Charles Marston was an industrialist and philanthropist who took a keen interest in politics, archaeology and religion. Born in Wolverhampton, he followed in the footsteps of his father, John Marston, who manufactured bicycles, and later motorcycles and motorcars under the famous ‘Sunbeam’ trademark. Charles played an important role in the emerging motor-industry. He was placed in charge of the Villiers Street factory in Wolverhampton in 1898, and oversaw the development of the pioneering two-stroke engine. Charles’ political philosophy was conservatism combined with paternalism (for his many employees). He campaigned with Joseph Chamberlain against Free Trade and wrote pamphlets promoting his view of capitalism in opposition to socialism.
Charles was deeply interested in archaeology and became President of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, financially supporting its excavations. He followed the work of Schliemann in Greece, Petrie in Egypt, and Evans in Crete. A visit to the Holy Land in 1909 formed the basis of his further work and study. In Jerusalem he met R.A.S. Macalister of the PEF, who was excavating at Gezer, and suggested to him that the Fund “needed to have more of the commercial instinct” (von Harten & Marston 1979, Man of Wolverhampton).
Religious beliefs were at the heart of Charles Marston’s archaeological interests. He believed in the authority of the Bible, which was the foundation of his support for Biblical archaeology. In 1924, after a visit to the PEF excavations at Ophel, Jerusalem, he became a Life Member of the Fund. Charles financially supported Garstang’s excavations at Jericho in 1929 and was encouraged by the evidence of the destruction of the walls, believed at the time, to have been caused by siege of Joshua during the Israelite conquest of Canaan (the walls were re-dated by Kathleen Kenyon to earlier periods). His support of Petrie’s Tell el-‘Ajjul excavations was influenced by the possibility of finding evidence of Abraham.
His major contribution was to the Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) excavations (1932-1938), directed by James L. Starkey. The project was sponsored by Charles Marston, Sir Henry Wellcome and Sir Robert Mond, and became known as the Wellcome-Marston Research Expedition to the Near East. Charles took a personal interest in its progress, visiting the camp several times, particularly in 1935 after the discovery of the “Lachish Letters”. These gave him great personal satisfaction as they seemed to confirm the Biblical identification of the site and caused him to speculate on the development of writing in the Near East. During this time, he wrote books on the subject of the Bible and archaeology, including The Bible is True, and The Bible Comes Alive.
From 1942, Charles was President of the Philosophical Society of Great Britain. His inaugural Presidential address in 1943 was entitled "Recent Biblical Archaeology”. In addition, he was interested in psychical research, even practising ‘automatic writing’ especially when visiting Glastonbury, bridging the gap between fundamentalism and scientific materialism. He was Knighted in 1926, and was made a Knight of the Order of St. John in 1943. He died in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1946.
Sir Charles Marston with J.L. Starkey at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) in 1934 (Man of Wolverhampton).
Compiled by Ros Henry, April 2008
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