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ASHBY COLLECTION (1890-c.1925) [ta]

Thomas Ashby (1874-1931)
Director, British School at Rome (1906-25)

Thomas AshbyBiography

Thomas Ashby was born at Staines in 1874 and died falling from a train at Raynes Park in 1931. He was educated at Winchester and Christ Church, Oxford where he obtained a First in Greats in 1897. The family business, the Staines Brewery, was converted to a private company in 1886 and in 1890, Thomas Ashby Senior, left the company and settled in Rome for health reasons. Thomas Jr. divided his time between England and Italy until he graduated and was awarded a Craven Travelling Fellowship; from then, Rome became his home. He became the first scholar of the newly-founded British School at Rome in 1901 and subsequently Director from 1906-25.

Thomas AshbyBritish School at Rome (BSR)

Thomas Ashby was Director of the BSR for 19 years and his achievements were remarkable. Topographer, archaeologist, art historian, bibliophile and photographer, he also oversaw the move of the BSR from its original home in an apartment in the Palazzo Odescalchi in the centre of Rome, to its new building in the Valley Giulia, near the Borghese Gardens, designed by Edwin Lutyens. During World War I Ashby was driving ambulances for the British Red Cross on the Italian-Austrian front. In 1921 he married Caroline May. His many publications include The Roman Campagna in Classical Times (1927), the culmination of his life’s work studying the topography and archaeology of the Roman countryside; The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome (1935), published posthumously and edited by I. A. Richmond; the completion of the late S.B. Platner’s publication The Topographical Dictionary of Rome (1929). He excavated in Wales, at Caerwent and in Malta, studied the prehistory of Sardinia, and studied the Cassiano Dal Pozzo collection at Windsor. He continued enriching his father’s collection of rare books, prints and watercolours and he took over 8,000 photographs.

Anio novus in the valle d’EmpiglionePhotographs
The first photograph in Ashby’s collection is dated 1890, when he was only 16 years old. The albums of prints ordered chronologically and annotated by Ashby himself, document his life, excavations and scholarly interests. His photographs of the Campagna Romana were essential for his topographical study of the region. He also collected or received as gifts, collections of photographs from many different sources. The collection was purchased by the BSR, together with his Library, from Ashby’s widow.

The collection consists of 18 albums containing 8,516 original prints; 7,647 original negatives, c.869 new negatives.

The subjects reflect his many interests and include:
  • the archaeology, topography, architecture, monuments, local festivals, costumes and landscape in Italy
  • archaeological sites and his own excavations in North Africa, Greece, Malta and Wales
  • annual trips to England
  • trips to Australia and Asia
  • BSR events, building and Fellows
The dates of the images range from 1890 to 1925. Some of the photographs have been used by Ashby to illustrate his publications but the majority of them are unpublished. Copyright is held by the BSR.
In collaboration with various Italian institutions a series of volumes have been published with accompanying exhibitions:
  • Thomas Ashby: un archeologo fotografa la Campagna Romana tra ‘800 e ‘900, Roma 1986
  • Archeologia a Roma nelle fotografie di Thomas Ashby, 1891-1930, Napoli 1989
  • Il Lazio di Thomas Ashby 1891-1930, vol. 1, Roma 1992
  • Sulla via Appia da Roma a Brindisi: le fotografie di Thomas Ashby 1891-1925, Roma 2003
  • I giganti dell’acqua: acquedotti romani del Lazio nelle fotografie di Thomas Ashby (1892-1925), Roma 2007
  • Thomas Ashby: viaggi in Abruzzo 1901-23, Milano 2011
  • La Sardegna di Thomas Ashby: paesaggi, archeologia, comunità. Fotografie 1906-1912, Sassari 2014
In 2002 The Getty Foundation funded a project to catalogue and digitize three unique 19th century collections in the BSR Photographic Archive which included the Ashby collection.
Go to the Photographs page for details of the items currently available on the website from this collection.

Part of Thomas Ashby’s substantial print collection was purchased by the BSR from his widow, thanks to a generous donation by the then Treasurer, W. Russell. Most of the collection, however, which also included watercolours and paintings, was purchased by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
Go to the Prints page for details of the items currently available on the website from this collection.


The BSR holds Ashby’s paper archive of notes, sketches, notebooks etc. This is not yet catalogued and not available for consultation.
For more information see:
  • Proceedings of the British Academy, 17, 1931, p. 515-41
  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, The British School at Rome: One Hundred Years, London 2001, p.20-66