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Taylour: The Papers of Lord William Desmond Taylour (1904-1989), archaeologist

Reference Code: GBR/3437/WDTR

Scope and Contents

The Papers of Lord William Desmond Taylour (1904 - 1989) hold a considerable amount of photographic material - predominantly positive 35mm colour transparencies (slides) - taken during his many travels home and abroad throughout his life. The images feature not just archaeological topics but also a sweeping range of themes and locations, often with a contemporary anthropological perspective.
Administrative records date mainly to Taylour's tenure as Director of the British Mycenae excavations (1959-1969) and subsequent Mycenae study seasons at Nauplion until 1986. Mycenae excavation administration files encompass accounts, dig permits, annual summaries of work undertaken and typescripts of original handwritten excavation field notebooks plus copious, detailed lists: equipment required, annual dig photography, small finds, pottery, Nauplion storeroom audits and dig participants.
The Papers also include a series of correspondence dating largely from 1947 - 1989, relating to his student days at Cambridge University, communication with fellow archaeologists and matters arising from his own publications and lectures, and conferences and seminars he attended. Furthermore, the collection includes draft articles and theses submitted by others for Lord Taylour's comment, Greek newspaper clippings about Mycenae and archaeology and much smaller amounts of material regarding the Institute of Classical Studies, a Laconia Survey and the British School of Archaeology at Ankara.
Finally, the Papers also include a small section of organisational material, assembled by Lord Taylour, with a view to preserving all these files and photographs, which he himself recognised to be an 'archive': an original, unique source of documentary information. He travelled with this 'archive', mainly the Mycenae excavation documentation, every year to Greece and guarded it carefully, fully cognizant of its tremendous intellectual worth and essential status in recording the progress of archaeological digs under his aegis.
In summary, these Papers offer an invaluable resource for the life and studies of an established prehistoric archaeologist, devout Roman Catholic and member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of the 20th century. In particular, the collection offers in-depth evidence of the intricacies of prehistoric archaeological excavation in Greece, cross-links with contemporary scholars, and a vivid memoir of daily life - urban and rural scenary, customs, architecture, events and people - in Europe during the 1950s to 1980s, as documented by Lord Taylour's ever perceptive gaze behind his camera.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1922 - 1989


Biographical / Historical

Lord William Taylour, the younger son of Geoffrey Thomas Taylour, fourth marquess of Headfort (1878–1943), and Rosie Boote (1878 - 1958), an actress at the Gaiety Theatre, London, was an established British archaeologist of the 20th century, specialising in Mycenaean Greece. A latecomer to the field, and pushed to follow a career first in the diplomatic service (1921–2), and then in banking on Wall Street, New York (while his brother went up to Oxford), Lord Taylour writes how he spent many years in depression before he turned to his love of archaeology. Educated at Harrow School (1917 - 1921), his passion for archaeology is there to see in his schoolbooks from a young age.
Having served during the Second World War in the North African campaign with the 2nd Derbyshire yeomanry (TA) and attaining the rank of captain, in 1947 Lord Taylour jumped ship to read archaeology and anthropology at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1947. He graduated in 1950, taught by some of the greats of the day, including Glyn Daniel and Graheme Clark. Going on to work with Kathleen Kenyon and J. B. Ward-Perkins at the excavation in Sabrathah, Tripolitania (1948), Taylour was awarded a doctorate in 1955 for his work on Mycenaean pottery in Italy, which he then published as his first book in 1958, entitled 'Mycenean Pottery in Italy, and Adjacent Areas' (1958).
After working with Joan Du Plat Taylor in the joint Ashmolean Museum and Sydney University excavation of Myrtou-Pighades on Cyprus, he began his work with Alan Wace at the British excavations in Mycenae in 1952 and 1953. He succeeded on all fronts, having the chance to work with not just the Wace family but also Carl Blegen at Pylos.
Taylour's big break came in 1957 following the death of Alan Wace. Though reluctant to take it on, as the correspondence reveals, he took up where Wace left off as director of the excavations at Mycenae, from 1959 - 1969. During his tenure as Director, further Linear B tablets were discovered, as well as evidence for a cult site within the walls of the acropolis. At the suggestion of Glyn Daniel, he then published a book on his findings, 'The Mycenaeans' (1964), which went on to become a classic and a staple resource for the subject.
Taylour also directed the excavation, over six seasons, of the Bronze Age site of Hagios Stephanos in southern Laconia (1959 to 1977). He travelled to Greece most summers for study of the Mycenae finds held at Nauplion museum, together with Dr Lisa French and various invited specialists. He continued his work on the publication of the Mycenae excavations until his death in 1989, establishing the Well Built Mycenae series of fasicules.
Up until the very end, Lord Taylour was full of life and energy, driving students on Land Rover and VW trips all over Europe even in1988, when he was 84 years old. He worked tirelessly, not just in his field, but in his hobbies of photography and letter writing, both of which are at the heart of this collection. Known for wearing his characteristic Egyptianizing headdress (to protect his bald head, first adopted during his war service in the North African desert), shorts, and a bush shirt at excavations, and smoking away on a pipe, and wearing his clothes out until they were in tatters, Lord Taylour cut a distinctive figure. He liked to take photgraphs but he loathed to be in them. As his correspondence reveals, Lord Taylour was a generous man, and his dogs were his family. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Lord Taylour's deep faith, compassion and conviction is evident throughout the collection. Above all else, Lord Taylour was a man who loved his field, his dogs, his family and friends, and exploring the world he lived in, past and present.
'Taylour, Lord William Desmond', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,


8 linear metre(s) (64 grey archive boxes, 3 glass-lantern-slide boxes) : paper, drafting film, photographic positive and negative prints, glass lantern slides and 35mm transparencies (slides)

Language of Materials


Greek, Modern (1453-)


The collection is arranged in the order and sequence that Lord Taylour created, with the assistance of his part-time secretary. The collection arrived at the Faculty of Classics with a considerable part of it still housed in two original metal filing cabinets, one large and one small. This ensured that original runs of material had been maintained in original order, with the addition of some secondary 'Mycenae Archive' numbers added by Dr Lisa French, when she used the Mycenae archaeological material for reference after Lord Taylour's death.

Physical Location

Bay E Shelves 1 to 6, Bay G Shelves 4 to 6

Custodial History

The 'WDT Archive' arrived from storage at the University of Birmingham in 2013 in 11 banker's boxes and 2 metal filing cabinets. An original box packing list is held by the Archives.
During the academic year 2021-2022, in particular during a six week intensive stint in June and July 2022, Classics undergraduate Jake Doyle repackaged the entire Lord Taylour archive. Loose papers had their acidic wallet files replaced with acid-free card folders and paper folds, and rusted paper clips and straight pins were removed, replaced with brass paper clips. The majority of the slide boxes had decaying polyeurethane foam wadding on their interiors, which was coating the slides in fine dust. The slides' glass slip covers were removed along with this detritus and some evidence of mould, and the slides - in their original frames still with Lord Taylour's handwritten labels attached - were placed in archival polyester sleeves and bound with linen tape as albums, to enable immediate visual acess as required. The large glass lantern sldies were retained in their original boxes, which are in excellent condition, and placed on static racking. Photographs were also placed in polyester sleeves and their original paper wallets retained in the same file. A series of medium format negatives and colour sldie duplicates were retained in their original bound albums with fold-over covers, all of which remain in excellent condition.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Dr Elizabeth (Lisa) Bayard Wace French, 2013


Permanent retention

Related Materials

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens Archives also hold Lord William Taylour material, mainly in connection with his excavations at Pylos with Carl Blegen in 1953 and 1957-59, see


1955 “Mycenae 1939-1954. Part IV. The Perseia Area”, BSA 50: 199-237.

1957 “The Iron Age Pottery”, 60-74 in Joan du Plat Taylor (ed.), Myrtou-Pigadhes: A Late Bronze Age Sanctuary in Cyprus, Oxford

1958 Mycenaean Pottery in Italy and Adjacent Areas, - Cambridge University Press

Review of George E. Mylonas, Ancient Mycenae: The Capital City of Agamemnon (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957) in Antiquity 32: 132-133.

1960 “Mycenae Excavations, 1959”, ArchDelt 16 B1: 89-91 [with I. Papademitriou].

“Mycenae, 1960”, ArchDelt 16 B1: 91-92 [with I. Papademitriou]. “New Linear B Tablets from Mycenae”, ArchDelt 16 B1: 92-93.

1961 “New Linear B Tablets from Mycenae”, Antiquity 35: 57-58. “The Last Days of Mycenae: Tablets and Houses Revealed in the Resumption of the Late Professor Wace’s Excavations”, ILN (23 September) [with I. Papademitriou].

1963 “Mycenae, Citadel House”, ArchDelt 18 B1: 82-84 [with I. Papademitriou].

The Mycenae Tablets III (1963). The American Philosophical Society.

The Mycenaeans (1964). Thames and Hudson.
“Laconia. Hagios Stephanos”, ArchDelt 19 B1: 146-147.

1965 “Mycenae: Citadel House”, ArchDelt 20 B1: 164-165. Review of Vincent d’A. R. Desborough, The Last Mycenaeans and Their Successors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) in Antiquity 39: 304-305.

1966 I Miceni: Uomo e mito, Milan: Il Saggiatore. Review of Richard Hope Simpson, A Gazetteer of Mycenaean Sites (London: University of London, Institute of Classical Studies, 1965) in Antiquity 40: 243-244.

1969 “Mycenae, 1968”, Antiquity 43: 91-97. “A Note on the Recent Excavations at Mycenae, and the Scheme Proposed for Their Publication”, BSA 64: 259-260. “The Strange Idols from Mycenae”, ILN (4 January): 25-27. “Mycenae’s First Temple”, ILN (27 December): 24-25.

1970 “Mycenae 1968 and 1969”, AAA 3: 72-80. “New Light on Mycenaean Religion”, Antiquity 44: 270-280. “Ivories from Mycenae”, ILN 256 (10 January): 26-27.

1971 “The House with the Idols, Mycenae, and its Chronological Implications”, AJA 75: 266-268.

1972 “New Aspects on Mycenaean Religion”, 76-81 in Elly Arditis (ed.), Acta of the 2nd International Colloquium on Aegean Prehistory: The First Arrival of Indo-European Elements in Greece, Athens “Excavations at Ayios Stephanos”, BSA 67: 205-270.

1973 The Palace of Nestor in Western Messenia III: Acropolis and Lower Town; Tholoi, Grave Circle, and Chamber Tombs; Discoveries outside the Citadel, Princeton [with Carl W. Blegen, Marion Rawson and William P. Donovan]. Review of Niki C. Scoufopoulos, Mycenaean Citadels (Goteborg: Paul Astroms Forlag, 1971) in Antiquity 47: 83.

1976 “The Strange Idols from Mycenae”, 411-413 in Edward Bacon (ed.), The Great Archaeologists, London “Ivories from Mycenae”, 416-417 in Edward Bacon (ed.), The Great Archaeologists, London

1981 Well-Built Mycenae: The Helleno-British Excavations within the Citadel at Mycenae, 1959-1969 I: The Excavations, Warminster [with Elizabeth B. French and Kenneth A. Wardle].

1986 “Bronze Hairpins from a Tholos in Messenia?”, 126 in Φίλια έπη εις Γεώργιον Ε. Μυλωνάν δια τα 60 έτη του ανασκαφικού του έργου, Athens.

Mycenaean Pottery in Italy and Adjacent Areas (1958). Cambridge University Press.

The Papers of Lord William Desmond Taylour
Faculty of Classics Archives, University of Cambridge
Jake Elwood Doyle, B.A. (Cantab.)
27 July 2022
Description rules
International Standard for Archival Description - General
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Cambridge: Faculty of Classics Archives Repository

Faculty of Classics
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge CB3 9DA United Kingdom
+441223 335193