WRITING THEM BACK INTO HISTORY: Heritage Month, Yorkshire Plaques & Tutankhamun
Blue plaque for Ernest Harold Jones on Sackville Street in Barnsley created by Barnsley Civic Trust (courtesy frontrowlive.co.uk) and plaque for J.R. Ogden on James Street Harrogate created by Harrogate Civic Society (courtesy Harrogate Civic Society)
With the theme of heritage celebrated across the UK this month, it’s been a wonderful chance to celebrate two Yorkshire-born Egyptologists and their direct links to the Tutankhamun story – Ernest Harold Jones (1877-1911) and James Roberts Ogden (1866-1940), whose lives we’ve been researching for over 20 years.
Beginning earlier in the month as part of September’s Heritage Open Days, the Ogden family invited us to a very special evening at their James Street premises in Harrogate, to give a lecture launching their ‘Egyptomania’ exhibition marking the centenary of their founder JR Ogden making his first visit to the newly-discovered tomb of Tutankhamun in 1923.
Born in Leeds in 1866 before moving to Harrogate the following year, ‘JRO’ was a renowned goldsmith and jeweller, although his real passion was archaeology. Described by one friend as “J.R. Ogden the archaeologist, of Harrogate, the successful jeweller” - in that order - he was an active member of the Yorkshire Archaeology Society, the Palestine Exploration Fund, the British School of Archaeology in Egypt and the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), and travelled extensively around the world.
JRO with friend Taleb Osman in Luxor in the 1920s (courtesy: Ogdens Archive)
He was also a great collector of ancient artefacts ranging from a golden mummy mask to jewel-like scarabs and the small glazed beads originally strung in profusion as part of the classic broad collar necklaces. And with such beads discovered at the ancient city of Amarna where the EES were excavating between 1921 and 1922 under the direction of archaeologist Leonard Woolley, his field diary records the discovery of a bead-making workshop complete with the moulds for manufacture, for which see our April blog at WHEN JEWELLERY ‘SPEAKS’ (immortalegypt.co.uk) and The manufacture of beautiful beads at Amarna – Amarna Anniversary (wordpress.com).
So perhaps unsurprisingly, JRO was in regular correspondence with Woolley, and with fellow archaeologist Howard Carter, who’d previously worked at Amarna himself some 30 years earlier when as a lad of 17 he’d assisted famed archaeologist Flinders Petrie. Carter had then worked for the EES in Luxor where he’d met Lord Carnarvon, the pair starting work together in 1907 and eventually gaining permission to excavate in the Valley of the Kings, where in 1922 they finally located the tomb of Tutankhamun. As Carter himself reported, “Hardly had I arrived on the work next morning [4th November] than… I was greeted by the announcement that a step cut in the rock had been discovered” by one of his Egyptian workforce only much later identified as the 12 year old water boy Hussein Abd-el Rassul from the nearby village of Qurna.
So Carter sent his famous telegram to Lord Carnarvon back in England: “At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations”. A sealed doorway then gave way to a second, beyond which lay what Carter described as ‘wonderful things’, and ‘everywhere the glint of gold’. And already corresponding with goldsmith JRO, he became the recipient of another Carter telegram, requesting his presence at the official opening of the tomb’s burial chamber which, despite ancient thefts elsewhere in the tomb, still contained the undisturbed burial of a pharaoh.
For at the centre of 3 huge gold shrines, stone sarcophagus and nest of 3 gold coffins lay Tutankhamun himself, still wearing the famous gold mask and hundreds of necklaces, collars, bracelets and rings in addition to many hundreds more pieces of jewellery discovered throughout the rest of the tomb. One of the finest pieces, a multi-scarab pectoral necklace (below), was even modelled, most appropriately, by the aforementioned lad Hussein Abd-el Rassul.
The multi-scarab pectoral necklace from the tomb, once modelled by young Hussein Abd-el Rassul now in Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum (copyright: J.Fletcher)
And with everything photographed by Carter’s Lincolnshire-born photographer Harry Burton, his images appearing regularly in the international press triggered an enormous craze of Egyptomania throughout Western society, whose Egyptian-themed jewellery was supplied by the likes of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels & of course by Ogden. JRO even invited Lord Carnarvon himself to come to Harrogate to give a lecture about ancient Egyptian jewellery, but no sooner had the earl declined, since it would take him ‘many weeks of study’ to prepare such a specialist subject, he died from an infected mosquito bite.
Yet the work at the tomb had to go on, so with the help of Burton’s iconic images in the form of glass lantern slides, JRO gave hugely popular fundraising lectures around the UK from ‘The Fabulous Golden Treasure of Tutankhamun’s tomb as I saw it in November 1926’ to ‘My Third Visit to the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1927’, as advertised on fliers preserved within the Ogden family archive along with the very slides themselves.
And not only did JRO give funding, he also gave his expertise alongside Carter’s other specialists, archaeological chemist Alfred Lucas and Drs. Scott and Plenderleith of the British Museum’s Research Lab, some of the samples they collected given to JRO along with the tomb’s most abundant commodity - its gold. With surviving correspondence between JRO and Carter discussing the weight of Tutankhamun’s innermost gold coffin, Scott and Plenderleith also sent him several small gold sequins ‘taken from a robe of Tutankhamun’. Most likely the garment described by Carter as a ‘ceremonial robe’ of linen which had largely disintegrated leaving the sequins behind, the colleagues with whom we worked as part of the ‘Tutankhamun’s Wardrobe’ Project and ‘De Kleren van de farao’ (Pharaonic Clothing) exhibition back in the 1990s were able to create an exact replica of the original robe with its trellis of beads and these same sequins.
The recreated ‘robe’ with its trellis of beads and gold sequins as initially displayed in Leiden’s Rijksmuseum for the 1994-1995 exhibition ‘De kleren van de farao’ (copyright J.Fletcher)
JRO had also received sequins from ‘Tutankhamun’s Mummy Cloth’, namely the fine linen funeral pall covering the shrines and coffins which had again deteriorated and the sequins falling away. And since Scott noticed some of these sequins had the same red tinge as other gold objects in the tomb, samples were sent to JRO here in Yorkshire, who reported back that trace amounts of iron in the gold explained this ‘tarnish’, actually a desirable feature within the Egyptians’ funerary beliefs in which the dead follow the reddening, setting sun before being reborn each dawn.
But while the names of Scott and Plenderleith appear in Carter’s ‘Tomb of Tutankhamun’ triple volume publication, JRO himself is never mentioned, maybe due to events in October 1932 when JRO had delivered one of his hugely popular lectures in Cambridge. With a review in the local press suggesting that Carter hadn’t been present when the first traces of the tomb had been discovered (which he himself had even admitted in print), he immediately instructed his solicitors to demand an apology and retraction from JRO before severing all ties. So JRO focused his considerable efforts into supporting his other archaeologist friend Leonard Woolley, who’d left Amarna in 1922 to lead excavations at Ur where yet more spectacular tomb treasures required JRO’s expertise, as fully acknowledged by Woolley.
All so very different to JRO’s Egyptian legacy which was really only acknowledged in print by the Yorkshire Post and other local press, he bequeathed his collections of books, photos and antiquities to benefit the people and places he cared most about. So some of his antiquities were given to the university in his birthplace Leeds and the rest to Harrogate corporation, almost all remaining in storage until ‘rediscovered’ in 2000 when we were invited in to help advise on conservation and to guest curate the 2003 exhibition ‘Treasures of Ancient Egypt’ (below).
The 2003 exhibition ‘Treasures of Ancient Egypt’ guest-curated by Jo at Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery, highlighting JRO and his achievements (copyright J. Fletcher)
Highlighting JRO and his achievements, the resulting publicity and increased visitor numbers produced sufficient funding to permanently display more objects in Harrogate’s Pump Room Museum where our wall panels again acknowledged his work. And so it was a real privilege to supply Ogdens with background information when they were designing their Egyptian-inspired ‘Lotus’ range (below).
The Ogden ‘Lotus’ range with Jo’s text (copyright J. Fletcher)
As displayed in their James Street premises where Tutankhamun’s gold sequins were once displayed too, this is also the venue of their current Egyptomania exhibition King t'! Tutankhamun's links to Yorkshire jeweller who weighed and valued boy King's coffin after tomb was found in 1922 are celebrated in new exhibition | Daily Mail Online and home to the plaque set up in JRO’s honour in 2006 by Harrogate Civic Society.
Then only last week, another Yorkshire-born Egyptologist all too often left out of the Tutankhamun story was likewise honoured with a plaque as part of Barnsley Heritage Month - ‘Egyptologist and artist’ Ernest Harold Jones.
Born in Barnsley on 7th March 1877 and christened at the medieval church of St. Mary close by, his parents, both talented artists, came from Carmarthen but had relocated to Barnsley when his father William had been appointed first headmaster of Barnsley’s new School of Art. And doing such a great job in Barnsley, Jones Senior then returned to Carmarthen to run its own School of Art in which Harold’s mother Mary Anne also taught, as did Harold.
Described as ‘a dark-haired, small, pleasant young man’, he gained a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in 1902 until a diagnosis of tuberculosis required him to seek a drier climate. And since he’d already shown great skill sketching and painting ancient artworks, he accepted a job as an archaeological artist in Egypt.
Harold Jones, January 1911 (public domain)
Initially working at Beni Hasan in central Egypt, Harold soon gained enough experience to oversee excavations himself while also taking the site photos, doing the paperwork and showing round tourists from the passing Nile cruise boats. In rare spare time also painting the site’s breathtaking views, his watercolours were bought by some of these visitors, including Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice who ‘graciously accepted’ one of Harold’s paintings as a gift.
And having proved himself a skilled archaeologist, Harold then returned to Egypt each year, working at various sites including Amarna, birthplace of the (then) little-known Tutankhamun, where Harold’s fellow artist and colleague, the aforementioned Howard Carter, had also worked. By the end of 1906, both Harold and Carter were in Luxor, as was Lord Carnarvon with his wife Lady Almina, after she’d nursed him back to health following a serious accident. And with Egypt the perfect place for the Earl to recuperate, his passion for archaeology was also fuelled by spectacular finds being made each year in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings by American millionaire Theodore Davis and his various archaeologists.
Harold overseeing excavations in the Valley of the Kings with his Egyptian foreman Ahmed Girigar both mid-right, c.1909 (courtesy of D. Jones)
By 1907 these included Harold himself, working with Davis’ team on a series of major discoveries including the tomb of Tutankhamen’s father Akhenaten (tomb KV.55) and the tomb of Tutankhamen’s eventual successor Horemheb (tomb KV.57). And by now having moved into the dig house in the Valley of the Kings each season (below), Harold had also started to notice the name ‘Tutankhamun’ cropping up on objects being discovered. These included pieces of goldwork from the small tomb KV.58 which Harold himself discovered in 1909, and although now known to be a robbers’ stash, his boss Davis nonetheless published this as ‘the tomb of Tutankhamen’, never mentioning Harold at all and declaring that “Tutankhamun was originally buried in this tomb and it was afterwards robbed. I fear that the Valley of the Kings is now exhausted".
But so too was Harold. With the heat and dust badly affecting his health, Lord and Lady Carnarvon stepped in, inviting him to stay at their family seat Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey!) and at their Derbyshire home Bretby Hall, where Lady Almina took such great care of Harold he felt strong enough to return to Egypt towards the end of 1910.
The dig house in the Valley of the Kings, Harold’s Egyptian home between 1907-1911 (copyright J. Fletcher)
Working mainly in the valley’s dig house where he celebrated his 34th birthday on 7th March, only two days later he died there, his boss Davis back in the US so Harold’s funeral was arranged by Lord Carnarvon who oversaw his burial in Luxor’s Christian cemetery. And when Davis gave up his long-held permit to dig in the Valley of the Kings, this passed to Lord Carnarvon whose archaeologist Carter was able to build on clues Harold had recognised to finally discover the real tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
And while the Egyptological community did acknowledge ‘the death of Mr. Harold Jones, much beloved by us all and whose paintings and archaeological work were of such value to Egyptology’, he all but vanished from the history books, his memory only kept alive in his family’s hometown Carmarthen which still rightly holds him in huge esteem.
The exhibition ‘From Sackville Street to the Valley of the Kings: the Art of Harold Jones’ at Barnsley’s Cooper Gallery opposite the church where he was christened (courtesy J.Fletcher)
But since the ancient Egyptians believed that speaking the name of the dead could make them live again, we’ve been doing this in our talks, publications (7 Intriguing Truths About The Pharaoh Tutankhamun And His Treasures | HistoryExtra), films (Tutankhamun: Life Not Death - What's New - History Hit) and in our exhibitions created with Barnsley Museums and Archives. So ‘From Sackville Street to the Valley of the Kings: the Art of Harold Jones’ (above) featuring objects kindly loaned by Carmarthenshire Museum and material from Harold’s surviving relatives, our most recent ‘Tut’22: the Life of Tutankhamun’ was seen by more than 57,000 visitors in its 5 month run, culminating in a blue plaque memorial to mark Harold’s Barnsley birth place.
The Countess of Carnarvon, Barnsley Mayor Councillor Mick Stowe and Jo at the unveiling of Harold Jones’ blue plaque Trust (image copyright frontrowlive.co.uk)
Unveiled in the company of the current Lady Carnarvon whose family were such supporters of Harold in life (Lady Carnarvon's Official Podcast - Highclere to Tutankhamun: Joann Fletcher (google.com), we were joined by the Deputy Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, Barnsley’s Mayor and Mayoress and members of Barnsley Civic Trust, to honour the man whose quiet efforts laid the foundations for what is surely the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.
Event alert! Lady Carnarvon and Jo will be speaking at Highclere Castle’s upcoming History Festival on 7-8th October: Highclere Festival Weekend - 8th and 9th October 2022 (highclerecastleshop.co.uk)