The ‘Mini-Lab’ project: a pursuit for funds
“You will have heard with what great success the Mini-lab proposal came before the Managing Committee of the School on Thursday… You will realise, of course, that there is still a long way to go – the hardest part of the journey, in fact. A sub-committee has been appointed to undertake the attempts at fund-raising, and I hope they will press on as hard and as fast as possible.” (Hector Catling to Francis Schweizer, 27th May 1972. BSA, Hector Catling’s Papers)
Hector Catling’s vision of opening a laboratory for archaeological science within the grounds of the BSA was one step closer to becoming a reality after approval had been given by the BSA’s Managing Committee and the Greek Archaeological Services. Next, lay the challenging task of fundraising to cover the capital expenses as well as the running costs of the laboratory. In the minutes of the meeting where proposal for the ‘Mini-Lab’ was put forward, the figures were around £18,500 for the capital costs and £6,000 for annual running costs.
A sub-committee was appointed to undertake this fundraising effort and to manage the progress of the establishment of a laboratory at the BSA, it included: Vincent Desborough, John Boardman, Peter E. Corbett, and Edward ‘Teddy’ Hall. A list of trusts and foundations was discussed across various letters between the committee members. The primary communication appears to have been between Vincent Desborough and Teddy Hall, the former asking the latter for advice based on his experience with the establishment of the Oxford RLAHA. As well as trusts and foundations, Teddy recommended getting in touch with the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, as the lab, when established, would analyse metal objects alongside ceramics and perhaps they may be interested. Clearly in agreement with all this advice, the committee formulated a letter and sent it, in early 1972, to the following organisations:
- The Nuffield Foundation
- The Leverhulme Trust Fund
- The Isaac Wolfson Foundation
- The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
- The Pilgrim Trust
- Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
- Gulbenkian Foundation
- Arthur Guinness Son & Company Limited
The committee also contacted the British Academy, with hopes they would cover the capital cost of the proposed laboratory.
All but one of these were unsuccessful. We do not have all the responses but know that funds did not come from the majority of the bodies listed above. The responses we do have, state that the trust / fund had already committed all their funding for the next 1-3 years, and so would not be able to help at this time and/or that they do not give money to institutions based outside of the UK. Other responses reveal an interesting story of the financial state of the country as well as developments in the field of science-based archaeology at this time. A couple of responses talk of ‘the current situation’ as a reason they cannot commit any money ‘at this time’. This, we believe, is in reference to the dramatic increase in inflation in the UK (and elsewhere), beginning in early 1970’s and peaking in 1975.
Another problem highlighted by the responses to the funding applications, and primarily in relation to the British Academy, was that there was no remit within the current guidance on funding science-based research in archaeology.
“The fact is that until scientific archaeology is expressly catered for somewhere in the Government system, propositions such as yours must depend on the support of outside Foundations”
There are two letters, both from Derek Allen, that describe a planned meeting with the British Government on this matter. He indicates that the British Academy have been in conversation with the Royal Society and the National Environment Council, and hoped to create a Standing Joint Committee. Until this happened the British Academy would not be able to provide the money for the establishment of a ‘Mini-Lab’.
The only successful application from this round of fundraising was that to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, who promised to give a small amount of money. Teddy Hall, who was the one in contact with them, estimated it would be in the ballpark of £1,000, but in fact £500 was given. With this success as motivation the suggestion to approach other “City Companies” was put forward in 1973. The “City Companies” Teddy Hall talks of, are actually known as Livery Companies. There are 111 such Companies that comprise London’s ancient trade associations and guilds, almost all of which are styled the “Worshipful Company of” their respective trade or profession. The sub-committee began contacting a number of these Livery Companies, how many exactly is uncertain but we have the letters sent to and/or responses from:
- Worshipful Company of Salters
- Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
- Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
- Worshipful Company of Grocers
- Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
- Worshipful Company of Mercers
- Worshipful Company of Skinners
- Worshipful Company of Drapers
Disappointingly for the sub-committee, but not wholly unsurprising, none of these applications were successful. Things were starting to not look very hopeful!
One other company that the committee approached at this time was Guinness! We are not entirely sure of the motivation for the approach, but perhaps it was simply that the company was well known for its philanthropy. Vincent Desborough wrote to the company in 1972 asking for a contribution to the ‘Mini-Lab’ project. Robert McNeile, Managing Director of Arthur Guinness & Co, replied and initially said it was unlikely they would be able to provide any funding because they had “already committed to a wide range of support for scientific and ‘Cultural’ activities”. He did indicate that he would discuss this with colleagues and see if anything was possible. Between September 1973 and early January 1974, it appears that Vincent Desborough visited the Park Royal Brewery, London, to discuss the matter further—as well as a suggestion by Robert McNeile to ask the Royal Navy to transport equipment for the laboratory from Britain to Greece! This visit proved successful and Robert McNeile wrote on the 10th January 1974 to offer £300 towards the Laboratory project. The Royal Navy declined.
Panic sets in
In the background, whilst all these fundraising efforts were going on, a man named Francis Schweizer was preparing to become the first Research Fellow of the ‘Mini-Lab’ in Athens. It appears from our records that he had been suggested by RLAHA and that he was approached prior to the first proposal to the BSA Managing Committee. Francis was actively involved in the writing of the 1971 proposal and responsible for calculating the estimated figures for the capital and running costs required. In May 1973, panic sets in for the Mini-Lab sub-committee, when Francis tells them he has been offered another job in Geneva. They realise quickly that they cannot expect him to decline this offer with little funding secured for the lab in Athens. Nick Hammond writes to Derek Allen on the 14th May 1973 in hope that the British Academy may change its mind and fund the capital expenses:
“We are reaching a rather critical stage at our end in regard to the laboratory for science-based archaeology. Dr. Hall has had in mind Mr. F. Schweitzer, at present at Oxford, to take charge of such a laboratory at Athens, but Mr. Schweitzer has now been offered a post at Geneva and cannot defer a decision as between Athens and Geneva beyond the end of May. On the other hand, the Managing Committee agreed to press ahead further requests for financial assistance towards the capital cost of setting up a laboratory, but it thought it wise to set its next meeting on May 24th as the target date for the termination of its efforts.”
Allen replies explaining the British Academy has not changed its position and is unable to offer the capital needed, referring once again to the issue over funding archaeological science (see quote above). He does indicate in this letter, that the British Academy should be able to cover the running costs of the laboratory if the capital is raised. Francis takes his position in Geneva and the sub-committee proposes to keep looking for funds despite their earlier statement to Allen regarding their ‘termination of its efforts’.
A fortunate meeting at dinner
A familiar event then took place, Martin Aitken was at dinner in Linacre College, Oxford, and happened to be sat next to Marc Fitch. It appears from correspondence between Nick Hammond and Marc Fitch on 4th June 1973, that conversations over dinner turned to the fundraising efforts for a laboratory in Athens. Martin Aitken must have described the ‘largely unsuccessful efforts to raise the necessary capital to launch the project’ and Marc Fitch ‘expressed great interest in the scheme’. In this letter, Nick Hammond presents the proposal of the ‘Mini-Lab’ to Marc Fitch and details the amount of capital money still required.
On the 14th June 1973, Marc Fitch writes to Nick Hammond offering £10,000 on the following condition:
“If, therefore, I promised to make an outright gift of this sum during the course of the next few months I would need to be assured that somebody, whether it be the British Academy and/or the Royal Society or some other Institution would guarantee the annual running coasts of the laboratory in Athens…”
From this point on, things move pretty rapidly. Derek Allen confirms that the British Academy can cover the running costs and therefore Marc Fitch organises for the funds to be transferred. The Mini Lab sub-committee laments over the fact that it comes too late to secure Francis Schweizer for his intended position but begin the search for the individual who will come and manage the laboratory in his place.
In addition to Marc Fitch’s generous donation, the ‘Mini-Lab’ project also received donations from the Ernest Cook Trust (£1,500) and the Craven Trust (£25). We have not found any correspondence or further details on these donations, but simply know from the accounts that these were given. Furthermore, the costs of the equipment were reduced significantly by the agreement made by Teddy Hall with Oxford University to permanently loan a large amount of the equipment.
 Vincent Robin d’Arba Desborough was the Chairman of the British School at Athens Managing Committee between 1914-1978, and at this time Senior Research Fellow at New College, Oxford.
 John Boardman, Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Member of BSA managing committee and BSA Assistant Director 1952-55.
 Peter Corbett at the time of joining the ‘Mini-Lab’ sub-committee was the Yates Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology University College London (1961-82), he had previously been at the British School at Athens as the Thomas Whitcombe Greene Scholar and Macmillan Student of British School at Athens between 1947-49.
 Edward ‘Teddy’ Hall was Director (1954-1989) of the newly founded Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA) at the University of Oxford. Prior to this he completed his PhD thesis on “The development of an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer for non-destructive analysis of archaeological materials”.
 In a letter from Teddy Hall to Vincent Desborough on the 4th August 1972, information on how the Oxford RLAHA was funded is detailed: “It was the Nuffield Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation who provided the money in equal parts originally for five years to start the Laboratory in 1955; they did this on the condition that the University provided the building. Since then we have had help from the Nuffield Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, the Astor Foundation and the Wolfson Trust.”
 Derek Allen was the Secretary of the British Academy between 1969-1973 and then Treasurer from 1973 to 1975.
 Nick Hammond was the Chairman of the British School at Athens Managing Committee between 1972-1975
 They evolved from London’s medieval guilds, becoming corporations by royal charter responsible for training in their respective trades, as well as for regulations of aspects such as wage control, labour conditions, and industry standards.
 Martin Aitken worked at RLAHA from 1957, he contributed to the development of radiocarbon dating, developed the proton magnetometer and Squid magnetometer. In the 1960s, he moved to thermoluminescence dating and also developed optically stimulated luminescence dating.
 Marcus (Marc) Felix Brudenell Fitch CBE FBA FSA, was an English historian and philanthropist. Marc gave generously to the BSA in his lifetime and facilitated the building and extension of the BSA’s buildings both at Athens and Knossos.
By Carlotta Gardner, Fitch 2024 Research and Outreach Officer