The Collectors

From the start the Ashmolean Museum was associated with antiquarian interests through the first two Keepers, Robert Plot and Edward Lhwyd, both of them pioneers in the field. Later it attracted benefactions from early investigators such as William Borlase, and the first donation of a systematically excavated body of material - that recovered by the Revd James Douglas in Kent in the 1770s. Such was the extent and quality of the British material (unmatched at that time in the British Museum) that it was proposed in 1858 that the Ashmolean should be developed into a museum dedicated to 'national antiquities'.

Painting of Robert Plot
Painting of Robert Plot

During the later Victorian era the Ashmolean became a focus for the developing profession of archaeology, both in Britain and abroad. In particular, the keepership of Sir Arthur Evans, son of Sir John Evans, did much to establish its reputation as an archaeological museum of national and international importance. Following Evans, responsibility for collecting British material fell largely to E.T. Leeds, who joined the Museum in 1908 and remained a leading figure in medieval archaeology and the archaeology of the Thames Valley until his death in 1955. As well as his original research, Leeds also encouraged the development of innovative archaeological techniques, including the use of aerial photography (with Major G. Allen) and geophysical prospecting (with R. Atkinson).

Photograph of Edward Thurlow Leeds

Discover more about some of the Ashmolean Museum's collectors of British objects including:

Top of Page