John Layard

John Willoughby Layard (27 November 189126 November 1974) was an English anthropologist and psychologist.

Early life

Layard was born in London, son of the essayist and literary writer George Somes Layard. He grew up first at Malvern, and in c 1902 moved to Bull's Cliff, Felixstowe. He was educated at Bedales School. In Suffolk he fell under the influence of his aunt, the poetess and archaeologist Nina Frances Layard, who had become established in Ipswich in 1889. With his mother Eleanor he occasionally assisted Nina Layard in her searches for palaeoliths in the Ipswich area, and through her was introduced to Professor A. C. Haddon of Cambridge. She also had direct contacts with Professors William Ridgeway and McKenny Hughes, and with Dr Duckworth. Her companion, Mary Outram (granddaughter of Sir James Outram), was a cousin of Baron Anatole von Hügel, who was then setting up the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Downing Street site, to which John later contributed largely. John studied in Germany in around 1909-10, and was provided by his aunt with an introduction to Dr Leopold Pfeiffer, the Imperial Surgeon, who had written a work of palaeoethnography and greeted him warmly in homage to aunt Nina's work and hospitality.

University, and the New Hebrides

John attended King's College, Cambridge, and gained a degree in modern languages, but through his contacts became interested in anthropology. In 1914 he accompanied W. H. R. Rivers, one of the leading anthropologists of the day, on an expedition to the New Hebrides (what is today Vanuatu). Layard travelled with his mentor Rivers. They were accompanied by Professor A. C. Haddon and his students, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski. Layard and Rivers travelled through the New Hebrides before stopping at Atchin, a small islet off the northeastern shore of Malekula.

The indigenous inhabitants gave them a rather cold reception at first, and Rivers decided to continue travelling while Layard stayed for a year immersing himself in the culture, learning and documenting the vernacular language, and recording myths, legends and oral history. This was a society in which monoliths and standing stones formed part of the cultural material, and Layard's interest clearly had some roots in his aunt's investigations. Prior to this time, anthropologists tended to survey many cultures over the course of expeditions and did not spend long periods of time staying in one place and learning about a single culture. Layard in Atchin and his contemporary Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands of New Guinea were the first modern anthropologists to use what is today called participant observation methods in ethnographic research.

Introduction to psychotherapy

John's brother Peter Clement Layard served in France and was killed in 1918. On his return to England, John was mentally exhausted and underwent several attempts to alleviate his troubles through psychotherapy. These were unfortunate in various ways. His first analyst, Homer Lane, was arrested for having a relationship with a female patient. Subsequent work (which served also as a training for Layard in his own exploration of his psyche, and his attempts to make sense of his experiences) took place in England, in Vienna (in 1926), and then in Berlin, where he joined the circle of David Ayerst and his English literary friends.

This, however, reached a new crisis, and he returned to England, to Oxford, where he became part of the circle of Mansfield Forbes. Here he met Doris, then the wife of the anthropologist and psychic investigator Eric Dingwall (c.1891-1986). John and Doris were later married.

Stone Men of Malekula

John returned to anthropology, producing in 1942 his magnum opus, Stone Men of Malekula. This was originally planned to be the first of a three volume series on the "small islands of Malekula," Vao, Atchin and Rano. The book ultimately was the only monographic treatment of Layard's New Hebridean materials, although he continued to analyze and write about it in numerous publications in psychoanalytic journals. Many specimens of Vanuatuan artefacts were sent to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and others (including a penis-gourd) were sent to his aunt Nina, who duly presented them to the Ipswich Museum (where they may be seen).

Dream analysis and Archetypes

In 1944 Layard published a work of dream-analysis, The Lady of the Hare, based upon a series of analytical therapy sessions which he conducted with an English family in 1940. By his account the effect of his therapy was successful in settling the disturbed relationships within the family. The second half of his book explores the images deriving from the dream-work in explicitly Jungian, archetypal terms, dealing in particular with the theme of hare and rabbit sacrifice, and exploring its significance in various world cultures and mythologies.

Work with Jung

These influences are unsurprising as Layard was at that time continuing his own psychotherapy and studies with, amongst others, Carl Gustav Jung himself. In the mid-1940s he went to Zurich and worked systematically with Jung.


  • Dictionary of National Biography
  • G.S. Layard, Peter Clement Layard (London, John Murray 1919).
  • J. Layard, Stone Men of Malekula: Vao (Chatto and Windus, London 1942).
  • J. Layard, The Lady of the Hare, A Study in the Healing Power of Dreams (Faber and Faber, London 1944).
  • J. Layard, Celtic Quest: Sexuality and Soul in Individuation. Revised Edn. (Spring Publications, 1985). Published posthumously under separate editorship.
  • S.J. Plunkett, 'Nina Frances Layard, Prehistorian (1853-1935)', in W. Davies and R. Charles (Eds), Dorothy Garrod and the Progress of the Palaeolithic (Oxbow 1999, 242-262).

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