Return to the BSR: 50 years on

The staff, residents and award-holders of the British School at Rome were delighted to welcome back a group of former award-holders and staff members who called the BSR their home nearly 50 years ago.

As part of the visit, current Permissions Officer Stefania Peterlini was able to secure permessi for the group and award-holders to visit the Baths of Trajan and the Vatican Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis, continuing the work of her predecessor from the 1960s Anna Fazzari.

The group also held an informal exhibition of photographs, and for all of the current award-holders the event was a touching reminder of how the BSR can create bonds between people that stand the test of time – promises were made to have more reunions of this nature in the future.

One of the returning award-holders, Alastair Small, writes about the experiences he had at the BSR and how the building has changed.

‘On 26 October three former Rome scholars and award-holders at the BSR, Katherine Dunbabin, Janet Huskinson (Dee) and Alastair Small returned to celebrate the 50 years that had passed since they first met at the British School. They were joined by Nancy Ramage (Hirschland) who had arrived a year later, but who came to enliven the company (then as now) and by Andrew Ramage and Carola Small. They were given a warm welcome by the Director and staff of the BSR, and greatly enjoyed making the acquaintance of the current generation of award-holders and other residents. They spared the company any lectures or formal reminiscences of times past, but marked the occasion with a reception for the BSR residents, and some invited guests who included distinguished Italian scholars, soprintendenti, and other friends.


Nancy and Alastair brought some photographs to illustrate how some things had been  at the School – and in the Italian countryside – in 1965 and the following year or two. In those days there were Guy Fawkes parties on the School’s tennis court, and in 1968, riots in the Architecture Faculty next door.

The external walls of the BSR were covered with graffiti (not unrelated to the adjacent chaos); but inside there was calm once one had entered by the right portal (no wicket door in those days). We had no key to the building and no need of one since there was always a porter at the door by day and a night watchman (Angelo) by night. The Library was much smaller and was entered by the great door in the hall. The director (John Ward-Perkins) had his office down the library corridor, with the librarian (Luciana Valentini) next door. The secretary (Anna Fazzari) was to be found in the small room on the other side of the corridor (now a lavatory) from which she did all Ward-Perkins’ secretarial work and arranged for permessi from the Italian authorities – in which she was invariably successful. Bruno Bonelli, the steward, had the room in the other corridor that Renato Parente still has, and insisted on speaking Italian to the residents when they came to settle their bills. The dining room was much the same as it is now except that the musicians’ gallery, now walled in, added distinction to the hall – and provided a ledge on which banners, official and unofficial, could be hung. There was afternoon tea in the dining room, then as now, but also a popular bar and a communal refrigerator in the far corner. A kind and effective presence was Margaret Ward-Perkins who took an unofficial but very active part in looking after the residents of the BSR.

Other scholars at the time included John Huskinson [Rivoira Scholarship 1966-67] and Tim Potter [Rome Scholar 1966-68], who came a year later, both alas no longer with us; Roger Ling [Balsdon Senior Research Fellow 1964-65] and Lesley Steer [Rome Scholar 1965-67], who met here and married. Scott Medd used to escort the artists to Campania and take them up Vesuvius. The much loved Molly Cotton ruled the Camerone and imposed order there, latterly with the help of Kim Wheeler.  Frequent and regular guests included Martin Frederiksen and Dale Trendall.

sharding party

BSR sherding party with (from left to right) Molly Cotton, Phillip Kendrick, Judy Branston, Tim Potter (lying down, legs visible) Margaret Ward-Perkins and John Ward-Perkins; Monte Soratte in the background (1966)

The whole of the first floor to the right of the courtyard was given over to bedrooms and to two bathrooms with large bathtubs for which there was inadequate hot water; and none of the rooms in the rear corridor had the en-suite facilities with which they are now equipped. Life was therefore more spartan, but the company was congenial (as it evidently still is) and we were fortunate in that in those days it was possible to renew the Rome Scholarships for a second year, which some of us did. Our days were studded with outings to less travelled and difficult-of-access sites in the centre city, and to Veii and the Campagna, highlighted for some of us with sherding parties (and picnics).


BSR sherding party (1968)

We all benefitted enormously from those days at the BSR, which helped to shape our careers and our lives.

Alla prossima volta!’

Alastair Small (Rome Scholar 1964-67)


The returning group: Alastair Small, Janet Huskinson, Nancy Ramage and Katherine Dunbabin

From within this convivial group emerged an additional heart-warming story: a photo displayed in the photographic exhibition that accompanied a reception held by the reunion participants, Nancy Ramage (née Hirschland) and Andrew Ramage are seen in their engagement photo that had been taken on the steps of the BSR.  Since both of them returned for the reunion, we decided to take a re-staged photograph on the same spot nearly 50 years later.

engagemnentEngagement photo2

‘In the first photo shown, Nancy Hirschland [soon to be Ramage] and Andrew Ramage are seen on the BSR steps, just after their engagement in 1968.  Nancy had been at the School for two years, working as a draftsman in the Camerone while writing her dissertation on Etruscan bucchero pottery (Harvard 1969).  She had gone for her annual summer work on the archaeological dig at Sardis, Turkey, where Andrew was excavating.  He came to visit her in Rome for a short stay on his way back to the USA, and asked Nancy to marry him.  About half a century later (in the second photo) you see them at the same spot during the small reunion of BSR friends from that era.’

Nancy Ramage (Former external graduate student)