Arthur Evans

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Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

From 1894 until his death in 1941 Evans lived on Boars Hill, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), near Oxford. His house, Youlbury, has since been demolished. He had Jarn Mound and its surrounding wild garden built during the Great Depression to make work for local out-of-work labourers. Evans left part of his estate to the Boy Scouts and Youlbury Camp is still available for their use.

Biographical background

Family

Arthur Evans was born in Nash Mills, England, the first child of John Evans and Harriet Ann Dickinson, the daughter of John’s employer, inventor and founder of Messrs John Dickinson, a paper mill. John Evans came from a family of men who were both educated and intellectually active; they were nevertheless undistinguished by either wealth or aristocratic connection. John’s father, Arthur’s grandfather, had been headmaster of Market Bosworth Grammar School. John knew Latin and could quote the classical authors.

In 1840, instead of going to college, John started work in the mill owned by his maternal uncle, John Dickinson. He married his cousin, Harriet, in 1850, which entitled him, in 1851, to a junior partnership in the family business. Profits from the mill would eventually help fund Arthur’s excavations, restorations at Knossos, and resulting publications. For the time being they were an unpretentious and affectionate family. They moved into a brick row house built for the purpose near the mill, which came to be called the "red house" because it lacked the sooty patina of the other houses.. Harriet called her husband "Jack." Grandmother Evans called Arthur "darling Trot," asserting in a note that, compared to his father, he was "a bit of a dunce.". In 1856, with Harriet’s declining health and Jack’s growing reputation and prosperity, they moved into Harriet’s childhood home, a mansion with a garden, where the children ran free.

John maintained his status as an officer in the company, which eventually became John Dickinson Stationery, but also became distinguished for his pursuits in numismatics, geology and archaeology. His interest in geology came from an assignment by the company to study the diminishing water resources in the area with a view toward protecting the company from lawsuits. The mill consumed large amounts of water, which was also needed for the canals. He became an expert and a legal consultant.. However, collecting was endemic to the family; his father and grandfather both had done it. He was more interested in the stone-age artifacts he was discovering while mapping stream beds. As Arthur gew older, he was allowed to assist John in looking for artifacts and later classifying the collection.

Ultimately John became a distinguished antiquary, publishing numerous books and articles. In 1859 he conducted a geological survey of the Somme Valley with Joseph Prestwich. He was a member and officer of many learned societies, including being a Fellow of the Royal Society. He won the Lyell Medal. In 1892 was knighted by Queen Victoria. His connections and invaluable advice were indispensable to Arthur’s career throughout the remainder of his long life.

Arthur’s mother, Harriet, died in 1858 when Arthur was seven. He had two brothers, Philip Norman (1854) and Lewis (1853), and two sisters, Alice (1858) and Harriet (1857). He would remain on excellent terms with all of them all of his life. He was raised by a stepmother, Fanny (Frances), née Phelps, with whom he also got along very well. She had no children of her own and also predeceased her husband. John’s third wife was a classical scholar, Maria Millington Lathbury. When he was 70 they had a daughter, Joan, who would become an art historian. John died in 1908 at 85, when Arthur was 57. His close support and assistance had been indispensable in excavating and conceptualizing Minoan civilization.

Education

Old Harrovian

Arthur was given every advantage of education. After a childhood stay at Callipers Preparatory School (no longer extant) he entered Harrow School in 1865 at age 14, at which he did well. He was co-editor of The Harrovian in his final year, 1869/70. At Harrow he was friends especially with Francis Maitland Balfour. Both boys had similar interests. They competed for the Natural History Prize. The outcome was a draw. They were both highly athletic, riding, swimming and mountain-climbing, at which Balfour was killed later in life. Arthur was blue-eyed. He suffered from near-sightedness, but he refused to wear glasses. His close-up vision was better than normal, enabling him to see detail missed by others. Farther away his field of vision was blurry. He compensated by carrying a cane used to explore the environment, which he called Prodger. His wit was very sharp, too sharp for the administration, which stopped a periodical he had started, The Pen-Viper, after the first issue.. Because of his vision, Arthur was not interested in team sports. After graduation, Evans became part of and relied on the Old Harrovian network of acquaintances. Minchin characterized him as "a philologer and wit" as well as an expert on "the eastern question", i.e. diplomatic and political problems posed by the decay of the Ottoman Empire. Arthur also continued his father’s habit of quoting the appropriate Latin author from memory.