Papers and correspondence of Donald Ferlys Wilson Baden-Powell

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Biographical and personal material is slight. There is a very little documentation of Baden-Powell's career and virtually no private or family material. There is a little correspondence on his service in the Observer Corps in the 1939-1945 War, and on his career at Oxford. His comments on his visit to the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1937 are also of interest. Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick (Baden-Powell's niece) kindly contributed recollections of her uncle, and family photographs.

Baden-Powell's field notebooks and notes include a long sequence of field notebooks compiled 1921-1973, documenting expeditions and travel in the UK and abroad, carefully indexed and constantly referred to by Baden-Powell in all parts of the collection including his correspondence. In the absence of personal diaries they also furnish some insights into his personality. The regions most visited are East Anglia, the Oxford area, Yorkshire and Scotland; Baden-Powell's notes on the changing formations of terrain and exposures are useful in recording now vanished or inaccessible features. There are also notes on undergraduate lectures attended by Baden-Powell, given by W.J. Sollas, J.A. Douglas, H.L. Bowman and others, and on some of Baden-Powell's 'extra- mural' interests such as astronomy, meteorology and languages.

Much of the remaining documentation is also concerned with the research to which Baden-Powell devoted his life largely unencumbered by the demands of administration or the ambition to play a major part in public life.

The title of his 1926 B.Sc. thesis, 'The marine fauna of the glacial deposits of the British Isles', while seeming at first sight a narrow specialism, in fact was the clue to the whole of his later work, expanding under investigation to acquire international and historical ramifications, some of which he pursued to the detriment of his published record. The 'glacial deposits' led to research into the topic of glaciation, the dates of the ice ages, the advance and retreat of ice-sheets, coastal and river formation, and climatology. The 'marine fauna' involved careful study and identification of specimens (at which Baden-Powell became an acknowledged and widely-consulted expert), of stratigraphy, of beaches, dunes and 'raised beds', and of comparable areas elsewhere. The 'British Isles' remained the main area of his research and field investigations, primarily in his native East Anglia, Yorkshire and Scotland, but he travelled extensively and incorporated European and other material into his work. Additionally, the long perspective of terrestrial and climate changes over time encouraged from the first an interest in archaeology and prehistory, which became dominant features in his research and academic career at Oxford.

An attempt has been made in this collection to divide into major areas the very substantial amount of Baden-Powell's research material, which frequently overlaps in theme and location. For example, Regions and topics deals with relatively clearly defined areas, often related to publications. Raised beds and Prehistory and early man, while distinct in their final form, may share some initial features, which preclude any hard and fast dividing lines. Stratigraphic projects comprises some of Baden-Powell's most fundamental and respected work, on erratics and on molluscan biostratigraphy.

Lectures and papers material is fairly scanty and related mainly to work at Oxford. Societies, organisations and meetings material is also somewhat slight, since Baden-Powell did not seek committee service and attended few conferences.

The records presented as Publications and projects reveal the strengths and the weaknesses of Baden-Powell's relatively low-key career. It is clear that his published output was considerable and certainly more extensive than the attributed record. Since personal advancement played no part in his publishing schedule his work is often incorporated in official reports rather than appearing as a discrete item. Examples of this have been identified where possible. The inclusion of the term Projects, however, is a reminder of Baden-Powell's tendency to envisage and draw up outline plans for major synoptic works, for which he would accumulate extensive notes and references which expanded exponentially in historical and geographical scope, but which - perhaps lacking the discipline of a deadline - did not come to completion. It should be noted, however, that there is widespread evidence throughout the archive to the assistance or contribution, which he regularly provided to the work of colleagues.

Correspondence is extensive and of interest. Some of Baden-Powell's correspondents were highly respected scientists such as the geologist W.J. Arkell and the anthropologist K.P. Oakley (perhaps his oldest friend). Others were 'amateurs' and local historians with long experience and knowledge of their district. Baden-Powell writes to them all in frank and friendly terms, often referring to his own discoveries, field notebooks and unpublished material.

Non-textual material includes a range of photographs from the 1930s onwards, usually with dates and locations, some sent to Baden-Powell from colleagues and correspondents. Of special interest is the folder of portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginals from paintings by the English expatriate Thomas Bock; which is presented with an explanatory note.

Administrative / Biographical History

Donald Ferlys Wilson Baden-Powell was born at Theberton Hall, Suffolk on 5 October 1897, son of Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell MP, and grandson of Rev. Baden Powell who had held the Savilian Chair of Geometry at Oxford. His uncle, Robert, Lord Baden-Powell, was the founder of the Scouting Movement. Baden-Powell was educated at Eton, served in France in the First World War where he was seriously wounded, and entered Oriel College Oxford in 1919. From that time, the location and focus of his life hardly changed. Following a first degree in Natural Science (Geology) in 1922 and a B.Sc. in 1926, he devoted his life to Quaternary studies, working as an honorary research worker in the Department of Geology. Though he shared in lecturing and teaching duties, he held no official appointment in the University or the Department until 1958 when the post of Lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology was created for him; his private means enabled him to concentrate on research and writing, and to undertake expeditions and travel. He was also in frequent demand as a leader of field expeditions, most especially in East Anglia where he had many links.

His enquiring mind led him to explore the wider ramifications of his subject, keeping meteorological records of local weather at his home, and practising prehistoric techniques of fire, weapon and tool making. Baden-Powell received the Foulerton Award of the Geologists' Association in 1956. He died, still working, in 1973.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Field notebooks and notes, Research: regions and topics, Research: raised beds, Research: prehistory and early man, Stratigraphic projects, Lectures and papers, Publications and projects, Societies, organisations and meetings, Correspondence, Non-textual material. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to bona fide scholars upon written application to the Director of the Museum.

Acquisition Information

The material was received at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on permanent transfer from the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, on 21 October 2004.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Donald Ferlys Wilson Baden-Powell (1897-1973). NCUACS catalogue no. 145/2/06, 130pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Dr Tim Powell, NCUACS, 3 September 2007.

Custodial History