Sunday Times 15 September 1889 about Pitt-Rivers Farnham Museum

A Rural Museum

In the able and illustrative address with which Professor Flower opened the meeting of the British Association, he remarked that the first considerations in establishing a museum, large or small, is that it should have some definite object or purpose to fulfil, and in alluding more particularly to the prominence rightly due to the scientific importance of anthropology he said:- "The notion of an anthropology which considers savages and prehistoric people as apart from the rest of mankind may, in the limitations of human powers, have certain conveniences; but it is utterly unscientific and loses sight of the great value of the study in tracing the gradual growth of our systems and customs from the primitive ways of our progenitors."

Curiously enough, an institution which realises the first of these conditions and entirely harmonises with Professor Flower's views regarding the second, exists in one of the quaintest and most primitive of Dorset villages, called Farnham. The tiny village itself lies in a lovely, well-wooded valley on the borders of Cranborne Chase, so famous in the annals of poaching and deer stealing, and is situated far indeed from any of the busy haunts of men, for Salisbury is seventeen miles distant, Wimborne fourteen, Shaftesbury twelve, and Blandford eight. It is the last place in the world that one would expect to find a collection of the highest anthropological interest, but it possesses the results of General Pitt-Rivers' long and patient investigations of the Romano-British encampments upon the high ranges of chalk downs between the counties of Wilts and Dorset.

When General Pitt-Rivers inherited the Rushmore estates from the last of the Baron Rivers he commenced operations upon the barrows within the park itself, and soon explored those upon the adjacent open country. There was scope for especially valuable investigations, as the ground has not been cultivated since the Roman occupation of the South, and has simply afforded pasture for sheep. There was consequently not the slightest probability that the skeletons could have been of later date, had not the coins, the earthenware, the rude jewellery and implements placed the period beyond a doubt. It is impossible to imagine the skill and patience with which General Pitt-Rivers has pursued his self-imposed task until one has been actually upon the scenes of his excavations and inside his museum. He has himself related the circumstances and results up to the present time of his discoveries in two magnificently illustrated volumes, which, with rare generosity, he only gives to interested and favoured friends. He is most anxious to see landowners more fully awake to the services which they might render to scientific historical research by judicious enquiry into the evidences of early times which exist more or less upon every large property, and suggests that anthropological investigations should commend themselves to that considerable number of country gentlemen who have so few resources of intelligent occupation beyond sport. At last he offers them a practical example.

General Pitt-Rivers was fortunate in possessing, close to the chief scene of his labours, a roomy house, built some fifty years ago with the object of providing an educational home for gipsy children, when there [sic] were more numerous and less cared for than they are now. But the philanthropic scheme was not particularly successful, for the parents were willing enough to send their children there for the winter, but insisted on having them for the spring and summer, thus undoing the good training they had had. The building passed through various vicissitudes, and needed but slight alterations to fit it for its present purpose. There may be seen the skeletons - marvellous indeed in their preservation  - of those who roamed the chase and the downs in the dim distance of the Iron Age. There are skulls broken by club or axe, jaws without one of the magnificent teeth missing, and the bones of massive feet. Sufficient are there of them to enable General Pitt-Rivers and those who have collaborated with him to pronounce that this part of England was peopled by a remarkably small race of inhabitants, of which the average male height did not exceed 5 ft 2-6 in., and that of the female 4ft 9-10 ins. "What race," asks the learned general, "can these people be taken to represent? Are they the survivors of the Neolithic population which, after being driven westwards by successive races of Celts and others continued to exist in the out-of-the-way parts of this region up to Roman times, or are they simply the remnants of a larger race of Britons, deteriorated by slavery and reduced in stature by the drafting of their largest men into the Roman legions abroad? Perhaps the comparatively large size of the females may be taken to support this latter view."

Not less exhaustive and complete are his deductions concerning the domestic animals of this prehistoric people. The Exmoor pony seems most to resembled [sic] their horses, their cows partook of some of the characteristics of the Kerry and the Alderney, their sheep were not unlike the St Kilda breed of today; but General Pitt-Rivers admits that his inferences as to their dogs are incomplete, as "there is a difficulty in obtaining the (comparative) measures of dogs, as our feelings of companionship towards that animal does not admit of their being deliberately killed for measurement, and they must be taken as they happen to die." Equally striking are the conclusions he had drawn as to wheat. That found of undoubtedly British growth was of very small size and marked inferiority, while that of Romano-British cultivation was really equal to our own grown on the same soil and altitude. This points to the introduction of a better species of the cereal by the Romans. There is also on view a quantity of characteristic pottery, and mention may be specially made of one exquisite bowl of Samian terra cotta, with raised figures representing probably Hercules and Mercury.

The contents of this unique museum, however, are by no means confined to Romano-British relics, but include some beautiful examples of old Breton and Norman oak carvings, almost a complete set of specimens of early English potteries, illustrating the evolution of the art from rude clay "crocks" up to really fine developments, and examples of the now scarce "puzzle jugs," one of which is inscribed--

"Come gentlemen, and try your skill;
I'll lay a wager if you will,
That you don't drink this liquor all,
Unless you spill or let some fall."

There are foreign curiosities, embroideries, old and new, ancient ornaments and garments, specimens of local natural history, and several veritable mantraps which have done practical service on the Chase. Apropos of these, the curator, who is himself an intelligent and sympathetic son of the soil, tells how a certain landlord set several of them to catch poachers. These last found out where they were placed and quietly drove his own cattle over them, and when the cattle were all caught proceeded successfully to accomplish their game-stealing design. In a long out-house is large collection of primitive English and foreign agricultural implements. Plainly written and briefly descriptive labels are affixed to each exhibit, and all is done to arrest the attention and excite the interest of the purely rural and labouring population who form the chief proportion of the visitors.

This admirable little museum is open every day free of charge, Sunday afternoons included; when it is a favourite resort of the villagers for miles round. At a little distance from it stands an old Wych Elm, from which, says local tradition, King John was in the habit of starting on his hunting expeditions. Round this General Pitt-Rivers has laid out a pretty garden and pleasure ground, and here between the hours of divine service on Sundays a band composed entirely of labours [sic] upon the estate, clad in a gorgeous livery of canary and royal blue, play selections of sacred music. The people pay repeated visits to it, and really take an interest in its varied objects. Farnham enjoys one more claim to notice, which must not be passed by. The old stocks, in which many a misbehaving rustic has had to pay the penalty of his misdeeds, amid the sneers and jeers of his neighbours, stands yet. It is protected by a stout iron cage, and is one of the very few genuine ones still remaining in England. Certainly the remote little village affords plenty that will repay a visit, and one is astonished to find so strange a coupling of the primitive and the advanced, the historic and the present, in this out-of-the-way locality.

This account is taken from a press cutting held in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers, and it bears some resemblance to a later Times article about the Museum, see here for its transcription. It may be that the articles had the same author.

Press cutting transcribed by AP for the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project August 2011 from the S&SWM PR papers.

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