History of the British Collections:

The Twentieth Century

Arthur Evans' father, the noted antiquarian Sir John Evans, died in 1908 and Arthur presented the Ashmolean with his father's collection of Anglo-Saxon and Migration period antiquities. The museum recruited Edward Thurlow Leeds the same year to catalogue this major donation. The rest of Sir John Evans' collection, including the prehistoric material, was presented in 1927.

Evans was succeeded by D. G. Hogarth, who was involved in the excavations at Carchemish in Turkey and who died in 1927. He was succeeded by Edward Thurlow Leeds, who served as Keeper until the 1940s and oversaw the second great period of change at the museum. Leeds was also an active field archaeologist and played an important role in the development of archaeology in the Upper Thames Valley (assisted by the Oxford University Archaeological Society, which he had helped refound after the first world war). He was also a major scholar in the interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon period, and a pioneer in the integration of archaeological and archival research.

It was also under Leeds' leadership that foundations of the museum's medieval collections were laid. Initially the work was assisted by young enthusiasts such as T.E. Lawrence, who helped to catalogue and collect material found within the City of Oxford. Later, excavations in the region by archaeologists such as Martyn Jope and Rupert Bruce-Mitford added significantly to the colletions; for example, from rescue work at the Medieval village of Seacourt in the 1930s.

The museum stayed open throughout the war years, apart from an initial six weeks in 1939 for packing collections and moving them to safety.

The increasing professionalisation of the field of archaeology in the 1960s-70s, and the formation of the Oxfordshire County Museum Service in the mid 1960s ended the regional fieldwork role for the Ashmolean.


The Ashmolean's British collections from the twenty-first century include the following examples:

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Arthur MacGregor
January 2012