By Amara Thornton (Research Officer, Ure Museum)
Reginald Percy Austin came to University College Reading from his hometown in Cornwall in 1920, following a very brief period of war service in the Royal Naval Division. After gaining a first-class degree in Classics from the University of London in 1924, he was admitted to the British School at Athens as a student.
He arrived at the British School at Athens in the late autumn of 1924, his travels supported financially by a grant from the College, funds from Cornwall, and supplemented by fundraising through subscription. Alongside undertaking various tasks on behalf of Percy and Annie Ure in Greece and networking with Greek archaeologists, by the spring of 1925 he was assisting in the School’s excavations at Sparta. He was also scouting out the antiquities dealers of Athens for artefacts to purchase on behalf of the then fairly newly-minted Museum of Greek Archaeology at Reading (now the Ure Museum).
Austin’s linguistic talents had been apparent from his student days, and he was developing research specialisms in Greek epigraphy and inscriptions. He mastered a technique known as the ‘paper squeeze‘, a method that provided copies of inscriptions on paper that could be studied without the original artefact to hand.
He returned to Athens the following year (1926) to undertake excavations at Haliartos, a site on the edge of Lake Copais, in Boeotia. The lake had been in the process of being drained for some time, and he was aided logistically in his excavation by employees of the Lake Copais Company.
Having done a brief stint lecturing in University College Swansea, he was appointed as an Assistant Classical Lecturer at Birmingham University in 1927, eventually becoming Reader in Ancient History. He married a fellow lecturer (in Education) at Birmingham, Frances May Ritchie in 1928. He continued to excavate and visit Greece during this period. His only book, The Stoichedon Style in Greek Inscriptions was published by Oxford Univerity Press in 1938. Austin died of cancer in the spring of 1943.
The Ure Museum has a significant collection of RP Austin’s letters (1924-1943) as well as a few letters from Frances Austin. It also has a significant collection of paper squeezes.
Austin, R. P. 1925/1926. Excavations at Haliartos, 1926, Part I. Annual of the British School at Athens 27: 81-91.
Austin, R. P. 1926/1927. Excavations at Haliartos, 1926, Part II. Annual of the British School at Athens 28: 128-140.
Austin, R. P. 1931/1932. Excavations at Haliartos, 1931. Annual of the British School at Athens 32: 180-212.
Dodds, E. R. Missing Persons: an autobiography. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Hood, R. 1998. Faces of Archaeology in Greece. Leopard’s Head Press.
Ure, A. c. 1968. Talk to Atrebates. Ure Museum archives.
RP Austin letters, Ure Museum archives.