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Peggy Piggott, played by Lily James appears in the Netfix production, 'The Dig', based on the 1939 excavation of the Anglo-Saxon, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, as an adjunct to her older husband, Stuart. When Charles Phillips the leader of the Dig is heard to declare “We need Piggott!”, he certainly meant Stuart and not Peggy. When the Piggotts arrive on site, apparently newly married, her expertise is given scant recognition and she herself declared that she hadn’t done much “actual fieldwork yet” and clumsily put her foot through a hollow feature in the ship. She is shown retrieving the first gold objects from the burial, but her main function in the story is to provide the fictional basis of a sub plot based on her romantic liaison with the fictional photographer, Rory Lomax.
In reality Peggy was the Aunt of John Preston who brought her back to life, thirteen years after she had died, in his 2007 novel, 'The Dig' which provided the basis for the Netflix Movie. He said at the time : 'Peggy was a rather shadowy figure when I was growing up. My father did disapprove of her. She divorced my uncle, Stuart Piggott, after 14 years of marriage for non-consummation, so there was a bit of a family schism as a result of that. It is a source of great sadness to me that I didn't know her better'.
When it came to John's creation of Peggy's character in 'The Dig', John said about her and the other characters : 'I hope that I haven't kind of played fast and loose with them. Having said that, you've got to allow yourself the freedom to breathe life into them. You just hope that what you are effectively making them do isn't so far removed from what they might have done in life...and Peggy wanted romantic fulfilment'.
Cecily Margaret Preston was born into a wealthy family two years before the outbreak of the First World War, in the Autumn of 1912, the daughter of Elsie and Arthur, a Cambridge University-educated engineer and ironmaster, who was also recorded as 'of independent means' at the time of her birth. Her early years were spent in the wealthy family home, a twenty-roomed mansion with 5 servants, called 'Wood Lodge', West Wickham in Kent.
At Cambridge Peggy made made important connections in the world of early 20th century archaeology and on the 5th August 1933, her 21st birthday, she spent the day digging on an excavation led by the wife and husband team Tessa and Mortimer Wheeler in St. Albans on the remains of the Roman town of Verulamium (St. Albans).
In 1935, she began to study for her postgraduate diploma in Western European Prehistory at the new London Institute for Archaeology which was attached to University College London and had been just set up by the Wheelers. It was here that she was fortunate to have attended the lectures of Robin Collingwood whose most important contribution to British archaeology was his insistence on the Question and Answer Method : Excavations should not take place unless there was a question to be answered.
In the summer of 1935, Peggy worked on the 5,000 year old Neolithic Camp on Whitehawk Hill near Brighton. This was the last year of her friendship with Tessa Wheeler, with whom she had formed a close relationship and Tessa's death at the age of 43 in 1936 must have affected her deeply. After graduating with her Diploma that Summer Peggy married Stuart in the Autumn and they moved to Priory Farm in Hampshire, an early 19th century Gothic Revival house which they proceeded to update.
She said :
"I remember that Charles Phillips had gone down to Woodbridge and we were working quietly away in the usual morning routine, cleaning up the structure of the ship when quite suddenly, as I was trowelling - brushing the sand, one of these lovely garnet and gold ornaments was revealed and of course, at that moment, we were immensely excited. Everybody rushed round and said this really is something tremendous because it means we're not digging a Viking ship, but a Saxon one. And a few minutes after we were gathered round there, Charles Phillips returned and I remember him saying : "My godfathers" and all day, for the rest of the day, he went on saying : "Oh dear, oh dear". It was then more pieces of jewelry were found all over the burial chamber". She was interviewed after her divorce from Stuart and remarriage, as Margaret Guido : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbbmVuLTF2g&t=7m57s
Peggy's moment of discovery was recreated in 'The Dig' : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZQz0rkNajo&t=0m52s
She went on : "When we first saw the jewelry we were naturally wildly excited. It looked so beautiful the garnets and the gold, lying there in the sand and with the black ribs of the boat behind and we all crowded round and looked at it and felt that we were in on a boys' adventure from the point of view of the excitement of it all. We were also slightly alarmed because we'd got to be more careful in future, because, here we were, we few people responsible for an enormously valuable find. Then of course the atmosphere was very much spoilt for us by the fact that we were watching the papers every day for news about the war situation which we felt was imminent and most of us who had no experience of another war thought the moment it began the air in the sky would be black with planes obliterating what was left of Sutton Hoo and probably us as well". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NTfxpre-J8&feature=emb_title&t=18m03s
photographer, Rory Lomax, played by Johnny Flynn, as an escape from her passionless marriage to Stuart, In fact a visual archive from Sutton Hoo does exist, with one series of photographs taken by the archaeologist, OGS Crawford, and another by Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff, seen here, to the left and right of the ship's imprint, with William Grimes and Charles Phillips working below. The women were two friends who were keen on archaeology and were visiting the area on holiday for two weeks in the summer of 1939.
During the 1940s, with Stuart serving in India during the Second World War, Peggy was at the height of her productivity, producing an average of two publications each year. With skill and energy she worked on Bronze Age enclosures in Wiltshire, the hilltop enclosure site of Ram's Hill in Berkshire, stone circles in Dorset, the excavation of eighteen barrows in Hampshire and Wiltshire, as well as others on Crichel and Launceston Downs in Dorset and the tape measure she used has survived.
In one of his letters to Peggy from India Stuart included his poem :
Peggy worked with Stuart for one last time on the site of Braidwood Hill Fort in Scotland and then in 1954, when Peggy was 42 years old, their relationship ended and two years later they divorced. After the divorce, Peggy moved to Sicily, briefly reverting to her maiden name of 'Preston', before she met and married Luigi Guido. Two years later, Luigi had a psychotic breakdown and spent six months strapped to his bed while being cared for by her and at the end of this period, he suddenly decided to leave her and moved back to Sicily and Peggy never heard from him again.
Peggy became an ancient bead expert and curator at Devizes Museum and was still doing fieldwork in her seventies, in the 1980s. If she had wished to pursue a career in academia in those more enlightened years she undoubtedly would have, like Stuart, achieved a professorship. In the event, in retirement, she became the companion and cared for A. W. Lawrence, a classical scholar and younger brother of T. E. Lawrence, 'Laurence of Arabia', who after the death of his wife in 1986, had moved in with Peggy and they lived together until his death in 1991.
Peggy then renewed her friendship with Stuart and her support for him with his health failing, led her to visit him regularly at his home during the last 4 or 5 years of her life, before she predeceased him by two years at the age of 82 in 1994.