Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers and Yorkshire

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Pitt Rivers donated more than two hundred artefacts from Yorkshire, most of these are archaeological. He was a Yorkshireman by birth though he only lived there for the first five years of his life.

Pitt Rivers acknowledged Canon Greenwell as an archaeological mentor. He returned to Yorkshire some thirty years later to work with Canon Greenwell on an archaeological excavation. Some twelve years later on he again returned to Yorkshire to carry out another excavation at Flamborough Head. This page explores the relationship between Greenwell and Pitt Rivers and the items in the Pitt Rivers Museum collections from Yorkshire that connect to the two men, and are from Pitt Rivers alone.

Pitt Rivers and Yorkshire

Pitt Rivers was born at Hope Hall, Bramham, near Wetherby, West Yorkshire in 1827. At that time Hope Hall was occupied by the younger brothers or older relatives of the head of the Lane Fox family, whose seat was the nearby Bramham Park. [Thompson, 1977: 11] Until his father’s death in 1832, Pitt Rivers and his family lived at Bramham Biggin (still on the family estate). Soon after 1832 his mother moved the family to 3 St James’s Square, London. Effectively he was then resident in London for the next 50 years. [Thompson, 1977: 13]. For most of his life (apart from his early years), he lived in London and on the Dorset-Wiltshire border and in various army camps during his long service with the British Army.

Bowden remarks that ‘... the General [stated] that his first lessons as an excavator were received in Yorkshire under Canon Greenwell’. [Bowden, 1991: 60] This was in April 1867 when he carried out extensive fieldwork in the Yorkshire Wolds and also visited Greenwell’s excavations. [Thompson, 1977: 47] In October 1879 he dug at Dane’s Dyke in East Riding of Yorkshire [Thompson, 1977: 57]

More information about Pitt Rivers and the Pitt Rivers Museum including a fuller bibliography.

Further reading

Bowden, M. 1984 [reprinted 1990] General Pitt Rivers” the father of scientific archaeology Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
Bowden, M. 1991. Pitt Rivers - The life and archaeological work of Lt. General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers DCL FRS FSA. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Thompson, M.W. 1976 Catalogue of the correspondence and papers of Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt -Rivers (1827-1900) Royal Commission on Historical MSS List 76/75
Thompson, M.W. 1977. General Pitt Rivers: Evolution and Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century. Moonraker Press, Bradford-on-Avon UK

Meeting between Greenwell and Pitt Rivers

According to Thomson, Pitt Rivers' first biographer:

Fox [Pitt Rivers] went formally on half pay, apparently on his own request, on 6 July 1867, from when his time was his own. As part of his new dedication to the study of antiquity he had evidently decided the best course would be to excavate with someone who understood the business. Canon William Greenwell had published two articles on his barrow excavations in Yorkshire in the Archaeological Journal in 1865 and Fox had read of his work in the Times since he had a clipping from the paper. [Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum manuscript collections] In April, 1867 he carried out extensive fieldwork in the Wolds (for which 6 inch maps existed) and also visited Greenwell's excavations while he was doing so. There could hardly have been a greater contrast between two men: on the one hand the aristocratic Colonel .... an evolutionist (when it was still controversial) and on the other a man of the cloth ... and a batchelor. [Thompson, 1977: 47]

Thompson makes the point that they had a mutual friend in common, George Rolleston, who was a fellow Yorkshireman. According to Bowden, Pitt Rivers had been introduced to Greenwell by Albert Way. [Bowden, 1991: 66]

Thompson remarks:

Pitt Rivers' description of himself in later life as a pupil of Greenwell has sometimes been discounted but I am sure it is not so wide of the mark. Greenwell had a different attitude to the ordinary collector; he was assembling evidence on people who had left it in no other form. He perhaps helped to curb the slightly messianic streak in Fox. [Thompson, 1977: 51]

William Greenwell (1820-1918)

Greenwell was born in County Durham, the son of the deputy lientenant of the county. He was educated at Durham Grammar School, and matriculated at University College, Durham in 1836, graduating in 1839. He wished to become a lawyer, entering Middle Temple but illness forced him to return to University College in 1841. He was ordained deacon in 1844 and a priest in 1846. He held the Pemberton fellowship from 1844 to 1854, and was sub-librarian of the college from 1844-7. From 1847 he held the perpetual curacy of Ovingham with Mickley in Northumberland, transferring later to Burton Agnes, Yorkshire. Following a number of other job changes in 1854 he was appointed a minor canon at Durham Cathedral. From 1863-1908 Greenwell was the librarian of the Cathedral. In 1865 he was appointed to the living of St Mary-the-Less in Durham. He resigned his minor canonry in 1908 and died in 1918. He never married.

He first excavated an archaeological site in 1847 at Chollerton and from 1862 undertook intensive fieldwork, as the Dictionary of National Biography [DNB] entry for him puts it. He wrote a book, British Barrows in 1877 with George Rolleston. According to the DNB entry he rarely recorded the structure of the barrows he excavated. He was president of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham from 1865 until his death, vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle from 1890-1918, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and member of the Ethnological Society in London. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1878 and an honorary fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He was a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute and the Durham and Northumberland Archaeological Society.

The DNB entry describes him as taking

justified pride in the serious scholarly purpose of his archaeology: among those he influenced was A.H.L.F. Pitt Rivers, who worked with him in 1867


... bluff and plain-spoken, Sir John Evans remembered him as 'eminently unclerical in his manners and manner of thinking, and a very sensible man'. ... He remained a keen angler to his ninety-eighth year and in 1854 created the 'Greenwell's glory', the most famous of British trout flies'.

There are several artefacts from Canon Greenwell's collections in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Apart from the stone tools listed here, from Yorkshire, which form part of Pitt Rivers' founding collection, there are also:

1. A North American calvaria with fronto-occipital deformation, taken from a grave mound in 1867 from Illinois. This was transferred to the PRM from the Department of Comparative Anatomy in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 1887. [1887.33.14]

2. Dessicated head of a mummy with short greyish hair, from Arica, Peru. This was described on an old PRM label as "Desiccated Head of Mummy, taken from the cloth wrappings with which the body was covered, forming a large pack. Ancient Peruvian, Arica. Greenwell Colln." [1887.33.23]

All the above descriptions are taken from the accession registers.

According to Malgosia Nowak-Kemp from the Department of Zoology of that museum, the Greenwell collection was acquired by that Museum in 1870-1.

3 and 4. 2 finely flaked racloirs (stone tools) from High Lodge Hill, Mildenhall in Suffolk obtained via Sydney Gerald Hewlitt [1927.73.19 .1-2]

5 and 6. 2 'Mousterian points' from the loam bed High Lodge Hill, Mildenhall Suffolk. Obtained via Sydney Gerald Hewlitt [1927.73.19 .3-4]

Further reading

Dictionary of National Biography entry for Greenwell

Who was Who entry for Greenwell

Research project: Durham University: Canon Greenwell and the development of archaeology in the north of England.

Durham County Local History Society biography of Greenwell.