Upon transcribing the letters contained in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers I thought it might be worthwhile jotting down a few observations made upon the way.

General Observations

It should be clear from elsewhere on the site that there is no overall archive of Pitt-Rivers' correspondence. What there is is held either in other archives (for example the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford holds some letters sent by Pitt-Rivers to staff at the museum and other University staff, so does the University Archives held at the Bodleian Library) or in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum [S&SWM] Pitt-Rivers papers or in the private care of the surviving members of the Pitt-Rivers family.

S&SWM's manuscript [ms] holdings are probably the largest surviving rump of correspondence relating to Pitt-Rivers but it is not a comprehensive holding. It is clear that early letters are almost entirely missing. The first letter is dated 17 October 1881 so there is no substantial correspondence surviving from before 1880 when Pitt-Rivers' life changed.

The letters in S&SWM's ms collections were obtained at the same time that S&SWM obtained the object collections from the Pitt-Rivers' estate by Peter Saunders, then the Director of the Museum. The circumstances that pertained to the acquisition are being investigated and recorded as this is being written by present and past members of staff at the museum and any questions about this period should be directed to them.

The correspondence is sporadic. It is clear that there are missing letters both from the content of the surviving letters and because it is clear that Pitt-Rivers must have written other letters to different people even if they have not survived. There is virtually no correspondence surviving from 1893 and early 1894 for example (the reason for this is unknown). Pitt-Rivers' excavations were continuing during that year and he is not known to have been particularly ill. In any case his staff carried on his correspondence, on his instructions, even when he was ill so this would not explain the missing letters. The only conclusion is that the absence does not mark the fact that there were no letters during that period, but that they have been lost (at least temporarily, but probably permanently). In essence what remains at S&SWM seems rather random, essentially the sweepings up of part of what was obviously a fairly carefully filed set of correspondence. It is clear from the letters that the secretaries who supported Pitt-Rivers (who included Harold St George Gray) and Pitt-Rivers himself, recorded when letters from others had been answered, by writing the date and occasionally a note of what was said on the top of letters received. The name of the writer is also often written here, in other words there is a heavy suggestion that letters that were received were filed after answering under the name of the correspondent. Careful filing up to 1900 does not, unfortunately, seem to have ensured that a full set of correspondence survived (though it is not clear why it did not).

AP June 2011

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