Sir William Ridgeway. By A. C. Haddon, Sc.D., F.R.S.

By the death of Professor Sir William Ridgeway the University of Cambridge loses one of its most prominent and illustrious men. His was a striking personality, both physically and mentally, and though for many years increasing imperfection of eyesight rendered his gait halting, his mental energy was wonderfully maintained, and his joy in life and in controversy was scarcely diminished until the sudden death of his beloved and devoted wife on the 29th of last May. As was to be expected, he bore his tragic loss most heroically, but it was evident to his friends that he was a sore stricken man, though on occasion traces of his old energy flared up.

Ridgeway was a man of strong affections and equally strong aversions, and he expressed himself accordingly. There were some who could not make allowances for his temperament, but most could and did do so, recognising that beneath all disagreements there was a burning zeal for the cause or opinion that he believed to be the right one. This zeal made him a warm and energetic friend, who never spared himself to help another—but also a thoroughgoing adversary.

It is for others to speak of Ridgeway’s brilliant attainments in purely classical studies, but it was evident that he was increasingly attracted towards the more human aspects of classics. His interests in classical and prehistoric archaeology were very wide and he was no mean antiquary. In order to elucidate various problems and specific points in classics and archaeology he turned his attention to ethnology, certain aspects of which made a great appeal to him; besides reading widely in that subject he came into close touch with civil servants, missionaries and others who gave him information from many parts of the world. He was an excellent correspondent, as many can testify, and by the infectious enthusiasm of his conversation and his letters he did a great deal to awaken or maintain an interest in ethnological problems among a wide circle of friends.

Ridgeway’s concern for anthropology manifested itself in University affairs. It was due to his initiative and driving force that a Lectureship in Ethnology was instituted in May, 1900, and a Readership in the same subject in June, 1909. It was also largely through his efforts that a Board of Anthropological Studies was established in May, 1904; and thus the study of anthropology became officially recognised in the University. His energy and deep knowledge of University procedure and politics were continuously exhibited at the meetings of the Board, and he undoubtedly had a great share in establishing anthropology firmly as an academic study. About twenty-five years ago he founded the Cambridge Anthropological Club, which at first was practically confined to graduate members of the University, but, as students began to study anthropology, the Club has become wider in its scope.

The Museum of Archaeology and of Ethnology has always been very close to Ridgeway’s heart, and in innumerable ways he has worked for its welfare. It was due to his efforts that the Murray Collection of Irish Archaeology was obtained for the Museum, and, indeed, the same may be said for other collections and specimens. Besides a large number of books and pamphlets, he has bequeathed to the Museum his very varied collection of archaeological and ethnological specimens, all of which are of interest and many are of considerable value; particular mention should be made of his valuable collection of currency, which he amassed when compiling his “Origin of Metallic Currency and Weight Standards,” though many specimens have been acquired since that book was published in 1892.

He was the contributor of many communications to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society and very frequently joined in the discussions of papers in his usual lively and informing manner. He and Lady Ridgeway greatly enjoyed the excursions of the Society and contributed in great measure to their success.

On the 31st of July, 1913, a large number of friends, colleagues and students of Sir William gave him a dinner in Gonville and Caius College, and presented him with a volume of “Essays and Studies” to commemorate his sixtieth birthday on August 6, and also to express their personal friendship to him and their appreciation of the deep obligation of many branches of learning to his erudition.

Cambridge will be a duller place now that he is no longer among us, though we are all thankful that his end was swift and painless and that it saved him from increasing infirmities and a decreasing grasp of affairs. 


This obituary first appeared as: Haddon, A. C.. 1926. 'Sir William Ridgeway'. Man Vol. 26, pp. 175-176. Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

HADDON, A. C.. 1926. 'Sir William Ridgeway'. Man Vol. 26, pp. 175-176. (available on-line:


MYRES, JOHN L.. 1926. 'Sir William Ridgeway. August 6, 1853-August 12, 1926'. Man Vol. 26, pp. 173-175. (available on-line: