By Evelyn Williams and Adam Harrington.


Limestone figurine of a horse 750- 650 BC, Cypro-archaic I period.
Image courtesy of the Ure Museum (c) University of Reading.

The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology on Reading University’s Whiteknights campus houses many ancient Cypriot artefacts collected by Ellen Barry at the end of the nineteenth century. Ellen Barry was the daughter of William Exall, a partner at the former Katesgrove Lane ironworks Barrett, Exall and Andrewes. Her mother was Frances Mary Andrewes, who was a sister of another partner in the same business, Charles Andrewes.

“The Ure Museum was set up in 1922, but the college had acquired artefacts before that. Mrs Barry was one of the first people to donate to the collection,” said research officer Dr Amara Thornton. “Originally, the artefacts were on display in the college library on London Road, and in 1919 the college moved their archaeological collections in Portland Place. The collections were then split into a museum of Greek archaeology, which included the Barry collection – and the Romano-British museum, which no longer exists.”

In 1913 Ellen Barry contacted Professor Percy Ure at University College Reading’s classics department to see if he was interested in her collection of antiquities from Salamis, near Famagusta, in Cyprus. She had acquired the objects in the early 1880s with her husband Frederick, who had been a quarantine superintendent and sanitary officer on the island. “At the time, the addition of these Cypriot antiquities added to the diversity of the collection,” said Dr Thornton.

Images courtesy of the Ure Museum (c) University of Reading.

In a letter from 1913, Ellen Barry said that there was “no possible doubt about their genuineness” and that the collection includes “amphorae, lamps, bowls, etc” [ref 1]. The objects on display include figurines, an alabastron (a small container for holding oils), a mirror, a bronze handle, beads and lamps.

Images courtesy of the Ure Museum (c) University of Reading.

Archaeology on Cyprus

Cyprus had become a British Protectorate in 1878. Its first high commissioner was Sir Garnet Wolseley after whom Garnet Street, Garnet Hill and Wolseley Street in Coley were named.

Official and unofficial archaeological excavations on the island before British rule resulted in many treasures finding their way to the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Wolseley initially stopped all new digs, but in 1880 Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, who was already working on Cyprus and had sold artefacts to Berlin museums, was employed by the British Museum to undertake work at Salamis [ref 2].

The biography of the archaeologist on the British Museum website says:

Ohnefalsch-Richter’s complex and forceful character meant that he frequently clashed with his clients and colleagues. He was certainly rather poorly treated and underpaid by his employers in the British administration because (he claimed) of his foreign origin; what he believed to be complacent or neglectful attitudes to the importance of antiquities was also a reason for his sense of frustration.

The biography adds:

[Ohnefalsch-Richter’s ] commerical dealings in antiquities reveal a great deal of shrewd and calculated behaviour, especially as throughout his career he relied heavily on selling his personal collection to earn a living; he also apparently maintained contacts with tomb robbers, and was even caught trying to smuggle antiquities from the island in 1910. This earned him the censure of the authorities who banned him from further excavations on the island.

Ellen Barry’s collection was probably acquired from Ohnefalsch-Richter rather than the result of her own or her husband’s personal investigations.

“My guess is that Mrs Barry was interested in antiquity, as was her husband. It must have been the done thing to visit archaeological sites,” said Dr Thornton. “It isn’t entirely clear how she acquired the artefacts. The Ottoman Government’s antiquities legislation was still in force in the 1880s and 1890s, which enabled a certain portion of items to be exported from the island. A new antiquities law was published by the British government in Cyprus in 1905.”

Limestone figurine of a woman 650-475BC, Cypro-archaic II period

Limestone figurine of a woman 650-475BC, Cypro-archaic II period.
Image courtesy of the Ure Museum © University of Reading

Ellen Barry (née Exall)

Ellen Exall was born in 1848 and married Dr Frederick Barry on 6 August 1875 at St Mary’s Minster, Reading. This was a double wedding; her cousin Clara Posgate married John Furniss at the same time. In 1877, Ellen’s youngest sister Alice married Alfred Palmer at the Trinity Chapel on Queen’s Road (now demolished). On that occasion, gifts were presented to the happy couple by the employees of the Reading Biscuit Factory (Huntley & Palmers) and the Reading Ironworks (formerly Barrett, Exall and Andrewes) [ref 3].

By 1891, the Barrys had returned to the UK from Cyprus and were living with their family at Linton Court in Settle, where Dr Barry was a government medical inspector. Their son Gerald and daughter Audrey lived with them, as well as their niece Phyllis Palmer [ref 4].

“Frederick Barry died in the late 1890s,” said Dr Thornton. “Ellen Barry had held on to these antiquities for a long time before offering them to the museum. She had about 60 artefacts, of which only a portion are now on display.”

At the time, Ellen Barry was living at Stratfield House in Mortimer, just south of Reading. The house has since been demolished, but it had been on West End Lane near the junction with St Mary’s Road. Sometimes known as Strathfield House, it later became a hostel for the Women’s Land Army in the Second World War and a children’s home.

Images courtesy of the Ure Museum (c) University of Reading.

Women in archaeology

The Ure Museum held an exhibition and workshop earlier in the year about women in archaeology, including Ellen Barry and Dr Annie Ure, who was the museum’s first curator and the wife of Professor Percy Ure.

“There were a lot of women involved in archaeology,” said Dr Thornton. “Some, like Annie Ure, were excavators as well as purchasers, curators and collectors. But many were just collectors and informal cataloguers of their own collections. We have no evidence that Ellen Barry did any digging, although many people did informal and unscientific digging.”

The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

The Ure Museum is on the ground floor of the Edith Morley building on Whiteknights Campus and is open during term time from 9am to 4pm Tuesday to Friday.

It currently has a special exhibition on Allen Seaby‘s children’s books about archaeology, which runs until 21 February 2020.

Images courtesy of the Ure Museum (c) University of Reading.

References & Bibliography
  1. Correspondence between Ellen Barry and Percy Ure. Ure Museum Archive Drawer D/36.
  2. Max Ohnefalsch-Richter published Kypros, the Bible and Homer. Oriental civilisation, art and religion in ancient times (which appeared in both English and German in 1893). His wife Magda also wrote about life on Cyprus and produced an illustrated book Griechische Sitten und Gebräuche auf Cypern; mit Berücksichtigung von Naturkunde und Volkswirtschaft so wie der Forschritte unter Englischer Herrschaft now available in translation as Greek customs and mores in Cyprus with comments on natural history and the economy and progress under British rule.
  3. Berkshire Chronicle 7 August 1875 p8 & Reading Observer 7 July 1877
  4. 1891 census via Linton Court is still there and is Grade II listed (1301236)
  5. Brynmawr Classical Review. Sadie Pickup, Marianne Bergeron, Jennifer M. Webb, Cypriote Antiquities in Reading: The Ure Museum at the University of Reading and the Reading Museum (Reading Borough Council). Studies in Mediterranean archaeology, XX: 30; Corpus of Cypriote antiquities, 30. Uppsala: Åströms Förlag, 2015. Pp. vii, 55. ISBN 9789170812019. 24.00.
  6. Britons in Cyprus, 1878-1914 by Gail Ruth Hook, B.S., MArc, MArcH. PhD dissertation. University of Texas at Austin.
  7. T A B Corley Barrett, Exall and Andrewes’ ironworks at Reading: The Partnership Era 1818-64. Berkshire Archaeological Journal Vol 67 & Evening Post 19 April 1968 Trafalgar was won in Katesgrove Lane

  1. Reading University’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology
  2. Reading University Department of Classics
  3. On this day – 9 November 1895
  4. The Historic Katesgrove Industries Tour
  5. Dr Amara Thornton’s blog – reading room notes & website
  6. Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum
  7. Chronological chart for Ancient Cyprus
  8. The New Cypriot Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  9. Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities