Saffron Walden

Treasure at Caton's Lane



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The Saffron Walden Historical Journal was launched in 2001 by the Saffron Walden Historical Society and all issues to date have been kept in print. It is now proposed to discontinue reprints of the early issues and instead provide the articles online, via the Recorders of Uttlesford website. Articles are reproduced by kind permission of the authors and remain the copyright of the Journal. Their publication on this website does not constitute permission to copy into any other medium, without the express permission of the Editor, who can be contacted through this website. Permission will normally be granted for non-commercial usage. The articles may be used for educational and research purposes by bona fide researchers. They can be found either under the place to which they relate or, if covering a wider area, under the Uttlesford history section. Further articles will be added twice a year, but only several years after original publication. Those wishing to contact the authors can do so via the editor. Please note that in most cases the original illustrations are not included but can be seen by consulting the original journals held at Saffron Walden Town Library.

Jacqueline Cooper, Editor

Treasure at Caton's Lane

Results of Metal Detector Survey

by Tony Carter

Article from Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 1 (2001)

With the kind permission of Steve Cox and the Saffron Walden Football Club. I was afforded the opportunity to conduct an extensive survey of the football pitch both before and during soil disturbance. I propose to complete this report in three parts:

Part 1 Being phase 1 - pitch intact before disturbance.

Part ll Being phase 2 - pitch during disturbance and during relaying and levelling.

Part lll Being a summary conclusion of finds made and their implication - what they tell us.

I hope that readers may find this interesting and exciting!

Phase 1

Phase 1 was interesting and yet unremarkable. It was interesting in the large amount of small change lost on site, but unremarkable in that nothing of great historical interest was found at this time.

Day 1: I decided to do a random search pattern to see if I could locate any ‘hot spots’. I found the coin loss everywhere, but particularly near the entrance area by the club house. The first day of searching produced a total of 127 coins, of which 55 were pre-decimal, 67 decimal, two foreign and three fragments. In addition there were three musket balls, a bronze ring, two silver rings and two gold St. Christopher medallions (one of which has been returned to it’s owner after having been lost for almost 30 years). Two of the coins were pre-1946 sixpences of 50% silver.

Day 2: Initially I decided to concentrate on the entrance area of the pitch and then again to follow a random pattern later. Coinage continued to be found in large numbers a total of 190 coins,of which 75 were pre-decimal and 110 decimal, two lead tokens, two foreign coins and one fragment. Among the coins were two shilling-pieces and three sixpences pre-1946, and an 1806 George III penny. One of the foreign coins was a French 5c. of 1885. Among the other objects recovered, a Prince Albert's regimental button, a large horse brass and a brass mason's pendant.

Day 3:I was able to recover a further 58 coins, of which 20 were pre-decimal, 34 decimal, one foreign and two fragments of coins. Other objects recovered were a silver St Christopher medallion and two army buttons.

Day 4: This evening I was lucky to find a nice 1941 half-crown, and a further 47 coins of which 23 were pre-decimal and 23 decimal, one fragment and an Irish sixpence.

Day 5:I recovered another 36 coins. 21 of which are old money, that is pre-decimal, and 14 new money, decimal. One lead token but in poor condition, a Georgian bronze buckle and a bronze religious medallion, plus another silver St Christopher medallion. One of the sixpences was pre-1946.

Day 6:I found a large barrel tap (age not known), a foot pattern, an escutcheon plate and an assortment of bits and pieces, a further 120 coins, including a 1940 two shillings, three pre-1946 sixpences, a 1902 threepenny bit and a halfpenny of William and Mary. This was among the 58 pre-decimal coins found. Also 58 decimal coins, plus a USA Susan B. Anthony dollar, an Egyptian coin and a Swiss 1850 10c. piece.

Day 7: Coinage still being found, on this occasion the oldest coin to date, a silver penny of Richard II 1377-1399, sadly in poor condition.A further 47 pre-decimal coins and a Canadian 1c. of Victoria plus 56 decimal coins.A Yeovil town football badge, a Georgian button inscribed ‘King and Constitution’.

Day 8.This was my last chance before the soil was moved. I recovered a further 84 coins, 30 of which are pre-1968 and 51 are new money. A Spanish 1 peseta and a USA 1c. The artefacts were more interesting with another silver St Christopher medallion, a 9 carat gold ring and a bronze wedding ring with a false hallmark.

In total, phase 1 produced 769 coins, 331 of which are pre-decimal, the biggest number being 123 halfpennies and 81 pennies, the lowest being only two half-crowns. There were 12 foreign coins, covering Russia, Isle of Man, Eire, France, Spain, USA, Egypt, Switzerland, and Canada. The ground condition being very dry and quite hard accounted for considerable depth loss, but otherwise searching conditions were good. Many of the pitch areas worked to a constant pattern, i.e. straight lines etc.

Phase II

The searching of pitch, during and after soil moving, reinstating and also various peripheral areas. Phase II has been a very exciting and interesting part of the project. I had intended to follow the same format of daily reporting but in attempting this, it soon became apparent that over a 29-day period the mention of more musket balls, buttons etc., would soon become both repetitive and boring. So I have decided to approach this phase in a chronological order.

The earliest evidence found on site being a fragment of a Bronze Age axe head, dates the site somewhere between 200BC and 2000BC. It is not possible to be more precise than this as only the cutting edge of the axe was found. There is now quite clearly a gap in time of several hundred years until Roman times, when a nice Roman brooch, animal type of the 2nd century appeared, sadly minus the pin, and several Roman coins, mostly of the 4th century, two possibly of Julian II and a forgery of a denarius of Nero 54-68 AD. This is the extent of the Roman period.

There was nothing in the intervening period until the 12th century. This was represented by two interesting coins, one of Stephen 1135–1154 AD, a penny of London ‘Watford’ type of the moneyer, Rodbert. Also a penny of Henry II, 1154–1189 ‘Tealby’ type but not in good enough condition to fully identify.

Moving into the 13th century we have a silver penny and a halfpenny of Edward I both of the London mint. Other items that span several centuries that may be as early as 13th Century are a bronze gilded ‘Stirrup’ style finger ring and a small horse harness fitting in the form of a pendant. From the 14th century we have a very nice silver farthing of Edward II. This would appear to be all from this period.

The 15th century is represented by a part of a bronze purse frame, two silver pennies of Henry VII, both strangely enough of the same issue of ‘York’ mint issued by Archbishop Rotherham of the ‘Sovereign’ seated on a throne type an earlier coin. Also 15th Century is a halfpenny of Henry V 1413–1422.Another item found was a bronze barrel padlock key with a lozenge shaped bow.

As we enter the 16th century we encounter the compulsory German Nurenberg Jettons. Jettons are brass counters for working out accounts using an exchequer board.In total 39 jettons were found, among these were at least two French ones, one of which is dated 1552 and also dated on the opposite side 1553!Mostly, jettons are not dated. Two coins of Elizabeth also came to light, one a penny 1561 and the other a sixpence 1566. A nice dog's head flagon spout in extremely nice condition, which may in fact be 15th Century, two ‘hooked tags of ‘clothinghooks’ as they are alternativelyknown, one being bronze the other silver. Another common item appearing are bronze pot legs. Buttons also begin to appear, and late 16th Century cloth seals and possibly lead tokens. Lead tokens are a bit of a mystery, very little is written about them and as yet no scholars or academics have risked publishing anything other than a list of descriptions of them. A few are dated, their use is unknown, but I would hazard a guess that it was a type of small change, probably issued by private merchants, hosteliers and the like.

Of the 17th century we continue with more cloth seals and lead tokens, three coin weights surface, one of Charles I for a double crown, another of James I for a half unite 11/- and another, date not determined for a ryal. Also a bullion weight with St George’s cross representing the ‘Commonwealth of England’, the Cromwellian period. Five Trade Tokens of this period were recovered, two being of Saffron Walden both William Wildman, one dated 1656 the other 1667, another from Newport Pond of Francis Hutchinson, one from Ipswich, James Story and the other is not identifiable. From this period there are many buckles, buttons, some escution plates, coins of James I, a twopence, two pennies, some farthings, Rose farthings and Richmond farthings of Charles I, farthings of Charles II, a shilling of William III and some halfpennies.

Usage of the site seems to diminish in the 18th and 19th centuries, as items from this period are mainly some buttons, a few coins of George I, George II and George III, a broken fob seal, a farthing of both George IV and William IV and some coinage of Victoria. Twentieth century finds consist mostly of coins and artefacts missed by myself in Phase I, but account for three more silver St Christopher medallions, a silver ring, two military badges and an amount of coinage from 1900 to present, including a silver half-crown of George V.

Some things I have not mentioned as yet are 290 musket balls, 90 leather studs and 29 thimbles. The thimbles of course can be dated to no earlier than 16th century, but the musket balls and studs remain unresolved. Along with this are a number of flat bronze rings. I call these rings ‘fixing rings’. They are sometimes referred to as ‘horse harness rings’, but I feel this is often incorrect.

Obviously many things in this report have been overlooked, but this is a generally good representation. There is of course a full record of finds covering anything not mentioned here.

Phase  III

What can we conclude from this array of coins and artefacts? Firstly, we have the Bronze Age axe fragment, probably lost, possibly discarded, but Bronze Age people tended to be economical and would probably have used this fragment to be re-smelted. This points to a casual loss and does not reflect a ‘site’. Nor do the later Roman finds of five coins and a brooch, this being a small representation for a plentiful period, again no evidence for a ‘site’, only casual losses.

We now have a long intervening period until the 12th century and from the 12th century until the 15th century, where we have a few objects from each century but mostly nothing substantial enough to suggest any type of ‘site or habitation’. Several of these finds are nice finds in their own right. The flagon spout, coins of Stephen and Henry II particularly pleased me.

The 16th century and 17th century painted a different picture. The finding of 26 lead cloth seals, representing dyers, clothiers, and alnagers, coming from far afield, immediately suggests a cloth fair or market and the evidence supporting this is immense. The finding of coin weights, bullion weights, trade tokens one of them from Ipswich; a large amount of lead tokens, 40 in all; coins from Elizabeth through to James I and beyond; clothing hooks, thimbles and over a dozen buckles all contribute to what I believe to be irrefutable evidence of a cloth fair site. I would tentatively put a date as starting mid-Elizabethan, possibly around 1570 which would coincide with the arrival of weavers at Colchester escaping persecution in the Netherlands. I would suggest a time span of about 100 years, as both coins and artefacts fall away by the time of Charles II. The extent of the fair may well spread both sides of the football field or there again it may not, only further investigation would prove this.

Now we come  to the question of 290 musket balls. This amount of ordnance is no ordinary recovery. Musket balls we find everywhere but only normally in small numbers, this obviously is of greater significance. A first impressionwas of a Cromwellian military camp and many things fitted nicely into place, the shot being found associated with 17th century coin and artefacts, Cromwell's troops having been camped in the area under General Fairfax and the area being close to the town. However after making many phone calls to museums, archaeology units, eminent archaeologists and scholars, many different angles were examined and I have since rethought this scenario. The main reason I have deviated from the original idea is that my lead shot, is, I am informed, not musket balls, but pistol shot, being too small in diameter for muskets. Generally speaking, it ranges from .560 downwards in many differing sizes. Several suggestions have been made and I offer them only as considerations. One suggested a firing range, possibly for a local militia; another, some sort of sideline at the fair being held, maybe a competition. To add to this confusion 90 leather studs were recovered on site: what is their connection with either the fair or the pistol shot? I will leave this for all to ponder. I still favour a military connection in some way but retain an open mind.

Finally I mention, although I found no evidence of dwellings or buildings there was a small scatter of post-medieval red tile and some fragments of lead from leaded windows present on site. For the statically minded, 143 hours were spent on site between the 24 June and 22 September, recovering 1359 coins, tokens and jettons.

Note: Tony Carter is a member of the Federation of Independent Detectorists, who follow a strict code of conduct in their operations. He is also treasurer of the Saffron Walden Searchers Metal Detectors' Club. His survey was carried out between 24 July and 22 September 2000 when the pitch was being relaid.

© Saffron Walden Historical Society 2001