O. G. S. Crawford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford
O.G.S. Crawford, Portsmouth, 1912.jpg
O.G.S. Crawford in 1912.
Born (1886-10-28)28 October 1886
Breach Candy, Bombay, India
Died 28 November 1957(1957-11-28)
Nursling, Hampshire, UK
Nationality British
Occupation Archaeologist
Known for Aerial photography pioneer

Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford (28 October 1886 – 28 November 1957) was an English archaeologist and a pioneer in the use of aerial photographs for deepening archaeological understanding of the landscape.

Early life[edit]

He was born in 1886 in Breach Candy, a suburb of the city of Bombay (now Mumbai). He was the son of a High Court District & Sessions Judge in the Indian Civil Service, but he was brought up in Marylebone, London and East Woodhay, Hampshire by his paternal aunts after being sent home due to the death of his mother in Bombay in 1886. His father then died in India in 1894 leaving young Osbert an orphan. Crawford was educated at Marlborough College and then Keble College, Oxford where he began reading literae humaniores but changed to geography. During his time at Oxford he met Harold Peake who greatly influenced his future archaeological thinking. Upon graduation in 1910 he worked as demonstrator in the Department of Geography at Oxford until 1911. In 1913 Crawford joined the Scoresby Routledge expedition to Easter Island but quarrelled with the principals and left before the expedition reached its destination. Instead he joined Henry Wellcome's excavations at Jebel Moya and Abu Gelli in the Sudan. On his return to England he excavated a long barrow on Wexcombe Down with Earnest Hooton.

Military service[edit]

At the start of the First World War, Crawford joined the London Scottish as a private and served in the front line trenches at Givenchy in Belgium. He was subsequently invalided home with malaria (caught in the Sudan) and frostbite. During his recovery he applied for a commission and returned to France as a 2nd Lieut. in the Survey Division of the Third Army. His duties involved map printing, their distribution and the photographing of front line panoramic views used in the production of maps. On 21 October 1917, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a flying officer (observer and aerial photographer) with seniority from 17 February 1917.[1] On his second ever flight in action his aircraft was shot down but he managed to navigate the pilot back to friendly lines, gliding most of the 25 miles back over enemy territory. However his right foot had been shattered by a bullet and after surgery in France he was sent home to recuperate in Cornwall. Once recovered he returned back to active service in France but was subsequently shot down again after his machine gun had frozen up during escort duties. The pilot again managed to glide back and they landed safely at their own base. In 1918, during an experimental reconnaissance flight the pilot dropped through a low cloud base nearly hitting the ground and tree tops. For safety reasons the pilot decided to land but unfortunately they were behind enemy lines and they were both captured. Crawford was subsequently held in Landshut Prison, Bavaria, where he attempted an unsuccessful escape to Switzerland, before being transferred to Holzminden prisoner-of-war camp, near Hanover, where he remained until the end of the war.[2]

Work as an archaeologist[edit]

Following a series of short-term jobs, in 1920 he was appointed the first Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, a post he held until his retirement in 1946. He became known over time among archaeological circles for his cap, which rarely left him. When he went indoors it was in his pocket, rolled up. When he was in a moment of defiance he would throw it to the floor.

Between 1922 and 1928 Crawford embarked on a number of projects using aerial photography to help reveal a number of previously unknown archaeological sites or which added to the knowledge of existing sites. In 1923 Crawford discovered the continuation of The Avenue at Stonehenge from an aerial photograph taken by the RAF in 1921. In 1926 he embarked on an aerial survey of Wessex in collaboration with Alexander Keiller, who then owned Avebury. In 1927 Crawford and Keiller helped raise £32,000 to buy the land around Stonehenge and presented it to the National Trust.

In 1926 Crawford was also involved in the identification of Woodhenge, situated near Stonehenge, from an aerial photograph taken by Squadron Leader Gilbert Stuart Martin Insall, whom Crawford credits with its discovery. Insall's photograph of the area showed a barrow with white spots in a circular formation. Crawford classified it to be a henge which was later confirmed by excavation by Ben and Maud Cunnington.

In 1927 he founded Antiquity; A Quarterly Review of Archaeology.[3] of which he was editor until his death in 1957 and which still continues in publication today.

By 1938, he had been able to persuade the O.S. to employ an assistant, W.F. (Peter) Grimes, who later helped him record and photograph many of the initial finds at Sutton Hoo, the site being excavated by Edith Pretty and Basil Brown, but then taken over by Charles Phillips, assisted by Stuart and Peggy Piggott, that same year. After retirement from the O.S. he continued to be involved in a number of archaeological projects, mainly abroad, even returning to Egypt and the Sudan.

World War II[edit]

During the Second World War he was responsible for saving much of his historical and archaeological material in his garage in Nursling. He had noticed that all the major museums and galleries were hoarding their valuables, and the Ordnance Survey wasn’t doing anything with the original ordnance maps. He took on the senior ranks of the Survey, who eventually allowed him to talk to the Director-General. In a meeting described in British Archaeology, issue no.42 in 1999, Crawford, his cap (which he held in his hand), and Peter met with the Director-General, who told them nothing would be done. Crawford threw his hat to the floor, and threatened to write to The Times in order to get the public on his side. The Director-General (who didn’t seem to be affected by such a threat) asked Crawford about the whereabouts of his residence, and then said "if you think so much of your precious maps you’d better take them to Nursling", which ended the audience. Crawford and Grimes stored all of his field notes and old 6-inch maps in Crawford’s garage the following week. This proved to be useful, because the Ordnance Survey offices in Southampton were the target of a bombing attack the next year and lost many maps and other valuable documents including the OS Library and much of Crawford's own library, which he kept there for convenience of use.

Also during the blitz he created a photographic record of old Southampton for the National Buildings Record.

Post war[edit]

In 1951 he wrote: "How much nonsense have not we of the present generation seen faded by our silence (...) Where now are (...) the Old Straight Trackers (...)." He did not live to see the revival of Ley Lines from the late 1960s. "Future archaeologists will perhaps excavate the ruined factories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when the radiation effects of Atom bombs have died away" he wrote in his 1953 book, Archaeology in the Field.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30373. p. 11572. 6 November 1917. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  2. ^ Crawford: Said and Done - 1955
  3. ^ Jim Cole; Tony Stankus (25 February 2014). Journals of the Century. Routledge. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-1-317-72014-0. 

Books by O. G. S. Crawford[edit]

  • The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, 1925
  • Wessex from the Air, 1928
  • Air Survey and Archaeology 1928
  • Air-Photography for Archaeologists 1929
  • Topography of Roman Scotland North of the Antonine Wall, 1949
  • Archaeology in the Field, 1953
  • Said and Done: the autobiography of an archaeologist, 1955
  • The Eye Goddess, 1957

Books about O. G. S. Crawford[edit]

  • Hauser, Kitty Bloody Old Britain: O.G.S. Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life 2008

External links[edit]