Image: portrait of General Augustus Pitt-Rivers in 1882 (aged 55).
This paper is one of the first outcomes of the work that we are starting for the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project, and will be published in the Prehistoric Yorkshire (published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society). Cite this paper as: Alison Petch and Dan Hicks forthcoming. Pitt-Rivers and Yorkshire. Prehistoric Yorkshire.
Pitt-Rivers and Yorkshire
Alison Petch and Dan Hicks
In the history of 19th-century archaeology, the figure of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers – as a pioneering fieldworker, theorist, and collector – has few peers. But while much of Pitt-Rivers’ life is well understood – and has been the subject of no less than three separate biographical studies (Thompson 1977, Chapman 1982, Bowden 1991) – his strong connections with Yorkshire are little known. This paper sketches what we know of these connections, and indicates some of the unanswered questions that remain in our understanding of Pitt-Rivers’ relationship with his place of birth. It also introduces a new project – Excavating Pitt-Rivers – that will start to explore the history of the early archaeological fieldwork of the General during the 1860s and 1870s.
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers was born in early April 1827 at Hope Hall, Bramham: a house that lies around 8 miles to the north-east of Leeds, less than a mile to the west of the Great North Road, and just beyond the northern walls of the estate Bramham Park – the seat of the Lane Fox family. His exact date of birth is uncertain as the various sources (biographies, contemporary newspapers and memorials) all disagree. It appears that it was the 12th, 14th or 15th of April 1827 Although he was Yorkshire born, he was baptized at Sturminster Newton, Dorset – the county in which he would spend the final two decades of his life. His father was William Augustus Lane Fox (1796-1832), who had served in the Grenadier Guards, and his mother was Lady Caroline Douglas (1797-1873), sister of the Earl of Morton. Until his father’s death in 1832, Lane Fox lived on the family estate at Bramham Biggin. Soon after 1832, his mother moved the family to 3 St James’s Square, London. Effectively, from this point on, Lane Fox was a resident of London for the next 50 years.
Lane Fox served in the British Army, following his father into the Grenadier Guards, in which he served from 1845 until his retirement, with the honorary rank of Lieutenant-General, in 1882. Alongside his professional career as an army officer, however, he became well-known for his pursuits in archaeology and anthropology. Spurred on by his belief that taxonomic and evolutionary scientific perspectives developed for the study of the natural world could be applied to human material culture, Lane Fox acquired two great collections. The first was assembled between the early 1850s and the early 1880s, and was donated to the University of Oxford in 1884, and became the world-famous Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM). This donation was made after he inherited a large estate, and a new surname, in 1880: an event that transformed his life. In the final two decades of his life, Pitt-Rivers developed a second great collection, similar in composition and size to his first at over 20,000 objects, much of which he displayed at his private museum at Farnham, Dorset, close to his country estate. This second collection was sold off and dispersed during the 1960s and 1970s, although much of the British archaeological collections are retained by Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
However, 1832 was by no means the end of his connections with Yorkshire. He undertook two phases of archaeological fieldwork in the county: first in the mid-late 1860s, and then in 1879. In the following sections, we outline the primary and secondary documentary evidence for Pitt-Rivers’ fieldwork in Yorkshire, cross-referenced with the remarkably rich details of dates and sites contained in the archive of c. 239 artefacts from Yorkshire collected by the Pitt-Rivers in the 1860s and 1870s, and now held by the PRM in Oxford.
North Yorkshire, April 1867
Pitt-Rivers’ earliest known archaeological fieldwork was conducted in Ireland – with Richard Caulfield in Cork (Caulfield 1864; Lane Fox 1866a, 1866b, 1867a), and in County Antrim (Lane Fox 1868) – and in London (Lane Fox 1866c; 1867b). But in his introduction to the second volume of his book Excavations in Cranborne Chase, Pitt-Rivers recalled that
My very first lessons as an excavator were derived from Canon Greenwell, during his well-known and valuable exploration in the Yorkshire Wolds, in the course of which I obtained a large amount of useful experience that has been a constant source of enjoyment and interest to me ever since (Pitt-Rivers 1887: xix).
Pitt-Rivers joined Canon William Greenwell’s field team in North Yorkshire during April 1867 (Bowden 1991: 66; Bowden 2005). Greenwell, who had already conducted excavations of burial mounds in Northumberland (Greenwell 1865a), began excavating tumuli in North Yorkshire in the mid 1860s: in the year 1864 alone he excavated ‘Barrows near Ebberston and the Scamridge Dikes; the Danes’ Graves; barrows near Whitby and Thirsk’ (Greenwell 1865b), and ‘Barrows on Wykeham Moor, near Troutsdale; on Hall Moor, near Castle Howard; and at Scale House, near Skipton, in Craven’ (Greenwell 1865c). It is not impossible that he also undertook fieldwork with Greenwell at an earlier date: a press cutting about Greenwell’s excavations, from The Times (20 June 1865), which survives at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in the Pitt-Rivers papers (Pitt-Rivers Papers P12), indicates that the General was perhaps aware of the Canon’s activities two years earlier (Thompson 1977: 47).
Greenwell’s April 1867 fieldwork was focused on Willerby Wold and Ganton Wold in Ryedale, North Yorkshire (Bowden 1991: 66-67). The PRM holds c. 96 stone scrapers, flakes, arrowheads and other stone artefacts collected from Ganton Wold between 1 April and 15 April 1867. Remarkably, the specific dates on which they were found are recorded for 50 of these objects. There is also flintwork collected by Pitt-Rivers – probably with Greenwell – from other sites in Ryedale – Sherburn Wold, Willerby Wold, Sherburn, Weaverthorpe, Grimston Moor, ‘Kirby Grindale’ (probably Kirby Grindalythe), and Fordon (just over the border into the East Riding of Yorkshire) – in April 1867. Also recorded as collected in April 1867 is a hammer-stone from Sharp Howe, Folkton collected on 4 April 1867. There is also a hammerstone collected at an unknown date (before 1874) from Richmond, North Yorkshire.
In 1877, Canon Greenwell (Greenwell and Rolleston 1877: 342, note 1) described two stones in Pitt-Rivers’ collection ‘from a barrow on Wykeham Moor in the North Riding’, which may relate to some of the objects listed above. He also stated that ‘the north-east section’ of an ‘extensive series of defensive works, commencing in Flamborough’ (near Bridlington) were surveyed by Pitt-Rivers (Greenwell and Rolleston 1877: 123-4). Among the Pitt Rivers Papers at the Salisbury and Wiltshire Museum, there is an unpublished manuscript describing the work, titled ‘Notes on the Entrenchments at Folkton, Willerby, Binnington, Hunmanby, Ganton & Sherburn Wold on the South of the Vale of Pickering near Scarborough’ (Pitt Rivers Papers P12; Bowden 1991: 66). This manuscript awaits further study, but might throw further light upon the fieldwork outlined above.
East Riding of Yorkshire, October 1867 and October 1879
The PRM also holds an assemblage of material recorded as collected by Pitt-Rivers in October 1867 from sites in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This episode of fieldwork is not mentioned in biographies of the General, and may or may not have been conducted with Greenwell. What is recorded is a programme of fieldwork undertaken in 1879, when he dug at Flamborough Head (‘Dane’s Dyke’) in East Riding (Thompson, 1977: 57; Bowden 1991: 87-89; Pitt-Rivers 1882). There are 12 stone artefacts – arrowheads, flakes and scrapers – that are recorded as collected from sites at ‘East Burton’ and ‘North Burton’ (possibly Burton Fleming), and at Rudston on 20 October 1867. There are also 18 stone objects collected from Bridlington in the same month. The records for a few objects indicate that Pitt-Rivers possibly returned to Sherburn and Weaverthorpe in October 1867, or possibly that the dates for this fieldwork of April and October 1867 were mixed up at some point. Further artefact-based research could, in the future, resolve this issue.
A number of other objects relate to Pitt-Rivers’ activities in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The founding collection includes two imitation Acheulian hand-axes, made by Flint Jack (Edward Simpson) at Sleights, Scarborough and acquired by Pitt-Rivers before 1874. There is also a scale model of an ‘underground structure’ Langtoft Wold, made in 1875, and acquired by Pitt-Rivers from John Robert Mortimer (cf. Mortimer 1882, Sheppard 1900). The model was exhibited at the Anthropological Institute in London in June 1877 (Anon 1878), and was acquired by Pitt-Rivers from the Anthropological Institute.
There are some 56 stone artefacts – mainly arrow-heads and scrapers – that are currently recorded simply as ‘Yorkshire’ or ‘Yorkshire Wolds’. Further artefact- and archive-based may reveal further details about these objects. However, a small number of other objects from the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum relate to the General in Yorkshire.
One of these objects appears to come from an early episode of rescue archaeology in the city of York: a steel dagger with an ivory handle, recorded as ‘found in York streets (excavating)’ before 1874. Two further objects relate to Pitt-Rivers’ developing interests in folklore and ethnography. First, there is a carved wooden post recorded as a ‘witchpost’, which was described by Pitt-Rivers in 1874 as follows:
Idols and objects connected with religion. 296. Post belonging to a seat on a hearth of an old house in Scarborough. Carved with representations of a cross heart stuck with pins and different phases of the moon for the purpose of keeping off fairies.
It appears that this object was displayed in a vitrine or screen numbered 78 and entitled ‘Idols and objects connected with religion’ at Bethnal Green Museum in London where Lane Fox’s collection was displayed between 1874 and 1885 (cf. Ettlinger 1943).
The second object from Yorkshire was also displayed in the same case at Bethnal Green Museum in London: it was described in 1874 as ‘Fragments of rag used as votive offerings for the cure of diseases at St Helens Well Thorp Arch Yorkshire at the present time’. The waters of this well, at Thorp Arch, Leeds in West Yorkshire, were believed to cure eye-diseases. The rags were acquired by Pitt-Rivers from ‘Marianne Cook’ in 1869.
Finally, there are two objects from the founding collection of the PRM that perhaps reflect Pitt-Rivers’ family life. The Museum holds 2 arrow-heads collected from Breary Marsh, which today lies in Golden Acre Park, Leeds – just 8 miles to the west of Pitt-Rivers’ place of birth at Branham.
In General Pitt-Rivers’ second collection, acquired after 1880 and now dispersed, there were 74 objects from Yorkshire. This collection is much better documented than the first Pitt-Rivers collection and so it is much easier to say where Pitt-Rivers sourced the objects. The Yorkshire objects included a bronze axe recovered from gravel pit at Middleton, Beverley in 1859; medieval tiles from St Mary’s Abbey, York, which had been found in 1830 and which he purchased from Isaac Sassoon and Company of London; and further stone arrow-heads from Rudston, Sherburn and elsewhere in the Yorkshire Wolds. On 8 May 1884 he acquired a ‘hasp-shaped fibula of bronze with pendant attached, found at Potters Brompton’, at one of the sale of Lord Londesborough’s collection by Christies. In June 1893 he acquired a buckle found in Pickering in 1853 from one of the Thomas Bateman sales at Sotheby’s.
As well as archaeological material, the second collection also included a number of Yorkshire-made ceramics. On 22 May 1884, Pitt-Rivers acquired 11 Leeds plates ‘with perforated borders, cream-coloured AD 1750-1850’ from Bonham’s auctioneers. [Add.9455vol2_p43 /6-16] Yorkshire pottery obviously interested him around this time because he acquired a Ferrybridge willow-pattern dish exactly a week later from a ceramics dealer, Jacob Vallentine, in London and on an undated (but proximate) date he acquired a vase from the Don valley from an unknown source. His interest in ceramics (not all of which originated in Yorkshire) continued. Two years later in September 1886, whilst on a foreign holiday in Germany he bought 4 ‘small cups, Leeds, white and rubbed with interlacing handle’ from H. Glücklich of Homburg. He purchased other Leeds ware from other London dealers like Frederick Litchfield and George R. Harding. In 1891 he acquired five modern salt-glaze teaposts of Rockingham ware from Frederick Rathbone, another ceramics dealer, again based in London. In 1897 he bought his last pieces of Yorkshire ware, two teapots and a sugar bowl made in Castleford between 1790 and 1820 ‘conducted by the Dunderdale Family from the [James] Beck Coll’n’ which he bought on the 11 June.
The early collections of General Pitt-Rivers, held by the Pitt Rivers Museum, represent a unique, unstudied resource for understanding the history of archaeological fieldwork. The Yorkshire collections are one of the strengths here – connecting with the history of Greenwell’s excavations, with Flint Jack, and with Pitt-Rivers’ little-known identity as a Yorkshireman. From December 2012, the first phase of a new project – Excavating Pitt-Rivers, led by Dan Hicks – will begin, with funding through the Designation Development Fund of Arts Council England, to make use of these collections. In doing so, the project aims to look outwards from the museum, making new connections between objects in Oxford and sites, landscapes and communities across England and Wales. The progress of the project will be updated on the project blog - http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/excavating-pitt-rivers
Some parts of this paper are the product of research carried out by Alison Petch during two projects, the ESRC funded ‘Other Within’ project which examined the English collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Leverhulme Trust-funded 3 year project Rethinking Pitt-Rivers at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. Other parts of the paper are the product of research undertake by Dan Hicks for the “Characterizing the world archaeology collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum (funded by the John Fell OUP Fund), and in advance of the ‘Excavating Pitt-Rivers’ project, funded by Arts Council England through the Designation Development Fund from November 2013. Thanks are due to Mark Bowden
To find out more than you would ever want to know about Pitt-Rivers’ life, work and collections, see http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/ and http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/excavating-pitt-rivers/
Bibliography / Further Reading
Anon 1878. An underground structure at Driffield, Yorkshire, read by 'The Director' on 26 June 1877. Journal of the Anthropological Institute 7: 277-279.
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.
Bowden, M. 2005. The Canon and the General. Unpublished paper presented at the ‘Canon William Greenwell and his contemporaries’ conference, University of Durham.
Chapman, W.R. 1982. Ethnology in the Museum: A.H.L.F. Pitt Rivers (1827–1900) and the Institutional Foundations of British Anthropology. Unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of Oxford. Available online at http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/ethnology-in-the-museum
Ettlinger, E. 1943. Documents of British Superstition in Oxford. Folklore 54(1): 227-249.
Greenwell, W. 1865a. Notes of the opening of Ancient British tumuli in north Northumberland in 1863 and 1865. History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club 5: 195-205.
Greenwell, W. 1865b. Notices of the examination of ancient grave-hills in the North Riding of Yorkshire I: Barrows near Ebberston and the Scamridge Dikes; the Danes’ Graves; barrows near Whitby and Thirsk. Archaeological Journal 22: 97-117.
Greenwell, W. 1865c. Notices of the examination of ancient grave-hills in the North Riding of Yorkshire I: Barrows on Wykeham Moor, near Troutsdale; on Hall Moor, near Castle Howard; and at Scale House, near Skipton, in Craven. Archaeological Journal 22: 241-264.
Greenwell, W. 1867. On the Inhabitants of Yorkshire in Pre-Roman Times (paper read at Bradford on March 4th 1867). Proceedings of the Geological and Polytechnic Society of the West Riding of Yorkshire 4: 512-545.
Greenwell, W. and G. Rolleston 1877. British Barrows: A Record of the Examination of Sepulchral Mounds in Various Parts of England. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Lane Fox. A.H. 1866a. Account of a human heart in a case found in Christ’s Church, Cork. Archaeological Journal 24: 71-72.
Lane Fox. A.H. 1866b. On an ivory peg-top shaped object from Ireland. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries in London (second series) 3: 395-396.
Lane Fox, A.H. 1866c. On Objects of the Roman period found at great depth in the vicinity of the old London Wall. Archaeological Journal 24: 61-64.
Lane Fox. A.H. 1867a. Roovesmore Fort, and stones inscribed with oghams, in the parish of Aglish, County Cork. Archaeological Journal 24: 123-139.
Lane Fox. A.H. 1867b. A description of certain piles found near London Wall and Southwark, possibly the remains of Pile Buildings. Journal of the Anthropological Society of London 5: lxxi-lxxxiii.
Lane Fox. A.H. 1868. Primitive Warfare II. Journal of the Royal United Services Institution 12: 399-439.
Lane Fox, A.H. 1875. Excavations in Cissbury Camp, Sussex. Journal of the Anthropological Institute 5: 357-390.
Mortimer, J.R. 1882. Account of the Discovery of Six Ancient Dwellings, Found Under and Near to British Barrows on the Yorkshire Wolds. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 11: 472-478.
Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1882. On excavations in the Earthwork called Dane’s Dyke at Flamborough in October 1879 and on the Earthworks of the Yorkshire Wolds. Journal of the Anthropological Institute 11: 455-471
Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1887. Excavations in Cranborne Chase, near Rushmore, on the borders of Dorset and Wiltshire. London: privately printed by Harrison and Sons.
Schuster, E.H.J. 1905. The Long Barrow and Round Barrow Skulls in the Collection of the Department of Comparative Anatomy, the Museum, Oxford. Biometrika 4(3): 351-362.
Sheppard, T. 1900. A descriptive catalogue of the specimens in the Mortimer Museum of Archaeology and Geology at Driffield. London: A. Brown and Sons.
Thompson, M.W. 1977. General Pitt Rivers: Evolution and Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century. Bradford-on-Avon: Moonraker Press.
 As well as the material discussed here, there is also an unquantified body of un-accessioned material from Yorkshire from the founding collection, which awaits further study. This includes 2 ‘stones with cup holes’ ‘found in a tumulus near Scarborough’ (PRM Red Book 52-53); a ‘piece of calamite from Bardsea Quarry, Yorkshire’ (PRM Delivery Catalogue II: 228); and perhaps 105 other stone arrow-heads and tools, and a single ‘bronze fragment’, recorded as ‘Yorkshire Wolds’, ‘Yorkshire Moors’, or simply ‘Yorkshire’. An unquantified collection of human bone, and possibly other archaeological material, collected by Canon Greenwell was held by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Schuster 1905: 351-362), and may still be in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, or in the Natural History Museum in London.
 It may be that the objects recorded as collected in October 1867 were actually collected in October 1879, although several appear to have been sent to Bethnal Green in 1874.