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The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

History of the Ure Museum

The Ure Museum is the fourth most important collection of Greek ceramics in Britain, after those of the British, Ashmolean and Fitzwilliam Museums. It is named after Professor P.N. Ure, the first Professor of Classics at Reading (1911 to 1946), and his wife and former pupil Annie D. Ure, curator of the Museum until her death in 1976. Between them, the Ures published three books, based on their excavations at Rhitsona in Boeotia, the Homeric Mycalessus, which are still essential reference works for the typology and chronology of Boeotian, Attic and Corinthian pottery, as well as over fifty articles on Greek pottery in general and a volume in the prestigious international series Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (1954) containing about half the present collection in the Museum.

Photo in Thebes MuseumPercy Ure (or his teacher Ronald Burrows) in the Museum at Thebes, undertaking repair work with Yanni Bakoulis of Corinth, Mr Kontogeorgis and his son.

The Beginnings

It is hard to say when the Museum started. In 1909 Reading University College was given by Mrs Flinders Petrie a collection of Egyptian antiquities, and a similar gift was made in 1910 by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. Percy Ure arrived in 1911, already possessing a small collection of vases bought cheaply on the Continent, and some sherds he had picked up on various Greek sites, including material jettisoned by tomb-robbers as worthless, in the bushes around the Rhitsona excavations.

In 1913 the College was given a sizeable collection of Cypriot antiquities by a Mrs Barry, a relative of Alfred Palmer (of the biscuit firm), a notable benefactor of the College. She had been in Cyprus with her husband, the Quarantine Superintendent and Sanitary Commissioner for the island, in the 1880s, while major excavations were going on in Salamis, and had acquired and - as was still possible then - brought home a quantity of objects. In the following year, the British Museum gave Ure some 'unconsidered trifles' - more than 100 small vases and sherds.

Photograph of Annie Ure 1922Rhitsona 1922. Annie Ure (standing) with excavation workers and local children. Seated in front row is Semni Papaspyridi (later Karouzou) of the National Museum of Athens.

The Formation of the Museum

In 1922, the decision was taken formally to establish a departmental museum, as an aid to the teaching of Ancient History and Greek Archaeology, and even to purchase vases for it from the annual departmental grant. One particularly important series of purchases was the 'Copais collection', of mainly Attic and Boeotian pottery, amassed in Greece by a Mrs Steele who had worked with the company that drained Lake Copais in the twenties.

Benefactors

Over the years, the Museum has owed a good deal to benefactors. Twice the Friends of the University made grants to enable the purchase of important vases. The first, in 1928, made it possible to buy in London a large hydria (water jug) in Attic black figure, showing four young Athenians setting out with their horses for a day's hunting. It was the first really good quality vase acquired by the Museum, and would have been beyond its reach but for the generosity of the Friends. In 1956 a unique lekane (large shallow bowl) in black-figure, made in Eretria in Euboea, was bought in Germany with the help of a second grant by the Friends. There were a number of gifts by members or former members of the academic staff, and other interested friends. These include a Cypriote jug given by the son of the first Vice-Chancellor, and gifts by former Professors in the departments of Agricultural Botany, Chemistry and Microbiology. A fine small Attic amphora, now restored, was bought in a Red Cross jumble sale as a boxful of thirty-four fragments, and presented to the Museum in that condition. One of the small 'saucers' in the Sam Wide class of Corinthian vases was given (on the strength of his having had a son next door at Leighton Park School) by John Fothergill, author of An Innkeeper's Diary, who bought it in an antique shop in Hove for sixpence. One should probably also count as a benefactor the Egyptian student who left two figures (with a third, now discarded, that turned out to be a forgery) as a bribe on the desk of the Professor of Agricultural Botany on the eve of his final examination, and disappeared untraceably, without reclaiming the figures, on news of his failure.

In addition, the Ures established good relations with successive curators of Reading Museum, in the town, and currently has approximately 300 items from the Greek collection of that Museum on loan (the ones with 'REDMG:' or 'RM.' prefix in the inventory number). This is the main reason for the exceptionally fine collection of South Italian wares that originated in private collections made in the 19th century by various local personages.

Other Acquisitions

In the heady days of comparative affluence after the second World War, part of the department's share of the UGC post-war non-recurrent grant was used to buy some of the most notable vases, such as the 'Pontic' Etruscan amphora showing Troilus ambushed by Achilles, and (to celebrate the award of an honorary D.Litt to Sir John Beazley) the jug, in almost mint condition, by the Hasselmann Painter, the image on which has been adopted as the Classics Department's logo. Significant purchases are no longer practicable. The last was made, with a special grant from the University, in 1980, when a fitting memorial was found to Annie Ure, a Boeotian lekanis of the type on which, almost fifty years previously, she had published a definitive article.

The Museum Today

The Ure Museum is used as a research resource by scholars all over the world. It is also used in teaching University of Reading students, and increasingly as a source for teaching classical civilisation to groups from local schools and other universities. The renewal of its learning environment, launched on 26 October 2005, furthers Percy Ure's aim (as quoted by his wife) 'to give life and variety to the study of Greek History'.

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The Ure Museum, The University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 217, Reading, RG6 6AH
File last modified: 20 Sep 2017