You are here:

  • blog

Caroline Amy Hutton: a forgotten archaeologist and librarian

Written by Rosario Rovira Guardiola |


Since the creation of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies in 1879, its library has been a fundamental part of its life, contributing to the research and interests of its members. The library has grown exponentially from having one single bookcase when the society shared the premises with the Royal Asiatic Society in 22 Albemarle Street to more than 150.000 volumes held in its current location on the third floor of Senate House. 

The development of the collection and the services provided would not have been possible without its members of staff that purchase and catalogue books, send postal loans or answer enquiries. The memory of those who have worked in the library has sometimes been lost, overshadowed by the names of the directors of the societies and other scholars. 

Fig. 1 Caroline Amy Hutton (From the collection of photographs of scholars held in HARL). 

One of those that has been forgotten is Caroline Amy Hutton, who was acting librarian during WWI. (Fig. 1) She made it possible for the library to remain open during the conflict and for the much-appreciated postal loans to continue during such a difficult time. She not only took care of the collection but also made sure that other members of staff such as the library assistant F. Wise and the attendant Miss Powell were granted regular increases in their salaries.  (Fig. 2) 

Fig. 2 Entry, in Hutton’s handwriting, from a meeting of the council of the Hellenic Society held on the 12 November 1918 where Hutton proposed an increase in salary for Mr. Garnett , the assistant treasurer and Miss Powell, the attendant and cleaner. (Hellenic Society Minute Book 9, Hellenic Society Archives).


It had not been the first time that Hutton had been acting librarian as she also stepped in in 1911 when the librarian John Baker-Penoyre had to take sick leave. Hutton, who had been a member of the council of the Hellenic Society since 1908 and was the editor of the Annual of the British School at Athens volunteered to take over from her colleague; the only payment she got for the three days a week she would be working was the cab fare to travel from her flat in 49 Drayton Gardens in Kensington to the new premises of the Society in Bloomsbury Square. (Fig. 3) 

Fig. 3 Entry from a meeting of the council of the  Hellenic Society held on 14 November 1911 where Hutton’s proposal of taking over Baker-Penoyre's tasks while he is on sick leave, is approved. (Hellenic Society Minute Book 7, Hellenic Society Archives).


The minutes of the council of the Hellenic Society show the dedication with which Hutton took the role. She insisted on the need to provide a better catalogue for the slides and photographic collection of the library, an invaluable resource used by many. Later, she also proposed that this collection could be loaned to schools that were members of either society, which allowed for a wider number of people to use it. She would mediate between the Hellenic Society and the newly formed Roman Society and helped in reaching an agreement that would allow them to share both the library and the premises. Hutton would also take on routine library work such as accessioning new books. (Fig. 4)

Fig. 4 A page from the HARL accession book that records all the books donated and purchased by the library. Hutton wrote the entries from December 1911.  


 Hutton also contributed to the library by donating books and in 1927 she published the first article on the Wood Collection. The Wood Collection is a series of notebooks, sketchbooks and other material related to the journey that Robert Wood, James Dawkins and John Bouverie undertook to Syria, it was donated to the library in 1926 and is still today one of the most important archives held in the library (  

As a thanks for the work done during those years, Hutton was offered the post of Honorary Secretary of the Hellenic Society when Alexander MacMillan resigned from the post in 1919. Hutton carried on as normal, supporting the work of the Hellenic Society. By the time she retired in 1930 due to ill health, she had become so indispensable that the council struggled to replace her, leaving the post vacant sine die. (Fig. 5) 

Fig. 5 Letter of resignation from the role as Honorary Secretary sent by Hutton to the Hellenic Society Council on the 10 December 1930. (Hellenic Society Minute Book 12, Hellenic Society Archives). 


Her letter of resignation is one of the few original documents that were considered worth keeping within the minutes of the council. (Fig. 6) 

Fig.6 Entry confirming that the Hellenic Society council had decided to leave the post of Vice-Secretary vacant sine-die. (Hellenic Society Minute Book 12, Hellenic Society Archives). 


She was then offered the vice-presidency of the Hellenic Society, a position she held until her death in 1931. The vice-presidency was the culmination of a life devoted to Classics and Archaeology that had started in Girton College in 1879 where she studied Classics. There she would meet other future Classicists such as Eugenie Strong Sellers and Katherine Jex Blake with whom she would remain friends the rest of her life. 

As many other female Classicists of the time, Hutton would start a career in teaching. She gave private lessons and taught in the influential Allenswood Boarding School, founded in 1870 by Marie Souvestre and Paoline Samaia. A revolutionary school where women were taught feminist ideals of social responsibility and independence; values that suited Hutton’s character. In 1892 she also started giving lectures on Greek sculpture and history in the galleries of the British Museum. These lectures were the start of a long relationship with the department of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the British Museum as Hutton would work with their collections until the end of her life. Under the auspices of Alexander Stuart Murray, Hutton started working with the pottery of Naukratis, which she restored and studied. It was an unpaid position, but one which Hutton expected would help her in her academic career. It led at least to Hutton’s first academic work, the article “Inscriptions on pottery from Naukratis” published in the Classical Review.  She would also prepare the text of the stamps on Rhodian wine amphorae to be published in Inscriptiones Graecae XII by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen in 1895.

In the late 1890’s Hutton undertook a series of research trips to Paris and Berlin to study the Greek terracotta figurines in their collections, her main subject of expertise. She travelled in the company of her cousin, Beatrice Chamberlain whose letters provide a vivid account of Hutton’s academic interests as well as more personal details such as the fact that she was a well-organized woman that travelled with a kettle and loved cats and music, particularly Bach. 

 In 1896-97 Hutton held a scholarship in the British School at Athens, a research stay during which she encountered a few problems. She had travelled to Athens with her mother, but they had to stay in the Hotel d'Angleterre as the British School did not provide accommodation for female students. (Fig. 7)


Fig. 7 The Hotel d'Angleterre in Athens in the nineteenth century. 


 She also struggled to find “valuable archaeological research” (quoting Chamberlain) and things only improved when she met the French archaeologist Paul Perdrizet who helped her to access the stores of the museum in Athens.  However, she also worked along Cecil Smith in preparing the publication of the pottery that had been found in the excavation of Pylos in 1896; her skills in restoring the not very well known type of Melian vases were highly praised. (Fig. 8)

Fig. 8. Sir Cecil Harcourt Smith, director of the British School at Athens between 1895 and 1897 and member of staff at the Greek and Roman Antiquities department of the British Museum. Hutton and Smith worked together in the Annual of the British School at Athens and in the publication of the Wyndham Francis Cook collection. (Photo: National Portrait Gallery).


Hutton published her only book Greek Terracotta Statuettes in 1899 where she discusses the terracottas by subject and puts them in the context of everyday life in ancient Greece. It was the first book in English on the subject. (Fig. 9)

Fig. 9 Greek terracotta statuettes (1899)  

Hutton’s academic career slowed down from this moment on. While she carried on publishing and cataloguing at the British Museum, she seems to have concentrated her efforts on her editorial and administrative career at both the British School at Athens and the Hellenic Society.  Her skills and the help she provided to numerous scholars led Macmillan to write for her obituary that “the name of Amy Hutton will long be held in honour by all students of Hellenic archaeology”. 

This might not have been the case, but there is no doubt that Hutton lived through a challenging time in which women could not easily access academic education or paid roles. Her work at the British Museum, the Hellenic Society and the British School at Athens was mostly unpaid even if she fulfilled duties equal to those of her male colleagues and she played an important role in shaping those institutions into the form that we know them today.