ELHAS News - January 2019

Meeting Report January 2019

For the first meeting of 2019 we were fortunate to welcome Mike Turpin, Chair of South Leeds Archaeology. Mike delivered a fascinating talk entitled "From Antiquarians to Archaeologists". Having heard Mike speak before on the subject of archaeology, which is something very close to his heart, we were expecting an interesting evening, and we were not disappointed.

Mike began his talk by explaining that he intended to concentrate on people rather than places, and had tried to include people who were associated with Yorkshire. He did however, say that he would be concentrating on antiquarians with an association with three important Yorkshire sites, Roman Aldborough, Isurium Brigantium and the Devils Arrows at Boroughbridge. With this theme in mind he started way back in the early 16th century with a description of John Leland, chaplain to Henry VIII.

John Leland could be described as the first antiquarian. After the dissolution of the monasteries he became aware that German scholars were coming over to England and appropriating the books and manuscripts written by monks and returning to Germany. Anxious to preserve these John persuaded Henry to allow him to find and save them, thus preserving them for future generations.

Staying with the 16th century Mike then described the work of William Camden who published Britannia, a topographical and historical survey of Great Britain and Ireland. He then went on to introduce two important Yorkshire antiquarians of the 17th and 18th centuries, Thomas Gale, Dean of York, and Ralph Thoresby, Leeds historian. He explained how these two men were in regular communication about sites in Yorkshire. The Gale family were hugely important since Thomas and his sons Roger and Samuel were involved in the setting up of the Society of Antiquaries, and Samuel Gale was the first treasurer of the group.

The 19th century saw the beginnings of modern archaeological techniques introduced by Augustus Lane Fox of Hope Hall, Braham, who developed the concept of working a site excavation using the trench section method. Lane Fox later changed his name to Pitts-Rivers after inheriting the Cranbourne Chase estates from his uncle. As the vast estates contained many sites of archaeological importance, he was able to refine his techniques and develop protocols for digs. This led to him being made the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments after the Protection of Ancient Monuments Act was passed in 1882.

Mike ended his presentation with a description of the widely acclaimed 20th century archaeologist, who through the medium of television brought archaeology to the masses - Sir Mortimer Wheeler. We were delighted when he surprised us with televised clips of Sir Mortimer himself in discussion with Magnus Magnusson, and after listening to an interesting discussion between these two gentlemen we were asked the question, 'was Sir Mortimer an Antiquarian or an Archaeologist?'. The answer of course was not straight forward, but it made us realise how attitudes, and the thinking behind archaeology, has changed so much over the centuries. A very entertaining conclusion to a thoroughly interesting and enlightening evening.

The next meeting on Monday 25th February 2019 will be an illustrated talk by Michael Meadowcroft, former Leeds MP and local historian, entitled "The Fascinating Politics of Leeds - The Men and Women who changed the City"

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia:-
1) John Leland
2) Augustus Lane Fox (later Pitts-Rivers)
3) Sir Mortimer Wheeler