Changing hands

I have previously written about the Cypriot jug owned by Mr Joseph Hall of Kirkstall, and given to the Museum in 1957 by his daughter, Mrs Ethel Stott (as far as I know, no relation to Miss F.L. Stott).

Trefoil-mouthed oenochoe © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Trefoil-mouthed oenochoe
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

This jug came with a copy of a letter from its previous owner, whom I have now identified as Mr William Henry Verity (1841-1911). His father, Matthew Verity, was a cloth manufacturer, and William followed him into the business. When Matthew Verity died in 1877, he left his sons shares in the Victoria Mill – a ‘scribbling’ (carding) mill in Bramley – and stalls in the Coloured Cloth Hall in Leeds.

The Coloured Cloth Hall, Leeds. From 'The History of Leeds' by William Boyne, 1877.  ©

The Coloured Cloth Hall, Leeds. From ‘The History of Leeds’ by William Boyne, 1877.

William Verity served on the Committee of the Fine Art Department of the great Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in 1875. He presumably bought the jug, which we know was excavated by T.B. Sandwith, from this exhibition.

For a time the Veritys lived at Burley Wood Mount, Kirkstall, which William’s daughter Kate describes as:

‘a beautiful wooded Park, had five nice, substantial houses built quite separately from each other, in fact quite a lot of wooded ground between each. All the occupants of the five houses were friends: in fact it was a sort of settlement in itself, especially as there was a lodge-keeper; no body was allowed in but the residents and their visitors. It was on the direct road from Leeds to the historic Kirkstall Abbey (destroyed by Cromwell) where we always went at least once a week in good weather to spend some time, the younger ones climbing such ruins as were not too dangerous‘. © West Yorkshire Archive Service, family history research conducted by George Verity.

Joseph Hall and his family lived at Burley Wood Crescent, just round the corner from Burley Wood Mount. This perhaps explains how he came to purchase the jug. It was sold in 1881, just before the Veritys left Burley Wood, as part of the ‘valuable contents of the villa residence’ mentioned in their sale advertisement.

Sale advertisement © The Leeds Mercury, Saturday 19th March 1881

Sale advertisement
© The Leeds Mercury, Saturday 19th March 1881

It’s not clear why William Verity sold up and moved, first to Whitby, then to New Wortley, then emigrating to Canada, leaving his wife and daughter in Oldham to follow him later. In Canada he worked at the Dominion Cotton Mills in Chambly Canton, later moving to Montreal and then to Windsor in New Jersey.  His brother, John Kirk Verity, gave up his cloth manufacturing business because his machinery was too antiquated to be competitive; perhaps William Verity similarly had difficulty in making a living from the woolen trade. In his turn, Joseph Hall’s growing success allowed him the financial freedom to purchase the jug from Verity’s sale.

The movements of this Cypriot jug illustrate two Yorkshire businessmen taking advantage of the opportunity afforded them by prosperity in business to gain access to the world of antiquity collecting. Perhaps Cypriot pottery, characterised in the Guide to the Yorkshire Exhibition as ‘primitive’ and ‘rude’, was a relatively inexpensive way in. They seem to have appreciated the jug for its history, as well as its aesthetic qualities. William Verity valued the information provided by Charles Newton of the British Museum enough to write to Joseph Hall and pass it on, commenting

“The pottery is most interesting in an antiquarian sense, being as it was a link between the Prehistoric and an early Greek art.”

This interest seems typical of the Victorian businessman’s search for self-improvement. However, his antiquity collecting did not outlive his financial prosperity; when he gave up his luxurious house in Leeds, together with its contents of fine furniture and works of art, he gave up the ancient Cypriot jug too.

Mrs Stott’s decision to donate the jug to the Leeds City Museum is perhaps indicative of changing attitudes towards collecting antiquities in the 20th century. Many would agree with her that the right place for antiquities is not in private hands, out of sight, but in a publicly accessible museum. It is thanks to her generosity that the jug is available for study today.

‘A great object’: famine relief through excavations in Cyprus?

As mentioned earlier, the Visitors’ Guide to the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition states that, while Vice-Consul in Cyprus, T.B. Sandwith relieved the hardship of local inhabitants by paying for the products of their excavations.

“A famine had taken place in the island at that time, and Mr Sandwith, knowing that there were ancient graves in various parts of the island, set the people to excavate them… The sale of many of these articles relieved the starving people” (p.10).

On the face of it, this seems rather unlikely. However, I’ve come across further sources that add weight to the idea that Sandwith’s excavations were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to help local Cypriots. As noted in a previous post, the Cypriot oenochoe bought by Mr Joseph Hall came with the following provenance:

“The digging has been under the charge of Mr Sandwith our Vice Consul, brother to the late Dr Sandwith of Kars celebrity, and the pottery sent to England to be sold for the relief of the inhabitants, who were suffering from famine.”
(Letter to Mr Joseph Hall, © Leeds Museums and Galleries)

Perhaps this is no more than a repetition of the story circulating at the Yorkshire Exhibition. More weight can be given to information provided by Mr John Holmes (1815-1894), a notable Leeds collector who was acquainted with the Sandwith family. He provided a brief biographical note of Dr Humphrey Sandwith, T.B. Sandwith’s brother, for the 1889 volume of Old Yorkshire, a multi-volume compendiary of notable Yorkshire places, events and people. In this he says:

“I made his [i.e. Humphrey Sandwith’s] personal acquaintance in 1873-4. It begun [sic] in the old pots, sent from Cyprus by his brother, T.B. Sandwith (then Consul), for sale, to relieve the Cyprians, who were dying of famine from a three years’ drought and locusts. I purchased from a shop window in Sheffield certain of the very curious pottery, of at least over 2,000 years old, became acquainted with and was visited by the Rev. Henry Sandwith, of Todwick, and was induced to visit Humphrey at the Old Manor House at Wimbledon, 1874 – presumably because I had, in 1871, sold so many vases, etc., at such prices as, among others, to enable the Consul to do much good, as I realized myself in Larnaca, 1873.” (Old Yorkshire series II volume 1 (1889), ed. W. Smith)

This account gives a tantalizing glimpse of the dispersal of the Sandwith collection in Yorkshire in the 1870s. What was the shop in Sheffield, and who else bought the Cypriot artefacts? Eight Cypriot pieces in the Leeds City Museum are from John Holmes’ collection, and it is at least possible that some of these were originally shipped to England by Sandwith.

There is further testimony from even closer to home. The Leeds City Museum archive includes a couple of hand-written letters from the Reverend Henry Sandwith, the third of the Sandwith brothers, who seems to have been involved in the sale of his brother’s collection. Dated only ‘Sep 10’, one letter to an unknown recipient begins as follows:

“Will you kindly let me know how many pieces of pottery remain unsold and the prices of each. I will then consult with Mr Holmes whether any reduction in the prices of them should be made. Personally I should feel strongly disposed to favour a considerable reduction if the purpose be as you suspect; but I have a great object in view; the relief of famine which must also guide my decision.”

Again, this raises intriguing questions about the ‘purpose’ alluded to; but it also confirms a relationship between Henry Sandwith and John Holmes, and explicitly links the sale of the Sandwith ceramics with famine relief.

The hardship caused by locusts and resultant famine in Cyprus in the later 19th century is not in doubt. The evidence above strongly suggests that T.B. Sandwith took steps to ensure that local Cypriots benefited from the appetite for antiquities in the West, and that at least some of the profits from sales of pottery went to those who excavated them.