Last week I visited the Local Archive Service at Doncaster, to see the archives of William Aldam of Frickley Hall.
It’s amazing how many of Aldam’s papers have survived; there are estate records, papers from his Parliamentary career and copious notes from his service at the Quarterly Sessions, as well as personal and travel diaries – a wealth of information for historians.
I very much enjoyed Aldam’s notes from the Classics lectures he attended as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge – including lots of vocabulary notes, allowing us to share the experience across the centuries of attempting to translate Demosthenes. He even took some notes on the ‘exploits in Cyprus’ of Evagoras I.
It’s dangerously easy to get sidetracked in the archives – a topic explored by a recent HARN conference (it looks fascinating and I would have loved to be there, but, ironically, decided I couldn’t afford the distraction). Despite the many topics of interest covered by Aldam’s archives, I was there to explore the circumstances surrounding his donation of an ancient Cypriot amphora to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society – as I’ve mentioned before, one of the earliest pieces from Cyprus to join the Museum’s collection. The archives cover Aldam’s travels in Europe between 1833 and 1851, but intriguingly, there are no records of any journeys in 1837 – a year when we know, thanks to the research of Geoffrey Lewis, that Aldam visited Athens and possibly Constantinople, and sent art objects home to his father. I was hoping to find some references to his purchases in 1837, or some hints of what his itinerary might have been, but without avail. It’s clear that he was an alert, engaged and interested traveller, recording his impressions of the landscapes, buildings and people he saw, as well as many detailed descriptions of meals. Journeying through many countries he found much to admire and criticise in all of them, but it is Italy which seems to have made the greatest impression, judging by the words with which he summed up his experiences: ‘Oh Italy, sweet Italy, I love thee from my heart’.
But of Cyprus, antiquities, or the amphora, nothing. Fortunately I had another line of enquiry to pursue. I discovered a while back that Aldam had chaired a meeting of the Geological and Polytechnic Society of the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1870, at which a paper by Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, ‘On recent discoveries of Greco-Phoenician Pottery at Dali’, was read by John Holmes. This seems to have been the earliest presentation of Sandwith’s research in England, predating his 1871 paper for the Society of Antiquaries. Aldam refers to this event in his daily diary:
‘Last night I threw some matter together for what I should say as president of the West Riding Geological & Polytechnical Society – this morning wrote many letters – went to Doncaster at 12.30 – the W.R. G. & P. meeting began at 2 – after a short time a fair attendance – I made a few introductory remarks – after which 5 papers were read – some of great interest – I gave £5 to purchase Greek pottery from Cyprus for Leeds Museum’.
It seems highly likely that this donation was used to purchase the amphora which was then recorded in the Report of the Council of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society as Aldam’s gift to its Museum. In this case, the amphora never entered his possession at all; it’s an interesting example of a name becoming attached to an object through funding rather than ownership. We don’t know how Aldam came to make the donation, but I detect the influence of John Holmes, who was tireless in promoting Sandwith’s collection and the charitable aims behind its sale. This suggests that the amphora, like many other ancient Cypriot objects in the Leeds Museums and Galleries collection, can tentatively be linked back to Sandwith. It’s the kind of object which could very plausibly be associated with him; indeed, National Museums Scotland has a similar amphora from his collection. It underscores just how influential Sandwith’s collection, and Holmes’ promotion of it, was in encouraging interest in ancient Cyprus in the UK.
One mystery remains – the claim in the Report of the Council of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society that this amphora was ‘found among tombs in Laimia, Cyprus’, which doesn’t make much sense. My next step is to see whether the Sandwith connection helps to shed any light on this!