The following account was published in The Times of 10 September 1891. A letter in the Pitt-Rivers papers at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum [L707] first drew the research team's attention to it:

17 Doughty Street
Russell Square
London W.C.
Sept 10. 1891

Dear General Pitt Rivers

Doubtless you see the Times regularly, but in case you care to have an extra copy of today's paper containing the account I have written of your Museum &c, I am sending one to you. When the discussion first arose upon County Museums, I wrote to Mr Moberley Bell the manager, & asked him if he wd like an account of an actually existent one, outlining in my note your own Institution. He answered that he shd be extremely glad to have it, & accordingly  I sent it to him. I hope you will consider that at least it gives an accurate idea of Farnham, & I certainly thought in the present correspondence it wd have a particularly a propos interest. Both the St James's Gazette & the Globe comment upon the description of the place this evening.

I am glad you like the Meisenbach "process" [1] We of the Daily Graphic are great admirers of it, & some of our artists who have had their own work reproduced by it say it always seems to convey their own ideas which seem often to be lost in other processes. I hope you are well, & that the present fine weather is bringing large gatherings to Farnham & the Larmer tree. These last three fine days are giving them all great joy at the Naval Exhibition, where I was last night for the splendid sham fight they are giving once a week, & Sir William Dowell told me these days had brought the highest three days attendance they had had since it was opened.

With kind remembrances to Mrs Pitt Rivers

Believe me
Yours Very truly
M.F. Billington

Mary Frances Billington (1862-1925) was the daughter of George Henry Billington, a local clergyman in Dorset. She was a journalist in London, see here for her Dictionary of National Biography entry. Both she and her father donated objects to Pitt-Rivers. She had joined the Daily Graphic in 1890 when it opened as a special correspondent. According to the DNB in 1891 she was the 'one of the first women to don heavy diving equipment and dive underwater at the Royal Naval Exhibition' (the exhibition she mentions to Pitt-Rivers).

Here is the account published in The Times 10 September 1891, page 8 column D:

A Model Museum

(From a correspondent)

The correspondence that has arisen upon the subject of county museums has drawn attention to the existence of many such institutions in various parts of the country, and has raised high hopes of future developments in the breasts of many local archaeologists and antiquarians. If the village council be held, as it is by some, to be the logical outcome of the county council, by parity of reasoning the village museums should also be the reformer's end. This is an amplification of the leading idea which does not seem to have presented itself as a rule, but a precedent already exists in the loneliest, most sparsely populated corner of North Dorset in a tiny village called Farnham. It is the last place in the world that one would expect to find so advanced a product of civilization and culture, and one's wonder is only increased at learning that it is as freely open on Sundays as during the week. It is the public-spirited gift of General Pitt-Rivers, F.R.S., to his tenantry and neighbours, and so far from being "a shooting-place for all rubbish," as it has been irreverently suggested that the local museum would become, it contains the results of the General's scientific researches into the abtruse question of the Romano-British occupation of the south-west of England, in addition to an extremely interesting collection of artistic, industrial and agricultural objects.

The history of this novel experiment is soon told. Before General Pitt-Rivers presented to the University of Oxford the art and anthropological collection which there is associated with his name, he reserved for his own purposes such objects as he considered might possess an educational or improving meaning for rustic eyes. The opportunity to put his theories into practical shape arose when he inherited, as next heir, the Rushmore estate on the death of the last Baron Rivers in 1880. Farnham itself, with a population of about 200, lies about two miles from Rushmore-lodge, the residence in the palmy days of the old Cranborne Chase of the Chief Ranger. The nearest towns to this most typical Dorset parish are Shaftesbury and Blandford, both of which are eight miles distant, while Wimborne is 11, and Salisbury 17 miles from it. Curiously enough, Farnham some 35 years ago had been the scene of another essay in advance of its times, and a large school had been built and partially endowed by several of the squires and clergy for the reception and training of gipsy children. The institution struggled on for a few years against the dispiriting behaviour of the nomadic parents, who were willing enough to leave their children to be comfortably housed during the winter, but insisted on taking them away during the summer months. When the effort was finally abandoned, the house, which was a capitally built one, with large and well-planned rooms, remained vacant until it occurred to General Pitt-Rivers to use it in another way for the benefit of his poorer friends.

The collection most strongly appeals to local sympathies. Standing as it does in the very centre of the district from which General Pitt-Rivers has made his most striking anthropological discoveries, these naturally occupy a leading place in it. Nor is it surprising that the rustic of the villages round should take an intelligent interest in seeing the results of these researches, for he has known that they have been patiently carried on upon the chalk downs, and the names of Woodcutts and Rotherley are perfectly familiar to him. Moreover, with the close intermarriage of village families and the direct personal acquaintances he has with his neighbours, he has heard quite enough about the investigations to realize that biographical element which Mr. Herbert Spencer tells us is so essential to sincere interest in the uneducated mind. Once enter the museum, and every point is so clearly brought forward that the veriest dullard could not fail to understand it, even if he had not ever seen the actual field of the discoveries. Diagrams and models illustrate the exact spot in which every bone or coin or vase was found. A concisely-written, clearly-printed label explains exactly what every object is and its use to those who made it. In the case of animals' bones, further light is thrown upon the subject by judicious comparison, and the rustic sightseer grasps a point when he sees placed side by side with them the pictures of their nearest modern type. For instance, the Exmoor pony may be taken as a close approach to the horses used by the Romanized Britons in this district, the Kerry and Alderney cattle convey a fair idea of the size and stamp of their oxen, and the very light-limbed sheep of St. Kilda and the half-wild Dorset horned sheep from the open heath country verging upon the New Forest represent their sheep. A curious fact about the wheat grown by the Romano-Britons has been proved by General Pitt-Rivers, and is, of course, amply illustrated. In the barrows of pre-Roman days the grains found by him were of minute size (655 grains to 681 grains to the cubic inch), but in those of the joint British and Roman period of occupation they were vastly improved, and the record of 323 grains to the cubic inch found in the Woodcutts barrow is the same as that made by the present tenant upon whose farm the barrow stands. Of course there are quantities of metal-work, weapons, pottery, and coins, for every fragment discovered was carefully examined, and not a stone or a shred of wood that would give the slightest suggestion of human handicraft was passed by, and the result is that one can judge exactly the degree of civilization possessed by the curiously small race who lived upon this range of chalk downs and in the woods of this part of Dorset and Wilts. Their average size is conclusively shown here not to have exceeded 5 ft. 2.6 in. for the males, and 4 ft. 10.9 in. for the females, but whether they were the last survivors of the neolithic population as they were driven further and further westward, or the remnants of a sturdier race of true Britons, even the Farnham Museum does not attempt to decide.

But anthropology is only one section of this well-planned little institute. It is perhaps the one on which the educated visitor dwells longest, on account of the marvellous patience and careful deductions which General Pitt-Rivers has revealed, though beyond it are the rooms filled with specimens of curiosities, needlework, and china most likely to awaken interest in rural minds. Several typical national costumes are shown. There are examples of the brutal man-traps that were frequently used by the keepers on the Cranborne Chase for the protection of the deer against the daring poachers, but unfortunately there is not a suit of the leather and basket-work worn by these guardians of game rights and sport. The development of the local, or "Verwood" pottery, from the rudest baked clay up to the comparatively good glazing and improved form, is shown, and there is a really interesting collection of "tithe" mugs, with their rhymes none too friendly to the parson, as valuable in its way as Mr Willett's extraordinary assortment of crockery relating to the Navy and its heroes in the Nelson gallery of the Royal Naval Exhibition. "Puzzle mugs" too, are there in several quaint forms, and there are several very good pieces of Breton carved oak furniture as an object lesson in peasant handicraft. Cooking utensils, old and new, English and foreign, also find a place, while the collection of homely needlework does not ignore the smock frock or the samples with square trees and halting verse worked in cross-stitch. Outside, in the trim, well-kept grounds is a long shed filled with primitive agricultural implements collected from all parts of the world, literally from Scandinavia to the Malay Islands.

It would be giving an incomplete account of the museum if its two auxiliary attractions were not also noticed. At a short distance from Farnham is the village of Tollard Royal ... Naturally the first question asked after a visit to these three places is "Do the people come to them?" They are, of course, open free, the only condition of entry being a signature in the visitors' book. Last year's books showed that 6,500 people had been to the museum, 14,300 to the Larmer tree, and over 3,000 to King John's hosue, which was not open until May. The same names recur constantly, and the behaviour and order has been perfectly satisfactory. This is an all-explaining answer, and the fact may certainly not be without its value in the present discussion upon the question.


[1] Billington had previously written to Pitt-Rivers on 4 September 1891 to recommend this process for producing published images to him [L696]

This account bears some resemblance to an earlier account of the Farnham Museum in the Sunday Times September 15 1889, given here. It may be by the same author?

AP May 2011.

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