Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Thursday, 20 January 2011
Saddleworth amateur's 'amazing collection' on display
Francis Buckley
Francis Buckley was a keen collector of love tokens, watches and flints

The historical collection of a WWI officer from Saddleworth has gone on display, showing how ordinary people helped progress modern archaeology.

'The Story of Francis Buckley' at Gallery Oldham gathers together many of its titular archaeologist's treasures.

Born in 1881, the former barrister became an expert on subjects such as English glass and Stone Age flints.

Senior curator Dinah Winch said Francis "amassed the most amazing collection" in his lifetime.

Amateur enthusiasts like Mr Buckley have a prime place in the history of archaeological study.

The modern version of the science didn't come into being until the start of the 19th century and professional practitioners were not common place until over a century later.

In-between, the Victorian era saw an upsurge of interest in archaeology after the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and by the time Francis was born, there were many amateur digs taking place across the world.

Francis Buckley's war sketch
Francis worked as a WWI observer, sketching enemy positions

However, Francis' own interest in archaeology came from his involvement in the First World War.

He served on the frontline in the battlefields in France and became fascinated by the tooled flints which turned up there, as Dinah Winch explained.

"He'd gone to the First World War like many young men and by chance, his commanding officer happened to be interested in prehistoric archaeology.

"So as they were digging trenches and coming upon Neolithic flints, it was something that Francis became very interested in."

Masses of Mesolithic

After the war, Francis decided to return to the family home in Greenfield and live off the inheritance he received after his father's death, rather than continue to work as a barrister in London.

Once there, he dedicated himself to the pursuit of archaeology and, despite having no formal training, he became a notable expert in the field.

Glassware from Francis Buckley's collection
Francis became a leading authority on English glass

He set about mapping the presence of early people in the Pennines and discovered many Mesolithic (mid Stone Age) finds.

During what became know as his 'flinting trips', he was said to look like a tramp, his tools slung over his shoulder in an old sack and his old overcoat wrapped round him as protection against the elements on expeditions which could see him walking up to 30 miles in a day.

Eager to spread his knowledge, the spoils of the trips were not kept for Francis' own collection but given to museums in Oldham and Huddersfield.

Encyclopaedic knowledge

While it was the mapping and the collection of the flints that engaged Francis most physically, his knowledge of historical artefacts was far from limited to those from the Stone Age.

He was an authority on a remarkably wide range of other historical subjects, from medieval East Asian antiquities and Chinese ceramics to 18th century English glass and porcelain.

In fact, his knowledge of glass was so great that he published over 20 books and articles on the subject and was even asked to write the entry on English glass in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

That entry was proof of just how far the amateur archaeologist had taken his hobby and how important the likes of Francis were, and still are, to the science of archaeology.

A Collector's Life: The Story of Francis Buckley is at Gallery Oldham until Monday 2 May


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific