ENGLAND: THE OTHER WITHIN

Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers and archaeology in England

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

PRM accession book PR VI page 17, showing many items from Acton

PRM accession book PR VI page 17, showing many items from Acton

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 6

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 6

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 4

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 4

Flints from Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet, Journal of the Ethnological Society 1869

Flints from Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet, Journal of the Ethnological Society 1869

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers (1827-1900) is probably best known these days as an archaeologist. He has been considered by some authors to be a founding father of British archaeology. It was certainly one of the longest lasting interest in his life, he seems to have begun digging whilst in Ireland during the early 1860s and the interest continued until his death in 1900. In addition to carrying out his own excavations, principally in the British Isles, he had the honour of being the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments. His archaeological journal papers are rich in detail and lively in style.

He carried out many excavations in England. These are covered in more detail in the following pages:

London

Sussex

Yorkshire

Oxfordshire

Kent

Norfolk / Suffolk

Wiltshire

Devon

Gloucestershire

Bedfordshire

Somerset

Surrey

These are listed in chronological order, that is by the order in which he first engaged with archaeological work in the county. Each of these pages list the archaeological finds from the excavations in the founding collection. Please note, however, that this is likely to be the minimum from each excavation as there are other artefacts in the founding collection from the same places which are not dated, and do not indicate Pitt Rivers collected them and have therefore not been included (but he might have collected them).

There were two main kinds of archaeological objects in his collection, both in the founding collection and in his private collection. They were:
1. Objects he had excavated ‘himself’
2. Objects he purchased from dealers and sale rooms from an early date
It is for his own archaeological fieldwork that he is best known and possibly for those items he excavated himself also. However he did amass a sizeable collection of objects that he had purchased and these included some important collections and pieces with a sizeable collection of Cypriot material (mainly excavated by Cesnola).

Cranborne Chase from 1880

His most famous archaeological work was carried out on his own estate in the south west on Cranborne Chase between Wiltshire and Dorset. All of these excavations took place after 1880 and with one exception (Rotherley, see above), there are no finds from these excavations in the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum. However, they are the culmination of twenty years of archaeological work beforehand:

Having retired from active service on account of ill-health, and being incapable of strong physical exercise, I determined to devote the remaining portion of my life chiefly to an examination of the antiquities on my own property’. [Pitt Rivers: Excavations in Cranborne Chase vol I p.xii quoted in Thompson, 1977: 91]

He employed between 8 and 30 men on his estate excavationsm using his agricultural labourers during the winter slack season. [Thompson, 1977: 92] In the later 1890s he employed an assistant to supervise the work and he only made visits (which suggests he supervised more carefully earlier). He also had a team of skilled assistants (from one to five usually), many of whom went on to work in other museums. The assistants helped in surveying, directed excavations in Pitt Rivers’ absence, and were draughtsmen and illustrators and model-makers. [Thompson, 1977: 93-5] An impression of his work on his own estate can be gained from one of his assistants:

In spite of poor health the General sometimes ordered a carriage to be ready at 7 a.m. to take him to excavations proceeding in the home Park [at Rushmore]. In those days I rode a ‘penny-farthing’—soon to be superseded by an early safety bicycle. The day’s work in the field, when the site was a few miles from our base, began at 8 a.m. and finished at 6 p.m. Labour was only 2/6 a day; at the last excavation at Iwerne Courtney (otherwise Shroton) in 1897, when the General was able to attend only twice a week, I (with one draughtsman) had 28 labourers and 3 boys to guide. This was the last of the Pitt-Rivers field-work. (Gray, contribution to ‘Anthropology at Oxford’ 1953: 4]

The excavations on his own estate were augmented by plans which were sometimes coloured, and models either of wood or wire and plaster with contours and details painted on. Copies of the volumes were placed in Farnham Museum with the models and plans [Thompson, 1977: 98-9] They were also published in lavish privately-printed volumes: Pitt Rivers comments of the Cranborne Chase volumes:

... [they] are not intended for casual readers. The record of an excavation takes about five times as long as the actual digging’.’ [Pitt Rivers, Excavations at Cranborne Chase, vol iv 27]
... Much of what is recorded may never prove of further use, but even in the case of such matter, superfluous precision may be regarded as a fault on the right side where the arrangement is such as to facilitate reference and enable a selection to be made.’ [Pitt Rivers, Excavations at Cranborne Chase, vol ii p. xiii]

Pitt-Rivers thought that all English landowners had a responsibility to archaeologically examine their estates:

Would that other country gentlemen coud be induced to follow the example set by this model landowner. In the preface to the second volume of his excavations, after detailing the elaborate plans upon which his investigations were conducted, General Pitt-Rivers says: "The expense in conducting explorations upon this system is considerable, but the wealth available in the country for the purpose is still ample, if only it could be turned into this channel. The number of country gentlemen of means who are at a loss for intelligent occupation, beyond hunting and sporting, must be considerable; and now that a paternal government has made a present of their game to their tenants, and bids fair to deprive them of the part that some of them have hitherto taken, most advantageously to the public, in the management of local affairs, it may not, perhaps, be one of the least useful results of these volumes if they should be the means of directing attention to a new field of activity, for which the owners of land are, beyond all others, favourably situated. It is hardly necessary to insist upon the large amount of evidence of early times that lies buried in the soil upon nearly every large property, which is constantly being destroyed through the operations of agriculture, and which scientific anthropologists have seldom the opportunity or the means of examining. To render this evidence available for anthropological generalization is well-worth the attention of the owners of property, who may thus render great service to an important branch of science, provided always that it is done properly, for to meddle with and destroy antiquities without recording the results carefully, would be a work as mischievous as the converse of it would be useful." [le Schonix, 1894: 166-7]

Thompson claims that it is in the reporting of archaeological excavations that the influence of Pitt Rivers was most permanent. [Thompson, 1977: 109] To find out more about a new research project examining the collections of Pitt-Rivers after 1880 go here.

Archaeological excavations undertaken by Pitt Rivers

Here is a list of most of the archaeological excavations and surveys carried out by Pitt Rivers during his life throughout the British Isles and Europe. Excavations and surveys in England are boldened.

Dates

Archaeological excavations undertaken by Pitt Rivers

1862 - 1866

Archaeological work whilst based at Cork, Ireland

1865

Roovesmore Fort, Ireland surveyed

1866

London Wall

1866-1867

Sussex hillforts survey

1867

Yorkshire Wolds, with Greenwell, April and October

1867

Cissbury excavations, Sussex, September

1868

Cissbury excavations, Sussex, January

1868

Fieldwalking in Oxfordshire, April and Thanet, Kent, September

1868

Holyhead Ty Mawr

1868

Norfolk/ Suffolk Grimes Graves, August 1868

1868-1869

Callow Hill, Oxon. April 1868, January 1869

1869

Acton, Thames gravel deposits

1869

Penrhyn, Bangor, North Wales 2 cairns

1869

Stonehenge fieldwalking

1869?

Hopes Nose, Torbay?

1869

Field walking Glos. August

1870

Maiden Bower, Bedfordshire, January

1870

Dorchester Dykes, Oxfordshire

1871

?Somerset, Worlebury, April

1872

Dyke Road, Black Burgh, Brighton tumulus,

1875

Sussex hillforts

1875

Cissbury excavations, Sussex, April, June-September

1876

Seaford, Sussex

1876

?Barton Cliff Lymington Hampshire

1874 - 1877

Guildford, Surrey barrows, Postford Farm etc.

1877

Mount Caburn & Ranscombe, Lewes, Sussex September-October

1877

Sigwell, Somerset with Rolleston

1877

Mount Caburn, Lewes, Sussex

1877

Hampton Court Canoe

1878

Mount Caburn & Ranscombe, Lewes, Sussex, July

1878

Caesar’s Camp, Folkestone, Kent, June-July

1878

Brittany, France surveying

1879

Danewirke or Dannewerke, Denmark with Rolleston

1879

Dane’s Dyke, Yorkshire

1879

Brittany, France surveying

1880 - 1884

Barrow-digging, Rushmore [1880 with Rolleston]

1881

Cook’s tour of Egypt, Nile Valley stone tool finds

1881 - 1882

Winkelbury Camp / Barrow-digging on own estate

1881 - 1882

Carranty Rack, Park House, Shiftway Coppice and Sunk fence, Rushmore Park on own estate

1883 - 1890

Inspector of Monuments

1884 - 1885

Woodcuts excavations on own estate

1886 - 1887

Rotherley excavations on own estate

1888

Bokerly Dyke on own estate

1889

Bokerly Dyke and Woodyates on own estate

1889

Kings John House, Tollard Royal, own estate

1889 - 1891

Wansdyke on own estate

1890 - ?1900

Honorary Inspector of Monuments

1891 - 1893

No excavations at Cranborne Chase due to ill-health

1893

South Lodge Camp on own estate

1893

Handley Hill entrenchment on own estate

1893

Barrows 23 and 24, own estate

1893 - 1894

Wor barrow on own estate

1893 - 1894

Handley Down barrows on own estate

1894

Barrows 26 and 27 on own estate

1894

Nursery gardens, Rushmore on own estate

1895

Barrows 28 and 29 on own estate

1895 - 1896

Martin Down camp on own estate

1897

Iwerne excavations on own estate

The contents of this table are based on the chronological table at the back of Thompson’s biography and Chapter 5 of Bowden.

To find out more about Pitt Rivers' interest in technologies and materials, see here. To find out more about Pitt Rivers' life, collections and museums see here.

Further reading

Bowden, M. 1984 [reprinted 1990] General Pitt Rivers” the father of scientific archaeology Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
Bowden, M. 1991. Pitt Rivers - The life and archaeological work of Lt. General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers DCL FRS FSA. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Gray, H. St. G. 1953 [no title] in Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.
le Schonix, Roach 1894. 'Notes on Archaeology in Provincial Museums: The Museums at Farnham, Dorset, and at King John's House, Tollard Royal',The Antiquary 30, 166-71
Thompson, M.W. 1976 Catalogue of the correspondence and papers of Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt -Rivers (1827-1900) Royal Commission on Historical MSS List 76/75
Thompson, M.W. 1977. General Pitt Rivers: Evolution and Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century. Moonraker Press, Bradford-on-Avon UK

To find out more about Pitt Rivers and his collections go to here.

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