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Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London

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Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Society of Antiquaries of London
Formation 1707, Royal Charter 1751
Type Learned society
Purpose/focus Historical & Archaeological
Location London, Burlington House
Membership 3,000 (approx.) Elected Fellows
Activities Research & Publications, Lectures & Events, Grant-giving, Heritage Conservation, Exhibitions
Collections Research Library, Paintings, Artefacts
General Secretary John Lewis, FSA
President Prof Maurice Howard, FSA
Affiliations Custodians of Kelmscott Manor

The Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) is a learned society "charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with 'the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries'."[1] It is based at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London (a building owned by the UK government), and is a registered charity.[2]


Members of the Society are known as Fellows and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FSA after their names. Fellows are elected by existing members of the Society, and to be elected persons shall be 'excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations' and be 'desirous to promote the honour, business and emoluments of the Society'.

The Society retains a highly selective election procedure, in comparison with many other learned societies. Nominations for Fellowship can only come from existing Fellows of the Society, and must be signed by at least five and up to twelve existing Fellows, certifying that, from their personal knowledge, the candidate would make a worthy Fellow. Elections then occur by anonymous ballot, and a candidate must achieve a ratio of four ‘yes' votes for every ‘no' vote cast by Fellows participating in the ballot to be elected as a Fellow.[3]

Fellowship is thus regarded as recognition of significant achievement in the fields of archaeology, antiquities, history and heritage.

The first secretary for the society was William Stukeley.[4]

The Society has grown to more than 2,900 Fellows.[1]

History and antecedents

A precursor organisation, the College (or Society) of Antiquaries, was founded circa 1586 and functioned largely as a debating society until it was forbidden to do so by King James I in 1614.

The first informal meeting of the modern Society of Antiquaries occurred at the Bear Tavern on The Strand on 5 December 1707.[5] This early group, conceived by John Talman, John Bagford and Humfrey Wanley, sought a charter from Queen Anne for the study of British antiquities; its projected ventures included a series of 35 books to be issued. The proposal for the society was to be advanced by Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, but his dismissal from government caused it to become idle.[4]

The formalisation of proceedings occurred in 1717,[6] the first minutes at the Mitre Tavern, Fleet Street, are dated 1 January 1718. Those attending these meetings examined objects, gave talks and discussed theories of historical sites. Reports on the dilapidation of significant buildings were also produced. The society was also concerned with the topics of heraldry, genealogy and historical documents.[4]

In 1751, a successful application for a charter of incorporation was sought by its long-serving vice president Joseph Ayloffe,[7] which allowed the society to own property.[4]

They had begun to gather large collections of manuscripts, paintings and artefacts, housing such gifts and bequests while a proper institution for them did not exist. The acquisition of a large group of important paintings in 1828 preceded the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery, London by some 30 years. A gift of Thomas Kenwich, which included portraits of Edward IV, Mary Tudor and two of Richard III, reveal anti-Tudor bias in their later portrayal.[4]

In 2007, the Society celebrated its Tercentenary with an exhibition at the Royal Academy named Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707-2007. The tricentennial year recognises the first, less formal meetings.[8]


The Society's Library is the major archaeological research library in the UK. Having acquired material since the early eighteenth century, the Library's present holdings number more than 100,000 books and around 800 currently received periodical titles. The catalogue include rare drawings and manuscripts, such as the Domesday book and the inventory of all Henry VIII's possessions at the time of his death.

As the oldest archaeological library in the country, the Library holds an outstanding collection of British county histories, a fine collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books on the antiquities of Britain and other countries and an exceptionally wide-ranging collection of periodical titles (British and foreign) with runs dating back to the early to mid-nineteenth century.[10]


The Society publishes Archaeologia and Antiquaries Journal "international journals of record".[11] The Antiquaries Journal (1921 to present), is known as Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London. The Society also publishes a fortnightly online newsletter called Salon (Society of Antiquaries Online Newsletter).[12]

Early publications included the talks given at the meetings, and engraved views and reproductions; these were issued to members as single issues and were collected for the volumes of series Vetusta Monumenta from 1718. These volumes were published until 1906, giving an encyclopaedic arrangement of exquisitely engraved views and details to accompany the descriptions.

An engraver was employed by the society since its inception—the earliest were George Vertue, James Basire and successors—labouring to produce the copperplate used in the printing of the folio editions.[6] The prints were often large and appealing, and were intended to satisfy popular demand for archæological subject matter; their quasi-scientific illustrations were often inset with multiple viewpoints of architectural details.[6] A fellow of the society, Richard Gough (director 1771 to 1791), sought to expand and improve publication of the society's research, motivated by the steady dilapidation of examples of Gothic architecture.[13]

A later series of oversize issues was used to accommodate the format of some historical works, which the Society had commissioned to be reproduced by Edward Edwards and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm in water-colour in 1771; the first issues of these were mostly done by Basire. The first of these with a reproduction of a 16th-century oil painting of the historic scene at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The paper for this series required a larger size than was available, the manufacturer James Whatman was instructed to create a sheet 31 x 53 inches; the name given to this format is 'Antiquarian'. The engraving of the plate, measuring 4 ft 1in by 2 ft 3in, required two years to complete. The standard printing for this series was 400 prints; the plates were carefully stored by the society and used occasionally to fulfill later requests; only three of the seven plates still exist.[6]


The Society of Antiquaries has two societies to which Fellows may belong. The older of these is the Cocked Hat Club (founded 1852), and the younger (founded 1908) the Essay Club. The two clubs are rivals of sorts. Bernard Nurse noted that, "the Essay Club does not go in for the strange rituals that still persist in the Cocked Hats".[14]

The Cocked Hat Club was thus named because a cocked hat is placed before the President during meetings.[15] The Club's first meeting was held on 3 January 1852 at the house of W. R. Drake. The Club then met at the Albion, Drury Lane, until 1885, thereafter at the Holborn Restaurant.[16]

The Essay Club got its name from the initial letters "SA" for "Society of Antiquaries".

List of Presidents

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Society of Antiquaries of London
  • Making History: 300 years of antiquaries in Britain

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