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Celebrating Hampshire's Historians

Cotton, Mary Aylwin (Molly)

1 August 1902 – 31 May 1984

Mary Aylwin Marshall was born on the Isle of Man to Robert Marshall, a Doctor of Medicine and his wife Anna.  She was one of the first students to train at the London School of Medicine for Women, qualifying as a doctor.  In 1928 however, having met and married Thomas Cotton, a Canadian cardiologist, she retired from medicine and turned her energies to archaeology.

In 1934 she began work at Maiden Castle, Dorset, with the Wheelers and then, having achieved a postgraduate diploma at the London Institute of Archaeology, undertook her own excavations on the site of Calleva Atrebatum, the Roman settlement at Silchester, Hampshire.

Outstanding work in the Foreign Office during WWII resulted in her being awarded an OBE but after the conflict she was able to return to archaeology at Hod Hill, Colchester and Verulamium, before being appointed Field Director at Clausentum, the Roman site at Bitterne, Southampton.  Her work there (1951-54) was followed by further responsibilities at the Silchester excavations.

From the 1960s onwards much of her work was in Italy and following the death of her husband in 1965 she moved to Rome, where she became closely involved with the British School for Archaeology (the Camerone).  In 1972 the Dr M Alywin Cotton Foundation was established, in order to provide fellowships and publication grants to scholars working in the field.  She was well-respected and admired by friends and colleagues and elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy.



Mary (Molly) Cotton

Contribution to county’s history

Molly Cotton’s work at Calleva Atrebatum and Clausentum moved the sites on from the early antiquarian explorations and paved the way for the more considered scientific excavations that have provided a cornerstone for the Late Iron Age and Romano-British history of the county.

Relevant published works

  • Cotton, M. (1947). Excavations at Silchester 1938–9. Archaeologia 92: 121–167.

  • Cotton M & Gathercole P (1958), Excavations at Clausentum, Southampton 1951-54, London HMSO

Critical Comments

Other Comments


Dave Allen October 2022


Calleva Atrebatum, Romano-British, Clausentum, Silchester

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