Society Stories

We love hearing your stories about the Society and Burlington House. Thank you to everyone who has submitted a story or memory. We are extremely grateful and humbled to receive such wonderful support.

If you would like to share how the Society has contributed to your interests, supported your research, or informed your thinking, please share your testimonial on what the Society means to you, and why you believe it should remain at Burlington House by filling out the form here.

Almost 60 years after the devastating Biafra War interrupted my late husband’s, Thurstan Shaw’s, (FSA), community-run excavations at the now famous sites of Igbo-Ukwu, the recent Society of Antiquaries foundational research grant, “New Excavations at Igbo-Ukwu”, has supported renewed educational opportunities, skills enhancement training and economic benefits for the descendants of the original Igbo-Ukwu excavation teams. Your grant also inspired a new infrastructure project at the local University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as well as on-site career training and career promotion opportunities for the young Nigerian team; at the same time the grant engendered truly exciting new scientific archaeological research led by Nigerian scholars. They will submit that work to publication in your Journal. We were invited to return to Igbo-Ukwu by HRH, Igwe, Martin N. Ezeh IDU II of Igbo-Ukwu. Dr Kingsley Daraojimba, from the University of Nigeria, one of the first scholars I recruited when fighting for this Project, is now the young talented Director. Your grant has supported our far-reaching goals. Our hope is that archaeology will now be made sustainable and successfully further social, educational and economic benefits for rural Igbo populations. We thank you and hope that our success demonstrates the Society’s importance and relevance to a world community of archaeologists.

Pamela Jane Smith
My very first job was as assistant to John Hopkins, the Antiquaries’ librarian – and what a marvellous place to start one’s career! I came straight from school and working in BH inspired me to go to university to read History& Archaeology, which I duly did. Subsequent jobs were in archaeology and it was a pleasure to come up to BH to carry out research for my work. BH is so conveniently situated for those of us who live out in the sticks and come to London on the train. It is difficult to see how the Society would be able to acquire big enough premises in London to accommodate all its collections including the library, meeting rooms etc. Its loss would be felt not only by the Society but by other organisations such as the Royal Archaeological Institute that use its rooms. In the 1960s the premises were in a fairly shabby state – I remember an occasion when John Hopkins and I had to coax the ancient heating system into action after the Christmas break – the nearest I have come to driving a steam engine! But now the premises are so well appointed: it would be tragic to have to give them up.
Andrew Pike FSA

Without access to the SoA library I would not have been able to write my first book. It is a unique resource that allows researchers to see rare material in one place. Moving the Society and its library from London would prevent many people from accessing this incredible resource.

Mark Bell

I am among what must be a small group of women who have breastfed their baby during lectures at Burlington House. This was not long after I submitted my doctoral thesis, about a decade ago now. As an early career scholar, I was anxious about how to combine motherhood with a precarious career in archaeology. The wisdom of the older women Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries meant a great deal to me in this tough time in my life, encouraging me to stick with it. Although I am not a fellow myself, being able to visit Burlington House has been crucial to my professional development. A chance encounter at another lecture led to a five-year research collaboration resulting in an excavation project and several publications. I now bring my own postgraduate students to Burlington House where I hope they too will be inspired make their own discoveries.

Helen Wickstead

I took a tour of the house and the collection back in 2018, after learning about the Society from a Tony Robinson special about Richard III, and was overjoyed, not only with the rich history of the Society and its collection, but of the engaging members and staff. I’ve managed to only attend one lecture in person, but it was truly unforgettable. This is my favourite Society I’ve come across so far, and their central location makes it easy to get to. Going through the archway into the courtyard of Burlington House and then going to the left to the Society, instead of the more-publicized Royal Academy entrance, makes one feel like they are about to embark on an adventure known only to a handful of people. A unique, intimate, London experience not usually found in the Guides. Also, the card catalogue in the library is quite wonderful to peruse as so many centres of learning are removing them after digitizing the collections. If I cannot actually become a member, I would very enthusiastically be one of the staff, for this place just feeds my soul and my mind and is truly the heart of Piccadilly.

Pamela Loetterle
The Society’s rooms at Burlington House are a welcoming hub for members of the public and researchers alike, and its collections – some of which may be at risk of dispersal if a move out of London is unavoidable – are unparalleled. My own research, into an eighteenth-century antiquarian society in Lincolnshire and its links to London, is heavily reliant on archival material at the Society and the library (the largest of its kind in the country) is a wonderful place to work on it. The central location of Burlington House brings together experts from many different fields and the fellowship which springs from this – at regular lectures or just bumping into people in the library and sharing stories – is something which may well be lost if a move is forced.
Liam Sims FSA

I was moved and honoured to be elected to the Fellowship in 2002. It marked the moment at which I realized I was no longer a ‘young scholar’, but rather ‘established’, with all the responsibilities as well as rights that such a status brings. Since then, the Society has been an academic ‘home from home’ — a familiar and beautiful place to work in and to visit when I am in London, wherever in the globe I have been resident. I love a day working in the Library, riding the Northern Line, weaving a path through the tourists in Piccadilly, saying hello to the staff, nosing through the new books, a sandwich lunch in the courtyard… I don’t feel I can write a bad sentence in such a lovely place. Sara Perry and I worked with the Society on the Alan Sorrell archive and published our research in the Antiquaries Journal in 2014. But most importantly, I love seeing a community of old friends — the staff of the Society and the fellow Antiquarians. As the Society engages with a changing cultural and political climate, and seeks to do the difficult work of becoming more genuinely diverse and inclusive, it needs the support and counsel of all Fellows and of its allies in the wider world as it faces troubled times. It needs to be secure in its home in order to face these challenges. I can’t think of the Society outside of Burlington House; to think of such a thing would be like conceiving of an elephant without its trunk.

Matthew Johnson FSA

I have, personally, relied on this collection for the research I undertook for my MA in Medieval art and architecture at the Courtauld Institute of Art (2002). My research challenged the assumptions of the Victoria and Albert Museum in relation to the ‘Little Men of Naworth castle’ – three oak sculptures, acquired by the museum in 1999 amidst significant publicity as outstanding and rare examples of secular English carving from the late Middle Ages. I suggested alternative identities and a new date and origin for the figures and my research was published in 2007. I have subsequently enjoyed a 12 year career in teaching Art History. Without this collection and its location, this research would not have been possible.

Emily Chappell

I first used the Society’s library as an MPhil student, and then later on whilst working on a doctoral thesis. The late, great Owen Chadwick suggested I explore Burlington House. The exceptional collection and the generosity of the Society’s welcome – even to younger scholars who were slightly in awe of this venerable institution – was capacious and inspiring. The Revd Canon Dr James Hawkey Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey

The Revd Canon Dr Jamie Hawkey

I have known the Society of Antiquaries since the 1950s. Access to it helped with my mediaeval research, writing my PhD and subsequent articles. I remember in particular Hopkins, librarian, as particularly helpful. I have also attended numerous events at it and also at the Linnean Society etc, supported the Artists’ General Institution, which has an office in Burlington House, held events at the Royal Academy etc. It shows up the philistinism of the government that it mounts such an attack on the learned societies while giving financial support to dubious “cultural” bodies.

Dr Selby Whittingham

I am an art historian, and I visited the Society of Antiquaries to look at Antonis Mor’s Portrait of Jan Scorel and Eworth’s Portrait of Mary Tudor. I still remember it, which is extraordinary in itself: it was intriguing to book an appointment and see the works in a setting which amplified their importance through its own rich heritage. I remember the portraits specifically in that setting, and the quality of the light. Our life experiences and our engagement with art are enriched by such places, such collections, and such moments. I don’t want London’s idiosyncratic, rich, beautiful spaces taken away from us.

Susan Frances Jones

My introduction to Burlington House was through my wife, Vanessa, who worked part time there some years ago, making/serving teas, operating the slides for various lectures, etc for the Society of Antiquaries. It was she who put me on to the Heraldry Society, who held many of their lectures, meetings and other gatherings at Burlington House and, having previously been granted my own Coat of Arms, it was a natural step for me to join the Heraldry Society and attend their meetings at Burlington House whenever I could. I have met some of the kindest, most knowledgeable and like-minded people there; have perused both the Heraldry Society’s the Society of Antiquaries’ libraries; and spent all too few serene afternoons engrossed in various tomes and marvelling at the SoA’s artefacts whilst London’s inclement weather raged outside. Suffice to say, Burlington House and it’s tenants hold a special place in my life. The Society of Antiquaries are guardians of some of the U.K.’s, and therefore the world’s, treasures. It would be a crime for them to lose their rightful home at Burlington House, just so that the British Govt. can make a profit turning the building into a commercial venture. I strongly implore the Government to reconsider their plans, and drop the threat of eviction aimed at the Society of Antiquaries, and allow them to continue their work on behalf of the nation in peace at Burlington House.

Peter Malone

I have been a Fellow since 1990 and all my publications since then have benefitted from being able to work in the Burlington House library. What I have valued particularly, in addition to the excellent availability of books and periodicals is that, unlike some notable academic libraries, Fellows are free to browse the shelves for themselves and as a result discover all manner of interesting and useful publications of which they were not aware. It is the most congenial and inspiring of libraries to work in and I cannot bear the thought that it might be lost forever.

Barbara Yorke FSA

My article, ‘The timber lodgings of King Henry VIII: Ephemeral architecture at war in the early sixteenth century’, was published in 2020 in the 100th volume of the Antiquaries Journal. The research it presents was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and, for the first time, sheds light on a little-known aspect of Henry VIII’s architectural patronage; the extravagant relocatable wooden buildings and the lavish tents that he took with him to war in 1513 and 1544. Of interest to historians of architecture, material culture, warfare, and the Tudor court, the article also gained national coverage with a full page spread in the Times, an article in the Mail Online, a mention on Radio 4’s the Today Programme, and a discussion on the BBC’s Have I Got News for You. Such widespread interest was thanks, in no small part, to the prominence of the Antiquaries Journal, and the respect in which it is held.

My decision to publish the research in the Antiquaries Journal was an easy one. It is a world leading journal and almost unique in its focus on articles that combine history, material culture, and archaeology. I was therefore naturally flattered that its peer reviewers considered my work suitable for inclusion. However, there was also another reason. The extraordinary archive and museum collections of the Society of Antiquaries inspired and informed my research and it seemed only right that I publish this research in their journal. Whether the sumptuous velvet hangings in Hans Eworth’s portrait of Mary I, bequeathed to the Society in 1828, that made me contemplate the use of fabrics both in palatial interiors and tents, or the epic depictions of Henry VIII’s campsites at the Siege of Boulogne, complete with a previously unrecognised depiction of his timber lodging, that was copied from a lost original and published by the Society in 1788, the collections have been, for me, an invaluable resource. So too the archive which holds the posthumous inventory of Henry VIII’s belongings – which lists, amongst many other things, the timber lodging depicted in the view of Boulogne – and some of the papers of Sir Thomas Cawarden, the officer responsible for making Henry’s tents and timber lodgings. Indeed, the Society’s archive is a gem of its collection for historians of Tudor history like me. A quick search of the catalogue brings up more than two hundred items dating from the period 1485 to 1603; most of those will be many folios long containing vital and unique insights into everything from local history, national and international politics, British and world culture, and, of most interest to me personally, the Tudor monarchy and its material culture.

I am by background an architectural historian specialising in the late medieval and early Tudor periods, but my day job is as Curator of Historic Buildings for the conservation charity Historic Royal Palaces (HRP). We look after the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, along with other unoccupied royal palaces. The historical research that underpins the delivery of this role is, quite often, informed and supported by the Society, its events and publications, and its collections. The specific research I undertook on Henry VIII’s tents and timber lodgings, that led to my article in the Antiquaries Journal, was, in the first instance, developed to inform a season of public events and an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s meeting with the French king, François 1er, at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. The exhibition, now postposed until 2021, includes in it another gem from the Society’s collection; a jousting cheque, or score sheet, that was used at the Field of Cloth of Gold itself. It is a hugely significant, beautiful, and evocative manuscript that will, for the thousands of visitors who we hope will see our exhibition, bring to life something of the magnificence of the royal courts of 16th century Europe and the story of Tudor England. As a historian, as a curator, and as a fan of Tudor material culture, it is hard to overstate the importance of the Society of Antiquaries, its publications, and its collections.

Alden Gregory

An archaeologist for 40 years, I’ve never had a University ‘position’. The Society’s ethic of welcoming all who do serious research has really given me a place to ‘belong’, and a sense of worth. I like to think I’ve done much useful stuff – certainly have an ace publication record – but let’s face it, status talks, especially when raising money for archaeology. And I’ve raised sums that turn my university-bound peers quite green! In a world that seeks to categorize and box everything, but value little, SAL is a beacon of light.

Dr Jane Moon

I was elected in 1984 and value the Society very greatly. It has one of the most interesting libraries in which I have worked, with the great benefit of the books being largely on open access. Through the Society I have met a diverse and fascinating range of people who share a common interest in the material remains of the past.

Prof Martin Millett FSA

For many years Art Fund has benefited from the use of the Society’s lecture facilities and its highly efficient staff to hold talks given by eminent art historians, curators and authors. Not only has this been a major benefit for holders of the Art Fund’s National Art Pass, but it has also raised a substantial financial contribution to the Art Fund’s work in support of the UK’s national art collections and the training of museum curators. Access to reasonably priced lecture facilities in central London, such as those at the Society, enable charities to raise vital funds and publicity for their work. As we head into a period when the support of charities will be needed more than ever, it is urgent that the government thinks more deeply about how to facilitate this.

Catherine Corbet Milward