Tag Archives: World War 2

Hiding the Hoo hoard

In August 1939, as war threatened, London’s great museums and galleries evacuated their collections to safer locations, away from air-raids.  Artworks and treasures were moved to country houses, organisations in Wales, quarries, and the London Underground.

The archaeologist Christopher Hawkes, Jacquetta’s first husband, was then an Assistant Keeper at the British Museum.  He supervised the huge and difficult process of selecting, packing and transporting as many of the Museum’s treasures as possible for storage at the disused Aldwych tube station.  Jacquetta helped with the packing.

Diana Bonakis Webster, in “Hawkeseye”, her 1991 biography of Christopher Hawkes, quotes some telling details: Jacquetta felt “half choked” by fluff from the packing kapok. The objects were placed in “large, green, coffin-sized boxes” and transported inconspicuously by horse-drawn carts covered by tarpaulins.  The boxes were sent down a chute on one of the escalators, with their landing cushioned by sacks of sawdust.

I think the most exciting treasures stored at Aldwych were the Sutton Hoo finds.  Jacquetta remembered seeing “a large white chalked square on the platform.  It was clearly marked FOR SUTTON HOO”.   The Sutton Hoo objects had only just been unearthed after 1300 years in the ground.  Now these astonishing gold treasures, already compelling a complete re-think of 7th century history, had to return to the secret dark.

Past, Present, Man, Nature: 3. “That great force of life”

Past, Present, Man, Nature: celebrating Jacquetta Hawkes.

An online exhibit by Alison Cullingford, Special Collections Librarian, University of Bradford.

Intro | Credits | Previous | Next

3. “That great force of life”

Jacquetta's ID card

Jacquetta's ID card

World War II changed everything.  Both Christopher and Jacquetta joined the civil service, though they continued to publish on archaeological topics. Jacquetta was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1940. Jacquetta began in the Ministry of Post-War Reconstruction, moving later to the Ministry of Education.  She seems to have found the work congenial, remarking that it brought her “immense interest, amusement and some understanding of the higher bureaucracy”.

At the same time, she was drawn to poetry.  Her surviving notebooks delightfully juxtapose notes of formal civil service meetings and drafts of poems.  Nature, the past and “things” continued to inspire her: poem titles include “On Staring at a Celtic Ornament”, “Rooks”, “The Seal”, “Kuban”, “Pear and Cherry”, “A Glass”.  Her poems are also a moving testament to love found and lost, with poet and critic Walter Turner, who died suddenly in 1946.  “Symbols and speculations” (1949) was her only published volume of poetry.  Afterwards, she turned to other forms of creative expression.

Man in time folder and typescripts

Man in time folder and typescripts

“Man in Time”, shown here in typescript, is perhaps her greatest poem, describing a mystical, ecstatic experience she had at Mount Carmel watching a caravan of camels.  It gives the reader a flavour of the way Jacquetta felt about the past and the present: “As I stood by the cave whose walls had known / How that great force of life, how love, had formed / Men, women, music and the skeleton.”