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Alan Clarke is a Volunteer at Salisbury Museum who works with the museum’s photographic archive. Readers here enjoy Alan’s regular blog contributions.

Austin Underwood used to capture images that no-one else thought interesting.

Pitt Rivers

The Pitt-Rivers museum (at Farnham, Dorset), now closed, was a very large, specially designed building consisting of many well-lit galleries. Salisbury museum has quite a number of images of these galleries and their contents.

There is one image of the billiard table being used to display hundreds of artefacts – a valuable display space, rather than an opportunity to play billiards or snooker! There is an image of the plan of the building with its galleries which dwarf the small attached living quarters.

The grounds (now the Larmer Tree Gardens) were quite extensive as well; full of buildings Pitt-Rivers had brought from India* and had re-erected. One building was a Yak House, so he acquired some yaks to live in it!

He not only acquired yaks but quite a number of other exotic animal species. Salisbury museum has photographs of these, too, including a white peacock; not so dramatic with only black and white photography.

Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers even had a large statue made of a Roman soldier, which used to stand outside his museum but can now be seen on the grass behind Salisbury Museum.

This is where Austin Underwood’s skill is useful to add something else to the understanding of the Pitt Rivers museum.  Austin’s photograph, above, shows how even the Dorset signpost at Thickthorn Cross (Grid ref 965130) was carefully modified, using the correct font, to give directions to the museum.  Note the crescent piece added to the sign end to give a smooth super curve.  Only Austin would have stopped and photographed this signpost.  The whole signpost has long since gone and even the cross roads rebuilt as staggered junctions.

*Editor’s note: in fact these buildings may have been brought from the Great Exhibition in London – remarkable enough! An extract from Historic England’s Heritage Explorer site says:

“Pitt-Rivers aimed to make the museum an attraction for a very large audience and to offer something different from other museums. The museum existed until the 1960s. A part of the collection can still be seen in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. He gave his main collection to Oxford University and the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford was opened in 1884.”

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