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Percy Manning and some Oxford Archaeological Contemporaries

Peter Rivière (taken from a talk given between 2002-2006 during the Relational Museum project)

It is your misfortune that I bumped into Megan just after she had lost two speakers from her programme and persuaded me to fill one of the slots. I overlooked the fact that this is April Fool’s Day, which obviously she had not and decided to play a bad joke on you. Furthermore, busy with proof reading and indexing a volume on the history of Oxford anthropology, I have not had the time to prepare the visual aids which lecturers are expected to provide now-a-days. You have just got my talking head.

            I should perhaps start by explaining why I have an interest in Percy Manning. On a voluntary and adjunct basis I am working with the ‘Anthropology of Englishness’ project at the Pitt Rivers Museum. In the course of this I came across Percy Manning as an interesting donor to the museum and a person involved in antiquities, archaeology, and folk life in Oxfordshire for nearly 30 years. My main aim is to try to understand just what it was that motivated Manning’s collecting. I’m right at the beginning of that quest and have not yet had a chance to go through the extensive holdings of his papers in the Ashmolean and Bodley. My paper is perhaps therefore a little premature and I am going to do little more today than introduce you to Percy Manning and look at some of the people with whom he interacted in Oxford.

Percy Manning was born in 1870 in Leeds where his father was partner in an engineering company. His father died in 1874 and the family moved south to live near Watford. He came up to New College in 1888. He did not do well and obtained a third in classical mods and failed in lit. hum. in 1892. He was sent down the following year, although he then enrolled at a private tutorial college and finally gained his BA in 1896 and in due course proceeded to MA. Michael Heaney, who wrote Manning’s Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, attributes his failure in 1892 to his ‘extreme aphasia’, but in the same sentence admits that he undoubtedly devoted more time to archaeology and antiquities than to his classical studies. Manning lived in Oxford for the rest of his life, and at the time of his death in 1917 was living at 300 Banbury Road. He was rich enough to devote himself to antiquities and he operated in that intellectual penumbra that surrounded, and still surrounds, the university and colleges. His interest, however, was by no means casual and when I say he devoted himself to antiquities, I mean it in a religious sense. He was extremely energetic and his achievements are many. I have not got time to do them justice, but I must mention his interest in folk dancing which went beyond collecting and recording to practical intervention. He most famously helped resurrect the Headington Quarry morris dancers, and by doing so, according to John Maher, an ardent morris dancing enthusiast, he was indirectly responsible for the worldwide revival of morris dancing.

An aspect that I do want to concentrate on is his collecting. I should confess that Manning does seem to have been a bit of a jackdaw, by which I mean indiscriminate acquisitiveness rather than thievishness. He collected everything, material and immaterial; the latter including folk tales, folk songs and music. The material stuff covers the most enormous range of objects. Most of these he donated to the Ashmolean but there is a moderate collection of English objects which he gave to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1911. I shall come back to that. His first donation to the Ashmolean was in 1892 and consisted of a brass seal, two Roman pots, pottery lamps, an axe-head (not old), six keys, a knife and a spur. He continued to present or loan items throughout his life. In 1908 he loaned 110 items excavated from the British village at Standlake which the museum bought after his death. In 1914 he gave 23 objects, pipes, glassware, etc., found while development of the corner of Cornmarket and The Broad was taking place and a further two pipes from a development in Queen Street. I cannot be certain about this but given the amount of material derived from building sites, I suspect that he organized the foreman or someone else to collect the objects for him in the course of their work. In fact, my suspicion is that he had a network of people on the lookout for him, and we certainly know of one, whom he engaged to and to whom I will return later.

Following Manning’s premature death in 1917, aged 47, from pneumonia, caught while on guard duty at Southampton Docks, the great bulk of his collection went to the Ashmolean in 1920, presumably left in his will. There were 448 items. They consisted of stone and bronze tools and weapons, numerous sherds, etc., of various dates, bronze fibulae and other ornaments, modern insignia, military cap badges, for example, glass, earthenware and pottery, knives and daggers, and 80 constable’s staffs collected from the surrounding villages.

Whereas most of the results of Manning’s collecting activities went to the Ashmolean, in 1911 he gave 198 objects to the Pitt Rivers Museum, classified under 127 entries. I do not know why he suddenly made this donation. This is why to some extent this paper is premature. I have not yet been able to go through the Pitt Rivers archives nor Manning’s papers in the Bodley. Of course, there is every possibility that no particular reason will emerge and I have suggested to Chris that it may be nothing more than that Henry Balfour, always on the look out for objects for his museum, cajoled Manning in to making the donation. There is absolutely no doubt that Balfour and Manning would have known each other, but at the moment I have no evidence as to the nature of their relationship..

I don’t know why Manning suddenly decided to give to the Pitt Rivers; why he thought for those particular objects the Pitt Rivers was a more appropriate home than the Ashmolean. Are there any clues in the nature of what he gave? They are a disparate lot. By far the largest group is 28 keys, textile and tools come next with 13 and 12 objects respectively. There are also 12 objects classified as ‘Lighting’ mainly consisting of candlesticks and lanterns. There are also three pewter squirts for giving enema, dating from about 1700, which were found when cleaning out the All Souls latrines in 1896 – the Ashmolean may be been relieved not to get those. The most obvious difference between the two collections is that the PRM did not receive any early material, mainly derived from excavations – stone or bronze items, Roman or Anglo- Saxon objects, etc. Indeed there is nothing in Manning’s collection at the PRM that is more than 200 years old and most things are 19th century. I might note at this point, and it is equally true of the Ashmolean collections, that the vast majority of the objects were collected in what is now Oxfordshire – although some of the area was then Berkshire. It might be noted that this was not an entirely one sided – in the ‘Report of the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum for 1911, it states with reference to the constables’ staffs lent in that year by Manning –‘

This collection has been accepted on loan on the principle that so long as the Ashmolean is the only Museum of its class in the county, it ought to make provision, as far as possible, for the preservations of documents of local historical interest. But the limited space at its disposal renders it necessary that it accept only such documents as are clearly of such interest, e.g. objects found in excavations in the county, of the Oxford district, and those, not so found, which possess internal evidence of their connexion with local history, or have historical associations.’ (p. 25)

In other words it was looking for reasons to refuse objects, although this would not have covered the items that ended up in the PRM.

There is also one further difference that one might note between the material that he excavated and that, mainly more recent, stuff he collected, and that is the degree of documentation. For example, there is virtually no information provided at all on the 28 keys presented to the PRM. On the other hand, considerable care has been taken in describing the location and situation of his excavated finds. The material in the Ashmolean consists of some 1500 documents consisting of written descriptions, drawings, maps and photographs.

I would like now to turn to some of Manning’s archaeological contemporaries. Easily the most important of these is John Linton Myres, the Aegean archaeologist. Myres was to have a very large part to play in the development of anthropology in the first decades of the 20th century, particularly in Oxford. This is not too surprising since ‘anthropology’ at the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th included archaeology, as the word often still does in North America. Myres was directly responsible for restarting, after the failure to get a FHS in Anthropology accepted in 1895, the efforts to get Oxford to recognise a qualification in the subject. The result was the introduction of the Diploma in Anthropology 1905, a qualification which, until 1964, required examination in archaeology. Myres remained very much involved with anthropology once the Diploma was up and running. He was secretary to the Committee for Anthropology in 1905, at its first meeting, and chairman of it in 1938 at its last meeting. Nor was his involvement restricted to Oxford. He was secretary and president of the RAI for different periods, and played a hand in 1901 in the founding of the Institute’s monthly, Man. This should not be a surprise when one appreciates that at least as much of the Institute’s Journal was then given to archaeology as any other aspect of anthropology. In other words Myres was a perfect example of someone who did not recognise the distinction between the two, they were both together with history and geography (and the RGS presented him with its Victoria medal) tools in writing the history of humankind. It must be remembered that many of those we think of as evolutionist anthropologists of the 19th century saw themselves as historians.

There is an interesting association between Manning and Myres. In 1892, at the time of his finals, Manning was helping Myres excavate the Roman site at Alchester, near Bicester. This is what Michael Heaney who contributed the article on Manning for the ODNB has to say on events of the time:

During the 1892 examinations he [Manning] and J.L.Myres were excavating the Roman site at Alchester; he would have lost his place at college then had not Myres won the dean over by persuading him to wield a pick on the site himself

As yet I do not know where Heaney obtained this information (it should not be hard to find out as Heaney works at the Bodley) but I certainly gained the wrong impression when I first read that sentence. The impression I was left with was that Myres was in a position to intervene and only later realised if he was, it was not from a position of seniority. Myres was just six months older than Manning and they were exact contemporaries at New College, both reading Greats. Indeed in 1892 while Manning was failing finals partly because of his work at Alchester, Myres was getting a First in the same examination. Myres, as we have noted, went to on to a glittering and influential academic career in Oxford. I am hoping that the abundant papers of Manning and Myres will reveal whether their association continued through the former’s lifetime.

Another, almost contemporary of Manning and Myers was another ‘M’, Ranulph Marett. Marett was slightly older than the other two, having been born in 1866 and taking Finals, also in Lit Hum, in the year that Manning and Myres came up. Marett also stayed in Oxford for the rest of his life, being for many years Rector of Exeter, and for even more years Reader in Social Anthropology. Interestingly enough it was Myres who was responsible for turning Marett’s interests towards anthropology, although, as many of you will know, the gap between anthropology and classics was not great at the time. Myres was clearly cultivating fertile soil because Marett had already shown his interest in anthropology, winning the Green Moral Philosophy Prize in 1893 with an essay entitle ‘The ethics of savage races’. Six years later, Myres, then a Student of Christ Church and University Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, invited Marett to give a paper in the Anthropology Section of the BAAS meetings and three years after that Myres recruited Marett in what proved to be a successful campaign to introduce a qualification in anthropology. Marett, incidentally, although absent, I suspect, from archaeology’s genealogy, carried out regular excavations on his homeland, Jersey. Indeed, the frontiers between classics, Marett’s sort of anthropology, which was evolutionary, and archaeology were very indistinct.

Other than their contemporaneity in Oxford, is there anything to link Manning with Marett? There is, of course Myres, but besides him there is at least one arena, and further research may produce others, in which Marett and Manning would have met; it was the Oxford University Anthropological Society. It was founded in 1909 by Marett and G C Robson of New College and for some years it was as much archaeological as anthropological. It organized field trips to sites around Oxford and certain meetings were given over to the exhibition of objects provided by members. The minutes of the OUAS record various interventions by a ‘Mr R. Manning’ during the first year of the Society’s existence, mainly relating to procedural matters.   The minutes further record that at the 33rd meeting in 1911 Percy Manning read a paper entitled ‘Folk-lore hunting in Oxfordshire’. There was a large display of specimens collected by Manning and, most importantly, Manning and Marett discussed the possibility of field work for some members of the Society. At the 46th Meeting objects of anthropological interest were shown by Marett, Manning and other members of the Society. At the 63rd Meeting Marett exhibited some objects sent by Manning. In other words there can be little doubt that Marett and Manning were well known to each other and were presumably on good terms.

A further point of contact between town and gown were other local societies such as the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society and the OU Brass Rubbing Society, later OU  Antiquarian Society. In both of these Manning was very active and provided other fora where he would have had direct contact with Oxford archaeology, or at least some members. At the 44th Meeting of the OUAS Manning issued an invitation from the OU Antiquarian Society to one of its meetings, but to male members only of the OUAS.

Another person with whom Manning must have had considerable contact was Edward Thurlow Leeds. It is a pity that Arthur Macgregor could not be with us as I think it likely that he would have had something to say about Leeds. Leeds does not currently figure in the ODNB; a fact I queried, to be told that he had never been recommended. I have now recommended him. He came to Oxford in 1908 when he was appointed assistant keeper at the Ashmolean by Arthur Evans. He rose to become, in 1828, the Keeper of the Ashmolean and of the Department of Antiquities. In the archaeological world he is, to quote MacGregor, ‘widely acknowledged as the author of the first conspectus of Anglo-Saxon England compiled primarily on an archaeological rather than a historical basis’. Leeds was a member of the OUAS and, at one time, its president, although I think probably after Manning’s death. There was, however, much association and cooperation between Leeds and Manning. The Manning’s archive contains many notes and other things from or by Leeds (and, incidentally, others like Lionel Buxton, the first Reader in Physical Anthropology). Leeds was also responsible for publishing in 1921, after Manning’s death, the archaeological survey of Oxfordshire for which Manning had assembled the material.

Of other characters in Oxford who must have been known to Manning but for whom I have at the moment no evidence on the nature of their connection are John and Arthur Evans. There is, however, another and rather different person who is important in Manning’s life, it is Thomas James Carter, someone who was definitely on the town side of the divide.

Thomas James Carter, born in 1832, was a brickmaker who had retired because of arthritis and made a living by collecting and selling fossils. Presumably an interest developed during his brickmaking days. He became something of an expert on the local geology and palaeontology and the University Museum holds a number of specimens collected by him. I do not know when Manning met Carter, but in 1902 he was able to describe him as ‘my old friend’. It would appear, however, that he had known him a least as early as 1894. It was initially as a fossil hunter, but Manning later persuaded Carter, during his travels round the county, to collect ‘old superstitions, proverbs, stories, words, etc.’ Manning, who had become a member of the Folklore Society in 1896, published a collection of these in a series of articles in the journal Folklore and dated them, the earliest are 1894. The point of employing Carter to undertake this work was that Manning’s accent and status was like to inhibit an informant while he himself might have difficulty in understanding them. It might be noted there was a considerable discussion in folklore circles in the 1890s on the relative merits of using an ‘interpreter’ in the collection of field material as opposed going into the field one’s self.

To end with, my interest in Manning in the context of the Englishness project is to try to discover whether there was an aim, a motivation behind his collecting and investigating. I am hoping that his papers will reveal something as he published remarkably little. There is one clue which concerns his resurrection of the Headington Quarry morris dancers. It had fallen into abeyance some ten years before but there were still two people who had danced then. Apparently, and here I am quoting second hand, once the practising, rehearsing started, Manning kept away ‘so that there was no possibility of contaminating the pure tradition’. I find this statement illuminating in so far as it suggests that Manning was reaching for authenticity that existed in the past and could be recreated in the present. I wonder how far his other collecting was not also a search for a lost and regretted past, the remnants of which could be preserved. I do not know how far archaeologists of the time were generally imbued with such feelings; perhaps one of you can tell me.


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