Remember your ABCs? In my continuing (casual) investigation into archaeological shopping, I'm looking into brands associated with excavation dining.
If you’re interested in the history of eating in London you’ll know that ABC stood for Aerated Bread Company, a chain of tea-room/cafés that provided modestly priced provisions for busy diners in assorted locations across the city. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that Flinders and Hilda Petrie lunched regularly in an ABC – its pricing appealed to the frugal Petries.
The ABC “depots” at No 120 Tottenham Court Road (now a Boots) and Nos. 47, 49, 51 Drummond Street (now part of Euston Station) would have been closest to the Department of Egyptology at University College London, where Petrie was Edwards Professor. With a palate cleansing strawberry ice to start and simple fare of eggs and Bath bun to follow, the Petries treated a young Arthur Weigall, who would join their excavations at Abydos in November 1901, to ABC meals. A glass of milk all round…Petrie wasn’t a drinker.*
In 2009, Giles Coren & Sue Perkins’ Supersizers Eat... The Twenties (BBC Two) featured a spread of Fortnum & Mason’s beautifully packaged provisions for a “Tomb Raider’s picnic” at the British Museum. Their feast of stilton, curried fowl, lobster in aspic and wine was inspired by what the F & M Expedition department provided to Howard Carter & co. on site at the Valley of the Kings. Last autumn, the Ashmolean Museum got together with Fortnum & Mason to offer a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper coinciding with the Ashmolean’s Discovering Tutankhamun exhibition.
Far from the busy booths of London’s ABCs, Petrie’s pantry on site contained tinned salmon, tinned peas, tinned sardines in oil, tinned plums and pineapple, cheese and plenty of ship's biscuits. Arthur Mace, another of Petrie’s students, recalled that jam (apricot) was used as a nice accompaniment for roast pigeon and tongue.
There is visual evidence of food too - a fantastic image in the Petrie Museum’s archive features the dining room of the Petrie’s dighouse at Abydos, where he excavated for the Egypt Exploration Fund between 1900 and 1904. Look closely at it and you get quite a good view of the food tins. Minced Collops (a meat dish) and Moir’s Hotch Potch (a meat and vegetable stew) are two of the most visible.
As an addendum, last June researchers in the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology found a box of pottery, seeds and bones from Leonard Woolley’s excavations at Ur in the 1920s and 1930s. Stamped on the side of the wooden crate containing the finds are the words:
Junior Army and Navy
22a Belvedere Road
Drower, M. 1985. Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.
Hankey, J. 2001. A Passion for Egypt: Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the 'Curse of the Pharaohs'. London: I. B. Tauris.
Lee, C. 1989. "...the grand piano came by camel": Arthur C. Mace, the neglected Egyptologist. Paisley: Renfrew District Council.
Rawnsley, H. 1904. The Resurrection of Oldest Egypt: Being the Story of Abydos as told by the Discoveries of Dr Petrie... Staines: Beaver Press.
Reeves, N. & Taylor, J. H. 1992. Howard Carter Before Tutankhamun. London: British Museum Press.
*In her biography of Weigall, Julie Hankey makes special mention of Petrie's fondness for milk, and fully describes the ABC lunches.