Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Dr Frank Panton 1923-2013

Dr Frank Panton
Dr Frank Panton, former Chairman of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and the Dover Bronze Age Boat Trust and Hon Librarian of the Kent Archaeological Society, died on 8th April 2013. His funeral will be held tomorrow, 30th April at All Saints Church, Tunstall.

Francis Harry Panton was born in Lincoln on 25th May 1923 and educated at the City School. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers as reconnaissance officer of No 1 Bomb Disposal Company, responsible for locating and identifying enemy explosive devices throughout Northern Command (between the Wash and the Scottish border). In 1948 his work in hazardous bomb disposal operations was recognised by his appointment as MBE (Military).

After demobilisation he went to Nottingham University, where he took a BSc in Chemistry and a PhD. After a brief spell with ICI he was recruited by Military Intelligence his special interest in atomic weapons and knowledge of Russian developments in the field. As a scientist, Frank remained in Government service from 1953-83. His posts included: Technical Adviser to the UK Delegation to the Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Tests, Geneva, 1959-61; Defence Attaché, British Embassy, Washington DC, 1963-67; Assistant Chief Scientific Adviser (Nuclear), Ministry of Defence (MoD), 1969-75; Director, Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment (Waltham Abbey and Westcott) 1976-79; Director, Royal Army Research and Development Establishment, Fort Halstead, 1980-4. Post-retirement, he was Consultant to the Cabinet Secretary on Nuclear matters 1985-97 and Consultant to MoD, as Independent Member of Nuclear Weapon and Nuclear Propulsion Safety Committees, 1984-99. For his services to Government Frank was made CBE in 1997.

After this long and distinguished career, Dr Panton moved to Canterbury in 1983 and in 1985 joined Canterbury Archaeological Trust as Chairman of the Management Committee.

He was by any standards an exceptional Chairman, assisting the Director and the Committee to put the Trust on a sound financial footing and with wise counsel and a steady nerve, guided the organisation through two recessions. At the same time he enrolled in the University of Kent and obtained a PhD in Local History. Among his many achievements as Chairman, Frank helped the Trust to purchase its own premises at 92A Broad Street, and over time, to refit them. Frank was involved in many of the Trust’s greatest discoveries, during the construction of the Channel Tunnel Terminal at Cheriton; major excavations in the centre of Canterbury and during road building in East Kent. He took particular pride in the Trust’s spectacular discovery of a perfectly preserved Bronze Age boat beneath the streets of Dover in 1992 and of a sequence of Anglo-Saxon churches beneath the nave of Canterbury Cathedral in 1994. When Frank retired as Chairman in 2000, these projects and other works undertaken by the Trust in the field, in education and publication had established the organisation as an industry leader, with a national reputation for the quality of its work.

Following the discovery of the Dover Bronze Age Boat a decision was made to form a board of Trustees to raise funds to preserve the remains and place them on display in a purpose-built gallery in Dover. The Dover Bronze Age Boat Trust was formed in 1994, with Frank as the first Chairman. Working with the Trustees and Dover Museum particularly Robin Westbrook and Christine Waterman, Frank the magician, wove spells around everyone to pave the way, to solve challenging problems and to win over anyone who could help achieve the Trust’s objectives. The internationally renowned, award-winning boat gallery in Dover Museum is one of Frank’s greatest achievements and legacy to Dover and Kent.
Frank also made a considerable contribution academically and administratively to the Kent Archaeological Society over the years as an author of articles published in the society’s journal, Archaeologia Cantiana, as a Vice President, as an active member of Council and the Education Committee since early in the 1990s.

He was appointed the Hon Librarian of the Society in 2000 and since then has revised and re-ordered the contents and the activities in the Library of the Society. In the Library he ensured that many resources were made available to the members both though greater organisation and though championing the use of the Internet.   A true bibliophile he spent a lot of time and effort on making the Library accessible, attractive and well stocked.  Even when his health started to deteriorate he would make it in for the Wednesday morning meetings and take a keen and active interest in the running of the Library.  His absence will be felt deeply, not only in administrative terms, but also socially, where his learning, dry wit, and well told anecdotes were much appreciated.

Frank was an exceptionally talented man and a great friend, mentor and teacher to many. He gave freely and unstintingly of his time, considerable talents and experience to all those organisations he supported. His wise counsel, dry wit and friendship will be sadly missed by all of us.

Paul Bennett



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