Very recently I verified West Berkshire’s 5000 PAS find on the database. Recently I held a poll on Twitter for what should be the 5000th find. As expected, you ask the people who voted for Boaty McBoatface, you get a silly result. The winner was this unidentifiable lead seal/token. However, this makes a wider point about the database. The history of this land is not told only though nice, shiny object, but the things that the everyday folks leave behind: underground and overground (I couldn’t resist).
There have been some fantastic finds from the county over the years and I here to share just a smattering of them in this blog post.
One of the earliest records on the database is this Gold Solidus of Valentinian II, way back in 1999 with a very early PAS number.
Gold Roman coins don’t come up much on the database, let alone in West Berkshire and this is only one of three. The most recent was recorded at the start of 2020 and is of Theodosius I depicting him and his co-emperor at the time, Gratian.
Coins make up over 50% of the 5000 objects, but there is also a lot of other common and uncommon finds.
Brooches also make up a large proportion as they are use from the Iron Age to the Post-Medieval periods in West Berkshire. An Iron Age type of brooch which is concentrated on the West Berkshire / Vale of the White Horse is haracterised by bulbous mouldings and appear in a variety of shapes including square (this example), cross (quatrefoil around a central dome or variant) and circular.
Personal adornment, which includes brooches, is a large category as it consists hat pins, shoe buckles and everything in between. People in West Berkshire have been adorning themselves for millenia. I have a soft spot for buckles and this one is one of my favourites. The style of two dolphins meeting face to face either at the strap bar or the middle of the frame came from the Continent in the 4th century AD and was further developed by locals.
This Medieval hat pin would have also looked quite stunning at the time and still does. The decoration is interesting as it bears a Classical influence with a man wearing a Phrygian cap.
In Some areas there is often a large concentration of objects, particularly coins and personal effects, where there might have been a market. The names of some of these markets are known to us but others have been long forgotten. This folded lead token might have come from such a site.
Newbury, near the border with Hampshire, is known for two battles during The English Civil War; the First and Second Battles of Newbury. The first took place to the west/south-west of the town but the second spread all the way from Thatcham to Boxford. A possible sign of this is concentrations of lead shot found in the area.
After the war to deal with a lack of small denominations in the regal coinage civic institutions and individual business people issued copper-alloy tokens between 1648 and 1672. The Borough of Newbury issued its own tokens. The majority of these are found in West Berkshire, but they have also been found as far afield as Stratford-on-Avon and the Isle of Wight.
Some types of find are extremely uncommon as metal detected finds. One of the most striking is this cremation urn decorated with an ibis or swans. These (ibis) could be linked to the Egyptian God Thoth – god of scribes, wisdom and medicine, akin to the Roman god Mercury or to Jupiter (swans).
One of the most spectacular finds to come from Berkshire is a group of Bronze Age gold torcs and bracelets found near Lambourne. Associations of the two types of object represented in this hoard are well known. Both being to well-documented classes of ornament belonging to the Middle Bronze Age, circa 1300-1100BC.
Finally is another hoard, this time of gold coins of James I. These had a face value of £2 13s in AD1620. I found out the 17th century that buys: A hat Suit Shirt Waistcoat Stockings Boots Cape and enough left for 24 pints with your mates! http://web.archive.org/web/20110426174649/http://www.littlewoodham.org.uk/research/mark.htm
These two, as well as other hoards, have been brought together for the first time in an exhibition at West Berkshire Museum which you can see now!
West Berkshire Museum is open Wednesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm. Entry is free but donations are most welcome.
I wish to extend my thanks to colleagues past and present who have recorded all of the objects from West Berkshire as detectorists often visit the county to search and then report to their local FLO elsewhere. I hope to see many more of your finds soon.