Annie Playne's Scrapbook
The site record for the 1880 re-excavation of the Great Pavement at Woodchester
By Robert D. Van Arsdell
In March 2012, a unique scrapbook appeared in an eBay auction. It was described as a set of aquatint drawings from Samuel Lysons' excavation of Woodchester.
The cover of the scrapbook carried the title "Roman Pavement, Woodchester. 1880." The front endpaper had a signature, "Annie E. Playne" and the date Oct 20, 1880. The scrapbook was described as having twenty sketches pasted in, most of them coloured by aquatint.
It was immediately obvious the "aquatints" had nothing to do with Samuel Lysons, but I suspected they might be the original site record for the July 1880 re-excavation. With no time to contact anyone in the archaeological community, I took action to assure the scrapbook would not be lost.
I later learned the scrapbook had been auctioned by Dominic Winter on 6 April 2011. I do not know if it sold, nor why it re-appeared on eBay in 2012. The Dominic Winter catalogue had correctly associated the book with the 1880 re-excavation.
Charles Playne published his excavations at Woodchester in the 1880-1881 volume of Transactions of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeology Society. Annie Playne is almost certainly Charles' daughter, and one of the people who recorded the mosaic. Seven of the drawings were reproduced in TBAG, but many of the original drawings never appeared in print. All the drawings are illustrated here for the free use of the archaeological community.
Members of the Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics (ASPRoM) urged publication, and I thank them for their encouragement.
The scrapbook has rough sketches and plans of the site, and detailed drawings of the individual animals in the Great Pavement. The sketches do not appear to have anything written on the reverse sides. The scrapbook measures 225 X 285 mm and is bound in red cloth. The 22 blue paper pages average 209 X 131 mm.
On inspection with a microscope, it becomes immediately obvious the images are not aquatints (a term usually used to describe a mechanical printing process that simulates watercolour painting). They are, instead, completely hand drawn and watercoloured images. The artists initialed most of their drawings.
The drawings have survived remarkably well, and still retain vibrant colours. The printed versions in Charles Playne's article appear to have suffered a much worst fate, with the original colours largely faded or oxidized. Both images are given here for comparison.
The scrapbook starts with three sketches of the site: a view across the site done by Annie, and unsigned plans of the villa and the Great Pavement. These are followed by three rough sketches and then the drawings of the individual animals. The book ends with more rough sketches and additional detail drawings.
(Click on images below to view additional information)
Drawing 1 – site view
Drawing 2 – site plan
Drawing 3 – mosaic plan
Drawing 4 – mosaic detail 1
Drawing 5 – mosaic detail 2
Drawing 6 – mosaic detail 3
The seven coloured sketches that follow are of individual animals from the mosaic. Where two images are shown, the second one is from Charles Playne's publication in TBAG. Occasionally, small differences are seen between the original sketches and the final publication. The initials of the artist are usually in a different position. I have not been able to correlate the initials to any names in the Society's membership list.
Drawing 7 – Pheasant
Drawing 8 – Lion
Drawing 9 – Tigress
Drawing 10 – Stag
Drawing 11 – Leopard
Drawing 12 – Bear
Drawing 13 – Griffin
Other Detail Drawings
Drawing 14 – octagon
Drawing – Elephant
Drawing 16 – vase in a roundel
Drawing 17 – guilloche border
Drawing 18 – segment of circle 1
Drawing 19 – segment of circle 2
Drawing 20 – Mask of Pan
Annie Playne's scrapbook adds some information about the findings of the 1880 re-excavation of the Great Pavement at Woodchester. It is possible that workers more familiar with Roman mosaics can glean further information.
- Camden, W., 1695, Britannia, p. 247 (Gibson edition).
- Camden, W., 1789, Britannia, p. 272 (Gough edition).
- Cosh, S. and Neal, D., 2010, Roman Mosaics of Britain, vol. 4, p. 212.
- Lysons, S., 1797, An Account of Roman Antiquities discovered in the County of Gloucester.
- Playne, A., 1880, Roman Pavement, Woodchester, 1880 (scrapbook).
- Playne, C., 1880, "Remarks on the Roman Pavement at Woodchester, TBAG, Vol. 5, p. 142.