The Society of Antiquaries

Last month I attended the annual Postgraduate Open Day at the Society of Antiquaries of London – a great opportunity to admire the stunning architecture of Burlington House on Piccadilly, and to hear all about the Society’s history, collections and archives.


The Society of Antiquaries of London

The Society played a brief but significant role in the history of Cypriot archaeology. As I’ve mentioned before, in 1871 Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, British Vice-Consul on Cyprus from 1865-1870, presented a paper on his research to the Society, titled ‘On the different styles of Pottery found in Ancient Tombs in the Island of Cyprus’. This was eventually published in the Society’s journal Archaeologia, along with lithographic plates illustrating the objects under discussion. Some of Sandwith’s collection came to Yorkshire, and was exhibited and sold, creating interest in ancient Cyprus which spread through the region. (In fact, I’ve just had a paper published on this!).

I was delighted to have the opportunity to do a quick bit of research in the Society’s library at lunchtime, with help from the expert librarians – quite apart from the research opportunities, it’s an amazing place to work!


View of the library, Society of Antiquaries

I drew a blank in finding out any more about the lithographs that accompanied Thomas Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper – I think it’s destined to be one of those minor but niggling research questions that don’t find an answer. However, it was thrilling to see the record of the meeting at which he presented his paper.


Minute book entry © Society of Antiquaries

I was able to find out a bit more about another collector of ancient Cypriot objects, Mr Benjamin Kent, whose collection is now in the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate. I knew that Benjamin Kent had been a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and thanks to the Society’s admirable record-keeping, I was able to locate his nomination for Fellowship in 1939. This helpfully includes a list of those who nominated him, which is really interesting in helping to analyse the circles he moved in and the contacts he made.


Certificate of Candidate for Election, Benjamin Kent © Society of Antiquaries

None of the names are immediately familiar to me, so there’s more work to be done in tracing them. Under ‘Qualification’, the form cites his ‘valuable excavation work among Barrows in the West Riding of Yorkshire and on Roman sites’. This very much fits with my perception of Benjamin Kent; he was more of a hands-on explorer than an armchair antiquarian and collector, and interested in ancient objects mainly for what they could tell him of the past.

Both Benjamin Kent and his father were also Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, so I’m hoping there may be similar records available there. In addition, some of Kent’s papers have recently been accessioned into Special Collections at the University of Leeds library, as part of the Yorkshire Archaeology Society collection. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the background to his ancient Cypriot collection, other research projects permitting!

5 thoughts on “The Society of Antiquaries

  1. Benjamin Kent relates to my father’s family – the Kents lived at Tatefield Hall for centuries. Vivien Kent looked after the many artefacts so well until keeping the place up (with a lot of land, cattle, sheep etc) became too much for her and she sorrowfully retired – we visited her a week before she sadly died in Scotland only a few years ago. Neville Kent moved to Scotland at the same time and I have been in touch with him and several members of the family. She was very anxious about the artefacts in the care of Harrogate especially the very rare Egyptian mask which fortunately since has received a lot of publicity and its rarity recognised. Please also see pages 59-60 of book YORKSHIRE VILLAGES by G. Bernard Wood 1971 Robert Hale & Co. where he writes of his friend Bennie son of Bramley and the collection is discussed – and I have some details of Benjamin & Bramley being made Honorary members of Edinburgh Soc. of Antiquaries. I do Scottish research amongst other interests and run Clan Moffat UK web site as an administrator: Moffats/Telfords being my husband’s family..
    I have just been exchanging information about the Kents/ceramics etc with Charles Walker (archaeologist) currently auditing a collection of stored books for Manchester University and sharing my interests in Mycenae, Knossos etc. which my husband and I visited long ago on a Mediterranean tour. I referred him to your web site. Many thanks. I shall watch this space!
    Betty Telford, Madley, Hereford. 01981 251050
    p.s. I was horrified to see what had been done to Tatefield Hall after Vivien and Neville left – almost unrecognisable – though it was in need of care and attention I looked very anxiously on internet/estate agent’s pics. to see if the huge ancient fireplace that .Bennie uncovered had been covered up with stainless steel kitchen fitments and the even more ancient attached brewhouse and barns looked very much “restored”.


    • Thanks very much for getting in touch – how interesting to hear about your connections with the Kents! I’m just writing up a conference paper from last year on three Cypriot objects from the collection, and am working (with Dr Sally Waite) on another paper about the Kents as collectors, so it’s a subject very close to my heart. Did you know that several boxes of papers which Benjamin Kent left to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society are now in Special Collections at the University of Leeds? It’s a fascinating archive – including ration books, photographs, school exercises by James Kent, receipts for farm machinery… sadly not much about the acquisition of the ancient pottery, which is what I’d really like to know more about! I’d be very interested to hear more about Society of Antiquaries, if you wouldn’t mind passing on details – should find me – and I will hope to compare notes with Charles Walker at some point! Thanks again for your comment, and please do stay in touch.


  2. So sorry this has only just emerged from my looking back on a query and must have gone astray somewhere. I was reading a new entry elsewhere and It came up. I shall get back to you. Below I am using temporarily my son’s web site link as the other one I use has some problems. Apologies for delay in replying. Betty Telford


  3. anna reeve – am passing on via your e mail address a few more details belatedly in case any help/interest, this is one –


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