Pitt-Rivers in London

image: Archaeological sections drawn by General Pitt-Rivers at the Gouch and Cousens Warehouse, London Wall (EC2, City of London) in Autumn 1866. From Lane Fox 1867a: figures 2-4.

The Excavating Pitt-Rivers team is continuing to work on documenting the archaeological collections made by General Pitt-Rivers across England during the 1860s and 1870s. As we move forward with this, we have written this piece on his activities in Greater London for the newsletter of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society (LAMAS), introducing the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project and giving some overview of the London material. This includes extensive early salvage archaeology undertaken in the City of London, and Palaeolithic archaeology in west London and Acton. A full report, detailing each site and object from Greater London, will be published here later in 2013.

We'll be giving a talk to the Society at 6.30pm on 8 October 2013, at the Museum of London's Clore Learning Centre (EC2Y 5HN; nearest tube: Barbican). For further details, contact LAMAS

Pitt-Rivers in London
General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) is well known as a collector of archaeological and ethnographic material, as the founder of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford (founded 1884), as a pioneer in archaeological fieldwork, and as a writer on ideas of typology and change in material culture over time. His significance in excavation and recording techniques is well known from his fieldwork on his estate at Cranborne Chase in the 1880s and 1890s. Less well known is the wide range of fieldwork that he undertook at sites across England during the 1860s and 1870s (Bowden 1991: 57-94).

Our current project, funded by Arts Council England, is documenting objects from the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum to provide a new account of this early fieldwork, undertaken while the General was in his 30s and 40s, and before he unexpectedly inherited his title and inheritance in 1881 – when he was known only as Augustus Henry Lane Fox. The English archaeological collections have never been a principal focus of research at the Museum, and the vast majority of objects have been unstudied for 130 years. In this respect they represent a distinctive kind of 19th-century archaeological assemblage, as well as collections from earlier periods of English archaeology – which is why we gave the project the title Excavating Pitt-Rivers.

The founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum comprises some 26,000 objects, around 70% of which are archaeological. Material from other sources acquired by the Museum after 1884, which includes more than 280,000 objects, does not form part of the present project (but see Hicks and Stevenson 2013).

Around two thirds (10,500) of the 16,600 archaeological objects in the Pitt Rivers founding collection are from England. These objects, together with documentary records and published accounts of excavations, represent a unique record of Pitt-Rivers’ changing techniques of acquiring and recording objects. Some objects were bought at auction or acquired from other collectors. Many others were obtained through site visits, and small and larger-scale excavations. The largest single assemblage is from the large-scale excavation of a medieval castle at Castle Hill (Caesar’s Camp) in 1878.

Material from Greater London forms a very significant element of the early Pitt-Rivers collections. The General was a Londoner for most of his life, living at various houses in Belgravia and Kensington including 10 Upper Phillimore Gardens and 4 Grosvenor Gardens during the 1860s and 1870s. He was an active member of learned societies, including the Ethnological Society of London, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Archaeological Institute. His archaeological and ethnological collection was first shown to the public in London - at Bethnal Green Museum (now the V&A Museum of Childhood) from 1874-1878 and at South Kensington Museum from 1878-1882 - before being donated to the University of Oxford

Documenting the Pitt-Rivers’ London collections has highlighted his use of salvage or early rescue archaeology, especially in relation to groundworks for railway construction, during the 1860s. Extensive collections of Roman and post-Roman material from London Wall made in 1866-7 were published by him (Lane Fox 1867a, 1867b). His interpretation of timber piles as the evidence of a lake village was incorrect, but more than 300 objects from the fieldwork survive at the Pitt Rivers Museum, including 20 skulls (see Marsh and West 1981). 

There is also salvaged material, collected by him and acquired from others, from other sites in the City of London (including Broad Street Station (now Broadgate), Cannon Street Station, Bishopsgate, Bucklersbury, Clement’s Lane Finsbury Circus, Fleet Street Lothbury (Tokenhouse Yard), Lombard Street, Lower Thames Street (Brewer’s Quay), Mansion House Minories, Moorfields, Old Jewry, Poultry and Smithfield. 

Beyond the City, there are objects and assemblages from railway works in Southwark (SE1), from a peat bog in Walthamstow (E17), from Old Swan Wharf in Wandsworth (SW11), from Lincoln’s Inn (WC2), from Shepherd’s Bush – and even a leather bottle recorded as found in a cesspool in Homerton.

There are also some 74 later prehistoric, Romano-British and post-Roman objects recorded as  from the River Thames in London, including bone, ceramic, iron and stone objects, three bronze axes and two bronze swords.

As well as this material, there are Palaeolithic collections made by Pitt Rivers during a survey of the gravels of the lower Thames Valley in west London between 1869 and 1872, including more than 125 stone tools from Acton and Ealing (Roberts 2013: 197; Lane Fox 1869, 1872).

Image:  "Sketch map of part of the Thames valley, from Acton to near Chiswick and to the Thames at Kew", showing sections opened by Pitt-Rivers (A-K). From Lane Fox 1872, Figure 1).

By enhancing the documentation of the earliest excavated and collected archaeological material acquired by Pitt-Rivers, the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project explores the significance of museum collections for re-thinking the history of archaeological fieldwork. In London, the collections hold unique evidence for the beginnings of salvage archaeology and collecting practices that would be continued by the Guildhall Museum in the 20th century, and for Pitt-Rivers’ interests in Romano-British, post-Roman and Palaeolithic archaeology. Where the material has been acquired from other antiquarians, such as the c. 17 objects from the City of London acquired by Pitt-Rivers from James Clutterbuck around 1870, there are new histories to tell – in this case, about the connection of Clutterbuck (Rector of Little Wittenham) with Pitt-Rivers’ involvement in protests about the destruction of the Dorchester Dykes, and the growing awareness of ideas of preservation and salvage in this period (Lane Fox 1870).

The Excavating Pitt-Rivers project team will be giving a talk about the project to the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society on 8 October 2013, at the Museum of London's Clore Learning Centre (6.30pm). The talk will provide a more detailed overview of the project, and Pitt-Rivers’ activities in London. Pitt-Rivers was President of LAMAS in the early 1880s, which is another reason why we are excited to be able to look back on his work in London, and to speak to the Society in October.

Bowden, M. 1991. Pitt Rivers: the life and archaeological work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hicks, D. and A. Stevenson (eds) 2013. World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lane-Fox, A.H. 1867a. 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. 1867b. Objects found at great depth in the vicinity of the old London Wall. Archaeological Journal 24: 61-64.
Lane-Fox, A.H. 1869. On the Discovery of Flint Implements of Palaeolithic type in the gravel of the Thames Valley at Acton and Ealing. Report: British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1869: 130-132.
Lane Fox, A.H. 1870. On the Threatened Destruction of the British Earthworks near Dorchester, Oxfordshire. Journal of the Ethnological Society of London 2(4): 412-416.
Lane-Fox, A.H. 1872. On the discovery of Palaeolithic Implements, in connection with Elephas primigenius in the gravels of the Thames Valley at Acton. Journal of the Geological Society of London 28: 449-466.
Marsh, G. and B. West 1981. Skullduggery in Roman London? Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society 32: 86-102.
Roberts, A. 2013. Palaeolithic British Isles. In D. Hicks and A. Stevenson (eds) World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization. Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 169-215.

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