This month on the PAS blog we’re celebrating the fantastic Festival of British Archaeology, organised by the Council for British Archaeology. From the 16th to the 31st of July, the Festival will be hosting hundreds of in-person and virtual events. Delivered by local groups, these events are designed to get more people involved in local archaeology.
The theme for 2022 is Journeys. While reflecting on this theme, I realised that every find on the PAS database is on its own journey through time and space. Like a person, an object will encounter thousands of people and communities as it travels through ‘life.’ It will be important to some and less important to many. While some objects have close ties to local communities and sites, others are historical nomads.
As an immigrant to the UK from Australia, my historic links to local communities are scarce. However, I wondered if any objects on the database could reflect my family journey, and our relationship to British heritage and archaeology. Like myself, the following objects have journeyed a long, winding historical road to arrive at the PAS.
Like many Australians, my family story is one of interesting characters. For example, my distant grandfather was a convict transported for stealing oranges. According to family folklore, this minor crime was exacerbated when he set fire to the orange farmer’s shed in revenge. Convict ‘love tokens’ represent at least two journeys – that of a person destined for Australia, and those they left behind.
This love token is made of a rubbed town copper coin, which has been re-engraved with a message. On the obverse, the name Ordery (Audrey) Appleyard is inscribed alongside the date 1800. Research into convict records shows that Ordery may have been one of 296 convicts, transported to Australia in 1800 on the Earl Cornwallis. Some of Ordery’s spirit is contained in the resolute inscription on the reverse. “Mother my trust is in God and I will not fear what men can do unto me.”
Ordery was facing a long and uncertain journey ahead, from which she was unlikely to return. This token would have been carried by those she left behind. Take a look at this fantastic ‘Curator’s Corner’ video on love tokens by BM curator Ben Alsop.
Another arsonist, my distant grandmother left Ireland following an attempt to burn down a town hall. Family legend says that she was a militant Suffragette, engaged in the 1912-1914 bombing and arson campaign. Defacing coins was another tactic used by militant Suffragettes to make a political impact. This Victorian half penny is dated 1899. The slogan “Votes for Women” is emblazoned on the obverse, while WSPU (The Women’s Social and Political Union) is cut into the reverse. Check out this great blog by BM curator Thomas Hockenhull, to find out more about Suffragette coins
One of my great-grandfathers was an eccentric prospector, lured away from his career as a doctor by the promise of gold. The glimmering prospect of riches enticed many to embark on the long journey to the colonies. Gold has a reputation for driving humans to extreme lengths, as this posy ring can attest to.
Posy rings were a popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were decorated with emotive phrases and given as love tokens. This ring is inscribed with the phrase “God above inc’reac’e our love.” Ostensibly, this object represents a relationship. However, dig a little deeper, and the archival trail indicates a more colourful historical journey.
A gold posy ring with the inscription “God above increase our love” was used as a key piece of evidence against John Holland, William Davis and Agnes Wearing, who burgled the house of Mr Leonel Gatford on the 11th of September 1685. Davis was soon discovered, wearing the posy ring. It was identified as stolen goods by Mrs Gatford’s servant who – unluckily for the thieves – remembered the inscription.
Any one object can be entangled in thousands of journeys during its ‘lifetime.’ These range from those who made and owned it, to those who stole or found it. In my case, these objects also give me a glimpse into the lives, beliefs, and motivations of my ancestors. Come along to one of the Festival of British Archaeology events to discover more about your community.
Millmore, B., 2015. LOVE TOKENS: ENGRAVED COINS, EMOTIONS AND THE POOR 1700-1856. Ph. D. University of Brighton.