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Visitors to Avebury and other names

Denis Grant King’s (DGK) journals, written during and after his time spent at Avebury in the 1930s, are rich repositories of names. King notes down site visitors, correspondents, and more. As I’ve been transcribing his journals, I’ve noticed some names appearing frequently, or in contexts which suggest them as important types. I found this fascinating and so decided to do a little research for no other reason than to satisfy my own curiosity. And then I thought, “if I’m interested, other people might be too”; and so here is the first of what is intended to be several occasional nlogs about these people.

I should have come up with some witty heading along the lines of Avebury Additions, or Excavating Extras but alas, I seem to have lost my little pot of inspiration. Maybe you can come up with something suitable? Suggestions in the comments please.

Avebury Visitors: Part One (16 August to 20 August 1938)

Thursday, August 18th 1938 

(1732623-001-016). When DGK first arrived at Avebury he had a letter of introduction with him written by OGS Crawford

Page 16 of DGK's 'Journal One', accession number 1732623-001. The journal has been opened and photographed at a double page spread, showing Denis Grant King's handwriting. We are transcribing the full text of this image as part of the project.
Page 16 of DGK’s ‘Journal One’, accession number 1732623-001.

Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, CBE, FBA, FSA was a man who worked largely as the Archaeological Officer for the Ordnance Survey, plotting the locations of archaeological sites. He specialised in Prehistoric archaeology and wrote many books on the subject. During World War Two, as part of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, he made maps and took photographs of the German positions on the Front Line. In 1927 he founded  “Antiquity: A Quarterly Review of Archaeology”, which remains one of THE pre-eminent archaeological journals. The Avebury archive also contains many letters between Crawford and others, including a satirical letter to the Modern Mystic magazine.

Saturday, August 20th 1938 

(1732623-001-023). At Woodbury DGK saw an excavation taking place on the crest of a hill in sight of Salisbury Cathedral (these excavations would later be called “Woodbury I and II”). Here he was introduced to Charles William Phillips who was the Hon Secretary of the Prehistoric Society, and a tutor or professor at Oxford, who was in Salisbury on vacation. DGK describes Phillips as “a fine tall Saxon type, with the muscles of a navvy, aged perhaps 45, with small — almost immature — moustache, and brown to fairish hair”. CWP was also an archaeologist who led the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, and in 1946 replaced OGS Crawford as the Archaeology Officer for the Ordnance Survey.

Page 23 of DGK's 'Journal One', accession number 1732623-001. The journal has been opened and photographed at a double page spread, showing Denis Grant King's handwriting. We are transcribing the full text of this image as part of the project.
Page 23 of DGK’s ‘Journal One’, accession number 1732623-001.

(1732623-001-023). While at the above-mentioned Woodbury excavations, DGK was also introduced to Dr Gerhard Bersu of Frankfurt and his wife Maria (although DGK never mentioned Maria by name). They were a German couple who had left Germany on account of Gerhard’s Jewish heritage (on the maternal side). DGK describes him as presenting a very comical figure, short and dumpy, round moon-like face, very genial, somewhat discoloured teeth, blue eyes and brownish hair; dressed in loose sail-cloth trousers to the middle caff, a coat of weaving not generally seen in seen in England, and an old greenish Homberg with feathers and heather stuck in the band at the back.

DGK notes that Gehard “spoke in peculiar broken English”, and gives the example of what Gehard was calling “rocking seats” were actually “working seats”. What DGK seemed to be unaware of was Dr Bersu’s ingenious ability to interpret archaeological features. Far from being a ‘dumpy man in strange clothes and an old hat’, the revolutionary excavation techniques employed at this excavation by Gerhard that changed the way Iron Age Britain was interpreted. Before Dr Bersu’s arrival, it was common belief that Iron Age people lived in pits (as DGK mentions in his journal entries). However, by proving that these pits were not dwellings but had been dug for food storage, Dr Bersu was able to prove that Iron Age people lived in Round Houses.

While Dr Bersu was conducting DGK over the site, their group was approached by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Douglas Drew, the curator of Dorset County Museum (DGK mistakenly refers to this as “Dorchester Museum”) and the Secretary to the Dorset Natural History and Archaeology Society. When he died in 1956 The Drew Trust was set up in his name. Even today, this Trust gives outstanding A-Level History students prize money if they attend university.

Page 26 of DGK's 'Journal One', accession number 1732623-001. The journal has been opened and photographed at a double page spread, showing Denis Grant King's handwriting. We are transcribing the full text of this image as part of the project.
Page 26 of DGK’s ‘Journal One’, accession number 1732623-001.

(1732623-001-026). This entry, a continuation of the 20th August, doesn’t include anyone famous, but it shines a little light onto William Young’s life, and his family’s political interests. William is in charge of the excavations at Avebury and DGK is finishing the day by visiting Mr Young’s family home where he meets Mr Young, senior.  On the sideboard he sees two newspapers: The Daily Herald and “Action”. You’re probably wondering why this is worth noting? In those days, The Daily Herald was seen as a newspaper that supported the Labour Party and was aimed at the “working man”. However, Action was a newspaper published by Oswald Mosely’s British Union of Fascists. We don’t know yet what Young senior’s political leanings were, but it raises interesting questions about the circulation of ideas across the country at the time.

Denis was a busy guy on 20th August 1938. I wonder how often he looked back over his diaries and remembered the people he met?

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Preparing for War

While transcribing Denis Grant King’s journals, it has struck me how little mention there is of tensions in Europe caused by Hitler and Germany. Of course, my view comes with the gift of hindsight with full knowledge of the tsunami that is about to crash across Europe in the form of the Second World War.

I am now transcribing pages covering spring and summer 1939, and with the exception of the one or two mentions of problems caused by soldiers out on manoeuvres, and occasional musings on war and politics, relatively little has been mentioned of the looming threat of the UK going to war – that is until 26th August. In the journal entry for this day there is mention of some of the steps people were suddenly making, obviously dreading (or expecting) a turn for the worse.

In the journal, it is unclear what discussions had happened at Avebury on this particular day, but the impending war had clearly become enough of a cause for concern for two things to happen. The first was that Alexander Keiller, who considered war to be “imminent”, asked his excavating staff to continue working on the Saturday afternoon to complete recording features and records before the government “called up all the men” for military service. The second thing was that two individuals, Commander Rupert Gould and Leslie Grinsell sent valuable manuscripts to Alexander Keiller so they could be kept safely at his Avebury museum. Commander Gould actually visited Avebury to hand his manuscripts over personally as he travelled to Bath to take up duties at The Admiralty.

For those wondering what significant event happened on 26th August 1939, it was what is referred to as the “Jabłonków Incident” when German agents tried to take over the Jabłonków Pass, a strategic railway tunnel, in order to help Germany’s invasion of Poland. However, the Germans were fought off by Polish soldiers and the planned invasion was postponed.

On September 1st, the German Luftwaffe started bombing Poland including the town of Katowice, where a young reporter for the Telegraph newspaper called Clare Hollingworth was staying. Clare was a remarkable persona and is known as being the first woman to be a war reporter. Witnessing the bombing raids first hand she tried to alert the authorities but Polish leaders and the Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw refused to believe her urgent phone calls; after all, negotiations were still ongoing. Later, she saw first-hand thousands of German troops and tanks lined up across the border, facing Poland. It was only when she reported it and the Telegraph ran the story that the British public at large realised what was happening.

1053 miles away from Katowice, the lives of the people Avebury would quickly change.

DGK mentions a news report – which is likely the one by Clare Hollingworth – and writes that war will be declared in the next couple of days. The government thinks, upon declaration of war, the Germans will carry out a huge bombing campaign. Children in the cities are soon transported to the country, and a bus load of 70 children from the East End with their teachers arrives in Avebury. DGK arranges for his parents to join him. By 2nd September, Black Out precautions are put into place.

Avebury, along with the rest of UK, is bracing itself for war.

**

The full extract for Saturday 26 August 1939, from Denis Grant King’s diary, Alexander Keiller Museum Accession Number 1732624-003.

“Saturday, August 26th 1939
Beautiful sunny weather that must remind the older folk of August 1914. It is difficult to believe in the reality of the international crisis, or indeed that the human race lacks the intelligence and good will to compose its differences without recourse to war. Still, the forces which lead nations to war gather momentum in fair weather and in foul; and every intelligent person who has lived and observed events during the past twenty

years would be unduly sanguine if he had not expected another holocaust sometime. The question is, when?

No doubt statesmen will try to put it off as long as possible, that is, as far as delay is consistent with imperial interests. Churchill suggested that the zero hour would occur in August.

Anyway, Alexander Keiller believes that war is imminent and has asked us all to continue work on Saturday afternoon to reveal the “Z arrangement” as much as possible, and complete the records, before the Government calls up all the men.

Another reminder of 1914 came in the person of Commander Gould, R.N., who fought at the Battle of Jutland. He was then on his to way to Bath to take up duties under the Admiralty and called in at the caravan, where Alexander Keiller introduced him to me. He is a six foot man, 18 stone, so he says, clean shaven and grey hair; also very friendly and talkative, giving an account of various talks he had broadcast from the B.B.C., mostly, I understood, of an informative character on a variety of topics.

His object in calling was to leave certain manuscripts of value to be deposited in the Museum, which he considered to be a place of comparative safety. L.V. Grinsell also sent us some of his MMS [manuscripts] for safe keeping.

After Commander Gould said good-bye, Alexander Keiller told me a little about him. It appears that after the War was over, his wife left him, and his distress affected him mentally, so much so that he lost his job and sank into very low water. He then spent ten years perfecting the Harrison chronometer and making it work (which apparently it never did before), for which service the government rewarded him with the paltry sum of £100. One should see his work in the Greenwich Naval Museum. A queer story. One would not have thought that such an immense robust fellow could have been so upset by a little bit of fluff; but that is life!”

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A witch visits Avebury?

One of the reasons I got involved with the Avebury project was because I am a Wiccan/Pagan, and the stones are an important spiritual site for those people following a similar spiritual path. I am particularly interested to learn when the site became a popular place for like-minded “Witchy folk” to visit.

Journal of my visit to Avebury, Book Two, 1939, AKM item reference, 1732623-002.

I am currently transcribing Denis Grant King’s journals, and it was with great delight that I came across the first reference to someone visiting Avebury for spiritual reasons.

The journal entry is for 21st January 1939 and reads as follows:

Saturday, January 21st 1939

“Went to the work-in-progress room in afternoon to write some letters, but interrupted by two groups of visitors who came thinking the museum would be open. I allowed them in. One gentleman was a Rowntree whom I remembered seeing in August. Also, with the other group, a dark-haired young lady, Mrs [here a space is left to insert her surname] dressed in a vermillion jersey, whom I had met before at Perry’s:- the lady, I fancy, comes to Avebury periodically to commune with the spirits of the stones. I almost thought she was going to fall into my arms, her greeting was so familiar. On leaving she said she did not suppose it would be long before she came again, and she asked for my name!”

Denis Grant King’s ‘Journal of my visit to Avebury’, 1939, Alexander Keiller Museum item reference, 1732623-002, p. 58.
Journal of my visit to Avebury, Book Two. This spread shows the entry for January 21st 1939. AKM item reference, 1732623-002, p. 58.

1939 is the year Gerald Gardner, the man widely credited with beginning the modern Wicca religion (this early phase is now commonly known as the Gardnerian tradition), was initiated into the New Forest Coven. However, Gardner did not introduce his Wicca religion to the public until 1954. This makes me wonder if the lady donning the vermillion jersey was from the New Forest coven?

I shall be keep my eyes peeled for any mention of a return visit from this lady and keep you posted.

Michael Boyton

Journal of my visit to Avebury, Book Two. Here, Grant King’s describes a visit to Silbury Hill, with a drawing of the same. AKM item reference, 1732623-002, p. 60.