4.2 Charles Roach Smith and the archaeology of Roman London

Charles Roach Smith (1807-1890) was at the forefront of archaeological scholarship from the 1840s onwards, but like Lysons is rarely mentioned in general histories of archaeology (Rhodes 1992; 2004; Hobley 1975; Henig 1995, 186). He was a businessman who developed many interests, most notably a passion for archaeology and antiquities, and was responsible for collecting and recording over 5000 antiquities, many of which he saved from destruction in the course of improvements to the London sewerage system. His 'Museum of London Antiquities' was sold to the British Museum in 1855 after a considerable period of negotiation and his international comparative studies, published in his Collectanea Antiqua (7 vols, 1843-80), attracted international attention (the two well-known Danish archaeologists, Christian Thomsen and Jacob Worsaae, both visited his museum).

Roach Smith had a wide circle of supportive and influential friends, many of whom provided generous financial support for his excavations and publications; the excavations of the Roman forts at Lympne and Pevensy (1850-2), which he conducted with M. Lower and James Eliot, were the first excavations in Britain to be funded through public subscription, and these were published promptly for the subscribers. But he was viewed with suspicion by some in 'traditional' circles, as is clear from events surrounding his election as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries: 'There was an enemy; and he had written a letter which Sir Henry Ellis the acting secretary deemed worth consideration. The writer had stated, not that I was not a fit and proper person to be elected; but that I was in business!' (1883, 116). He was subsequently elected with one of the largest majorities recorded in a ballot.

From the 1840s until his death in 1890, he produced many volumes on British archaeology and antiquities, but also on sites and antiquities in France and Germany, and these include excellent illustrations of sites and antiquities by the talented artist Frederick W. Fairholt (e.g., and others, and represent some of the finest scholarship on Roman Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. Like Lysons, he took care to meticulously record all forms of evidence (Rhodes 1992; 2004; Hobley 1975; Henig 1995, 186) and was ahead of his time in many respects; for example, drawing comparisons between archaeology and natural sciences:

'Archaeological classification is a process far more tedious and delicate than that of any natural science; and it should be based upon similar principles, with even greater care and circumspection, owing to the perplexing manner in which antiquities are so often presented, and the difficulty at all times in testing the truth of the statements respecting their discovery' (1868, 1).

He shared the conviction of the Lysons brothers that British discoveries were of national significance and should be preserved for the nation and he laments the money expended on overseas ventures at the expense of local excavations. In relation to the lack of funding for excavations at Wroxeter, Roman Uriconium, he said:

'Mr Wright appeals to Sir G.C. Lewis, Chancellor of the Exchequer; but was told that the Treasury was not accustomed to give money for such purposes. This was not strictly true, for money had been given for excavations on the site of Carthage and of several localities in the East, of far less interest to our national history than those of Uriconium'. (1883, 82).

Many of Smith's volumes were published by John Russell Smith (Goulden 2004), who had a particular interest in dialect study and topography, and whose business increased after quarrelling within the Archaeological Association which resulted in two separate societies: the British Archaeological Association and the Archaeological Institute (Rhodes 2004; Levine 1986, 48). J.R. Smith benefitted from this split as a number of members transferred their publications to him. It can be seen from Table 8 that the publisher was a significant presence in the mid-nineteenth century and that he also published works by close friends of Roach Smith's, such as Akerman and Bateman.


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