The beginnings of the Leeds Cypriot collection

The earliest Cypriot donations I have traced to date were given to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1870, by two influential members.

Cypriot amphora donated by William Aldam
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

This large amphora, 65cm tall, was donated by William Aldam (1813-1890). It comes with a provenance, though rather a shaky one: the 51st Annual Report of the LP&LS, for 1870-1, describes it as a

“Very fine Graeco-Phoenician Vase, 2 feet 2½ inches high, found among tombs in Laimia, Cyprus”.

A note with it gives the provenance as ‘Laimia Island, Cyprus’. Unfortunately ‘Laimia’ is untraceable, as far as I can make out; it’s possibly a mistake for ‘Lania‘, though this seems unlikely. The amphora, of Bichrome ware, dates from the Cypro-Archaic I period (750-600 BC). It is currently on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery at the Leeds City Museum, and seems to have been a focal point of the Cypriot displays for some time, as this photograph, apparently from mid 20th century, shows. In 1979 it was featured as ‘Object of the Month’ at the Leeds City Museum.

Cyprus display
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

William Aldam was one of those 19th century figures who seem to have crammed in more than one lifetime’s worth of experience, punctuated by several reinventions. He read mathematics at the London University, and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, but as a Quaker he was not allowed to matriculate or graduate. In 1839 he was called to the Bar, although he never practised. He changed his religion from Quaker to Anglican, and was MP for Leeds in 1841-47. Having married in 1844, he began a new phase as a member of the landed gentry at Frickley Hall near Doncaster, taking a particular interest in local canals and railways. He took a full part in local affairs, working as a JP from 1842 and serving on county committees. In 1889, shortly before his death, he became a County Alderman. He was evidently popular; the Leeds Mercury report of his funeral (1st August 1890) commented

“It was beautifully fitting that he who had cast so much gladness on all around should be borne to his last resting-place under kindly sunshine.”

Aldam inherited his father’s proprietary share in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and remained a member until his death in 1890, subscribing generously to appeals for the improvement of its premises. It’s not clear how the amphora came into his possession. He was an enthusiastic traveller, keeping diaries of extensive journeys through Europe, and is known to have travelled to North America, Italy and Albania, though there is no indication that he ever went to Cyprus. Besides this amphora, his donations included specimins of lead ore from a mine at Castleton; glass apparatus for chemical experiments; and zoological specimins, including Echinoderms, Magpie, Jay, Sparrow Hawk, Honey Buzzard, and the Great Kangaroo (it appears he provided the means to purchase this last, rather than sourcing it personally).

The other donation in 1870 forms quite a contrast – this bowl, plainer and rather damaged, donated by Joshua Ingham Ikin (1844-1887).  It has a small, low foot and is decorated inside with further bands of brown/black on white slip. The remains of two handles are visible.

Cypriot bowl donated by Joshua Ingham Ikin
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Ikin was similarly a prominent figure in Yorkshire society. A Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, he studied at Leeds, Edinburgh, London and Paris before establishing his practice in Leeds. He was a key promoter of the new Women and Children’s Hospital at Leeds, and during his term of office as Surgeon to the 4th West Yorks Regiment of Militia, he was responsible for assessing the fitness of around 13,000 military recruits. He played a more active part in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society than Aldam, being a member from 1837, and giving lectures on a wide range of subjects, including ‘On the Geological Features of the Swiss Alps’, ‘On the Voice’, ‘Physiology and Phrenology Contrasted’, and ‘On Man’s Favourites, The Dog; The Cat; The Horse’. Again, nothing is known of how Ikin came by this bowl. His other donations were mainly zoological, including fossilised fish and specimins of Dotteril.

J.I. Ikin served as President in 1875-6. During this period he was responsible for raising the sum of £100 as the ‘President’s Special Fund’, which funded the purchase of the Cypriot items from the Sandwith collection. Unusually, Ikin’s two Addresses to the Society as President were circulated in pamphlet form, from which we learn that the cost of the Sandwith acquisition was £14. He also published prolifically, mainly on medical matters, including subjects as diverse as infant mortality, the branding of deserters and the translation from French of a biography of Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, physician to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Both Aldam and Ikin are good examples of the early supporters of the LP&LS, described by E. Kitson Clark as

“…men who had leisure to demand culture and had the means to promote it, men who while they were engaged with the problems of a vigorous practical life, had also the capacity to devote earnest attention to the furtherance of science and letters.”

(E. Kitson Clark, History of 100 Years of Life of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society (1924), p.2)

It’s thanks to their wide-ranging, eclectic interests that these Cypriot artefacts survive in the collection today.


3 thoughts on “The beginnings of the Leeds Cypriot collection

  1. 9 April 2013
    I collect postal history, and I specialise in letters which showed the postal arrangements between Britain and France in the 1830s and 1840s.
    I have a letter addressed to William Aldam, at Constantinople. The letter was written at Leeds on 10 July 1837 by his father, also William Aldam. To find out more I did a Google search, and found your website, with the post dated 1 October 2012.
    I read with interest that he was one of the earliest donors to the Leeds Cypriot collection, “but there is no indication that he ever went to Cyprus”.
    The contents of the letter may give some further clues about William’s travels.
    The letter opens: “My last letter was the 25th May to Athens after which from thy letters we did not think it prudent to write there any more. I write now at a venture to Constantinople.” The father knew his son was in Athens and had left Athens, and made a guess that he might turn up at Constantinople.
    At the end: “The Marbles are just arrived all safe and the table is very beautiful.” Young William was definitely collecting antiquities and sending them to his father.
    Most of the rest of the contents concern family matters, except: “No doubt thou will have heard of the King’s death – William the 4th died on 20th June – now we have a Queen Victoria the first.”
    The letter arrived at the French Post Office at Constantinople on 5 August. It was addressed “Poste restante”. After three months the letter had not been collected, so it was returned to the sender. So William had not arrived at Constantinople by the beginning of November.
    This leaves a window of many months after Athens for William to be in the eastern Mediterranean looking for antiquities. It is very likely that this was the time that he went to Cyprus.
    I also saw a Wikipedia article about William Aldam which reported that his father died in 1828. My letter is signed off “thy affectionate Father, Wm Aldam”.
    Best regards from Sydney, Australia
    Geoffrey Lewis


    • Dear Geoffrey,

      Many thanks for sharing this very interesting information. It’s great to learn some more about William Aldam’s travels. I’m particularly intrigued to learn that he was collecting antiquities and sending them home. The Leeds amphora is quite spectacular, so could well have fitted into this category.

      Best wishes,



  2. 20 May 2013
    Hi Anna
    I want to write a small article about how my letter added to the knowledge of how William Aldam obtained the Cypriot antiquities.
    I want to include an illustration of the magnificent amphora. I have downloaded the image. I want to request permission. If this permission is granted, can you please let me know what wording I should use to acknowledge this permission. Also, if it is published I can get a copy of the journal sent to you.
    There is probably no need to include this request in the public blog, but that is up to you. It would be good if I could contact you directly by email to arrange all the details.
    Best regards


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