By Amara Thornton (Research Officer, Ure Museum)

It’s amazing what you can discover in an Annual Report.  The phrase sounds distinctly uninspiring, but in Annual Reports – historical ones, anyway – there can be metaphorical treasure among the pages.

I’ve just started a new job as the new Research Officer at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, and as part of it I’ve been spending time digging into (as it were) the early history of the Museum.  Linked to the Museum’s history is the early history of the University, hence the Annual Reports.

These Annual Reports start with an overview of the College’s activities from the Principal (at the time, William Macbride Childs), then the Accounts follow, and after that come the reports from each of the Faculties.  Since the Ure Museum began within the Classics Department* in the then-Faculty of Letters, I’ve been keeping an eye out for the section on activities in Classics.  And I haven’t been disappointed.

I was excited to find, for example, that a “Miss Evelyn Radford” came to Reading on 28 January 1911 to give a lecture for the Classics Department titled “The Greek National Games and their Sites”.  This name is well known to me; Evelyn Radford was a close friend of Agnes Conway, an archaeologist I’ve been researching for years. Evelyn and Agnes both attended Newnham College Cambridge together in the first decade of the 20th century. They were both students of the eminent Newnham Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, Jane Harrison.

As I explained in a Twitter thread, Evelyn Radford’s career in Classics was relatively short; it ended, more or less, with the outset of the First World War.**  So it was very interesting to find her lecturing at Reading at a point in her life when she was still working on Classical topics. The exact content of the lecture remains, for the moment, a mystery. But I’m hoping to find out more.

Percy Ure (Ure Museum is named after him and his wife Annie Dunman Hunt Ure) was appointed Professor of Classics at Reading for the 1911-12 session, having already held appointments at University College, Cardiff and the University of Leeds.  It was under his aegis therefore that “Mrs Watson Taylor” (Lilian Tennant, as was) came to Reading during the 1913-14 session to give a lecture in the Classics Department.  Mrs Watson Taylor’s lecture was based on her experience nursing during the Balkan Wars of 1912/1913 – presumably before her marriage to Felix Watson Taylor in autumn 1913.

But her experience in Greece went beyond nursing.  Lilian Tennant had been accepted as a student at the British School at Athens (BSA) for the 1910-11 session.  The School was a hub for archaeological research; BSA students were actively involved in excavations, undertook research project in museum collections, and travelled. During her time at the School Lilian and two other women students – Dorothy Lamb and Hilda Lorimer – were part of the School’s excavations at Phylakopi, on the island of Melos in the Aegean Sea.  Although women had been admitted as BSA students since 1890, the 1910/11 session was the first time women students at the BSA were actively involved in a BSA excavation.

After the end of the season at Melos some of the discoveries made were profiled in the Illustrated London News as the fifth part of an ongoing archaeology-reportage series, “The Remodelling of History & the Realisation of Legend”, written by former BSA student and director David George Hogarth.  The title of the piece, “The Sheffield of the Bronze Age”, was an allusion to Phylakopi’s role as an important centre for knife-making in the ancient world, using a reference that non-specialist readers in Britain would recognise (Sheffield was then a centre of British knife-making).

It was clearly contemporary Greece that held Lilian’s attention.  The First Balkan War began in October 1912; the following month, Lilian lectured on “Greek folk songs” at a fundraiser for Greek war refugees held in the home of Lord and Lady Glenconner (Edward Tennant, Lord Glenconner was a relative) in London.  She, her sister, and a few friends all donned Greek dresses for the occasion.  The following year, she was singing along again to accompany her lecture at Reading.

These two lectures at University College Reading’s Classics department showcase two key things: women’s activities in and public presentation of archaeology, and their engagement with contemporary Greek culture.  Neither is unusual but both, particularly the latter, are worth noting. Often in histories (particularly professional biographical narratives) an archaeologist’s archaeological experiences and expertise trump all other activities and interests.  One of my goals as a historian is to disrupt that tendency in narrative. And old University Annual Reports help to do that.

Further Reading/References:

Breay, C. 1999. Women and the Classical Tripos 1869-1914. In C. Stray (ed). Classics in 19th and 20th Century Cambridge: Curriculum, Culture and Community. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society.

Gill, D. W. J.  “The passion of hazard”: women at the British School at Athens before the First World War. Annual of the British School at Athens 97 (2002), 491-51

Gill, D. W. J. 2011. Sifting the Soil of Greece: The Early years of the British School at Athens (1886-1919). London: Institute of Classical Studies.

Hogarth, D. G. 1911. The Remodelling of History & the Realisation of Legend: V. The Sheffield of the Bronze Age. Phylakopi. Illustrated London News [British Newspaper Archive] 29 July, 194.

London Standard. 1912. Court Circular. 15 Nov, 11.

University College, Reading. Session, 1910-11. Annual Report of the Council. Accounts. Annual Report of the Academic Board. Reading.

University College, Reading. Session, 1911-12. Annual Report of the Council. Accounts. Annual Report of the Academic Board. Reading.

*It’s still part of Reading’s Classics Department today.

**In the few months before war was declared, Evelyn and Agnes, admitted to the British School at Athens as students, had traipsed round the Balkans as archaeologically-minded tourists.  They visited various ancient sites and noted modern events (the after effects of the Balkan Wars on the people who lived there were extremely present). In 1915, Evelyn’s article on ancient Greek vase painters was published in the Journal of Hellenic Studies. Thereafter, her publications were related to music.