Marc Fitch: A Legacy of Generosity
Marc Fitch (1908-1994): Historian, philanthropist and benefactor of the British School at Athens.
By Miles Stevenson, Development Executive for the BSA.
‘The Fitch’ is well-known to everyone associated with the BSA but not as many know much about the man and his wife after whom it is named – who supported the BSA for decades and whose tremendous generosity created this leading laboratory for archaeological sciences. Here, Miles Stevenson, tells their story and celebrates their philanthropy in the run up to the Fitch Laboratory’s 50th anniversary.
Marcus [Marc] Felix Brudenell Fitch was born on 5 January 1908 in Kensington, London, the only child of Hugh Bernard Fitch (1873–1962), a provision merchant, and his wife, Bertha Violet James. The Fitch family came from Essex and since 1784, had been cheese-mongers and grocers in the city of London selling ‘high class provisions.’ From 1863, Fitch & Son held royal warrants as purveyors of goods including a ‘celebrated breakfast bacon’, and then branched into the wholesale provision and bakery businesses. The firm later became part of Fitch Lovell, the food manufacturing and distribution group.
Marc Fitch was educated at Wagner’s Day Preparatory School in Kensington, the Dragon School, Oxford, and then at Repton School. He did not proceed to university, as he would have liked, but at his father’s insistence went to central Europe as an apprentice of the family business to learn languages. On his return he joined the family firm, becoming a director in March 1930. On 25 February 1933, he married Evelyn Murray Wilson and they had a son and a daughter. The marriage was later dissolved.
He had a fascination with history, archaeology and heraldry – and was appointed a Gold Staff Officer by the Duke of Norfolk, the hereditary Earl Marshal. The Gold Staff Officers have been on duty at coronations since that of George III and act as ushers responsible for the admission and seating of guests at Westminster Abbey. Marc Fitch served as a Gold Staff Officer at the coronations of 1937 and 1953. At the latter there were 400 Gold Staff Officers in attendance to assist the 8,000 guests.
During the Second World War, he saw active service with the Intelligence Corps between 1940 and 1946, in the Belgian Congo and Eritrea and at general headquarters Middle East. It was in Egypt that he met and married Ismene Georgalopoulo in 1949. After their marriage Marc acquired ‘Olivers’, a substantial Georgian house at Stanway in Essex, and developed a strong interest in the history and archives of the county.
Active in business in London, Fitch also served as chairman of the Society of Genealogists in 1956 and master of the Tallow Chandlers’ Company in 1957–8. Inheritances and successive takeovers (the firm of Fitch Lovell eventually became part of the Booker conglomerate) made him a very wealthy man. It became imperative for him to move into tax exile, first in Lausanne and then in Geneva, with a winter home in Athens.
After leaving the family business, he was able to devote his time to a remarkably wide range of scholarly and other interests. He was a genealogist with a particular fascination in the history of English surnames, an historian of the City of London, and a notable contributor to the British Record Society, the index-publishing organisation founded in 1888. He joined its council in 1949, and became its treasurer and then (from 1956 to 1967) its chairman, editing ten volumes for the Society. These projects demanded not only patient transcription but also editorial direction and financial support, and Fitch encouraged them in every way. His own documentary researches continued with a wide-ranging survey of London merchants of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Painting, collecting and travelling were also consuming interests.
Running parallel to his own work was his concern to support the research of numerous individuals and British Institutions in many branches of the humanities, and to assist in its publication. The Marc Fitch Fund, established in 1956 for this purpose, continues to this day and Fitch added substantially to the endowment during his lifetime. It now has assets of £8 million and its present role is perhaps even more valuable than forty years ago. He also established the Aurelius Trust; a fund named after him at the British Academy; endowed the Readership in the History of English surnames at the University of Leicester, to whom he was later to donate his extensive working library.
Marc Fitch’s association with the British School at Athens dates to soon after his link with Greece was established following his marriage to Ismene Georgalopoulo. In the mid 1960’s, when he was already a member of the School’s Managing Committee, he acted decisively in the School’s favour, making two generous benefactions. With Dame Joan Evans, Sir Arthur Evans’ half-sister, he shared the costs of building the first and major stage of the Stratigraphical Museum at Knossos, providing the School with a permanent storage space, study and workshop areas. The over-riding importance of having such a base available to those engaged in field work in Crete speaks for itself. Dame Joan and Marc Fitch also provided the champagne and raki for the feast at the opening ceremony!
The BSA continued to benefit from Marc Fitch’s generosity, when a substantial anonymous contribution to the School’s appeal for funds to build an extension to the Library as well as neighbouring additional rooms, including the museum was donated. Furthermore, in the early 1970s, he intervened to enable the British-Greek rescue excavations of the prehistoric site at Servia on the Aliakmon to take place.
In 1974 Marc Fitch once again acted characteristically, when he transformed, what was, a scheme on paper–to create a laboratory for archaeological sciences–into a reality. Marc continued to support the Laboratory with immense generosity for the remainder of his life, thereby, indirectly, supporting archaeological science all over Greece. The Laboratory’s major extension in 1988, for instance, only became possible through his timely intervention and the laboratory owes thanks to Marc for the first polarising microscope which ultimately, contributed greatly to the development of ceramic petrology He was appointed Vice-President of the BSA in 1978 and retained close links with the School until his death on 2 April 1994.
In his life he really exemplified the motto of the Fitch family – and whose crest adorns the Fitch Laboratory – of “Facta non verba” meaning ‘Deeds not words.’ Recognition of his diverse services came in the form of election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1952, honorary DLitt at Leicester University (1973), Associate Member of All Souls, Oxford (1973), CBE (1977), honorary Fellow of the British Academy (1978) and honorary MA at St. Cross College, Oxford (1987).
Bell, A., 2004. Fitch, ‘Marcus Felix Brudenell [Marc] (1908–1994)’ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Jones, R.E., 1994. ‘Dr. Mark Fitch (1908-1994)’ The BSA Annual Report for the session 1993-94, 40-41.
Waterhouse, H., 1986. The British School at Athens: the first hundred years.