working class contexts.

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A life in ruins

My first archaeological experience was on the excavation of a medieval moated manor house in Kent, one long summer school holiday in the 1960s. Here, with trembling fingers, I uncovered my first sherd of shell-gritted C13th coarse pottery. I also carefully exposed the skeleton of a moorhen, crushed by tumbling medieval masonry.

Bitten, incurably, by the archaeology bug, I went on to help form a local archaeology group, dug on rescue sites at Faversham Roman villa, Reculver Roman fort, a recue dig in Canterbury, beside Watling Street, at Stone Chapel and on the Upchurch marshes.

I studied for a BSc degree in zoology at Imperial College, University of London, but carried on digging, working on the London forum and Mucking excavations. On graduating I decided that although I had enjoyed and gained much from my university experience, life in a laboratory wasn't for me, and I was lucky enough to be offered a supervisory post with the Kent Archaeological Rescue Group at Dover. Here I helped discover two Roman forts, and the so-called "Painted House" with its plaster-covered walls still standing to shoulder height. I subsequently dug on various sites in Kent, but also Somerset, Yorkshire and Northamptonshire.


Archaeological illustration:

medieval miniature pewter jug

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medieval miniature pewter jug

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