Opening of Bethnal Green Museum from wikipedia

Lane Fox agreed to loan a number of musical instruments to South Kensington Museum in London in 1872. This is the first time he had loaned parts of his collection so far as is known. Two years later he put a large proportion of his private collection on display in part of the basement of a branch of the South Kensington Museum situated in Bethnal Green, in east London. This page is about that museum and Pitt-Rivers' displays there.

The history of Bethnal Green Museum

In 1851 William Gladstone, a Member of Parliament at the time, suggested that a museum should be built in Bethnal Green, an area of London which had become home for poor working class families since the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. According to that museum's website three leading local figures bought the common land and lobbied Parliament for a museum to be built there. In 1868 work on a museum in Bethnal Green began and the museum was opened by the Prince of Wales on 24 June 1872.

The museum's website explains:

Other than being a vehicle to bring an awareness of Britain’s cultural heritage to the East End, the Bethnal Green Museum’s purpose was vague. The exhibits were made up of collections from the Great Exhibition (namely, Food and Animal Products, which were still on display post-1918), South Kensington collections and a loan of eighteenth century French art from Sir Richard Wallace (the Wallace Collection).

A common feature of both South Kensington Museum and its branch museum at Bethnal Green, during this period was a strong reliance on loan collections to form exhibits. [Eatwell, 2000: 21] Several other establishment figures loaned their collections to the Museum including Lane Fox and Augustus Wollaston Franks who loaned part of his Asian ceramic collection to Bethnal Green Museum from 1876 until 1884.

Black says of the Bethnal Green Branch:

But at no point did museology more closely resemble philanthropy than when the South Kensington's continuous renovations literally sent its discarded parts to be reassembled in London's poorest district. ... on 24 June 1872 the South Kensington opened in East London, rechristened the Bethnal Green Branch. In its new working-class milieu, the museum competed directly with the public house by offering evening hours and specially targeted exhibits that provided "an excellent antidote" to the "peculiar temptations" of the bank holiday. Curious as to the institution's effect, one newspaper sent [an observer] ... to study the poor in their museum and offer reports as the following: "There would be hope for the British workman if he took to collecting." As the museum's guidebooks indicate, the focus was on both the relevant and the improved. Thus exhibits featured the principal local trades of weaving and furniture making, and the purpose of the Food Collection, the museum's most popular exhibit, was "to show the nature and sources of the food which we daily use" and to answer the question "what are the substances or elements which, together, constitute my body?" [Black, 2000: 33]

A description of the Museum at around this time can be found in Dicken's Dictionary of London. It was written a year after Lane Fox's collection was transferred to the South Kensington Museum is given here:

The Bethnal Green Branch Museum stands on a plot of ground purchased by contributions of residents in that district, and transferred in February, 1869, by the subscribers, to the Lords of the Committee of Council on Education, as a site for a local museum. The building, which was erected by parliamentary grant, is externally of brick; the interior consists in part of the materials of the temporary structure originally erected at South Kensington. It was opened on the 24th June, 1872, by their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, and was for nearly three years mainly occupied by the magnificent collections of paintings and other works of art belonging to Sir Richard Wallace, Bart., M.P. On the withdrawal of these collections they were replaced by various contributions on loan, chief among which have been the Indian presents of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and the paintings forming the Dulwich Gallery. A large Anthropological Collection, lent by Colonel Lane-Fox, occupies part of the basement. The rest of the space is occupied by the permanent collections of the Museum, illustrating food, animal products, &c. THE FOOD MUSEUM was first established and became part of the South Kensington Museum in 1857; it is arranged with the express object of teaching the nature andsources of food, representing the chemical composition of the various substances used as food, and the natural sources from which they have been obtained. As a branch of the South Kensington Museum, this institution is managed by the same staff, and the regulations as to a admission, reception of objects, &c., are in all respects the same as in the parent museum. Omnibuses from the Mansion House pass close to the Museum; and trains run from Liverpool-st to Cambridge Heath station (within five minutes of the Museum) every ten minutes. Admission free from  10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, 6d., from 10 a.m. till dusk. NEAREST Railway Station, Cambridge Heath; Omnibus Routes, Hackney-road, Cambridge-road, and Bethnal Green-road; Cab Rank, Bethnal-green road. [Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879]

See here for more information about Bethnal Green Museum.

See here for more information about the Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museum displays.

Lane Fox's displays at Bethnal Green Museum

The display of objects loaned by Lane Fox was formally opened two years after the museum was opened, on 1 July 1874. The best source of information about these displays, apart from the public accounts given elsewhere, must be the man himself. At the special meeting of the Anthropological Institute held at the Museum in 1874 to celebrate its opening Lane Fox gave a lengthy speech. He also published a catalogue of the collection, apparently designed to accompany a visitor's tour of the displays. In this catalogue he writes:

The Anthropological Collection Lent by Major-General Lane Fox, F.R.S.

Note: The collection to which this Catalogue relates occupies the whole of the South Basement of the Museum buildings. The series commences at the East End with the typical human skulls and hair of different races, and then proceeds with specimens of the culture of modern savages and barbarous races; these are arranged along the line of Screens and Walls on the South Side from East to West, and along the North Wall and in upright glass cases from West to East. After these the pre-historic series commences on the West, and runs along the line of desk cases from West to East.
Where necessary, arrows are painted on the Screens, indicating the sequence in which the objects thereon have been arranged. ['Catalogue of the Anthropological Collection lent by Colonel Lane Fox for exhibition in the Bethnal Green branch of the South Kensington Museum June 1874 ... Parts I and II’ London, 1874: xvi]

It seems that Lane Fox was allowed quite a degree of control over the appearance, disposition and description of the displays whilst they were loaned to the South Kensington and Bethnal Green Museums. During the talk to his fellow Anthropological Institute members he described his intentions with regard to the display:

‘The collection is divided into four parts. The first has reference to physical anthropology, and consists of a small collection of typical skulls and hair of races. This part of the collection, as it relates to a subject that has received a large amount of attention from anthropologists, and has been frequently treated by abler hands than mine, I do not propose to enter into. The remainder of the collection is devoted to objects illustrating the development of prehistoric and savage culture, and consists of Part II. The weapons of existing savages. Part III. Miscellaneous arts of modern savages, including pottery and substitutes for pottery, modes of navigation, clothing, textile fabrics and weaving; personal ornament; realistic art; conventionalized art; ornamentation; tools; household furniture; musical instruments; idols and religious emblems; specimens of the written character of races; horse furniture; money and substitutes for money; fire-arms; sundry smaller classes of objects, such as mirrors, spoons, combs, games, and a collection of implements of modern savages, arranged to illustrate the mode of hafting stone implements. Part IV refers to the prehistoric series, and consists of specimens of natural forms simulating artificial forms, for comparison with artificial forms; a collection of modern forgeries for comparison with genuine prehistoric implements; palaeolithic implements; neolithic implements; implements of bronze, iron and bone.’ The collection does not contain any considerable number of unique specimens, and has been collected during upwards of twenty years, not for the purpose of surprising any one, either by the beauty or value of the objects exhibited, but solely with a view to instruction. For this purpose ordinary and typical specimens, rather than rare objects, have been selected and arranged in sequence, so as to trace, as far as practicable, the succession of ideas by which the minds of men in a primitive condition of culture have progressed from the simple to the complex, and from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.

... The primary arrangement has been by form—that is to say, that the spears, bows, clubs and other objects above mentioned, have each been placed by themselves in distinct classes. Within each there is a sub-class for specific localities, and in each of these sub-classes, or wherever a connection of ideas can be traced, the specimens have been arranged according to their affinities, the simpler to the left and the successive improvements in line to the right of them. This arrangement has been varied to suit the form of the room, or of the screens, of the number of specimens, but in all cases the object kept in view has been, as far as possible, to trace the succession of ideas. [Extract from ‘On the principles of classification adopted in the arrangement of his anthropological collection, now exhibited in the Bethnal Green Museum’ Journal of Anthropological Institute 4 (1875) 293-308]

Plate XXI Australian throwing sticks, shields African shields' Primitive Warfare II

To date no photographs or drawings of the Bethnal Green displays have been found though the project team intend examining the Victoria and Albert Museum archives and Guard Room in February and March 2011 in the hope that some can be found. [Note: none were found despite the prolonged attempts by the RPR project team members and V&A staff to find them). However, one of Lane Fox's earlier plates to his lecture 'Primitive Warfare II' does suggest that the series displayed at Bethnal Green had been devised earlier. Many of the images shown in Plate XXI of Australian throwing sticks and spears and African spears are similar to, if not, the objects later shown in screens 2 at Bethnal Green Museum. These screens are discussed further here.

In the first edition of the catalogue, published in 1874, Lane Fox writes with regard to the illustrations in the catalogue, which are simple line drawings of certain objects from his collection:

The illustrations, which have been roughly sketched in outline, are sufficient to convey an idea of the objects referred to in the text; but the relative proportions have not been preserved, nor are the details fully delineated.

The specimens selected for illustration are those which appeared best calculated to render the text intelligible, they are not, however, in sufficient number to show the sequence in all cases; this can only be properly understood by reference to the objects themselves.

Bibliography for this article

Black, B. 2000. On Exhibit: Victorians and Their Museums. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press.

Christie, Ann. 2011. 'Nothing of Intrinsic Value': The scientific collections at the Bethnal Green Museum V&A Online Journal Issue No 3 Spring 2011

Eatwell, Anne. 'Borrowing from Collectors: The role of the Loan in the Formation of the Victoria and Albert Museum and its Collection (1852-1932)'. Decorative Arts Society Journall 24 (2000): 21-29.

Fox, A.H. Lane. 1874. Catalogue of the Anthropological Collection lent by Colonel Lane Fox for exhibition in the Bethnal Green branch of the South Kensington Museum June 1874 Parts I and II. London, Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education HMSO [Re-issued 1879]

Fox, A.H. Lane. 1875. 'On the principles of classification adopted in the arrangement of his anthropological collection, now exhibited in the Bethnal Green Museum’, Journal of Anthropological Institute, ... 4 (1875), pp. 293-308 [read at the special meeting of the Institute held at Bethnal Green Museum on 1st July 1874 on the occasion of the opening of the collection to the public].

AP, November 2010, tinkered with December 2010, information about Plate XXI from 'Primitive Warfare II' and Bethnal Green photographs (or lack thereof) added February 2011; updated August 2015.

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