Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Frederick York Powell

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Frederick York Powell (1850-1904) was . He went to school at Rugby and was educated at the University of Oxford from 1868-1872. He was called to the Bar in 1874 and in the same year was appointed to a lectureship in law at Christ Church. By 1894 he was appointed Regius professor of Modern History at Oxford. His Folklore obituary explains the dearth of publications by him:

Multifarious interests filled and distracted a life into which little of method entered; hence ... the non-production of any work of high interest and importance. An omnivorous reader, nothing seemed to escape the meshes of his net. ... it was all and ever at the disposal of any inquirer in whom the sincere quest after truth was apparent ... In fact, this readiness to impart all he knew was alike his peril and his charm; it took him off any scheme of consecutive work; it made him the idol of the very miscellaneous folk who crowded the Thursday night receptions of the most unconventional and most delightful of Dons ... [Clodd, 1904: 183]

His Dictionary of National Biography entry concludes:

In appearance Powell resembled a sea captain. He was broad, burly, and bearded, brusque in manner, with dark hair and eyes, and a deep rich laugh, ‘a big, untidy, generous man’. In the sphere of learning he is chiefly remembered for his services to northern literature, ... and for the general stimulus which he gave to the study of medieval literature in Great Britain, rather than for outstanding or lasting scholarship.

Powell and the Folklore Society

Frederick York Powell was the President of the Folklore Society in 1904, the year that he died from heart failure. As his obituary in Folklore records:

The serious and rapid impairment of our beloved President's health, which was obvious to those who heard his Address in January last, prepared in some measure his friends for his untimely end. Only in some measure, for it seemed a thing incredible that a man of such splendid physique, and of such zest in life in lusty vigour imparts, would not pass to his grave full of years and honours. [Clodd, 1904: 182]

Powell and the Pitt Rivers Museum

According to his DNB entry, Powell had always been interested in 'old armour'. He gave a total of seven items to the Pitt Rivers Museum, of which only one was from England:

1896.57.1-2 Two whirling noise instruments used in celebration of the Czar's visit to Paris (1896).

1896.57.3 Small tobacco-box of birch bark, N. France.

1897.57.1 Small tobacco box of birch bark, N. of France
Detailed Pipes [Unsorted] Card Catalogue entry - Description: Tobacco box. Small and elongated oval in section, with lid and base of wood, light brown in colour and sides of a single section of bark ?birch. Through a perforation in the centre of the lid projects a short thong of brown leather. Height 3.5 cm width 5.7 cm Locality: Ambleteuse, Pas de Calais, France How Acquired: dd Prof. F. York Powell, 1897 [Drawing]

1897.57.2-3 2 noise instruments with membrane and string, North of France (Ambleteuse, Pas de Calais, Aug. 1896)

1901.12.1 Hand-made pin probably 150-200 years old, found in an old book in the Ch.Ch. library, Oxford.’ Christ Church, Oxford. 19.12.01 Dear Balfour, This pin is hand made. I found it [?]concealed in an old [insert] Ch Ch libr [end insert] book and judge it to be nearly 150 - 200 years old. It can ?hardly be later than 150, so I send it you for your collection as an old /English pin. Hoping you will have a happy Xmas with all health & wealth I am yours faithfully [signed] F York Powell.

Further Reading


Edward Clodd. 1904 'Frederick York Powell. 1850-1904' Folklore Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jun. 24, 1904), pp. 182-184

Powell, F. York 'Presidential Address: Tradition and Its Conditions', Folklore Vol. 15, No. 1 (Mar. 25, 1904), pp. 12-23