Papers of Basil Richardson Stanley Megaw, archaeologist and Eleanor Mary Megaw, archaeologist and anthropologist

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Basil Richardson Stanley Megaw papers

The content consists of correspondence (incoming & outgoing), with the majority of correspondents comprising personnel of the Manx Museum and National Trust and academic colleagues. Other material consists of reports, notes, research papers, articles, lecture notes, pamphlets list of slides, and newspaper cuttings covering various archaeological Manx subjects such as the Neolithic house at Ronaldsway, Manx crosses, ornamental flat axes, Manx megaliths, site excavations (for example Peel Castle, St Patrick’s Isle, St Michael’s Isle, Rushen Abbey) and the archaeology of the Manx environment.

Further subjects covered in Megaw’s papers include Manx medieval history (including parish history), Manx language (and inscriptions), the Manx Church and tithes, Celtic kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland, the Manx flag, Manx arms and seals, Manx legislature (Tynwald), the Norse heritage on the Island and its connections to the Scottish Islands and paintings of Manx scenes by John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749-1831).

Maps, topographical drawings and cross section drawings of the Isle of Man and Manx archaeological (and excavation) sites are present. Photographs, illustrations, glass slides and camera film of archaeological objects, Manx archaeological sites and Manx ancient monuments are included within Megaw’s papers.

Printed material include the Scottish Historical Review, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, Journal of the Manx Museum, the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society Journal, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, The Royal Society Journal and Tryggvi J. Oleson's The Witenagemot in the reign of Edward the Confessor.

Miscellaneous items include cards, postcards and copies of a memoir of Eleanor after her death.

Eleanor Mary Megaw papers

The content consists of correspondence relating to archaeological matters. Other material includes notes, research papers, articles, maps and photographs covering Manx topics such as, the Manx ‘Eary’, the Manx Church and tithes, Manx land records and rent-relationship, Manx mills, the 1428 Garrison Roll and Lough Cranstal, Kirk Bride. Further topics include Gaelic and Scandinavian place names, the archaeology of the Manx environment (including pollen studies), coastal erosion, the craft of Manx fishing and the cult of St Leonard and Manx medieval hospitals.

Administrative / Biographical History

Basil Richardson Stanley Megaw

Basil Richardson Stanley Megaw (1913-2002), archaeologist and director of the Manx Museum was born in Belfast, the son of Arthur Stanley (1873-1961), an Irish solicitor and Helen Isabel Bertha (Mimi) née Smith (c.1877-1962). In 1935 Megaw graduated from Peterhouse College, University of Cambridge with a Bachelor in the Arts (BA) in archaeology and anthropology. Accepting a post in the Isle of Man, Megaw became assistant director and secretary of the Manx Museum in 1936. Working alongside the director William Cubbon (1865-1955) they began to expand the Museum. Alongside his museum responsibilities Megaw conducted excavations on the Island as well as working in Scotland, England and Ireland with notable archaeologists Gordon Childe (1892-1957), Grahame Clark (1907-1995) and Emyr Estyn Evans (1905-1989). In 1937 he co-wrote (alongside his future wife) ‘British decorated axes and their diffusion in the earlier part of the Bronze Age’, published in the December issue of Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Megaw also provided significant input into the drafting of the Manx Ancient Monuments Act of 1938. 1939 saw Megaw marry fellow Cambridge graduate Eleanor Mary Hardy (1911-1977): the couple had two children.

In 1940 William Cubbon retired as director of the Museum and Megaw was appointed his successor; it would be a position he would hold until 1957. Much of Megaw’s early directorship was intermittent due to Megaw’s Second World War service as a scientific officer with the RAF Bomber Command. Eleanor Megaw was appointed acting director and during this time remarkable discoveries in Manx archaeology were made. German archaeologist Gerhard Bersu (1899-1964) had been a refugee in Britain but was interned on the Isle of Man during the war. During his internment he was permitted to conduct numerous archaeological excavations (under armed guard), whilst under Eleanor’s supervision. An important excavation was undertaken in 1943 by Eleanor and marine biologist and antiquarian John Ronald Bruce (1894-1986) at Ronaldsway Airport. Bersu was not permitted to be directly involved due to the airport’s function as a Fleet Air Arm base, but Eleanor did utilise his skills, seeking his advice and opinion regarding the next stages of work. The excavation led to the significant discovery of a Neolithic house with rich occupation deposits. By 1947 the report ‘A Neolithic Site at Ronaldsway, Isle of Man’, incorporating an assessment by Basil of the distinctive culture revealed by the excavation evidence appeared in the January issue of Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.

By 1945 Megaw had returned to the museum and for the remaining time as director he worked on various collections and displays. Megaw developed the Manx Folk Life Survey, helped ensure the last remaining native Manx speakers were recorded, assisted with preservation of ancient monuments and continued his archaeological excavations, such as the Bronze Age burial mound on Bishopscourt Farm and the chambered Neolithic tomb named King Orry’s grave in Laxey. In 1951 an Act of Tynwald saw the museum incorporate a National Trust in its duties; this led to the acquisition of the Calf of Man and various properties and natural beauty and landscapes needing protection. Other projects Megaw managed included the expansion of the museum’s branches; in 1951 the Nautical Museum in Castletown was opened with its focus on the late eighteenth century armed yacht ‘Peggy’ and associated boathouse and cabin room.

In 1957 Megaw accepted the position of director in the Scottish School of Studies, a newly established department at the University of Edinburgh. His directorship lasted until 1969 and during that time Megaw’s wide ranging interests in geography, language history, folklore and archaeology helped establish the School as an internationally acclaimed research institute. Megaw was also editor to the School’s academic journal in the years 1964-1968. Megaw was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and its Scottish branch. He sat on the council of the Scottish Society and was its vice-president from 1974 until 1977. In 1966 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and served as vice-president and president for the Scottish Regional Group of the Council for British Archaeology. After his directorship ended at the Scottish School of Studies Megaw dedicated his time to personal research and was a lecturer within the School. He retired in 1980 and became a Research Fellow until his death.

Megaw published many articles, notes and reports throughout his career, highlighting the Isle of Man and other Celtic kingdoms’ importance in academic study. In his lifetime Megaw contributed 6 papers to the Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society and 41 contributions to the Journal of the Manx Museum. Notable Manx contributions include ‘The Monastery of St Maughold’ in the Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (1950), his joint paper with Eleanor ‘The Norse Heritage in the Isle of Man’ in The Early Cultures of North-West Europe (1950) and ‘Norsemen and Native in the kingdom of the Isle: A Reassessment of the Manx Evidence’ in Scottish Studies (1976). Megaw died in 2002 at the age of 89. A tribute of his work at the Manx Museum was read at his memorial celebration, held at the University of Edinburgh.

Eleanor Mary Megaw

Eleanor Mary Hardy (1911-1977) archaeologist and anthropologist, was born in Cambridge, the daughter of Sir William Bate Hardy (1864-1934), a biophysicist and tutor at Caius College, University of Cambridge, and Lady Alice Mary née Finch (c.1873-1943). Hardy gained a place at Newham College, Cambridge and during her studies she met her future husband Basil Megaw. Hardy graduated with a first class degree and afterwards obtained a position in Sweden to study pollen analysis alongside Professor Lennart von Post (1884-1951), the naturalist and geologist at the University of Sweden.

Hardy had an impressive reputation as a pioneer palaeo-botanist, conducting studies on moss in Shropshire, Flintshire and Cornwall which contributed to the confirmation that the Scandinavian pollen zonation also applied to the British Isles, giving insight into the past physical and cultural environment. Hardy published her findings in the 1939 December issue of New Phytologist. Hardy featured in the note section of the article ‘Gold Lunulae from Denmark’ in the 1937 January issue of Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (New Series) and in 1938 she co-authored (alongside her future husband) ‘British decorated axes and their diffusion in the earlier part of the Bronze Age’, published in the December issue of the same journal. Hardy also conducted a study in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, where she found preliminary evidence of a local late-glacial climatic oscillation (a recurring climate cycle).

In 1939 Hardy married Basil Megaw in St Benet’s Church, Cambridge, moving to the Isle of Man where Megaw had been assistant director and secretary at the Manx Museum since 1936. The couple had two children. Basil became director to the museum in 1940. During the Second World War Eleanor acted as temporary director to the Museum due to Basil’s war service as a scientific officer with the RAF Bomber Command. During Basil’s absence some impressive discoveries in Manx archaeology were made. German archaeologist Gerhard Bersu (1899-1964) had been a refugee in Britain but was interned on the Isle of Man during the war and during his imprisonment was permitted to conduct numerous archaeological excavations (under armed guard), while under Eleanor’s supervision. Eleanor had many contacts from her time as a student at Cambridge, such as archaeologist Gordon Childe and Thomas Kendrick (1895-1979) from the British Museum, who helped facilitate small grants to support Bersu’s fieldwork.

An important excavation was undertaken in 1943 by Eleanor and marine biologist and antiquarian John Ronald Bruce at Ronaldsway Airport. Bersu was not permitted to be directly involved due to the airport’s function as a Fleet Air Arm base, but Eleanor did utilise his skills, seeking his advice and opinion regarding the next stages of work. The excavation led to the significant discovery of a Neolithic house with rich occupation deposits. The house was only the second such structure ever to have been discovered in the British Isles and held a wide range of distinctive pottery, flint-work, polished axes and incised slate slabs (that appeared to be of insular manufacture). After the war Bersu remained on the Island and conducted various important excavations which confirmed a unique Neolithic culture at Ronaldsway. In 1947 Eleanor and Basil published their Ronaldsway report in the January issue of Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.

Other achievements of Eleanor’s temporary directorship included the successful negotiation of an important flint collection, gifted to the Museum by Ernest Cowley (1901-1991), son of Charles Henry Cowley (1874-1944), chemist and local antiquarian. She became an authority on Manx fishing craft, she recorded the first successful breeding of the fulmar petrel (seabird) on the Isle of Man at Kione ny Ghoggan and she wrote a detailed biography of Manx Captain John Quilliam (1771-1829), who served on the HMS Victory. Other interests included Manx folklore and medieval society in Scotland and Ireland.

Leaving the Island in 1957, the Megaw family settled in Edinburgh. Eleanor produced two influential papers in the months leading to her death, namely ‘The cult of St Leonard and Manx medieval hospitals’ in the Journal of the Manx Museum (1976) and ‘The Manx Eary and its significance’ in P. Davey’s (ed.) Man and Environment in the Isle of Man (1978). Eleanor died in 1977 at the age of 66 in Edinburgh. Her detailed research methods, applied to many wide ranging topics, contributed to her becoming an impressive advocate for Manx archaeology, natural history, folklore and palaeobotany.

Conditions Governing Access

No regulations or restrictions are implemented on this material.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing library@mnh.gov.im.

Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Dollin Kelly’s (ed.) New Manx Worthies (2006: 305-309) and MS 10627’s deposit file.

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), May 2016.

Separated Material

Separated material held by Manx National Heritage includes various library resources. Reference numbers: M 09883 & M 22200 - M 22210.

Related Material

Related material held by Manx National Heritage includes numerous library (printed) resources written by Basil and Eleanor Megaw, and further archival resources.