Thomas Ashby Collection


Thomas Ashby was born in Staines in 1874, only child of Thomas Ashby Sr. (1851–1906) and his wife, Rose Emma, both Quakers. The family business, the Staines Brewery, was converted to a private company in 1886 and in 1890 Thomas Ashby Sr. left the company and settled in Rome for health reasons.
Ashby was educated at Winchester College, subsequently winning a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford where he obtained a First in Greats in 1897. He divided his time between England and Italy until he graduated and was awarded a Craven Travelling Fellowship; from then on, Rome became his home.
He became the first scholar of the newly founded British School at Rome in 1902 and subsequently Director from 1906-25. He tragically died in 1931, at the age of 56, falling from a train at Raynes Park, on his way to Oxford to begin a Senior Research Studentship awarded by his old college, Christ Church.

British School at Rome (BSR)
Thomas Ashby was Director of the BSR for 19 years and his achievements were remarkable. Topographer, archaeologist, art historian, bibliophile and photographer, he also oversaw the move of the BSR from its original home in an apartment in the Palazzo Odescalchi in the centre of Rome, to its new building in the Valle Giulia, near the Borghese Gardens, designed by Edwin Lutyens.
During World War I Ashby was driving ambulances for the British Red Cross on the Italian-Austrian front. In 1921 he married Caroline May Price-Williams.
His many publications include The Roman Campagna in Classical Times (1927), the culmination of his life’s work studying the topography and archaeology of the Roman countryside; The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome (1935), published posthumously and edited by I.A. Richmond; the completion of the late S.B. Platner’s publication The Topographical Dictionary of Rome (1929); Some Italian Scenes and Festivals (1929).
Illustrating his wide-ranging interests, his many projects included excavating in Wales at Caerwent and in Malta, a study of the archaeology and anthropology of Sardinia, as well as research on the Cassiano Dal Pozzo collection at Windsor.

BSR Library and Archive
Ashby’s legacy is extraordinary. He continued enriching his father’s collection of rare books, engravings, maps, prints and watercolours and his interest in photography resulted in a remarkable collection of over 8,000 of his own photographs.

Thanks to a donation from William Russell, Honorary Treasurer of the BSR Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters in 1931, the BSR was able to buy Ashby’s collection of rare books from his widow along with his collections of photographs, his own and of others, as well as copious research notes.

The first photograph in Ashby’s collection is dated 1890, when he was only 16 years old. The albums of prints ordered chronologically and annotated by Ashby himself, document his life, excavations and scholarly interests. His photographs of the Campagna Romana were essential for his topographical study of the region.
The collection consists of 18 albums containing 8,516 original prints, 7,647 original negatives, c. 869 new negatives. The dates of the images range from 1890 to 1925. Some of the photographs have been used by Ashby to illustrate his publications but the majority of them are unpublished. Copyright is held by the BSR.

The subjects reflect his many interests and include: the archaeology, topography, architecture, monuments, local festivals, costumes and landscapes of Italy; archaeological sites in Italy, North Africa and Greece and his own excavations in Malta and Wales; annual trips to England; trips to Australia and Asia; BSR events, building and Fellows.
In 2002 The Getty Foundation funded a project to catalogue and digitize three unique 19th century collections in the BSR Photographic Archive which included the Ashby collection. A second grant in 2007 funded the BSR Digital Collections website, recently uploaded onto this platform.

BSR Publications
In collaboration with various Italian institutions, seven volumes have been published with accompanying exhibitions of a selection of Ashby’s photographs in the British School at Rome Archieve series:
no. 1.  Thomas Ashby: un archeologo fotografa la Campagna Romana tra ‘800 e ‘900. Roma 1986
no. 2.  Archeologia a Roma nelle fotografie di Thomas Ashby, 1891-1930. Napoli 1989
no. 4.  Il Lazio di Thomas Ashby 1891-1930, vol. 1. Roma 1992
no. 6.  S. Le Pera Buranelli, R. Turchetti (eds.) Sulla via Appia da Roma a Brindisi: le fotografie di Thomas Ashby 1891-1925. Roma 2003
no. 7.  S. Le Pera Buranelli, R. Turchetti (eds.) I giganti dell’acqua: acquedotti romani del Lazio nelle fotografie di Thomas Ashby (1892-1925). Roma 2007
no. 9.  V. Tordone (ed.) Thomas Ashby: viaggi in Abruzzo / travels in Abruzzo 1901/1923. Cinisello Balsamo c. 2011
no. 12. G. Manca di Mores (ed.) La Sardegna di Thomas Ashby: paesaggi, archeologia, comunità. Fotografie 1906-1912. Sassari 2014 (English ed. 2017)

Ashby also collected or received as gifts, collections of photographs from many different sources, including the following:
Agnes (? -1940) and Dora (1864-1948) Bulwer
Robert Gardner (1889-1972)
Father Peter Paul Mackey (1851-1935)

Rare books
Ashby’s remarkable collection of rare books reveal that his purchases were directly linked to his research interests. Information about the volume is usually to be found, often written in pencil, on (or around) his bookplate glued on the inside cover, revealing the date and place of purchase, the amount paid and further information regarding for example, the edition, anomalies, such as missing plates or pages, and previous owners.

The collection includes, for example, early guides to Rome from 1500 onwards, bound prints and engravings, particularly vedute of Rome and the writings of Grand Tour travellers. See the list of bibliographic records here

Ashby’s collection of loose drawings and watercolours was sold by his widow to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Gabinetto della Grafica (see Pier Andrea De Rosa and Barbara Jatta, Disegni del secolo XIX del fondo Ashby nella Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2014).
However, one bound sketchbook by Nicolas-Didier Boguet remained in the BSR Library and was published in 2002.

Prints and engravings
The collection includes both bound volumes in the Rare Books collection and loose prints that form the Thomas Ashby collection of miscellaneous prints.
Both unattributed and undated prints, as well as prints that are signed and dated, are included and the dates range between 1544 and 1831.

Works by prominent artists, for example, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Etienne Du Pérac, Giovanni Battista Falda, Carlo Labruzzi, Antoine Lafréry, Pirro Ligorio, François Morel and Giovanni Maggi can be found. The engravings illustrate monuments, antiquities, statues, buildings, fountains, piazzas and churches in Italy, but mainly in Rome.

In 2007-8 an ARC Universities of WA, Melbourne Monash Humanities E-research Project, funded the cataloguing and digitisation of the 112 miscellaneous prints from the Thomas Ashby collection.

You can also find digital images from some of the bound volumes belonging to Ashby’s collection of rare books.

The BSR also holds Ashby’s paper archive of his research notes, sketches, notebooks etc. which have not yet been catalogued.

Further reading
Smith, A.H. (1931) ‘Thomas Ashby 1874-1931’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 17, pp. 515-541.
Boyle, L.E. (1988) ‘The Collection of Thomas Ashby in the Vatican Library’ in Views of Rome. New York, NY: Scala Publication, pp. 15-19.
Wiseman, T.P. (1990) A short history of the British School at Rome. London: British School at Rome.
Anderson, J.C. (1991) The Thomas Ashby Collection of Roman brick stamps in the American Academy in Rome. London: British School at Rome.
Anderson, J.C. (1996) ‘Thomas Ashby’ in Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. London: Fitzroy Deaborn, pp. 93-94.
Hodges, R. (2000) Visions of Rome: Thomas Ashby, archaeologist. London: British School at Rome.
Medwid, L.M. (2000) The makers of classical archaeology: a reference work. New York: Humanity Books, pp. 26-28.
Wallace-Hadrill, A. (2001) The British School at Rome: One Hundred Years. London: British School at Rome, pp. 20-66.
Dyson, S.L. (2004) in Dictionary of British Classicists 1. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, p. 28–31.
Ashby, Thomas in Enciclopedia Biografica Universale. v. II. Roma: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia italiana.