Making History Matter

David Gaimster, General Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London, introduces a new exhibition he has curated at the Royal Academy focusing on the tercentenary of the Society of Antiquaries, and explains how the Society shaped ideas of British history over that time.

A tavern was the backdrop for a seminal moment in the making of British history, when on December 5th, 1707, at the Bear on the Strand, a small gathering of three men met to discuss matters of antiquity. The meeting was prove the genesis of the Society of Antiquaries of London, the oldest British learned society concerned with the study of the past.

Present were Humfrey Wanley, John Talman and John Bagford: Wanley was librarian to the Earl of Oxford, a Saxonist and palaeographer; Talman was an artist and engraver; whilst Bagford was a shoemaker and collector of old ballads. New members were admitted over the following weeks. Their business was ‘limited to the subject of Antiquities; and more particularly, to such things may Illustrate & Relate to the History of Great Britain’. These ‘things’ were limited to those ‘as shall precede the Raign of James the first King of England. Provided, that upon any new Discovery of Ancient Coins, books, Sepulchres or other Remains of Ancient Workmanship, which may be communicated to us, we reserve ourselves the liberty of Conferring upon them’.

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