ENGLAND: THE OTHER WITHIN

Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Frederick Thomas Elworthy

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Frederick Thomas Elworthy (1830-1907) was a philologist and antiquarian. He was born in Wellington, Somerset (the married home of Edward Burnett Tylor, they seem to have lived in the same house, Foxdown, in the town at different times) and, later in life, he became very interested in the dialects and antiquities of west Somerset and eastern Devon. In 1886 he published The West Somerset Word-Book, a 900 page glossary of dialect words. He also studied folk magic and popular superstition in Spain and Italy, where he travelled extensively.

Elworthy was a member of the council of the Philological Society and the editor for Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. He was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1900. In 1887 he joined the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and by 1893 was a member of its General Committee. The Dictionary of National Biography entry for him records:

Elworthy was a good linguist and an able draughtsman, engraver, and artist in watercolours. He was also a prominent churchman—the building of All Saints' Church, Wellington, owed much to his generosity and encouragement—and a magistrate, a churchwarden, an active member of the Wellington school board, and a prominent freemason.

According to his Folklore obituary, Elworthy was 'for a considerable time a member of the Council of the Folk-lore Society'. [E.B. 1908: 109] The obituary concludes:

He attended the meeting [of the British Association] at Toronto in 1897, and read a paper on some old-world Harvest Customs in Egypt and Thessaly, and in various parts of the United Kingdom, discussing their significance as survivals of an animistic corn-cult. It was on this occasion that the present writer, on the voyage out and during the stay in Canada, had the good fortune to improve his previous slight acquaintance with Mr Elworthy into an intimate friendship, and learned to look upon him as a man of many accomplishments of varied learning, and of high and sensitive honour. [E.B. 1908: 110]

Elworthy donated 5 English artefacts to the Pitt Rivers Museum:

1898.29.1-3 3 of 6 'necks or harvest trophies of corn from Belstone near Oakhampton, Ashburton, West Down near Ilfracombe (Devon) [the others are from Larnaca in Cyprus, Jericho, Palestine, and Egypt].
Detailed Amulet Card Catalogue - Amulets D Crop Fertility E Offerings to the Gods F Spirit Houses, Scares G Sacred and Mem[orial] Food H Relics and Mementos - D. Crop fertility, & Protection. D.2. Corn trophies. G. Britain.  Description: Harvest trophy, from the harvest of 1896.  The stalks are tied together, some are plaited, forming outstanding loops at the side of the central bundle of the stalk.  Locality: Belstone, nr. Oakhampton, Devon. Native Name: "Neck".  Collected by: F.T. Elworthy, Esq.  How Acquired: Pres. by F.T. Elworthy, 1898.  [Drawing on reverse]
Detailed Amulet Card Catalogue - Amulets D Crop Fertility E Offerings to the Gods F Spirit Houses, Scares G Sacred and Mem[orial] Food H Relics and Mementos - D. Crop fertility, & Protection. D.2. Corn trophies. G. Britain.  Description: Four plaits of corn tied together.  From the harvest of 1896.  The ears of corn form a bunch at the top. [Added] Looped at the end.  Locality: Ashburton, Devon. Native Name: "neck".  Collected by: F.T. Elworthy, Esq.  How Acquired: Pres. by F.T. Elworthy, 1898.  [Drawing on reverse]
Detailed Amulet Card Catalogue - Amulets D Crop Fertility E Offerings to the Gods F Spirit Houses, Scares G Sacred and Mem[orial] Food H Relics and Mementos - D. Crop fertility, & Protection. D.2. Corn trophies. G. Britain.  Description: A small bundle of corn, some of the stalks plaited & forming outstanding loops.  From the harvest of 1895. [Added] The ears in a bunch at the top.  Locality: West Down, nr. Iflracomb, N. Devon. Native Name: "peck".  Collected by: F.T. Elworthy, Esq.  How Acquired: Pres. by F.T. Elworthy, 1898.  [Drawing on reverse]

The above are presumably some of the artefacts he called upon for his 1897 paper to the British Association on harvest customs. Find out more about harvest related artefacts in the Museum here.

1902.59.1-2 Pair of hand wool-combs with iron pivot. Now obsolete for about 50 years. Used formerly for preparation of long-stapled wool for spinning the finer qualities of Worsted. Wellington, Somerset. For details of use etc. see letter from Mr. Elworthy.
Handwritten letter from Elworthy to Balfour, dated 10 November 1902: '... The modus operandi with the combs now sent was this - The wool comber actually worked at home, and the articles herewith were the outfit but by the master.  The comber had to supply himself with a charcoal stove, usually home made of bricks or clay, with slits around the top for the insertion of the comb, leaving the handle & horn part outside.  This stove was called "the comb-pot" for heat and damp and oil are all necessary for wool-combing.  A strong post is fixed near the comb-pot, into which the iron herewith, called 'a pad' is screwed so that the point at the end is upright.  The height is determined by the stature of the workman - say 4.6 to 5 feet from the ground.  One comb is then placed on the pad, and in this position the teeth lie horizontally to the right, unless the comber is left handed when his combs have to be made accordingly.  The wool having been previously straightened by hand is then dashed on to the comb ( pulled out by hand until sufficient for 2 slivers remaining in it).  This is called "filling the comb".  Then the other comb at the proper heat is held in the two hands and dragged through the wool in the fixed comb.  at the same time the wool drawn out is worked on to the horizontal comb, by drawing that in the hands from right to left so that there is a mutual combing by both.  This process is continued by changing the combs from hands to post until the wool is sufficiently straightened.  It is then drawn out by the hands into what is called "a sliver" i.e. a band of wool some 8 or 9 feet long.  By this process all the long wool is obtained, while a small quantity of short refuse wool is left in the comb.  The refuse is called the "noil".  "Noils" are well known article of trade, and are used for spinning by carding machinery.  This process is repeated ad infinitum each man working with two pairs of combs so that one pair may be heating while the others are in use.  It is of interest to know that each tooth is called a "broach".  A certain number of "slivers" about 25 lbs [possibly 28 -the writing is difficult to make out] in weight when done up in bundles and bound with bands of combed wool is a "top".  ...' [See museum for full text from their related document file.]

Elworthy's father had been a woollen manufacturer, this was presumably from his works.

 

Further Reading

http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/33020

E. B. 1908 'Frederick Thomas Elworthy' Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Mar. 30, 1908), pp. 109-110

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