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Antoinette the Debutante

Antoinette the Debutante

From Debutante Antoinette to Mudlark Tony !

 A 50 year old ‘blog’ of Antoinette [Tony] Powell-Cotton, created by volunteers Vera & Trevor Gibbons who assisted Tony in her archaeology over three decades.During the last year Vera has been transcribing Tony’s field books and these will form the central interest as written 50 years ago to the month. . . . .

 Last month we promised an insight into Antoinette the debutante. She was presented at court in 1934 to King George 5th and Queen Mary at the age of twenty-one, an experience she found to be disappointing!  First she had to practice curtsying elegantly in a long dress. 


  On the day she dressed to perfection in this long silk gown with a train, a headdress of three feathers holding a veil in place and long white gloves, the required court dress for the occasion. 


In 1978 Tony agreed to be interviewed about her early life by our young daughter for a school project. The following is a small part of the resultant study [now residing in the museum’s archive] when she outlined the debutante experience:

. . . . . . “you would have to wait in your car outside the palace and then you would go inside.  You would be lined up [with others] and when your name was called you would go in.  Miss Powell-Cotton then had to curtsy to the King and Queen and when everyone who was there had quite finished there was a big buffet.  The one thing that surprised Miss Powell-Cotton was that the King and Queen were just sitting in big armchairs in front of a fire and that they were not on a throne.”  . . . . . . Antoinette was also surprised by the poor quality of the buffet being that this was at Buckingham Palace!


Tony started her archaeology at Minnis Bay after her two trips with sister Diana to Angola, four years later, when she assisted schoolboy Jimmy Beck, who found a series of 8 holes sunk in the chalk on the foreshore of Minnis Bay.  However with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 she spent her time in London where she trained to be a nurse and midwife. 


She returned to Quex Park in the mid 1950s to care for her mother and took up excavating at Minnis Bay again with the encouragement of Professor Christopher Hawkes, a leading archaeologist of the day.  He saw an urgent need for the site, dating from the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age, the Early & Late Iron Age to Medieval times to be excavated and recorded before it was lost to the sea.  Over the following 3 decades Tony excavated and recorded over 100 pits at Minnis Bay most only accessible at low tide.


Tony’s ‘field book’ for April, 1965, indicates the need to concentrate on pit ‘N’ mentioned in March:


Monday 5th April

Cleaned out N1a little brownish & greyish sticky fill & either chalk powder lining with pockets of this between pieces of chalk = either trampling or original silting (crumbling by frost of walls and base – pit or possibly 2 pits, B about 4” deep.  Slightly deeper and deeper sided than A.   Depth about 4”.

1 piece bone from near wreck end.  Right hand outline more correct.


  • [Pit ‘N’ is the 2500 year old Early Iron Age pit]


Tuesday 6th April

Dug another cell East side of N1.  Prom end of this cell alongside the presumably modern log (it is very hard).  The fill is less sticky ‘mud’ but lighter chalk flecked brown filling, a few flints, traces of wood and a speck of black pottery but I hardly dug into this.


Wednesday 7th April

With Dorothy.  Increased depth in same cell – 1’ 0” sea end now about 11/2 feet.  Prom end where we removed triangular piece sandstone with beveled edge, flat bottom surface shows tooling marks and reddish. One piece of fungus skin I think – one ?hazel stick, a few scraps pottery – only just reached the sandy chalk flecked brown fill.  Cell No.5  I (think).


  • [Very large pits, like ‘N’, were too big for one or two people to excavate between tides, as at most only 4 hours were available.  This was just enough time for a small trench, ‘cell’ to be opened up, excavated and back filled to protect it from the incoming tide.]