Read, Watch and Listen

Richmond cell walls: drawings

The Richmond visit provided insight into the conditions of imprisonment for conscientious objectors in WW1 and WW2. Covered with drawings of family, supportive phrases and religious texts and symbols, the cell walls are testimony to the faith of the imprisoned men. Further research provided information on the experiences of individual prisoners, with drawings such as ‘N.Gaudies mother’ cross-referenced to Norman Gaudie, writer of ‘The Courage That Brings Peace’ (1922) ( 

Richmond Castle: conscientious objectors’ cells

Narration through cloth was the primary focus of the research, a reflection on family history, religious motivation and social exclusion. The recollections of John Edgar Bell’s daughter formed the first facet of background research, with a limited number of family photographs to inform the visual narrative. This was supplemented by investigation into the experiences of conscientious objectors and their families in WW1, later contacting English Heritage to arrange access to photograph the cells at Richmond Castle.

A shell-tempered ceramic bowl

This shell-tempered ceramic bowl has been partially reconstructed after Pitt-Rivers acquired it, and bears one single word, painted onto the outside: THAMES. Many objects from Pitt-Rivers’ collection are recorded simply with the provenance of the River Thames – which may mean an object recovered from dredging the river, may imply it was found on the Thames foreshore in London or along the banks of the river further upstream, or even may represent a purposefully vague provenance given by a dealer that usefully removes any possibility of coming from privately owned land. Whatever the case for this object, there is no doubt that today the modern text has become an integral part of this medieval object. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.35.38)​.

An abraded ceramic tile

This abraded ceramic tile, of Romano-British or post-Roman date, is from Pitt-Rivers’ fieldwork at Castle Hill in Folkestone, Kent in 1878. Initially believing its earthworks (known locally as ‘Caesar’s Camp’) dated from the Roman invasions of Britain, his excavations revealed the monument in fact to be a medieval castle. Four different museum catalogue numbers are present, and a hand-written label describes the circumstances of discovery. Written for museum display, the label’s text retains elements of the General’s interpretive challenges in the field – singling out this possibly Romano-British find from a site that proved to be medieval in date, and describing the monument as a ‘camp’ rather than a castle. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.138.25)​.

Neolithic flint axe

An excavation at Cissbury in West Sussex in 1867-8 was one of the first field projects directed by Pitt-Rivers, and was one of the first modern scientifically recorded archaeological excavation. This Neolithic flint axe offers some textual evidence to support this claim. Attached to it is a pre-printed label, completed by hand: “CISSBURY PIT NO. 22 FEB 4 1868 ALF”. The label is a very early example of the recording of archaeological features or contexts from which objects were recovered. This modest 150-year-old label is just as significant as the Stone Age axe to which it is glued – perhaps more so. The letters “ALF” stand for Augustus Lane Fox – as the fieldwork was undertaken before the General took his full name, Augustus Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.125.153)​.

Neolithic stone axe

Two museum catalogue numbers are written onto this Neolithic stone axe from West Sussex. One matches a museum manuscript catalogue entry from 1882: “4 flint celts Lancing 2.7.79 - 98/9680”. Two historic labels are attached. “Pol.” simply records that it is a polished stone axe. “Lancing nr Brighton” refers to the site of excavations by James Medhurst in the 1820s. Cross-referencing textual sources, we can place this object at a Sotheby’s auction on 2.7.1879, at which we know Pitt-Rivers bought other items. The catalogue listed items from “the Museum formed by the late Mr James Medhurst of Worthing”. The axe’s multiple texts thus link Pitt-Rivers’ metropolitan collection with an earlier provincial history of archaeological fieldwork and collecting. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.123.37)​.

Romano-British leather shoe (top and bottom view) with iron hobnails

This is a Romano-British leather shoe (top and bottom view) with iron hobnails. The text written onto it– “ROMAN SOLDIER CALIGA, LONDON WALL, 22 FT IN PEAT DEC 11 1866” – refers to Pitt-Rivers’ pioneering salvage recording, undertaken during the construction of a warehouse at London Wall in the City of London. The deep excavations revealed organic materials preserved in waterlogged deposits. Pitt-Rivers wrongly thought the site was a ‘lake village’ that was the stronghold of Cassivellaunus – the chieftain who led defence against Julius Caesar in 54 BC. A soldier himself, General Pitt-Rivers’ recording of a Roman military boot (caliga) conveys a sense of his imaginative interest in archaeological evidence of the encounters between prehistoric and Roman populations (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.92.42).​

Bronze Age copper alloy palstave axe

This is a Bronze Age copper alloy palstave axe, from which a metallurgical sample has been taken during the mid 20th century. The meanings of the red dot and the text ‘No. 2’ are obscure. The text ‘FOUND IN FORTY ACRES FIELD NEAR WORTHING 1871’ is copied from earlier text, and the date seems to be a mistaken transposition for 1877 – when E.C. Patching discovered a hoard of 40 bronze axes buried in a ceramic urn at this West Sussex location. The text is a reminder of the dangers of introduced errors with each layer of copying and re-writing museum documentation (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.119.111).

Prehistoric discoidal flint knife

This prehistoric discoidal flint knife has been made by being bifacially flaked and ground on the edges. The 20th-century label has been made for display purposes in the Pitt Rivers Museum, but includes information from the museum’s documentation and almost certainly from other earlier labels that do not survive. As with other objects, the text provides information about its modern history. ‘Rev. J.C. Clutterbuck’ was a vicar in the village of Long Wittenham, which is on the River Thames in south Oxfordshire. Pitt-Rivers acquired various other Romano-British objects from him, from London and Oxfordshire, as well as this object. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 2007.74.1)​

Plaster cast of a 400,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axe

This object is a plaster cast of a 400,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axe. A label bears the text “FOUND AT HOXNE, SUFFOLK IN 1797”, which is re-written onto the object – a reference to a discovery by John Frere, who published his ‘Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk’ in the journal Archaeologia in 1800. The object is one of  ‘3 casts of implements in the British Mus’ that Pitt-Rivers recorded in his collection. It demonstrates the importance to Pitt-Rivers of acquiring casts of museum objects for comparative purposes. The original axe is still held by the British Museum today (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.122.2).​