Nina Frances Layard – Something Indeed for a Lady to Have Done.

Today we’re going to talk about Nina Francis Layard and also to some degree her partner in life Mary Frances Outman. Though Mary seems to have played a traditional wifely role to Nina’s more outgoing and adventurous stereotypical male role, I do not want to downplay Mary’s contributions to Nina’s work. Before we get too far I wanted to be understood that Mary transcribed a great deal of what Nina wrote. This is not to say that Nina’s work was not her own, it’s just to say that Nina would not have accomplished as much as she had without Mary’s help. That said, there’s not much known about Mary Frances so the little that I do know I have found through my studies concerning Nina, who by all accounts deserves the reputation that she worked so hard to achieve.

Nina appears to have been quite the renaissance woman. She was born in 1853 in in Stratford, Essex, England, into a wealthy family with a long pedigree antiquarians. She herself never achieved more than a dame’s school education (White and Plunkett 2005: 4), yet throughout her life she made connections with some of the greatest names of early archaeology in England. She became the student of these great names and learned from them how best to do her own archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 6).

As a child, Nina, had an interest in shell and egg collecting which a later blossomed into the collecting of fossils (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). In 1882 she struck up a friendship with an unnamed basket maker who lived in a rock shelter along the banks of Bradford on Avon canal, who taught her how to identify and collect fossils (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). She began to discuss her finds with naturalist Leonardo Bloomfield and later with Sir John Ellor Taylor (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). She benefited from both mens tutelage and began writing academic papers. She became the first woman to have a paper presented in front of the Victorian Institute. Though this paper was delivered through a male colleague, it was received very well. This reception allowed for her to become the first woman to present her own paper to the British Association in Leeds later on (White and Plunkett 2005: 6).

Though Nina apparently showed no interest in traditional Victorian marriage, she still found a life partner in Mary Frances Outman. The two women met in 1894, when Nina was in her 40’s,  and they became both cohorts and cohabitors for the rest of their lives (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). There is no real ambiguity to their relationship, making Nina and Mary the first confirmed lesbian couple we’ve looked at.

Mary appears to have had many connections in the antiquarian community through her own family, and those connections later served both women well (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). It’s interesting to see the combination of Nina and Mary’s contacts and ambitions working so well together. Their collaboration is reminiscent of the  Dieulafoy’s where they appear to be working as equals, both with a firm interest in archaeology, building each other up for a unified success. It does seem, however, that Nina was more comfortable publishing and lecturing, which is probably why more is known about her then her partner.

Nina seriously began her study of archaeology in 1890, becoming friends with many of the larger names in archaeology in the day.  One such gentleman was Hamlet Watling, who became a major supporter of hers until his death in 1908 (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). They met in Ipswich, England, and it was here that Nina performed her first investigations at the Blackfriars and Whitefriars sites (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). These two sites were of great significance at the time because they produced evidence of both prehistoric and saxon occupation by locating walls of medieval buildings and human remains (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). Her handling of the investigations and her reports on the same helped bolster her reputation, and in 1899 she was recruited by the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 7).

During this time that she did a great deal of artifact identification either by mail, or she would go and visit them and identify the artifacts there (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). She became a recognized expert in her area and continued to grow her connections within the archaeological community. Both of these helped to continue to grow her reputation which allowed her many opportunities not available to the average woman at the time.

In 1902, when she was nearly 50, she began her excavations at the Fox Hall Road site. This excavation and her work with the flint tools found there would become the work she was best known for and would take her more than a decade to finish. It would become one of the most important excavations of her career, and because of her use of modern techniques and attention to detail, the information from the site would set her career in archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 8). She presented the first of three reports on the Fox Hall Road site to the Royal  Association and they accepted her work for publication in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for Great Britain and Ireland (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). This set of reports solidified her reputation in the archaeology community and allowed her to network with a core group of highly respected figures (White and Plunkett 2005: 7).

Nina manage to work on several different locations during her decade at Fox Hall. One significant location was the Hadleigh Road site, which was a prehistoric pagan cemetery that was being exposed due to a road widening project. Over 159 graves were located and the remains were sent back to the museum at the Ipswich Museum (Moir 1927: 160). The site was a wealth of information about the peoples buried there. This site was significant because Anglo-Saxon remains were rare in the Suffolk and the amount of recovered grave goods outnumbered similar sites found elsewhere (Moir 1927: 160). She was told at the time of this excavation that she would have an honorary curatorship over the remains she had recovered at the Ipswich Museum, however when it came time for her to do post excavation analysis, the museum tried to block her. It took the intervention of the honorific president Sir. Ray Lankester to finally get her curatorship fully recognized. By this time, however, she and the official curator were not on speaking terms (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). Though it does appear but she managed to repair her relationship with the official curator, she refused to leave the rooms that were given to her for curation or hand over her collections at the museum until he retired.

Nina also continue to lead two other excavations while she worked at the Ipswich Museum. She lead excavations at Larkin valley in West Suffolk, White Park Bay, and Lough Larnie in Ireland, the later lead to a joint excavation with W. J. Knowles (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). This later excavation led to the discovery of a raised beach which produced several  examples of “older series” Irish tools (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). All this work allowed her amass a large collection of comparative samples for prehistoric materials, which helped in analysis of other sites. She was also instrumental in raising popular awareness of archaeology in Ipswich by reaching out to the public and making archaeology more accessible to them.

Probably the second most important excavation of Nina’s career was the excavation at Stoke Bone Bed (Moir 1927: 106). In the 1840’s the city of Ipswich was trying to tunnel through Stoke Hill and found a large bed of fossilized animal bone. Nina was able to get permission to expose a small section of the fossils and collected a large sample (Moir 1927: 106). The fossils turned out to be the remains of rhinoceros, lion, and, mammoths among other animals as well as a large amount of worked flint (Moir 1927: 106). The discoveries at Stoke Bone Beds allowed for a new understanding of the ecology and climate of prehistoric England.

During her life, Nina accumulated many firsts, she was one of the first four women to be admitted as Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in the first year of admission, and was admitted Fellow of the Linnean Society in the second year of women’s admission. She was the first woman to be President of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia (Trowlblazers 2013). She was the first woman to present to any professional body in England. She was the first woman to publish in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for Great Britain and Ireland, and she was the first woman to curate at the Ipswich Museum. She accomplished a great deal in her long life, leading several important excavations that have had lasting impacts on the understanding of prehistoric life in England. Her methods were quite modern and very detailed, making her one of founding mothers of modern archaeological techniques (White and Plunkett 2005, Trowel Blazers 2013). This attention to detail and use of unconventional, but desirable, methods for the time gained her a reputation that served her well in her professional career.

Nina passes away at the age of 82 in her and Mary’s home in Ipswich. It’s unclear if she outlived Mary, but it is clear that the women lived together the rest of their lives, having 40 long years together, collaborating and deeply influencing the archaeological world.




Moir, J. Reid
1927    The Antiquity of Man in East Anglia. Cambridge University Press.,+Hadleigh+Road+and+Ipswich+Museum&source=bl&ots=4ZVjgEUcjG&sig=5g_nQ3xxz8k9WJ1E25KJw6cvPSg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zZuHUo3EN5et4AOgxIHwDg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Nina%20Layard%2C%20Hadleigh%20Road%20and%20Ipswich%20Museum&f=false. Accessed 8/28/2014

White, Mark and Stephen J. Plunkett
2005    Miss Layard Excavates: a Palaeolithic site at Foxhall Road, Ipswich, 1903–1905. Western Academic and Specialist Press, Liverpool.

Trowel Blazers
Nina Layard (1853-1935): Flint Hunter, First Class. TrowelBlazers. Accessed 8/28/2014

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