The illustration used in the newsletter article

From the Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum newsletter no. 28, first published September 1998:

On the Move: The General's Caravan

In the Accessions section of the Pitt Rivers Museum Annual Report for the year ending 31 July 1970, Bernard Fagg, the [then] Curator, noted:

We are extremely grateful to Mr Michael Pitt-Rivers for the gift of the original metal-clad caravan used as his site-office by Lieutenant-General Augustus Lane Fox Pitt Rivers during his Cranborne Chase excavations.

As Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum, we may forget the [sic, that] 'The General' is probably even better known as the creator of modern excavation techniques. Around the time that he gave his collection to Oxford (1884), archaeological fieldwork became his major focus until the end of his life. He carried out extensive work on sites on his inherited estates in Wiltshire and Dorset. Those who visited the Museum's reserve collection at Osney in 1997 will remember seeing the General's surveying tools [1] and also an example of the medal he devised to be placed at a dig site when it was being filled in. [2]

The following items represent some of the equipment taken by train on a fieldwork visit to Scotland in July 1889: [3]

Tapes two 100 ft and one 0 ft, levelling rod in case, walking stick levelling rod, pocket level, field glass, prismatic compass, clinometer, camera lucida, camera table and seat, set of ivory scales, sketch book, military sketch book, watercolour brushes etc, aneroid, pocket compasses, white cards with ruled borders, protractor, plummet, tape (small), pencils, blotting paper, notepaper, foolscap etc, labels. (Thompson, M.W., 1977, General Pitt-Rivers, evolution and archaeology in the nineteenth century [Moonraker Press, p. 68]

Photographic equipment, guide books and maps were also listed. If this is the list for a travelling surveying kit, it is not difficult to imagine that for work nearer to home, in pre-Portocabin days, this shepherd's caravan would have been an ideal site office.

It appears that after the General's death, his caravan was not used for anything in particular. When it was brought to Oxford, it stood close to the Conservation Department [4] where it was sometimes used as an office. Due to the development of this site for the Oxford American Institute, the caravan has now been moved to the garden of the Balfour Building. [5] I had pictured it being towed gingerly up the Banbury Road, but in fact it was put onto a flat truck by the Parks Department [6] for its move. It looks very much at home in its new garden setting. [7]

I am sure that references to the caravan could be found in field reports now housed at Salisbury Museum. [7] It would be interesting to investigate this.

I am most grateful to Catherine Fagg, John Simmons, Bob Rivers, and Malcom Osman for their help in finding out about this caravan. Many thanks are also due to Walter Sawyer and his staff at the Parks Department for engineering the caravan's most recent journey.

Felicity Wood

We are very grateful to Felicity Wood, now the Chair of the Friends of the PRM, for drawing our attention to this article. It reflects public knowledge about Pitt-Rivers as it was in around 1998, several aspects would probably be viewed differently today.

With the closure of the Balfour Building and the transfer of the objects and departments based there to the main museum building, a new home for the very bulky caravan was required. Eventually it was agreed that the caravan could be loaned to the Harcourt University Aboretum which the caravan is today (2012). They use it as a site welcome space and information point.

The caravan was a shepherd's hut made from corrugated iron. As a website points out:

"In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the shepherd's hut was introduced so that the shepherd could live on the fields for extended periods of time to look after his flock day and night and was a haven of warmth and comparative comfort. Such huts were widely used throughout England and Wales and followed a similar basic design with a curved corrugated iron roof and stable door and small windows on each side so he could keep an eye on his flock. The interior was usually simply furnished and was warmed by a small cast iron stove. Most huts were built by small agricultural engineering firms. Some huts were constructed on the farm out of locally sourced materials, but all were built using blacksmith-made forged components such as axles and drawbars. As farming methods changed over time, the shepherd's hut gradually disappeared from the landscape, so those original, intact examples are rare to find."

Notes [added for this webpage not given in original]

[1] These tools are 1971.30.1-12 given by Michael and Anthony Pitt-Rivers, Pitt-Rivers' great-grandsons. The tools comprise a compass case, surveyor's cross, drawing instruments in a box, a pocket level, several medals (see note 2), gyroscope, microscope, scale rulers and set square, a craniometer, pair of callipers, a slide rule and draughting scales.

[2] There are several examples of these medals in the PRM collections, see 1971.30.5 for a wooden box and the examples given by Michael and Anthony Pitt-Rivers. Find out more about them here, including a photograph of one of the medalets.

[3] This tour was taken as part of his work as Inspector of Ancient Monuments. See here for more information about an earlier tour of Scotland as part of his Inspector's duties.

[4] The Museum's Conservation Department in 1998 was sited where the Rothermere American Institute is now. The Department is now sited in the research building at the rear of the museum.

[5] The Balfour Building was an extension of the Pitt Rivers Museum located at 60 Banbury Road. The Building is now part of Kellogg College and the caravan is no longer there. Find out more about the building and Kellogg College here.

[6] Parks Department of the University of Oxford.

[7] Behind the Balfour Building was a large garden which had been planted with plants that had links to musical instruments to compliment the musical instrument displays that were then sited in the Building. The garden is now part of Kellogg College.

[7] The transcriber does not recall any such references in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers, sadly.

AP May 2012

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