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Painting of Lewis - Reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College

The Lewis Collection: From Corpus Christi to the Fitzwilliam Museum

The Lewis Collection is currently housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum, on long term loan from Corpus Christi College. The antiquarian collection, composed of over 4,000 individual pieces, ranges from coins to sculpture, pottery to prehistoric tools. 60 of these objects are currently on display in the galleries at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Here, we celebrate the man behind one of largest antiquarian collections to have remained in private ownership. The Rev. Samuel Savage Lewis was no ordinary College Fellow. He went from student to farmer, back to student and then to College Librarian in a duration of 16 years. His rooms in Corpus Christi College were his home for 20 years, but he could regularly be found abroad, visiting archaeological ruins and adding to his extensive collection. Every Sunday was spent traversing the Cambridgeshire countryside as Lewis undertook his priestly duties. Although married to the famous Agnes Smith Lewis for the final 4 years of his life, this union had little effect upon his life in College. He returned to the marital home for breakfast and lunch, but otherwise Lewis remained faithful to his O staircase at Corpus Christi College.

This eccentric and learned man was given the nickname of ‘Satan Lewis’ for surprising a bride by peering through one of his windows in the church below. His reported ability to see in the dark following operations on his eyes would have no doubt contributed to this. The anecdotal richness of these pages is indebted to The Life of the Rev. Samuel Savage Lewis, produced in the honour of Lewis by his wife.


I would like to thank Helen Weller at Westminster College Archive and Lucy Hughes at Corpus Christi College Archive for helping with my research and providing access to materials, and Professor Nigel Simmonds, who showed me around Lewis’s former room and graciously submitted to a photo shoot.

Further reading on Lewis:

  • K.A. Beats, ‘The Lewis Collection: A Private Antiquarian Collection from Corpus Christi College’
  • P. Bury, The college of Corpus Christi and of the Blessed Virgin Mary: a history from 1822 to 1952 (1952) 218–20
  • Fitzwilliam Museum, Classical Heritage (1978)
  • A. Smith Lewis, The Life of the Rev. Samuel Savage Lewis (1892)
  • J. Spier and E. Vassilika, ‘S. S. Lewis: notes on a Victorian antiquary and on contemporary collecting’, Journal of the History of Collections, 7 (1995) 85–102
  • M.W. Thompson, The Cambridge Antiquarian Society 1840-1990 (1990)