Below you will find the answers to some Frequently Asked Questions which will help you to better understand our campaign
What does the Society of Antiquaries do?
The Society of Antiquaries is an educational charity that promotes the understanding of the human past and recognises distinction in this field through election to its Fellowship.
Founded in 1707, the Society meets its remit through a wide-ranging programme of activities. It runs regular public, educational and academic events, gives grants for research and conservation, and contributes to the formulation of public policy on the care of our historic environment and cultural property.
Today our 3,000 Fellows are a diverse group of archaeologists, historians of art and architecture, museum professionals, and many others holding positions of responsibility across the cultural heritage sector or simply passionate about the past. The Fellowship is international in its reach and its interests are inclusive of all aspects of the material past.
The Society is also the guardian of thousands of precious artefacts, books, and works of art. Our collections span many centuries of human history, from Neolithic tools to Tudor royal portraits, copies of the Magna Carta to illuminated manuscripts saved from the dissolution of the monasteries. The Society is entrusted by its Fellowship and the public to protect and foster public understanding of this heritage.
Why should I support the campaign?
Burlington House has been the home of the Society of Antiquaries of London since the 1870s. It was purpose-built for the Society by the government to replace apartments originally allocated to us in Somerset House, and has since acted as a hub of discovery for the UK.
The Society of Antiquaries premises at Burlington House is home to over 40,000 objects, paintings, prints and drawings, as well as a world-renowned library of over 130,000 books and manuscripts. The Library is particularly strong in the fields of archaeology, architectural history and the medieval decorative arts, and is an exceptional resource for studying the material remains of the past. The result of nearly 300 years of acquisition, it has a unique role in making rare and valuable material accessible to professional scholars and the visiting public. People come from all over the world to study the collections at Burlington House, where enthusiasts meet experts and ideas are shaped in the Library and lecture room. Over 50 heritage charities have used the building to support their activities each year.
Government policy has led to unaffordable escalating rent rises for the Society which has increased from £4,800 to £150,000 per annum when comparing figures from 2012-13 and 2018-19 respectively, a rise of 3,100%. This is putting the Society’s future at Burlington House at risk and presents, in turn, a major threat to the continued existence of the Society of Antiquaries of London in its current form. As a self-supporting charity, the uncertainty of the Society’s future in light of escalating rent rises and the dissolving of affordable Government rent terms, leaves the Society of Antiquaries of London under pressure to leave its historic home and raise funds for alternative premises for its operations and to house its precious collections. Its home will need to be a place where artefacts will remain safe whilst remaining accessible to academics, students, and the historically curious public.
How did the Society end up in this situation?
In 2005, our tenure at New Burlington House was formalised through a lease, with rent agreed on a non-profit basis – to cover (the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s) capital charge and depreciation, and to rise slowly to market rent over 80 years. The government invested in the repair of the fabric of the buildings, and the Society invested in updating the interiors.
However, from around 2014, government accounting policy changed and New Burlington House began to be treated as an investment property. While a lengthy arbitration in 2016 confirmed that the government’s interpretation of the formula for setting the rent was legally correct, the market value of property in the West End soared. In consequence, unforeseen back in 2005, the rent rose from £4,800 to £150,000 per annum when comparing figures from 2012-13 and 2018-19 respectively – a rise of 3,100%. As a self-supporting charity and with the indirect Government support of affordable rental terms dissolving – the Society cannot afford to pay rent escalating at this rate, which makes it imperative that we find a workable and affordable solution with Government to secure the precious collection’s place at Burlington House in future. A recent offer by government to peg the increase to 8% per annum (compound) for five years does not address the problem. This rate of increase is unaffordable for the Society as the rent would double in 13 years and will force the Society to move within the next three years.
What will happen to the Society if an affordable solution is not agreed?
As a self-supporting charity, the Society is under enormous pressure to raise funds for alternative premises to house its precious collections where they would remain safe and ensure they are accessible to academics, students, and the historically curious public.
It is highly unlikely alternative premises would be feasible for the Society to afford in a central city location such as Burlington House in Piccadilly; a more remote location would potentially reduce public access to the collection. A 2019 assessment by PwC estimated that 78% (£4.2 million) of the total gross public value delivered each year by the Society of Antiquaries (£5.4 million) would be at risk if the Society is forced to relocate from Burlington House.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds would be spent on the relocation alone; moving fragile historical items en masse is a huge undertaking, and such a collection would require customised premises to house it suitably and make it accessible.
The Society does not have the reserves to fund a highly complex relocation and purchase new premises. The trustees are fully focused on persuading the government to allow the Society to remain at Burlington House. However, if they are unsuccessful, they will potentially have to think what should be the unthinkable, and consider disposing of some of the objects entrusted to the Society for centuries. This would go against every belief and instinct of the trustees and Fellows of the Society, but it will have to be considered in order to ensure the survival of the charity in new premises where the Society can continue to host lectures, conferences, public events and exhibitions, and to conserve, display and make accessible our library and collections for future generations.
How can I support the campaign?
We are asking Government to work with us to find an affordable arrangement that provides the location and long-term security needed for the Society of Antiquaries of London to fulfil its plans to continue and further enhance its offering to the UK public and research community.
We also ask those in support of keeping the Society at Burlington House to help raise further awareness of the campaign by retweeting @SocAntiquaries, and by using the hashtag #SocAntiquaries.
What will happen if the Society has to move?
Without resolution, relocation from New Burlington House represents a major threat to the continued existence of the Society of Antiquaries of London in its current form. The damage caused to the Society in being forced to vacate Burlington House will reduce its cultural societal and heritage contribution to the UK.
A 2019 assessment by PwC estimated that 78% (£4.2 million) of the total gross value delivered each year by the Society of Antiquaries (£5.4 million) would be at risk if the Society is forced to relocate.
It is highly unlikely alternative premises would be feasible for the Society to afford in a central city location such as Burlington House in Piccadilly; a more remote location will potentially reduce public access to the collection.
What are you asking the government to do?
The Society is asking the Government to recognise the value of the libraries and collections at Burlington House and work with us to find an affordable arrangement for the Society to remain. This will provide us with the location and long-term security needed for us to fulfil our plans to continue and further enhance our offering to the UK public and research community.
Government originally brought the Society to Burlington House under a bespoke arrangement which has delivered immense public value as a hub of cultural and scientific discovery. Historical circumstance places a duty upon the Government to find a workable, affordable arrangement which recognises the value of the Society’s activities and its library and collections to the nation
What is Burlington House / where is it?
Burlington House is the Society’s purpose-built premises in Piccadilly. Dating from the 1870s, it is Grade II* listed and of nationally exceptional architectural and historic significance.
Burlington House holds the Society of Antiquaries library, heritage collection, ancillary offices and meeting rooms, used for both charitable and educational purposes.
Burlington House was conceived with a grand vision to bring together multiple learned societies of major cultural, scientific and academic importance from a range of disciplines. The Society of Antiquaries has a close relationship with its neighbours including the Royal Astronomical Society, The Geological Society, and The Linnean Society. As intended by the Government’s original vision, the unique co-location of these organisations has allowed them to thrive over the past 145 years and make significant contributions to the economy and public life.
Why should the Society stay in London?
Why not support the Government’s aim of ‘levelling up’ the North or other regions? London is expensive, wouldn’t you get a better deal somewhere else in the country?
Burlington House is perfectly positioned to house the Society’s collection in such a way that maintains its cultural societal and heritage contribution to the UK. The building was purpose-built for the Society by the government and has since acted as a hub of discovery as the Society has played its unique role in promoting the understanding of the human past.
Burlington House was also conceived with a grand vision to bring together multiple learned societies of major cultural, scientific and academic importance from a range of disciplines. The Society of Antiquaries has a close relationship with its neighbours including the Royal Astronomical Society, The Geological Society, and The Linnean Society. As intended by the Government’s original vision, the unique co-location of these organisations has allowed them to thrive over the past 145 years and make significant contributions to the economy and public life.
Having to relocate would likely result in the Society being based further away from the excellent international connections London has to offer. This would likely result in fewer researchers being able to study our library and collection, and fewer members of the public being able to discover the fascinating stories behind the history of the UK and wider world.
In addition, leaving Burlington House, whether leaving London or not, would require the prohibitively costly process of replicating this infrastructure elsewhere. Moving fragile historical items en masse is also a huge and extremely costly undertaking in itself.
Furthermore, the damage caused to the Society in being forced to vacate Burlington House will put its cultural societal and heritage contribution to the UK at risk. A 2019 assessment by PwC estimated that 78% (£4.2 million) of the total gross value delivered each year by the Society of Antiquaries of London (£5.4 million) would be at risk if the Society is forced to relocate. According to this, the Government is set to lose 44 times what it would gain through the current agreement (approximately £120,000 in income compared to £5.4 million in public value). This is while the uncertainty of the Society’s tenure has already restricted it’s contributions to society over the last eight years, with investment in the building and public engagement activities shelved, and resources instead directed at quietly appealing to the Government to help form an affordable solution.
An almost unthinkable yet looming scenario is that the Society may have to sell items from its collection to fund new premises in order to appropriately house the rest of its artefacts, even outside of a major city.
Why not transfer them to another trustee body?
In transferring the collection to another trustee body, the recipient organisation would still be faced with similar added costs in housing and protecting the collection. They would also need substantial funds, and potentially a cash endowment, to continue to make it accessible to academics, students, and the historically-curious public, as per the role of the Society at Burlington House.
What is the current rent?
The rent is recalculated annually and between 2012-13 and 2018-19 rose from approx. £4.8k to £150k per annum, an increase of 3,100%.
What do the government want to increase it to?
The rent is recalculated annually and between 2012-13 and 2018-19 rose from approx. £4,800 to £150,000 per annum, an increase of 3,100%.
Despite an offer by the landlord at the end of 2019 to peg increases to 8% per annum (compound) for five years, this rate of increase is unaffordable for the Society as the rent would double in 13 years and will force the Society to move within the next three years.
This will become increasingly unaffordable as government intends to raise the rent to the equivalent of £50 per square foot – at around £600,000 per annum.
How does this development fit into the broader narrative of property/housing in the UK?
In a settlement with government in 2005, there was a mutual understanding that the rents for the Courtyard Societies, under new leases, would slowly rise to market level over 80 years.
However, as the market in Central London property rose, so did the rent and between 2012-13 and 2018-19 it increased from approx. £4.8k to £150k per annum, an increase of 3,100%.
Despite an offer by the landlord at the end of 2019 to peg increases to 8% per annum (compound) for five years, this rate of increase is unaffordable for the Society and will force it to move within the next three years.
What will the impact be on researchers and research?
Burlington House is a hub of discovery, where researchers and the public come to learn more about the cultural heritage of the UK and benefit from the cross-collaboration and multidisciplinary events across the resident organisations.
Anyone keen to research our past can access by appointment, and the opportunity is taken up by many. The Society hosts undergraduate and postgraduate students through study sessions, open days and conferences with mentoring also available with our distinguished Fellows. The Society is also a key resource for early career researchers from around the UK, who come to Burlington House to explore the collections and network.
The Society also gives grants to researchers to help them enhance our understanding of the human past. The grants are geared to supporting independent and early- or mid-career researchers, enabling important work that would not otherwise happen without the Society’s support. The Society has awarded research grants totalling £350k in the three years prior to 2020, covering a broad range of subjects and disciplines including the archaeology of the earliest humans in Africa and Europe, the Viking impact on urbanism and industry in England, west African textiles in 18th century English society, and the Jewish built heritage of London’s East End.
The Society’s independent position as allows for an expert perspective on advocacy that really enables the progression of our study and understanding of the human past.
Having to relocate would likely result in the Society being based further away from one of the major centres of the UK’s research ecosystem. This would likely result in fewer researchers being able to study our library and collection, and fewer members of the public being able to discover the fascinating stories behind the history of the UK and wider world.
Who are some of SAL’s most prominent fellows? (External)
The Society consists of over 3,000 elected Fellows who are distinguished in their fields of archaeology, architectural or art history, or other antiquarian subject matters across the academic, charitable, heritage and private sectors. Some of the Society’s most prominent fellows include Sir David Attenborough, Professor Mary Beard and Loyd Grossman:
You can find out more about the Fellows here.
What are the most significant artefacts?
The Society’s collection comprises over one thousand manuscripts, including:
- The Lindsey Psalter, a 13th century Book of Psalms illuminated with gold, it is a national monument of English medieval art.
- Three of the earliest copies of the Magna Carta, regarded as the chief constitutional defence against arbitrary rule (dating from 1215 and 1225). Third revision of the Magna Carta, the great charter of English liberties, issued by Henry III in 1225.
- A 41 ft-long illuminated 15th century genealogical roll showing Christ’s descent from Adam and the succession of the Kings of England, Popes, and Kings and Emperors of France.
- The fine roundels are attributed William Abell, an outstanding mid-15th century English illuminator. The first portion of the roll, dedicated to Henry VI, dates to c.1455 and is made up of 17 vellum membranes.
- A vellum jousting cheque with the names of challengers and defenders from a contest held at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, June 1520 – the celebrated meeting of Henry VIII and Francois I of France. The cheque notes the scores achieved by knights competing in mounted lance combats. Few jousting cheques are known to survive.
- A two-volume inventory of Henry VIII’s 17,810 movable goods (including ships and their ordnance, musical instruments, maps, paintings and furnishings) compiled 1550-1551 after his death. This acts as a significant source for the material culture of Henry VIII’s court and provides insight into the King’s private, everyday life.
- The 12th century Winton Domesday – two surveys of the entire city of Winchester, made c. 1110, 1148. It is among the earliest and most detailed descriptions of any European town of the early Middle Ages and includes information on the inhabitants of the city.
A rare copy of the proclamation of Lady Jane Grey is contained within the Society’s collection of 2,000 proclamations. Printed 10th July 1553, the text advocates for Jane, a great granddaughter of Henry VII, as the rightful – Protestant – heir to throne and goes into detail disputing the claims of both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.
The Society’s collection of historic printed documents is one of the largest and most important in the country. The Society holds over 50 books printed in Europe before 1500, including:
- An edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy printed in Venice in 1491, with 100 woodcut illustrations.
- Henry VII’s Statutes and Ordinances of War, printed in London in 1492 by Richard Pynson, who was one of the first printers of English books and responsible for the standardisation of the English language. His books are typographical masterpieces.
- A copy of the Boke of Saint Albans. A work on hunting, hawking and heraldry, attributed to Juliana Berners, who wrote treatises on field sports and is said to have been prioress of the Priory of St Mary of Sopwell, near St Albans, where the book was printed in 1486.
- A German 1488 edition of the 13th century Passional, das ist Der Heyligen Leben ‘the Lives of the Saints’ [printed by Anton Koberger, Nuremberg, 1488] compilation by Jacobus de Voragine (more commonly known as the Golden Legend) with woodcut illustrations attributed to Albrecht Dürer, and owned by William Morris.
- An inscription at the beginning of the book records that Morris later gave it to his friend and fellow artist and printer Emery Walker. Morris designed the initial letters, borders and typefaces for the Kelmscott Press edition of the Golden Legend which was printed in 1892, with illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones.
- An English translation of Pope Innocent VIII’s declaration confirming the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. It was printed in London in 1486, the same year the marriage, which unified the houses of York and Lancaster, took place.
Prints and drawings:
- Beautifully detailed coloured engravings of the Bayeux Tapestry in its entirety, taken after the original was damaged during the French Revolution and before repairs were carried out in the nineteenth century.
- Vetusta Monumenta (Ancient Monuments) print series with high-quality engravings of a wide variety of ancient buildings, sites, and artefacts mainly across Britain. It remains an important record of methods and techniques for the discovery of the past, as well as for the antiquities of Britain.
- Cowdray Engravings – in the 1770s, the Society commissioned the copy a series of Tudor wall paintings in Cowdray house in Midhurst, West Sussex. The drawings were published in 1788, but shortly after Cowdray House burned down (1793) and the murals were destroyed, leaving the Society’s engravings a hugely significant record of the originals.
Next to the Royal Collection, the most important early sixteenth-century royal portraits to survive as a group, including:
- One of the earliest surviving portraits of Richard III, with the prototype from which it was taken, painted in the monarch’s reign (painted in the 16th Century), Henry VII (painted in the 16th Century), Henry VIII (painted in the 16th Century) and Jane Seymour (painted in the 16th Century).
- Portrait of Charlemagne / Charles the Great, one of the monarchs that defined medieval Europe (15th or 16th Century).
- The first major portrait of Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, captured by court painter, Hans Eworth, shortly after her coronation (16th Century).
- Six beautifully painted fragments from possibly the earliest cycle of paintings of the Saxon Kings of England.
- Late bronze-age ceremonial shield for Beith, Ayrshire. This is made from a single sheet of bronze with carefully embossed decoration in 29 concentric rings. The shield was found buried in ceremonial fashion and is the most complete example of its kind.
- Medieval processional cross from the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where the Wars of the Roses where finally settled. The cross was found with the decaying remains of a wooden staff bearing traces of paint and gilding. This suggests that the cross was lost in its processional mode and might indeed have been abandoned on the field of battle.
- Viking torques and brooches, found lodged in a crevice in Cumbria (9th / 10th Century AD).
- Ornate enamel reliquary designed to hold the remains of St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The champleve enamel decoration depicts the martyrdom of St Thomas and is one of the few caskets to depict all four knights.
- Neolithic stone pounder from Stonehenge. It is thought that the pounder would have been used as a tool for shaping the Sarsen Stones on site.
- Woodblocks designed by Edward Burne-Jones for William Morris’ ‘An Earthly Paradise’ and ‘Cupid and Psyche’. Many of the woodblocks were carved by Morris himself.
- The Second Great Seal of Elizabeth I. An original wax seal impression of the official seal of the British Monarch. The double-sided seal would be attached to documents and correspondence as a means of validation.