Pioneers of the Past: Antiquaries in Wales

The Society of Antiquaries of London is the oldest surviving independent learned society in north-west Europe concerned with the study of the past. Founded by three men in 1707, the Society was granted a Royal Charter by George II in 1751. Its 150 members became entitled to call themselves ‘Fellows’.

Today it has 2,500 elected Fellows (FSA).

To celebrate the Society’s 300th Anniversary, we are displaying for the first time in Wales some early records of its antiquities.

Satirical print from 1812 by George Cruikshank showing an imaginary meeting at Somerset House, London.

Satirical print from 1812 by George Cruikshank showing an imaginary meeting at Somerset House, London. © Copyright: The Society of Antiquaries of London

Antiquity Collected and Depicted

One of the Society’s founders, Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726)

One of the Society’s founders, Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726), painted by Thomas Hill in 1711. © The Society of Antiquaries of London.

Late Bronze Age shield found in an Ayrshire bog, and now in the collections of the Society

Late Bronze Age shield found in an Ayrshire bog, and now in the collections of the Society

Copyright: The Society of Antiquaries of London

Before 1850, the Society of Antiquaries of London was one of the few ‘national’ organisations collecting British antiquity, including finds from Wales.

In the age before photography, the Society commissioned artists like William Blake to record objects, monuments and buildings. These were exhibited at meetings and published as prints.

Society of Antiquaries dodecahedron
Society of Antiquaries dodecahedron. © Copyright: The Society of Antiquaries of London
Watercolour by James Basire of the Caergwrle bowl

Watercolour by James Basire of the Caergwrle bowl, exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries in 1823

Chambered tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport

Chambered tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport, Pembrokeshire, by Richard Tongue (active 1835-38) of Bath. Presented to the Society of Antiquaries in 1835.

© The Society of Antiquaries of London