Salon Archive

Issue: 208

Forthcoming meetings

5 March 2009: Ballot with exhibit: our former President, Eric Fernie, will talk about ‘‘The Year Zero: a response to Marcus du Sautoy, Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford’.

Online voting is available up to 10am on 5 March on the Fellows’ side of the website; apply to Christopher Catling if you would like a password or a password reminder.

12 March 2009: ‘Hill Hall: a singular house devised by a Tudor intellectual’, by Paul Drury, FSA, and Richard Simpson, FSA.

Paul Drury will outline the medieval origins of Hill Hall as the background to describing how the scholar, polymath and courtier, Sir Thomas Smith (1512—77), first replaced the medieval building with a new courtyard house then completely rebuilt this in two phases, in 1568—9 and 1574—5, in an increasingly accomplished classical style, drawing on his experience as ambassador to France. The later phase includes one of the earliest examples of a giant order of columns in northern Europe and, uniquely in England at the time, made extensive use of terracotta in its construction.

Richard Simpson’s contribution will explore the paintings on glass, tiles and walls and discuss how these discoveries are related to Thomas Smith’s wide-ranging and ambitious scholarly studies, religious concerns and political activities. He will then argue, on the basis of his current research, that Smith’s specific motives can be understood in terms of broader contemporary aspirations for the decoration of buildings, which can be documented through readings of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century antiquaries and their engagement with Roman writers and the surviving vestiges of Roman buildings.

This paper accompanies the launch of the first monograph (called Hill Hall: a singular house devised by a Tudor intellectual) in a new series published by the Society in partnership with English Heritage. It is hoped that copies of the new book will be available for inspection at the meeting. Fliers for the book will also be sent to all Fellows in the April mailing. Orders may be placed with the Society’s distributor, Oxbow Books.

19 March 2009: ‘Medievalism and the Grand Tour’, by Rosemary Sweet, FSA

Both the Georgians and the Victorians were fascinated by Italy, but they saw the country with very different eyes. Eighteenth-century travellers sought out the monuments of classical antiquity; their nineteenth-century counterparts, by contrast, were increasingly drawn to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages and the ‘primitives’ of the early Renaissance. This lecture draws on contemporary antiquarian and topographical literature alongside unpublished correspondence and diaries to examine how the classically oriented Grand Tour evolved into the picturesque tour of the nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on changing perceptions of Gothic architecture in Italy.

25 March 2009: ‘Did Hadrian Design Hadrian’s Wall?’, by David Breeze, FSA, to be held jointly with the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, at 6pm at The Mining Institute, Neville Hall, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 1SE, followed by a reception in the Library of the Mining Institute.

2 April 2009: Ballot with exhibits: our former Librarian, Bernard Nurse, FSA, will talk about ‘Richard Tongue (1795—1873), painter of prehistoric monuments’.

23 April 2009: Council Elections and Anniversary Meeting

30 April 2009: ‘Getting to Know the Society’ tour. This will include an introduction to Burlington House by David Gaimster, followed by a tour of the Society’s library and the services it offers Fellows, by Heather Rowland, Head of Library and Collections, a tour of the Society’s pictures and museum collections by Julia Dudkeiwizc, the Collections Manager, and a small display of items from the Library, by Adrian James. The tour starts at 11am (coffee from 10.30am) and ends at 12.30pm followed, for those who wish it, by a light sandwich lunch, for which a charge of £5 will be made. Numbers are limited to 25 Fellows per tour. Contact to book a place.

The birth of prehistory: commemorating John Evans’s Somme gravels lecture given to the Society on 2 June 1859

Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species dominates the headlines and TV schedules, but 1859 is a pivotal year in the history of science for another reason, and one in which archaeologists and geologists played a central role: on 2 June in that year, Sir John Evans (1823—1908) gave a lecture to the Society of Antiquaries that presented evidence for a more remote human antiquity than had hitherto been imagined, following his visit to Picardy with his friend, the geologist Joseph Prestwich, to testify to the existence of stone tools and the bones of extinct mammals in the same geological strata.

The Society’s commemoration of that lecture on 2 June 2009 will include short papers from seven speakers, led by Martin Rudwick, FBA, the celebrated science historian, who will speak on ‘The background to the problem of the antiquity of man’, and by our Vice-President, Clive Gamble, who will set Evans and Prestwich and the discoveries of 1859 in context. Clive has also tracked down the artefact that Evans and Prestwich photographed in-situ in 1859 and recovered from the Somme gravels; this will be on display again at the Society for the first time in 150 years, thanks to the Natural History Museum in whose archive it was re-discovered in 2008. The Hoxne handaxes found in 1797, which Evans also rescued from forgotten obscurity, will also be on view.

Places at the event cost £20, and include tea and a wine reception. If you would like to reserve a place, please contact

The Society’s accounts for 2007/8

The Society’s statutory accounts for 2007/8 have been signed off by Auditors and Council and have been posted on the Society’s website, from where they can be downloaded. Copies will also be available at the Anniversary Meeting on 23 April 2009.

Holiday closure

Burlington House and the Library will be closed on from Friday 10 April to Tuesday 14 April 2009 inclusive (re-opening on Wednesday 15 April) and Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 May 2009.

Nighthawking survey

After a two-year survey funded by state heritage agencies in the UK, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and carried out by Wessex Archaeology, a report has now been published that replaces rumour and myth with the factual evidence for the scale and nature of so-called ‘nighthawking’, or illegal metal-detecting, defined as ‘the search and removal of antiquities from the ground using metal detectors without the permission of the landowners or on prohibited land such as Scheduled Monuments’.

Of the 240 reports of nighthawking that the survey team investigated, 88 of the affected sites was a scheduled monument, 35 were sites being excavated by archaeological contractors and the remainder were sites detected without the permission of the landowner. The report stresses that these 240 incidents are only a proportion of those that actually take place, and that levels of nighthawking are particularly high at so-called ‘honeypot sites’ and in the eastern counties. One incident can also include many individuals and major damage: for example, at one well-known Roman settlement site at Icklingham in Suffolk, over 200 holes were dig during one nighthawk raid in 2007.

The report points to the under-reporting of the crime as the start of a vicious circle whereby the lack of reporting leads to the problem being seen by the police as a low priority crime; prosecutions are very rare and fines are considerably less than those imposed for parking misdemeanours. Because there is no effective legal sanction, landowners therefore cease to report the crime.

The aim of the report is to break this cycle. Among the recommendations are clear guidance for landowners, police authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and magistrates on the seriousness of the crime and appropriate penalties, and on how to combat it, how to report it and how to gather evidence. The report also calls on the auction site eBay, through which stolen antiquities are often sold, to play its part and to oblige the sellers of antiquities to prove title and provenance before they are allowed to trade: such obligations are already in place in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, says the report. As reported in Salon 207, Portable Antiquaries Scheme staff are also campaigning for an amendment to the Treasure Act to require anyone who comes into contact with treasure finds to report them, not just the finder.

A further core recommendation of the report is the establishment of a central database of reported incidents. Commenting on this at the press conference to launch the report, our Fellow Barry Cunliffe, Interim Chairman of English Heritage, said: ‘Nighthawkers … are thieves of valuable archaeological knowledge that belongs to us all. Establishing a clearer picture of the crime … will help us to combat it more effectively.’

Copies of the report can be found on the HELM website.

Stealing heritage

But let us not get too complacent about heritage theft always being the work of anonymous villains working by moonlight; there have been several convictions in recent months of people working on the inside, having established positions of trust. Book dealer David Slade, for example, was given a sentence of two years and four months in February for the theft of rare volumes from the Rothschild family after he was hired to catalogue their private collections. Slade, a former president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association in the UK, pleaded guilty to the theft of sixty-eight books between 2001 and 2005 which he subsequently sold for more than £230,000 at auction. Sentencing Slade, Judge Christopher Tyrer said that his actions were a grave lapse from his normal high standards, but he accepted that Slade was motivated by debt and not greed.

Then there is the case of William Simon Jacques (his real name; he also goes by the aliases Mr Santoro or David Fletcher), jailed for four years for stealing £1m worth of rare books from the British Library, but now out of prison and wanted in connection with the recent theft of rare illustrated botanical books from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley library. Having been arrested for that theft, he has since disappeared while on police bail. Police warn that ‘He is extremely bright, too bright to get caught; it is going to be very difficult to find him’.

The British Library has also suffered the depredations of the American thief Edward Forbes Smiley, who was sentenced in 2006 for stealing 97 rare maps from six institutions, and Farhad Hakimzadeh, the Iranian academic and former director of the Iran Heritage Foundation, who was jailed for two years for the British Library thefts (it was later discovered that he had also taken rare books from the Royal Asiatic Society).

As result of these crimes, libraries all over the world have tightened their security: the British Library, for example, has installed CCTV cameras and increased the number of staff who patrol the Library’s reading room.

Taking work home

Theft of the heritage is, of course, far from being a recent phenomenon; among the files released by the National Archives in January 2009 were documents relating to the conviction of John Nevin, an assistant curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1944 and 1953, who decorated his three-bedroomed council house at Nightingale Close in Chiswick with Japanese silver sword guards, Albanian embroideries and a 300-year-old Flemish tapestry. The problem was that this was all stolen from the V&A store rooms where Nevin was employed as a trusted cataloguer. So much did Nevin like ‘taking his work home with him’ that when police removed the stolen objects, all that was left in the empty bungalow was some bed linen and Nevin’s clothes — even the bag that Nevin’s wife used for her shopping trips turned out to be a nineteenth-century Italian leather and tortoiseshell handbag from the museum.

The case remains the largest-ever theft in terms of quantity from a British museum. When arrested, Nevin made an ‘ineffectual gesture of suicide’ by drinking half a glass of cough mixture. Charged with twenty-four counts of theft, he asked for the theft of 2,042 other items to be taken into consideration and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment at West London magistrates in June 1954. Asked to explain his actions, Nevin said: ‘I couldn’t help myself. I was attracted by the beauty’.

Bureaucrats mislay the heritage of France

From sins of commission to sins of omission, as the Jesuits might say: in France, 37,658 paintings, sculptures and other works of art belonging to the state that are supposed to adorn the walls and cabinets of ministries, embassies, local government offices and official residences, including the Elysée Palace, have gone missing, according to a recent audit. Of these, 3,444 are known to have been destroyed and 145 have been reported stolen: the rest seem to have disappeared not as a result of greed or dishonesty but because of bureaucratic negligence.

Among the missing items is a tapestry by Joan Miró that has gone missing from the French Embassy in Washington, a drawing by Raoul Dufy, which has gone from a museum in Marseilles, and an oil painting by the Slovene artist Zoran Music, lost by the French Finance Ministry.

Jean-Pierre Bady is the civil servant who has been charged by the French government with tracing the missing works. He found one Roman sculpture, known as the Athena of Palermo, at the National Centre for Educational Documentation in Paris, to which it had been loaned in 1958: it was still in the exact same spot where it had last been seen — except that its niche had been walled up in the 1970s by workmen who could not be bothered to move the statue.

Other works have disappeared because they have been misfiled, or simply omitted from the state’s inventory, but Bady also suspects that knowing officials have taken advantage of the bureaucratic muddle: in the case of an eighteenth-century Louis XV commode at the French Embassy in Copenhagen Bady found that it was a modern copy and that an ambassador had taken the original back to his home.

Shopping is ‘throwback to days of cavewomen’

The excellent Oldie magazine has an occasional column highlighting self-serving research, and last week’s study purporting to prove a link between shopping and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle must surely qualify — given that it was commissioned by the Manchester Arndale shopping centre. The study (by Dr David Holmes, of Manchester Metropolitan University) claims that women can’t help but shop as they are using instincts they learnt from their Neanderthal [sic!] ancestors — such skills include ‘gathering in caves with fires at the entrance’, which is why, apparently, we seek the comfort of warm cave-like shopping malls.

The study also finds that ‘hunter-gatherers sifted the useful from things that offered them no sustenance’. That surely undermines the whole thesis, since the consumer goods people buy from shopping malls could hardly be described as useful or sustaining. Even so, that has not stopped the Arndale’s business manager, Karl Clawley, from claiming that the rise in visitors to the centre this January (up 350,000 on last year to 2.68 million) is the result of ‘our gatherer instincts coming to the fore and affecting the way we shop in these testing times’.

The Art Fund Museums and Galleries Prize 2009 long-list announced

The Art Fund has announced the long list of museums in the running for the country’s biggest arts prize. With a cash prize of £100,000, the Art Fund Prize for Museums and Galleries 2009 could go to one of the big national museums (the V&A, the National Museum of Scotland and Kelvingrove are all in the list of ten long-listed museums and galleries), or to a regional museum (perhaps the Ruthin Craft Centre, Ballymena Arts Centre or Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum) or to a smaller museum, such as the newly opened Wedgwood Museum (independent of the stricken ceramics company), Stoke-on-Trent, the Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, or the new Braid Arts Centre and Mid-Antrim Museum, Ballymena, Co Antrim. David Puttnam is the Chair of the judging panel and the winner will be announced on 18 June at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. For further details, see the Art Fund website.

The Art Fund warns against breaking up the Minton Archive

Though the Wedgwood Museum is not affected by the collapse of Waterford Wedgwood, historians are very worried about the fate of the company’s Minton Archive, described by the Art Fund as ‘a forgotten national treasure … one of the greatest industrial archives in Britain’. The vast archive documents two centuries (1793—1968) of innovative design, manufacture and production by the pottery company, Minton, which merged with Royal Doulton in 1968 and was acquired by Waterford Wedgwood (now in receivership) in 2005.

The collection includes original pattern books, business ledgers and other paperwork relating to the firm, as well as similar records from Royal Doulton and other smaller potteries, but it also has a collection of original ceramic designs by such artists as Augustus Pugin, Christopher Dresser and Louis Solon. Estimating the collection to be worth £6 million, Bonhams, the auctioneers, have been asked to prepare a catalogue dividing the archive into separate lots.

While emphasising that such a sale is not yet under way, the Art Fund has nevertheless decided to ‘send a message to the administrators and to any potential buyers that this is an important archive and should be recognised as such by remaining intact and being put on public display in the UK’. To split the collection would, says the Art Fund, ‘destroy its integrity as a collection that charts the history of the English pottery industry and that has great artistic, heritage and social value to the nation’. It wants to see the archive remain intact and be donated to an appropriate museum or sold ‘for a reasonable price’, so that it can be acquired with Art Fund help by a suitable public or charitable owner.

Further information can be found on the Art Fund’s website, where you can also sign to register support for the campaign.

Art Fund Recession Survey

Salon 207 reported on the findings of the most recent Art Fund Recession Survey, designed to find out how UK museums and galleries are faring in the recession; for the next set of quarterly statistics, the Art Fund is calling on curators and/or people who are part of a management team in a museum or gallery to fill in a short online questionnaire, which will remain active until 13 March. The questions are designed to help identify trends and the results will be used to engage debate about where the priorities of government and funding bodies should lie. For further information, contact Sally Wrampling.

Museums and galleries offer light amid the economic gloom

A reason why it would be foolish to cut spending on the heritage comes from newly published figures which show that while the UK’s High Streets are deserted, our museums and galleries are thronging with happy visitors who, while enjoying free entry to many of these cultural attractions, are nevertheless spending good money in museum shops and cafes. And whereas the UK’s business community is predicting worse to come in 2009, some 62 per cent of museum managers are predicting that their visitor numbers will be at least as high if not greater this year.

Of the UK’s leading cultural attractions, the British Museum leads the world with 5,932,897 visitors in 2008 (an increase of 9.5 per cent on the previous year). Tate Modern bucks the trend with a decrease in 6 per cent in visitors year on year, but still received a healthy 4,862,581 in 2008; the National Gallery (4,382,614) is up 6 per cent, the Natural History Museum (3,698,500) is up 2.7 per cent, the Science Museum (2,705, 677) up 1 per cent, the Tower of London (2,161.095) up 9.6 per cent, the National Maritime Museum (2,051,270) up a massive 21 per cent, the National Portrait Gallery (1,843,266) up 15 per cent and St Paul’s Cathedral (1,687,861) up 4 per cent. The Victoria and Albert (2,065,300) reported a 15 per cent drop; this was explained as ‘the after-shock from popular 2007 exhibitions on, for instance, Kylie Minogue’s clothes, the golden age of couture, and surrealism. Its 2008 offers had less broad appeal’.

In Liverpool, the 2008 capital of culture, the seven national museums on Merseyside attracted more than 2.7 million visitors: numbers at the Merseyside Maritime Museum were up by 69 per cent, the Tate Liverpool 67 per cent and the Walker Art Gallery 55 per cent.

The rise in visitors is in part due to the weakness of the pound against the dollar and euro, but Phil Redmond, who has been invited by the Government to chair a working party to consider nominating a British ‘capital of culture’ every year, said: ‘A cultural trip out is a good, cost-effective way of keeping everybody entertained’.

Liverpool and Glasgow are both investing in new museums: the new Museum of Liverpool on the waterfront will be the largest newly built museum in Britain when it opens in 2010, while the new Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum in Glasgow will celebrate the area’s industrial heritage when it opens in 2011.

The Textile Conservation Centre will close on 31 October 2009

Despite hopes that some parts of the work of the Southampton-based Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) might be taken on by Oxford University’s School of Archaeology, the TCC Foundation has now announced that such a transfer will not be feasible and that the Centre will therefore close on 31 October 2009 and its staff will be made redundant. The TCC Foundation says it will continue to make every effort to ensure that the Centre’s work, accumulated knowledge and expertise will not be completely lost.

Time will also be made to celebrate the huge achievements of the Centre since it was founded by Karen Finch OBE in 1975. To that end the TCC is organising two open days (18 and 19 June 2009) for supporters, former clients, graduates and the Centre’s friends to see the work of the current staff and students for one final time. For more information, contact Nell Hoare, Director of the TCC.

Remains of Edith, Empress of Otto I, found in Magdeburg Cathedral

The February issue of the German magazine Salikus contains a report saying that archaeologists working in Magdeburg Cathedral have found a lead coffin with an inscription claiming to be that of Edith, Empress of Otto I (also known as Eadgyth or Ædgyth). Tests that the archaeologists say they intend to carry out on the remains will include tooth enamel analysis to see if this suggests an English upbringing: Edith was a daughter of Edward the Elder (who ruled AD 899 to 925) and half-sister of Aethelstan (reigned AD 925—40).

Row over de-listing of Sandy Wilson building

The decision by Heritage Minister Barbara Follett to de-list a Grade II-listed building by Colin St John Wilson against the advice of English Heritage has raised numerous questions about the impartiality of the listings system, say critics quoted in last month’s Building Design magazine. The decision was announced in November 2008, but the row has broken out now because Building Design has used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of the correspondence that led to the de-listing decision.

Those who have now seen the correspondence, including Wilson’s co-architect on the project, Arthur Baker, say that the decision rested too heavily on a private report that they say is ‘riddled with inaccuracies and omissions’, and that was commissioned by the freehold owner of the building. The report says that Hereford House — a five-storey maisonette in Kensington built in 1958 — suffers from ‘fundamental flaws’, including oversized doors and a poorly designed stairwell. It argues that the building has been altered internally and has lost much of its integral 1950s detailing.

Baker said ‘I can only interpret this [de-listing] as a personal insult to Sandy Wilson and myself’, but the freehold owner, Gregory Mihalcheon, said that the original advice to the Department of Culture recommending that the building be listed ‘was flawed’ and that the report he had commissioned from consultants CGMS ‘had more accuracy and levels of information’.

Victorian concrete house to be restored

More cheerful news on the listed buildings front comes in the form of enforcement action on the part of Southwark Council, which is to take out a compulsory purchase order on 549 Lordship Lane, a rare example of a nineteenth-century house built of concrete. Applications on the part of the owner to demolish the building and construct new flats have been declined, and the Grade-II listed building has been left uninhabited for twenty years. Now shored up by scaffolding and garlanded in ivy, it is nevertheless ‘a very significant building’ according to Southwark Council’s Kim Humphreys, who commented that ‘these legal processes, unfortunately, take a considerable length of time, and that’s the reason that the building has got to the state it has’.

Built in 1873 by Charles Drake, the era’s most prolific and enthusiastic proponent of concrete homes, the walls are made of pre-cast concrete — now the world’s most common building material but then relatively new. Drake set up the Patent Concrete Building Company and became an evangelist for the new material, taking part in a series of talks at the Royal Institute of British Architects in which he argued that concrete homes were around a third cheaper to build than their brick equivalents, as well as being stronger and fire proof. He subsequently wrote of his ‘disappointment … to find amongst architects considerable reluctance to have anything to do with concrete buildings, and, with very few exceptions, little or no desire to know anything of it’.

New listings in Tower Hamlets

New listings have been announced by English Heritage to celebrate the architecture and history of London’s ‘Olympic borough’. All the new designations are at Grade II and they include Bow Police Station and Stables, 111 Bow Road, where Sylvia Pankhurst was held after breaking windows in Bow Road in 1913 as a protest, and the former New People’s Palace, Mile End Road (now part of Queen Mary and Westfield College), whose front is decorated with low-relief panels by Eric Gill. The former Poplar Town Hall (now Bow House), Bow Road, built in the inter-war years, also has a remarkable set of bas-relief panels of workers involved in the construction of the building designed by David Evans.

Also listed are Tredegar House, 97 and 99 Bow Road, Albert Stern House (formerly Beth Holim), 253 Mile End Road, the former Engineer’s Residence to the Albion Brewery at 27a Mile End Road, the tomb of Joseph Dixon, St Mary’s Church, Bow Road, the Gents WCs outside St Mary’s Church, Bow Road, and six cast-iron bollards in Kit Kat Terrace.

2,500 languages under threat

Unesco has launched its first comprehensive database of endangered languages with a warning that 2,500 languages are at risk of extinction, including more than 500 considered critically endangered, 199 of which have fewer than ten native speakers.

Christopher Moseley, Editor-in-Chief of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, said that ‘each language is a uniquely structured world of thought, with its own associations, metaphors, ways of thinking, vocabulary, sound system and grammar’, which we need to cherish ‘in the same way as we should care about the loss of the world’s variety of plants and animals, its biodiversity’.

Moseley blamed globalisation for the death of languages and said the problem was at its most acute in India and Brazil, which are both undergoing rapid economic transformations. What is lost, he said, was not just a language, but traditional ways of life; ‘language reflects political, cultural and social ideologies; subtleties of thought and perception are lost when people believe it is necessary to speak a dominant language for full civic participation and economic advancement’.

Indeed, he compares the spread of ‘killer’ languages, such as English, French or Spanish, to the diseases that wiped out whole populations when Europe and the New World first came into contact in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The community’s own lack of pride in its heritage can be an important part of the problem, Mosley believes, citing Papua New Guinea as a shining example of a nation that enjoys the greatest linguistic diversity on the planet, yet has relatively few endangered tongues because the island’s people value their ability to speak in the tongues of their ancestors.


Sadly, the Society has lost a number of Fellows in recent weeks, including Johnny De Meulemeester, former Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Ghent, in Belgium (tributes can be found in Dutch, French and English on the ArcheoNet website), Victor Marchant, Veronica Stocks and Alfred Mabbs (see obituary below).

Many Fellows will also be aware that our Fellow Alan Vince succumbed to cancer on 23 February 2009. Alan’s death will leave a large gap not only in his family and among his many friends but also in the many different areas of archaeology in which he was active, and not least in pottery studies. Our General Secretary David Gaimster said that ‘Alan was an inspiration to an entire generation of researchers working on British and European historical ceramics and one of the first to pioneer the use of petrographic methods for the study of ceramic trade and long-distance cultural exchange. We will all miss this leading archaeologist of the European Middle Ages who was so generous in his knowledge and encouraging to all working in the field.’ Further tributes can be found on the Britarch bulletin board and Salon will carry an obituary in due course.

Alan’s funeral is to take place on Monday 9 March at 3.10pm at Lincoln Crematorium, Washingborough Road, Lincoln LN4 1EF. Everyone is welcome; the service will be followed by a wake at Alan’s local. Alan’s family has requested that there be no flowers. Instead donations should be made to St Barnabas Hospice in Lincoln.

Obituary: Vivien Swan FSA (12 January 1943—1 January 2009)

Salon promised to return to the life of Vivien Swan once the Independent (which likes to have the first call on obituaries submitted to the newspaper) had published the obituary written by our Fellow David Breeze. This has now happened (see the edition for 26 February 2009), and the following edited extracts come from that obituary.

‘Vivien Grace Swan (née Bishop) was born in London, but adopted, in her words, by an elderly couple, living in Penarth. She was educated locally and then read archaeology at Cardiff. In December 1965 she was appointed an investigator at the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, being one of the first women to take up such an appointment in any of the Royal Commissions. Much of her earlier career was spent in the office in Salisbury but in 1975 she moved to York, settling with her family (she had married Tony Swan in 1966) at Flaxton, where she became the church organist and formed the Flaxton Music Consort. While in York, she published, with Humphrey Welfare, Roman Camps in England: the field archaeology (1995), still the indispensable source of information on this peculiarly British archaeological phenomenon.

‘She already had an interest in Roman pottery, and that was underlined by the publication of The Pottery Kilns of Roman Britain (1984). This will remain for the foreseeable future the foundation of Roman pottery-production studies in Britain. The main text is supported by details on microfiche of every kiln in Britain and its products, an enormous scholarly resource. Following her retirement in October 1996, Swan consciously picked up the mantle of her friend and mentor, the Roman-British pottery expert John Gillam, who had died in 1986, and turned her undivided attention to the study of Roman pottery.

‘The first flowering of her career after she left the Royal Commission is represented by her identification of North African ceramic styles in Britain. A parallel discovery was that a series of pots modelled in the form of human heads which were made in York had North African antecedents and portrayed members of the Severan imperial family. Her work on this pottery and its implications was explored in a series of articles published in the 1990s.

‘The last of the series, “The Twentieth Legion and the history of the Antonine Wall reconsidered” (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1999), goes far beyond the usual scope of specialist studies and has led to renewed and continuing interest and discussion about the building history and occupation of the Antonine Wall, the most northerly frontier of the Roman empire. In particular, Swan was able to suggest that the building of the Antonine Wall took far longer than previously believed and to offer a context for this: a hiatus of about four years while soldiers from the army of Britain were dispatched to north Africa to participate in the war against the Moors, returning with new styles of cooking which she was able to recognise at various forts along the frontier. Her research led to the award of an honorary doctorate by the University of Wales in 2001 and helped underpin the successful nomination of the Antonine Wall as a World Heritage Site in July 2008.

‘As her knowledge grew, Swan was able to recognise vessels from the same workshops on different sites and offer percipient comments on troop movements within Britain. She widened her report on the Roman fort at Carlisle to take into account local production, looking holistically at the development of Roman trade and production in Carlisle and the surrounding area.

‘In 1998 breast cancer was diagnosed. While still recovering from surgery, Swan took part in the project of Andrew Poulter, FSA, on the late Roman and early Byzantine fort at Dichin in Bulgaria, where she worked as Chief Ceramicist from 1998 to 2001 and subsequently as a Research Fellow of Nottingham University preparing the pottery for the publication. In a remarkably short time, Swan produced the first chronology for pottery on the Lower Danube for the period covering the transition from the late Roman to Byzantine periods (c AD 400—600). She was also able to trace the changing nature of the garrison through the different vessels used for eating and drinking. As one foreign archaeologist put it, “no one is doing work like this on the continent”. More recently, she was involved with the development of Roman-period ceramic studies and the mentoring of scholars in Georgia.

‘From very early in her career she was concerned with promoting pottery studies as widely as possible, publishing the popular general account Pottery in Roman Britain in 1975 and updating it in two subsequent editions. Through the Study Group for Roman Pottery and the Rei Cretariae Romanae Fautores, an international society dedicated to the study of Roman ceramics, Swan mentored younger pottery specialists. More generally, she encouraged younger scholars, even when their interests were not specifically in Roman ceramics.

‘Two years ago cancer returned. Vivien continued to work, with great courage and fortitude, on the Dichin and Carlisle pottery to within days of her death and completed these two important studies. In November, she was able to attend the British Archaeological Awards ceremony in the British Museum where she received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

‘Vivien Swan was a larger-than-life figure, unusually for archaeologists wearing colourful designer clothes (her coffin was painted white and with garlands, peacocks and shoes), and contributing generously to archaeological discussions. Rigorous in her own treatment of the sources, she expected the same from all other scholars and could be trenchant in her comments when this did not occur. While some colleagues were at first unwilling to accept her radical views on Roman pottery, she died knowing that she had won the respect of her colleagues in Britain and abroad and that a collection of her papers on Roman pottery, Ethnicity, Conquest and Recruitment is about to be published by the Journal of Roman Archaeology

Obituary: Alfred Mabbs, CB, FSA (12 April 1921—29 January 2009)

The following edited extracts are taken from an obituary for our late Fellow, Alfred Mabbs, former Keeper of Public Records, that first appeared in The Times on 25 January 2009.

‘Alfred Mabbs, known to all as Freddie, entered the Public Record Office (PRO) in 1938 from the then highly competitive Clerical Officer examination. After war service as a sergeant-instructor he returned to the PRO where his duties were connected with the so-called “Limbo” scheme, whereby records of government departments that were only occasionally wanted, but some of which might ultimately warrant permanent preservation, were held at a repository in Hayes, Middlesex. In 1950, the PRO, realising his potential, put him through a rigorous Latin test and then promoted him to the administrative assistant keeper grade. Such class-to-class promotions in that era were quite exceptional, and within the PRO there had only been one other when, in 1937, a long-serving higher clerical officer had been appointed after a similar language test — “from Limbo to Olympus”, as a senior colleague said.

‘Not long afterwards, Stephen Wilson was appointed Keeper. He was tasked with clearing up what the Treasury saw as a “nest of medievalists” and with implementing reforms recommended by the Grigg Committee on departmental records and enshrined in the subsequent Public Records Act 1958. Many of the administrative keepers feared that the effect of his mission would be to switch the PRO’s bias from the older records to the more modern — and, in terms of public demand, more popular — records. Mabbs was more supportive, so it was not surprising that Wilson set him to work in the newly created Modern Records Section on Treasury and Cabinet papers.

In turn, Wilson’s successor, Harold Johnson, one of Mabbs’s original examiners in 1950, appointed him principal assistant keeper and then head of the Records Administration Division, whose job it was to liaise with government departments through a team of inspecting officers. Then, in 1973 when the deputy-Keeper Neville Williams resigned to become secretary of the British Academy, the then Keeper, Jeffery Ede, had no hesitation in appointing Mabbs to replace him. In 1978 Ede retired and the Lord Chancellor appointed Mabbs to succeed. He thus enjoyed the distinction, attained only by a few civil servants, of ascending to their department’s pinnacle from the clerical ranks.

‘He was much attached to the Chancery Lane site which had been the PRO’s headquarters from its creation in 1838 and as Keeper spent most of his time there even after the opening of Kew. His tenure was relatively quiet though he had to contend with the Duncan Wilson Committee, which had been set up to inquire into the workings of the Records Acts in response to critics of the PRO, particularly as regards selection policy. He thought the agitation had been instigated by ministers and officials within government and pseudo-academics. Their activities greatly angered him so he was relieved when the committee’s report proved something of a damp squib.

‘He was keenly interested in the development of archive administration, had to his credit several publications on records of all periods and was general editor of the Hertfordshire Record Society 1991—6. He carried out a number of assignments overseas under the auspices of Unesco and the International Council on Archives of which he was an honorary president. In recognition of his contribution to historical scholarship he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1954 and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1979.’


From our Abbott & Holder* correspondent (Fellow Michael Silverman): ‘I was in A & H yesterday [27 Feb] and noticed that they have a group of watercolours of Bedfordshire by Thomas Fisher, FSA. I think they have had them for a while and some of them are rather good’. A & H’s information sheet says: ‘Watercolours of Bedfordshire 1812—22, by Thomas Fisher FSA (1722—1836); painted while Fisher was making the drawings for his antiquarian tomes, Collections Historical, Genealogical and Topographical of Bedfordshire (1817) and Monumental Remains and Antiquities in the County of Bedfordshire (1828), these works form a faithful and contemporary record of the houses and lands of the county’s gentry at a time when the landscape was changing radically, with enclosed fields taking the place of medieval commons and woodland’

(*For the uninitiated, Abbott & Holder, in Museum Street, just south of the British Museum, is a treasure trove of reasonably priced English watercolours, drawings, prints and oil paintings from the last 250 years displayed over several floors in rambling nineteenth-century premises that are worth a visit in their own right.)

Having established the correct date for the Westminster Chapter House, thanks to Philip Dixon, Fellow Juliet West now asks if Salon will unscramble the reference to the status of the Chapter House: it is not the Chapter House alone that is the Royal Peculiar, Juliet says, but rather the whole abbey. As a Royal Peculiar, the abbey is outside episcopal jurisdiction and comes directly under the authority of the Queen in her role as supreme governor of the Church of England; the Dean and Chapter are appointed by the Queen. But that is not the reason why the Chapter House is cared for by English Heritage; instead it is because the Chapter House enjoys the unusual status of being a secular Crown building held by the Queen ‘in right of Crown’: the Crown has devolved administration of the Chapter House to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who in turn relies upon English Heritage as the ultimate caretakers. As Juliet herself admits, ‘it is all very complicated!’.

‘Apropos the item about American archaeologists honouring Indiana Jones and the good work done by the actor Harrison Ford, it is generally acknowledged that Indiana Jones was modelled on Hiram Bingham’, says Fellow John Hemming. ‘In August 1911, Bingham had the thrilling experience of parting dense cloud-forest vegetation to see the ruins of Machu Picchu. He later described it in splendidly Boy’s Own prose: “I found myself confronted with the walls of ruined houses built of the finest quality of Inca stone work … covered with trees and moss, the growth of centuries … It seemed like an unbelievable dream … It fairly took my breath away … Surprise followed surprise in bewildering succession … and held me spellbound.” Dr Bingham was very tall, tough and handsome, and the Hollywood makeup people dressed Indiana Jones in his outfit: safari shirt and jodhpurs, puttees over riding boots, jaunty kerchief, and a slouch hat. Bingham’s later career was as flamboyant as his dress’.

John adds that ‘there is now a cottage industry of finding people who knew about Machu Picchu before Bingham. Among the latest are a German mining prospector who put the place on a sketch map in the 1870s, another who registered a company in Lima to loot Inca ruins in that region, and assorted travellers, mining engineers, missionaries and adventurers, and a Peruvian who put his graffito on the stones (which Bingham mentioned)’. John plumps for Bingham in the end because ‘in my view, none of these can claim to have found the most famous ruin in the Americas because none of them told the world about it’.

Fellow Blaise Vyner endorses Howard Williams’s conclusion (Salon 207) that some community archaeology projects may be a waste of money. ‘Time and again one reads of projects that have been ludicrously over-funded and yet appear to produce very little in the way of community activity or even original or semi-original research’, he says. Undoubtedly many Fellows will agree with Blaise’s conclusion that it was all done so much better in the ‘old days’ of extra-mural classes, ‘which undertook very interesting, useful and surely more satisfying work, and frequently involved greater numbers of people’. BLaise adds that ‘I am sometimes approached for information by “community archaeology” groups (whose “expert advisers” seem able to do little more than claim a fee); a while back I gladly provided an air photograph for a “community archaeology publication”, which I assumed would be an economically produced booklet or the like. What emerged was a coffee table book costing almost £30 (clearly a very wealthy community, and, no, I wasn’t given a copy!)’.


6 March 2009, 2,30pm, Harrods Room, The Queen’s Building, Emmanuel College Cambridge. Dr Tony Trowles, Librarian, Westminster Abbey, will be talking about the library of Westminster Abbey from its origins to modern times. The present library traces its origins to the re-foundation of the former Benedictine monastery as a collegiate church by Elizabeth I in 1560. Major benefactions of books in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provided the core of a collection which now numbers some 20,000 volumes. While the early printed books form a typical capitular library, with strengths in theology and the classics, there are also medieval manuscripts, fine book bindings, and an extensive modern collection devoted to the history and activities of Westminster Abbey. Tea will be available after the lecture and Emmanuel College Library’s Special Collections will be open (current exhibition ‘Travel and Description 1500—2007’). Contact if you wish to attend.

20 March 2009: Gough Day: a celebration of the life and collections of Richard Gough (1735—1809) in the Bodleian Library’s Seminar Room 10am to 4:30pm. Of interest to Fellows, as Gough was instrumental in the establishment of Archaeologia, first published in 1770 and served as Director of the Society from 1771 to 1797, this day of short talks and displays of items from the Gough collections will culminate in a keynote lecture given by our Fellow Rosemary Sweet on Richard Gough’s life and connections and will be followed by a reception in the Divinity School. To register, e-mail:

21—22 March: From Plunder to Preservation: Britain and the ‘heritage’ of Empire, c 1820 to 1940, King’s College, Cambridge. The invention of heritage has become an important, yet highly fragmented, field in nineteenth-century studies. The conference aims to shed light on what has so far remained under-explored in the scholarly literature, the links between preservationism and imperialism. So far most research on preservationism has been based on studies within the British Isles. The aim of this conference is to bring together specialists on preservation in Britain and the former colonies (from a range of countries and disciplines) to map preservation in the British Empire. To register please email cost £35 (concessions £15). Further information from the website of the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group.

24 March: Global Heritage Fund UK’s First Anniversary lecture: John Sanday on the Banteay Chhmar Conservation Project, Cambodia; Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street, London. The Global Heritage Fund, established in 2002 in Palo Alto, California, to save the earth’s most significant and endangered cultural heritage sites in developing countries, will celebrate its first year of operation in the UK with lecture by our Fellow John Sanday on the Fund’s work at the Banteay Chhmar (Citadel of the Cats) monastic complexes, one of the great architectural masterpieces of twelfth-century south-east Asia and of the Khmer Kingdom’s epic Angkorian period. His Excellency Hor Nambora, Cambodian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, will introduce the work of the GHF. Further details from the GHF’s website.

4 to 9 May 2009, Numismatics and Monetary History in the Age of Enlightenment. Being organised by our Fellow Christian Dekesel, this conference will be held in Dresden, where the Coin Cabinet ranks among the three largest numismatic collections in Germany. The Dresden conference (a continuation of the symposium held in Wolfenbüttel in 2003, which dealt with numismatic literature of the seventeenth century) will examine the rise of such collections and of numismatic studies generally in the Age of Enlightenment, which resulted in a vast number of European publications on numismatics. More than half of the speakers are Fellows. Further details from Christian Dekesel.

24 May 2009: garden party for Sutton Hoo’s 70th anniversary from 10am to 5pm (normal admission applies). The National Trust, which now cares for the Sutton Hoo site, is holding a 1930s-style garden party to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the excavations at Sutton Hoo. Re-enactors will be dressed as characters from the period and vignette plays performed throughout the day will re-create different aspects of the discovery. Visitors will be able to see inside Tranmer House, Edith Pretty’s former home, which is not normally open to the public. There will also be talks by experts and guided tours of the burial mounds.

15 to 20 September 2009: 15th European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting, Riva del Garda, Italy: details of the conference can be seen on the EAA website, including the call for sessions, which closes on 30 April 2009.

17 to 19 December 2009: call for Sessions TAG 2009. The 31st annual TAG conference will be held at Durham University. Session proposals can now be submitted. Information about how to do this can be found on the TAG 2009 website. The deadline for session proposals is 30 June 2009. The call for papers will open in July.

Books by Fellows

It is astonishing to think that such a book has not been published for a century, but that makes Nigel Saul's comprehensive survey of English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press) all the more welcome. The book is ground-breaking in its study of the social history of medieval church monuments, which we tend to see as formal or impersonal monument types, whereas Nigel believes they reveal much about the self-image and religious aspirations of those they commemorate, offering a window into their lives and aspirations. With chapters that examine the part that fashion and geography played in monument design, as well as the constraints and opportunities available to people choosing a monument for themselves or for the person they wished to commemorate, there are then detailed studies of the monuments of ecclesiastics, military figures, civilians in general and lawyers and women in particular and on the ‘Cult of the Macabre’.

William Dugdale, Historian 1605—1686: his life, his writings and his county (Boydell & Brewer) is the work of Fellows Christopher Dyer and Catherine Richardson (as editors and contributors of papers on ‘The Antiquities of Warwickshire’ and ‘Material Culture in Early Modern Warwick’, respectively) and of ten other contributors, who include our Fellows Graham Parry (on ‘Sir William Dugdale and the Perils of Autobiography’), Stephen Roberts (‘William Dugdale in Restoration England’), Geoffrey Tyack (‘Dugdale and the Warwickshire Country House’) and Nat Alcock (‘The Rich Man in his Castle … Late Seventeenth-Century Warwickshire Society’). These, and other leading scholars, consider how Dugdale set about his work as an antiquary/local historian, and how he interacted with the society and political life of this county at a troubled time, to produce his pioneering work, Antiquities of Warwickshire.

Christopher Hartop’s account of Geometry and the Silversmith: the Domcha Collection (available through bookshops or from the publisher John Adamson, 90 Hertford Street, Cambridge CB4 3AQ, at £25 plus postage and packing: email: uses the Domcha Collection of predominantly English seventeenth- to nineteenth-century silver as the starting point for an exploration of a hitherto neglected subject: the beauty of plain silver forms, with the emphasis on line rather than ornament, and the process by which design is transmitted via the workbench to a finished silver object.

In his introductory essay, Christopher Hartop suggests that many of the geometric forms that became popular in the early eighteenth century were in fact modelled on imported Asian ceramics and lacquer, some of which in turn were copying much earlier metal wares. Made for educated patrons, well able to appreciate the subtleties of design of a seemingly simple cream jug or sugar bowl, the author shows that functional objects in what became known as the ‘Queen Anne’ style rely for effect on geometric techniques whose use formed part of the essential training of a silversmith.

Salon has only just learned of an exhibition on Piranesi as Designer that took place at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, in 2007—8, but while it is too late to see the show itself, the monograph of the same name arising out of the exhibition has just been donated to the Society’s library by our Fellow John Wilton-Ely, joint author and joint curator of the exhibition with Sarah Lawrence of the Cooper-Hewitt. Piranesi was, of course, an Honorary Fellow of our Society (elected in 1757), which adds further interest to a book that examines his full range and influence as a designer of architecture, elaborate interiors and exquisite furnishings. Etchings, original drawings and prints by Piranesi, as well as a selection of three-dimensional objects, illustrate Piranesi’s architectural projects, his fantastic chimneypieces, carriage works, furniture, light fixtures and other decorative pieces.

By contrast, here is an exhibition that you will be able to see. Fellow Richard Ormond is the guest curator of Sargent and the Sea, which opens at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC in October 2009 and travels to London’s Royal Academy of Arts in the summer of 2010. The exhibition will be the first to examine in depth John Sargent’s marine paintings, including the famous Oyster Gatherers of Cancale, many of which were completed during the artist’s journeys from Boston to Europe.

In advance of that exhibition, Richard has just published Volume 6 of the complete paintings: John Singer Sargent: Venetian Figures and Landscapes 1898—1913, by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray (Yale University Press), highlights 141 works that Sargent painted during a fertile fifteen-year period when he produced luminous masterworks from the vantage point of the Grand Canal or painted the nuanced tonalities of sleepy side canals from the low vantage point of a gondola. An authoritative essay explores the aesthetics of Sargent’s Venetian work, places it in the context of his oeuvre as a whole, explains Sargent’s relationships with his patrons in Venice, and discusses the exhibitions and marketing of this work in London and New York. The book also provides a map of Venice marking every known location that Sargent painted and displays dozens of contemporary colour photographs of the sites.


Manx National Heritage, Director; closing date 13 March 2009
Requirements include at least five years’ recent experience in strategic senior professional museum/heritage role. Further details from

Institute of Conservation, Chief Executive, closing date 2 March 2009
Strategic planning and management skills required, with proven experience of networking and fundraising at a high level, preferably in the arts and cultural sectors. For further information, contact Rob Hayter at TPP Not for Profit quoting ref. 32538CE.