Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Ethnographic Survey of the United Kingdom

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Urry, in his 1984 paper 'Englishmen, Celts and Iberians...' makes clear the background which made the Ethnographic Survey of the UK such a key topic at the end of the nineteenth century. The historical make-up of the English nation was hotly debated during the nineteenth century. At one time 'Teutomania' was one strand, tracing English ancestry back to the Anglo-Saxons, who were of Teutonic ancestry. As Urry pointed out, this argument had the advantage of allowing Englishmen to deny 'their links with French, who were considered Celtic in origin, overlaid with Latin culture.' As the French were the English peoples' traditional enemy this was doubly useful as it also allowed for the contemporary prejudice against the 'Irish Celts'. A key proponent of this argument was Edward Augustus Freeman (1823-1892). However, such views were challenged by other authors who 'objected to Teutomania and extreme Anglo-Saxonism'. [Urry, 1984: 84]

Philology was one of the tools that was used to scientifically investigate this problem:

[In the 1830s] it had been demonstrated that Celtic languages, like the Germanic, were Indo-European, or "Aryan" languages, ... the Celts and the Germans thus shared both a common racial and linguistic inheritance. [Urry, 1984: 84]

Other disciplines that contributed to this debate were archaeology and physical anthropology, both in the study of archaeological and human remains. Urry suggests that archaeologists started to think of early English history as being a 'succesion of racial migrations by tribes with distinctive languages, customs, and physical features.' [Urry, 1984: 84] John Beddoe, J. Barnard Davis, Francis Galton, Canon Greenwell and George Rolleston related 'skeletal remains to successive racial changes in the population'. [Urry, 1984: 85] Such accounts were often discussed by the Anthropological Society of London/ Anthropological Institute during the 1860s and 1870s. John Beddoe concluded in 1885 that:

[The make-up of the racial history of Britain] would be "solved only by patient labour and by the co-operation of anthropologists with antiquarians and philologists; so that so much of the blurred and defaced inscription as is left in shadow by one light may be brought into prominence and illumination by another [Beddoe, 1885: 299 quoted in Urry, 1984: 87]

'Notes and News' of Folk-Lore reported in 1892:

An important conference is about to be held between delegates of the Anthropological Institute, Folk-lore Society, and Society of Antiqaries, in order to discuss the possiblity of making an ethnographic survey of the British Isles, and of ascertaining the anthropometric, archaeological, and customary traces of the various races that have inhabited these isles. [Folklore, 1892 (vol. 3) p. 270]

However, the three societies 'lacked the organizational abilities, funds, and personnel actually to conduct a survey' [Urry, 1984: 88] so they turned to the British Association for the Advancement of Science [BAAS]. On 4 August 1892 Edward Brabrook read a paper to Section H [Anthropology] at the Association meeting at Edinburgh, which was later reported in Folklore:

I have the honour to be appointed by the Anthropological Institute [AI] one of its delegates, with Mr Galton and Dr Garson, to meet three from the Folk-Lore Society [FLS] and three of the Society of Antiquaries [SoA], for discussing the matterin which the three societies may be able to work together for the purpose of organising local anthropological research in the larger sense of the word.' [Brabrook, 1893: 262]

One of the representatives of the Society of Antiquaries was General Pitt-Rivers. The others were Mr Milman and Mr George Payne, they formed the committee together with Mr Gomme, Mr Clodd and Mr Joseph Jacobs [all FLS].

The group had decided to give an informal report to the BAAS:

The ultimate aim we have in view is an ethnographical survey of the United Kingdom; a large and ambituous scheme, which it must take many years to perfect, and which at present we can only proceed with in detail, a scheme which in other countries no power short of that of the State would attempt to carry out, and for which we ourselves may in time feel justified in asking State aid. At present, however, we contemplate relying upon our own resources, with such assistance in organisation and in money as the British Association may be disposed from time to time to extend to us, and with the voluntary help of the societies in correspondence with the Association ... The raison d'etre of our proposal is this: that while the Society of Antiquaries has commenced, and in several counties has completed an archaeological survey in which the monuments of antiquity are recorded on a uniform system; and the Folk-lore society has commenced in several counties the systematic collection of records of customs, traditions, and beliefs; and the late Anthropometric Committee of the British Association made large collections of observations on the physical characters of the people of the United Kingdom :- all this excellent work must remain incomplete and its teaching unavailable so long as the results of it are not brought together. If these several branches of research are pursued simultaneously, in similar areas and under the like conditions, and their results brought into apposition, we shall hardly fail to find some instructive correlations, or if we do fail it will be equally instructive to find that they do not exist. Our purpose is wholly one of research, not the establishment of any preconcieved views or the support of any theories, but the thorough investigation into the natural history of man as differentiated by such racial characters of all kinds as survive in various parts of the country. The Society of Antiquaries will indicate for us a district in which certain forms of ancient monument prevail; the Anthropological Institute will superintend and direct the observation of the physical characters and types of feature of the population. All these data being brought together, the foundation will be laid for a comprehensive ethnographical synthesis. This is the broad general outline of the idea. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 262-3]

Find out more about the Folk-lore Society county surveys here.

It was hoped that the local British Association corresponding societies could be utilised in the survey. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 263] Brabrook spends the middle part of the report detailing useful reports that members of the local corresponding societies had already contributed. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 264-266] He concluded:

We gather from this that during the eight years, 1885-92 (inclusive), as many as thirty-three local societies have been engaged in valuable original anthropological work, and at least one hundred individuals have contributed anthropological papers to their transactions. They occupy the whole country from Penzance to Inverness, and from Rochester to Belfast, and they assuredly form a nucleus for the operations we have in contemplation. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 266]

It was intended to muster not only the local BAAS societies but also other local groups:

there are still larger numbers which have as yet busied themselves with the branches of science cultivated by other sections of the association, but upon whom we may confidently count for assistance, when we are prepared to inform them exactly what we wish them to do. So also there is the body of local secretaries of the Society of Antiquaries, men specially selected (not necessarily from among the Fellows) as having ready access to all the antiquarian work that is going on in their respective districts ... There are, again, the numerous local archaeological societies in union with the Society of Antiquaries. In connection with the Folk-Lore Society and the Anthropological Institute, there are also many skilled workers in various localities, whose assistance we shall obtain. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 267]

The group had also given consideration to what the local workers ought to do. Brabrook lists some of it:

First, as to the Society of Antiquaries ... It consists, first, of a map of the county, drawn to a quarter-inch scale, on which are marked all recorded discoveries by a simple code ... Second, of a topographical index, and specifying the period, the nature of the discovery, and where recorded. Third, of a bibliography ... The work of the Society of Antiquaries in this matter deserves the first consideration from us, not only because of the antiquity and reputation of the Society, but also because it sereves as an excellent starting point for the rest of our work. When an archaeological map of any county has been constructed, and some particular region of that county, ... is observed to be specially rich in any one kind of evidence of ancient occupation, that region will assuredly be an excellent hunting ground for the enquiries into folk-lore and into physical anthropology, and a most hopeful locality for the discovery of any correlations that may exist between them. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 267-8]

'The Folk-lore Society has commenced work in two directions. It has already printed the first of a series of publications under the title "County Folk-Lore," ... The first step is therefore to extract and arrange alphabetically the items of folk-lore contained in these and other publications [like "Notes and Queries", and county histories]; and this should be done by way of mere collection and compilation, stating the authority for each, but leaving critical appreciation for a subsequent stage of the proceedings.
The second branch of the work to be done specifically for the Folk-Lore Society, is the collection of fresh observations. For guidance in this, the Society has published a handbook of folk-lore ... ample direction [is] given to the observer, the total number of points suggested for enquiry being not far short of one thousand. ... [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 269]

The Anthropological Institute has been equally regardful of the needs of the observer. It has just issued ... the second edition of "Notes and Queries on Anthropology" which was first published in 1874 under plans laid down by General Pitt Rivers. The division which he adopted under the two heads of Constitution of Man and Culture now takes the form of Anthropography and Ethnography. ... In this branch of work we have the advantage of the accumulated experience of the Anthropometric Committee and of Mr Galton's anthropometric laboratory ... [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 270-1]
The second part of "Notes and Queries" relates to matter which have already to some extent been dealt with in connection with the Folk-Lore Society. ... the primary object of the work is to deal with observations of savage tribes, and it is not therefore in all respects applicable to an Ethnographical Survey of the United Kingdom.' [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 273]

Why was the British Association being urged to take on this massive task? Brabrook tries to persuade the Association of the urgency:

the matter is one which will not brook undue delay. It is so large an undertaking that it should not be entered upon with unwise haste; but all the while we are waiting to begin, the evidence is slipping out of our grasp. The centripetal forces, which impel the country folk towards our great towns, and the rapid means of transit from place to place, of which even the poorest are constantly availing thmselves, are fast effacing all special local peculiarities, and inextricably mixing the races of which our population are composed. The survey we now propose to make could have been better made if it had been begun fifteen years ago, when the Anthropometric Committee was first appointed; infinitely better sixty-one years ago, when the British Association began its beneficial existence. Wait a few year longer, and it will be impossible to do it at all.
In this as in many other concerns of life, we must do what we can while we have the opportunity, for no second opportunity can be given to us. [Brabrook, 1893 [a]: 274]

In 1893 Edward Brabrook also wrote another short report for Science:

IN the early part of 1892, on the suggestion of Professor [Alfred Cort] Haddon of Dublin, the Society of Antiquaries of London. the Anthropological Institute, and the Folk-Lore Society appointed delegates to discuss the means of combined action for obtaining simultaneous observations on the monuments of antiquity, the physical characters of the people. and their customs, traditions, and beliefs in various parts of the United Kingdom. They agreed to seek the co-operation of the British Association, which has local corresponding societies in connection with it, and received authority to act as a committee of that association, with the additions of a delegate from the Dialect Society, and of others specially representing Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. It was generally admitted that the success of the work depended upon its being taken in hand at once, since the forces impelling country folk towards the great towns, and the rapid means of transit from place to place now available to the very poorest, are fast effacing all special local peculiarities, and mixing up inextricably the races of which the population is composed. [Brabrook, 1893 [b]: 5]

In 1893 the fifteenth annual report of the Folklore Society reported: 'The principal undertakings of the Society during the year I892 have been: ... (2) closely allied with and arising out of this work [the folklore survey by members]: the institution of a joint conference of the learned societies interested in the subject, for the discussion of the best means of obtaining a complete ethnographic survey of the United Kingdom.' [p.112] Later in the same report the subject was raised in greater detail:

As regards the second point, the idea of a conference for discussing the best means of obtaining a complete ethnographic survey of the United Kingdom emanated from Prof. Haddon, and, at the invitation of the Council, the Society of Antiquaries and the Anthropological Institute at once appointed delegates to the Conference, the first meeting of which was held in July. In August, Mr. Brabrook, at the request of the Conference, very kindly brought the subject forward at the meeting of the British Association in Edinburgh. His observations were so warmly received, that an Association Committee was at once appointed, with Mr. Francis Galton as chairman, and Dr. Garson, Professor Haddon, and Dr. Joseph Anderson as members, to which were added, as representatives of this Society, the President, the Treasurer, and Mr. Jacobs. Representatives of other bodies were also appointed and the Council are encouraged to hope that some definite steps may be taken during the ensuing year towards carrying out the objects they have in view. It is proposed to record for certain typical villages and the neighbouring districts-
(I) Physical Types of the Inhabitants.
(2) Current Traditions and Beliefs.
(3) Peculiarities of Dialect.
(4) Monuments and other Remains of Ancient Culture; and
(5) Historical Evidence as to Continuity of Race.
As a first step, the Committee formed a list of such villages in the United Kingdom as appeared especially to deserve ethnographic study, out of which a selection was made for the survey. The villages or districts selected are such as contain not less than a hundred adults, the large majority of whose forefathers have lived there so far back as can be traced, and of whom the desired physical measurements, with photographs, may be obtained. [pp. 114-5]

'The British Association agreed to organize the Survey and appoint a Committee to oversee the work, with Galton as chairman, ... Brabrook as secretary'. In 1894, Brabrook became the Chairman of the committee and E. Sidney Hartland as secretary. In 1894 it was reported to the Folklore Society that an Ethnographical Committee had been appointed as an outcome of 'the conference between the Society of Antiquaries, the Anthropological Institute, and the Folk-Lore Society, instituted by the Council in I892, for the discussion of the best means of obtaining a complete Ethnographic Survey of the United Kingdom.' [Folklore, p. ii]

Two sub-committees of the main Committee were established to 'deal with the crucial Celtic fringe', that is: Wales and Ireland [Urry, 1984: 89] Two other societies were also invited to join the Committee, the Royal Statistical Society and the English Dialect Soiety. [Urry, 1984: 90] In 1895 the Annual Report of the Folklore Society confirmed that:

The Delegates sent by the Society to the Ethnographical Survey Committee of the British Association report that the names of 367 villages or places have been returned to that Committee as suitable for survey. Forms of Schedule have been prepared by the Committee for the use of observers, and Sub-Committees have been formed in various places. The Council regard this movement with especial interest, as being the first occasion on which this Society, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Anthropological Institute, the Royal Statistical Society, the Royal Irish Academy, the Cambrian Archaeological Society, and other learned bodies, have been able, through the good offices of the British Association, to co-operate in forming a Joint Committee for a common object, which was initiated by this Society. [1895 Annual Report p. 111]

Although the British Association committee coordinated the research, the intention was that amateurs from the corresponding societies carried out the work. Additional researchers were recruited via newspaper articles. [Urry, 1984: 90] They were not required to have any specific skills, just to be interested in the issue, and to be able to identify suitable locations for the work:

Amateur investigators of course required detailed instructions. Experts were appointed to "digest" the information they hoped would flow from investigators, and these same experts drew up the instructions under each of the subject headings. Haddon and R. Garson, a medical man with an interest in physical anthropology, were to deal with the physical evidence; Rhys and representatives of the Folk-Lore Society, the folklore; W. Skeat, founder of the Dialect Society and expert on Anglo-Saxon linguistics, the dialect material; H.S. Milman and George Payne, as representatives of the Society of Antiquaries, the archaeological and antiquarian information; and Brabrook, the historical evidence. A general schedule to aid research was issued with the Reports of the Committee and published separately for distribution to individuals and societies. The instructions were written in the format of other contemporary questionnaires and research aids, and indeed often reproduced sections of these works.[Urry, 1984: 90-1]

Elizabeth Edwards notes that the work of the Ethnographical Survey was often bound up with the photographic surveys which were also being carried out:

a number of the early twentieth-century surveys, notably Surrey, Kent, and Norfolk ... had special sections devoted to "Anthropology" or "Ethnography" run by a small committee. Following the BAAS Section H model, they usually included archaeology and material culture, prehistoric sites and "objects with traditional assocations generally, survivals of ceremonial and other customs" (Gower et al. 1916: 185) [Edwards 2008: 197-8]

She concludes, however, that:

while photography had been seen as integral to the methods of the BAAS Ethnographic Survey, adding evidential weight and demonstrational clarity, in fact very few photographs were forthcoming. Not only was what was asked of photographers and observers becoming too complex to be practicable. [Edwards 2008: 202]

The amateur investigators nominated many places to be studied. Urry remarks:

the geographical distribution of places was uneven. Norther and western England was well represented, ... but locations in southeastern England ... were barely mentioned at all. Only one Sussex village was included ... None was listed for Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, or Buckinghamshire. This lack of interest in the eastern and southern counties was partially a reflection of the fact that their racial history was assumed to be well-known and partially a belief that the people had been transformed by recent events. ... Furthermore, many places in the English border region were selected for their "mixed" populations. ... Brabrook appears to have accepted all the places suggested without critical assessment; he merely organized the suggestions under county headings and hoped that people would collect information once they received their instructions. [Urry, 1984: 93]

The 'recent events' alluded to by Urry were the effects of the Industrial Revolution. For example, in 1894 Kenwood of the Birmingham Philosophical Society remarked that in the local area 'almost all traces of the past has been destroyed'. [quoted in Urry, 1894: 95]

In 1896:

in Liverpool, Section H passed a resolution calling for the establishment of an imperial `Bureau of Ethnology for Greater Britain' to parallel the recently established Bureau of American Ethnology in the United States. As C. H. Read, the mover of the resolution pointed out, if the United States supported such a bureau with only one "race" within its borders, "how much more is it the duty of Great Britain to attempt some record of the many vanishing or, at any rate, quickly changing races within her borders?" (Stocking 1995:372). When president of the British Association in 1899, Sir Michael Foster presented a petition to the government urging the establishment of a bureau (Kuklick 1991:46-47). Another deputation to Asquith in 1912 was also unsuccessful (Kuper 1983:101; Mills 2003:9).' [Sillitoe]

In 1897 the Annual Report of the Folklore Society for that year reported that:

The Society continues to be represented by Mr. Clodd, Mr. Gomme, and Mr. Jacobs on the Ethnographical Survey Committee, of which its Treasurer is the Chairman, and Mr. Hartland the Secretary. The Ethnographical Survey Committee and the Folklore Society are thus working hand in hand, and most valuable results may be hoped from their co-operation. At the meeting of the British Association at Liverpool, a paper was read in the Anthropological section by Mr. G. Laurence Gomme "On the methods of determining the value of Folklore as Ethnographical Data." This important paper has been printed at length in the Transactions of the Association as an appendix to the Report of the Ethnographical Survey Committee, and deserves the most careful perusal. [p. 23]

In 1897 the committee reviewed what progress had been made to date by the amateur investigators and found it to be meagre. [Urry, 1984: 95] The committee advised that the local societies 'need not investigate all subjects in depth, but could merely carry out general surveys.' [Urry, 1984: 96] In 1898 Brabrook appealled to Section H of the British Association for one more effort by the local societies but to no effect. As Urry reports:

The following year [1899] the Committee announced it was issuing its final Report, not because the Survey had been completed, but because "the preparation for that work has been carried as far as the means at their disposal hve enabled them to carry it, and because they have arrived at the conviction that the work itself may now properly be left to be completed by other hands possessing the necessary organisation and more adequate means. ... The Committee ended on an optimistic note, hoping that a proposed Imperial Bureau of Ethnology for Greater Britain might take over the work of the Survey; but the Bureau, in spite of many efforts in succeeding years, was never established. [Urry, 1984: 96-7]

One of the problems the Survey had encountered was relying on amateurs to collect information. As Urry remarks:

Amateurs could not cope with the instructions; the "facts" were not like pebbles on the ground lying there to be picked up; the material collected was of such varying standards that it proved nearly impossible to synthesize. [Urry, 1984: 97]

The only solution was to have "one or more persons...wholly engaged upon the work". [BAAS 1899 reported by Urry, 1984: 97]

Urry suggests that another reason the Survey failed was that there was no longer a unified or 'holistic' view of anthropology after 1900, and 'all these changes in anthropology were to have a profound effect on the research and publication of material on the ethnology of Britain after the Survey folded'. [Urry, 1984: 99] Looking forward, Urry reports that:

There was no attempt between the two world wars to establish a general anthropological survey of Britain in spite of continued professionalization of the discipline. The ranks of the social anthropologists grew, but their attention was focussed on distant areas of the British Empire and on issues other than ethnological speculation. [Urry, 1984: 101]

The ethnographic survey was discussed over twenty years later, by a retiring President of the Folk-lore Society in an useful summary of the work of the survey:

we pass ... to an Ethnographical Survey of the British Isles. A conference of delegates of The Folk-Lore Society, The Anthropological Institute as (it then was)[sic, punctuation], and The Society of Antiquaries took place thirty-five years ago. It made a recommendation to the British Association through our Vice-President, Sir Edward Brabrook, and a committee of the Association was appointed, with Sir Francis Galton as chairman, to record for a list of typical villages:-
1. physical types of the inhabitants; 2, current traditions and beliefs, 3, peculiarities of dialect; 4, monuments and other remains of ancient culture; and 5, historical evidence as to continuity of race.
Three years later, in 1895, it was reported that 367 villages or places had been returned as suitable for survey. A form of schedule was prepared, and a number of Societies were represented on the joint committee. The last reference in our annual reports is two years later again, in 1897, when the committee is stated to be continuing. As Hans Breitmann queries, -- "Where is dot party now?" and where the folklore results? I suppose that what is called, thirty years later, the regional survey, and apparently looked on as a new thing, is the descendant of the old Ethnographical Survey, but it does not seem to be concerning itself with "2, Current tradtions and beliefs." ... I suggest that through our delegate [to the British Association annual conference] we ought to press energetically the claims of folklore for inclusion in the regional survey, and thus, if possible, obtain assistance in our own work of collection. [Wright, 1928: 23-4]

Find out more about Folklore Surveys, use of photography by the ethnographic survey and the Anthropmetric Committee.

Further Reading
Brabrook, E. W. 1893 [a] 'On the Organisation of Local Anthropological Research' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 22 (1893), pp. 262-274
Brabrook, E. W. 1893 [b] 'Ethnographical Survey of the United Kingdom' Science, Vol. 21, No. 518 (Jan. 6, 1893), p. 5 Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Elizabeth Edwards. 2008. 'Straightforward and Ordered: Amateur Photographic Surveys and Scientific Aspiration, 1885-1914' Photography and Culture (vol. 1 issue 2) November 2008 pp 185-210 Berg.
'Folk-Lore Society. Fifteenth Annual Report of the Council' Folklore, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Mar., 1893), pp. 112-118
'Seventeenth Annual Report of the Council' Folklore, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Mar., 1895), pp. 109-116
'Eighteenth Annual Report of the Council' Folklore, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Mar., 1896), pp. 28-34
'Nineteenth Annual Report of the Council [of the Folklore Society]' Folklore, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Mar., 1897), pp. 20-28
Hartland, E. Sidney. 1894/5 'The Ethnographic Survey of the United Kingdom' Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeologiccal Society XVIII (pt II) 207-17
'Notes and News' Folklore, 1892 (vol. 3) p. 270
Sillitoe, Paul. http://www.dur.ac.uk/anthropology.journal/vol13/iss2/sillitoe/sillitoe.html
Urry, J. 1984. 'Englishmen, Celts and Iberians: The Ethnographic Survey of the United Kingdom, 1892–1899'. In G. Stocking (ed.), Functionalism Historicized (History of Anthropology II). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 83–105
Wright, A.R. 'Presidential Address: The unfinished tasks of the Folk-Lore Society' Folklore Vol. 39, No. 1 (Mar. 31, 1928), pp. 15-38