Archive fishing

Last week I visited the Local Archive Service at Doncaster, to see the archives of William Aldam of Frickley Hall.


Signature of William Aldam © Doncaster Archives

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.

Travel journal s

Aldam’s travel diary for 1836 © Doncaster Archives

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.

Exploits in Cyprus s

Page from Aldam’s notebook, ‘Classical Lectures: Freshman’s year’ © Doncaster Archives

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’.

Oh Italy s

Page from Aldam’s travel diaries © Doncaster Archives

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:

Diary s

Aldam’s diary entry for Wednesday 28 September, 1870

‘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.

NMS 1901.317

Amphora (ex. Sandwith) in the National Museums Scotland collection (NMS 1901.317) © E. Goring, A Mischievous Pastime (1988) p.81

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!


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.