Two letters in the Petrie Museum’s archives got me thinking about archaeological commutes. The letters in question were from Flinders Petrie to Amelia Edwards, dated September 1884 and September 1889. They were written not from a remote Egyptian site, but on the train in England - the first en route to London and the second en route to Dover.
The first letter was addressed from Bromley – the town in Kent where the then single Petrie had grown up with his parents William Petrie and Anne Flinders Petrie. Bromley was the terminus of a branch line of the South-Eastern Railway, connecting suburbs of Kent to the metropolis. By the mid 1880s trains ran regularly into London's West End as they still do today, and the first letter concludes:
“Now I have got up to Charing Cross, so good bye.”
In the second letter, Petrie was travelling to Dover, having finished most of his responsibilities in England. It’s clear that the train journey was anything but smooth that day – he begins “Here come spiders! How it jolts.” and signs off “Ever yours in shakes”.
While the jolting train makes Petrie's already challenging handwriting even more difficult to decipher, I love these little details in correspondence – sparkling glimpses into ordinary life reminding us that now-famous archaeologists were once real people too.
This is a real archive treasure - catalogues for Petrie’s 1880s displays are (as far as I know) incredibly rare. It might possibly be even more exciting to me as a historian of archaeology and archaeological exhibitions than hidden chambers in Tut’s tomb!
Thanks to Alice Stevenson for permission to write about Petrie's letters (3/1/PEN/12 and 3/1/PEN/50) in the Petrie Museum archive, and publish a detail of 3/1/PEN/50 here, and to Ashley Cooke for putting the images of his catalogue discovery on Twitter!