ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 42, March 1999


The tale of Mr Crawford and his cap

OGS Crawford was a great man with a few eccentricities, reflects John Charlton

OGS Crawford, the august founder of the journal Antiquity, was one of the pioneers of British archaeology this century. Like many famous characters Crawford had an associated object, just as Harold Wilson had his pipe. Crawford's was his cap . . . but more of that later.

Why was Crawford a pioneer? He was using distribution maps before the First World War, and he introduced the air-photography of earthworks shortly after it. The publication of Wessex from the Air in 1928 introduced a new archaeological approach now taken for granted. This book was produced in collaboration with Alexander Keiller, the `marmalade king' and patron and explorer of Avebury. When they served as airmen in the First World War - Crawford as an observer in the Royal Flying Corps and Keiller in the Royal Naval Air Service - both had been struck by the way that quite familiar earthworks could look different from the air. An article in The Observer by Crawford about the Stonehenge Avenues brought the two together.

In those days there were no grants for such an enterprise, but Keiller had the money, the RAF were friendly (providing an airfield), and the de Havilland company provided the aircraft. At a party in the late 1930s I met a pilot who claimed that to take the photographs, the photographer leant out of an open cockpit, and that sometimes to get the right picture the plane had to fly at such an angle that there was just time for him to do so before the plane developed a spin.

But archaeology's greater debt to Crawford is probably his many years' work as Archaeology Officer to the Ordnance Survey, fighting for archaeology's place in the cartographic record. By 1939, his position was such that he had an assistant, WF (`Peter') Grimes.

Now back to this cap. Crawford seemed to carry it with him everywhere, rolled up and in his pocket when indoors, and occasionally flung down in front of him in moments of defiance. Such an occasion occurred at the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Ordnance Survey headquarters and main repository were at Southampton, and he was dismayed that while every museum and gallery in the country was removing its more precious possessions to places of safety, nothing had been done about the original ordnance maps - a unique topographical record - though housed in a city which was an obvious target for German bombers.

After a good deal of badgering of senior ranks he was eventually allowed to state his case to the Director-General, taking with him Peter (who told me this story) and his cap, which he held in his hand. When told that nothing would be done he flung it on the floor, saying he would write to The Times and rouse public opinion generally.

The Director-General seemed unimpressed by either threat or gesture and merely asked Crawford where he lived. When told at Nursling, a few miles north of Southampton, he said: `If you think so much of these precious maps you'd better take them to Nursling', and indicated that the audience was at an end. So Crawford and Grimes spent the following week storing the old maps in Crawford's garage, where they survived the War. The next year the Survey building was burnt out in an air-raid.

Peter told me that when the staff were allowed to go back into the building they found a number of rolls of new maps gently smouldering and these could have been saved had water been at hand. All they could do was to save one or two with water they got by dipping tea-cups into WC pans.

Crawford's cap figured in a happier incident in which I played a small part early one evening shortly after the War. I had gone up Charing Cross Road to meet some friends at the Garrick pub and was just beside the statue to Henry Irving when I ran into Crawford, in his cap, with Gerhard Bersu, the German prehistorian, an old acquaintance of mine whom I had not seen since 1939 when he was digging at Woodbury.

After a few cordial greetings Crawford attacked me about something (I forget what) which my ministry had or had not done - something about which he felt very strongly. The pavement was rather crowded so he got on to the step at the statue's base and turned outwards towards us addressing us with such fervour that (as at Southampton) he flung his cap on the ground.

How long he would have continued I can't guess, for proceedings were brought to a sudden stop when an old lady put twopence in it.

John Charlton is a former Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings at the forerunners of English Heritage

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