After 23 years, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has reached the milestone of recording 1.5 million objects. To celebrate this immense achievement, this blog is going to highlight some favourite finds, from different broad periods, that have been recorded from Cheshire. As Cheshire is a county with a wealth of interesting finds, two blog posts have been produced. This first one will be highlighting some of the amazing finds from Cheshire West and Chester, with the second looking at finds discovered in Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton. So many of these finds were recorded by not only Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), but volunteers, interns and students, without whom the PAS would not be the success it is today. Similarly, enormous gratitude is extended to the finders who offer their finds for recording, because by doing so, they are adding immensely valuable information to the archaeological record of England and Wales.
There are numerous finds from Cheshire West and Chester that date from the Paleolithic through to the Bronze Age. Most of objects recorded to the PAS are metallic, mainly because the majority of objects reported are discovered by metal detector users, but we also get a number of non-metallic finds.
The first find of note is this barbed and tanged flint arrowhead from Sproston, which dates to the early Bronze Age (c.2500 – 1600 BC) (LVPL-88B913). Arrowheads are particularly rare finds from Cheshire, with this being one of only five barbed and tanged arrowheads recorded from across the whole of Cheshire.
Second is this late Bronze Age spearhead from Dutton, dated to c.1050-1000 BC (LVPL-597E94). This spearhead is classed as a Davis Type 16 (lunate) which is one of the more unusual types of spearhead and is particularly rare for this region. It is one of only two currently known from Cheshire. These lunate spearheads are believed to have been weapons of the warrior elite and were as impressive for parade as they were effective in combat (Davis 2015). This example from Dutton is one of the smallest known examples of its type.
Iron Age objects are uncommon discoveries from Cheshire West and Chester, with only a few objects reported each year. Many of the objects recorded are dress accessories or horse harness equipment; very few coins have been recorded.
Two interesting finds are these well-preserved ‘knobbed’ terret rings from Tattenhall dating to c.AD 1-100 (LVPL2100 and LVPL2101). Both terret rings fall under Spratling Type IX (1972) and are two of the most decorated and well-preserved terret rings to come from Cheshire and the North West of England.
This Colchester one-piece brooch dates from the late Iron Age to early Roman period, c.AD 25-60 (LVPL-1FD141). Discovered in Brickley, this is the only example from the North West of England and is in an exceptional state of preservation, with only the catchplate damaged.
In Cheshire, as for much else of the England and Wales, the presence of Roman material culture outweighs the number of artefacts discovered from previous broad periods. The influx of material culture for Cheshire is not only explained by the influence of the conquering Roman Empire but also the presence of the Roman town and fortress Deva Victrix in modern day Chester. Vast discoveries of interesting Roman objects from Cheshire West and Chester have been found over the years, but here are two of the standout examples.
First is this millefiori disc brooch from Horton-cum-Peel dating to c.AD 150-200 (LVPL-F1F6CC). This brooch is in almost perfect preservation, with a small portion of the disc missing as well as the pin. The intricate design of the enamel is seen on other examples, but this example from Horton-cum-Peel presents the design in a smaller, more intricate manner that indicates highly skilled craftsmanship. The enamel is produced by arranging glass rods of various colours side by side, heating them enough to fuse them and stretching the bundle of rods into a long thin cane. Once cold, slices were cut from the cane and used as part of enamelled designs (Bayley and Butcher 2004: 130). There are numerous other millefiori brooches on the PAS database, but the Horton-cum-Peel example is the best preserved and the only one recorded from the North West of England.
Another example of stunning Roman craftsmanship is this silver pendant mounting a Roman intaglio from Farndon dating to c.100 BC – AD100 (LVPL-A40A40; 2015T800).The intaglio is made of orange carnelian and appears to depict a fallen soldier in a gladiator helmet attempting to protect themselves from a big cat, possibly a panther, and is thought to date to the first century BC. The silver setting on the other hand likely has a later date, and dates from the late Roman to Early Medieval period. This is therefore an interesting example of the reuse of an object, and if the intaglio is set within an Early Medieval pendant, it presents a case for the retention and eventual reuse of an object centuries after its production. The pendant was declared Treasure by the coroner and was subsequently acquired by the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
Early Medieval finds from Cheshire are few and far between, so the reporting of any finds from this period often warrants a ‘find of note’ status. Common Early Medieval finds from this area are dress accessories, such as strap ends and pins, but coins and horse equipment, such as stirrup mounts and terminals, have also been reported.
Arguably the most important Early Medieval find reported from Cheshire West and Chester is the Huxley Hoard dating to c.AD 850-950 (LVPL-C63F8A; 2004T453). Found during a metal detecting rally in 2004, the Huxley Hoard is comprised of 22 items of Viking silver, including 20 flattened arm-rings, most of which are decorated in Hiberno-Scandanavian style, one decorated rod from a bracelet and a complete ingot, along with sheets of lead which are thought to have covered the collection of objects (Ager and Graham-Campbell 2009: 45). Unlike most other Viking silver hoards, the Huxley Hoard appears to be a pure bullion hoard recognised by its containment of only hack silver which would have been used for the exchange of goods or services (Williams 2009: 82). The hoard was reported to the PAS and was later declared Treasure by the coroner, following which, National Museums Liverpool and Cheshire West and Chester Museum Service jointly acquired the hoard. Further details about the Huxley Hoard can be found on National Museums Liverpool’s website: https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/collections/archaeology/huxley-hoard
As expected, there is a large increase of material culture coming from the Medieval period in comparison to the previous eras. In contrast to the previous periods, coins are now the most commonly recorded object, followed by lead spindle whorls and then various types of dress accessories.
One of the more interesting finds to come from Cheshire West and Chester is this decorated plumb bob from Gulden Sutton dating to c.AD 1100-1400 (LVPL-C8B1A3). There are a few other decorated plumb bobs in this form, but they are uncommon finds. This example is in particularly good condition with clear decorative features.
A stunning object is this gold and sapphire stirrup ring from Handbridge dating to c.AD 1200-1300 (WREX-848E6F; 2019T982). The ring displays a high degree of craftsmanship and style which is particularly noticeable in the shoulder design depicting a beast on either side with an open mouth, as if attempting to swallow the sapphire. The ring is also accompanied with an inscription: ‘A V … I A / R A …’ which likely refers to ‘Ave Maria Gratia Plena’ which is Latin for ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’. What is particularly enjoyable about this ring is its perfect condition which makes it look wearable even today!
The Post Medieval period continues to show coins as the most commonly recorded object, followed by buckles. The majority of material reported to the PAS from Cheshire West and Cheshire dates from the Post Medieval to Modern period.
The broad scope of the PAS is to record objects that are at least 300 years old but there are occasions when an object of a Modern date is particularly interesting, and we might choose to record it. This is certainly the case for this clay tobacco pipe bowl from Handbridge, depicting a shamrock on one side and a harp on the other, dating to 1860-1910 (LVPL-D03967). The pipe bowl serves as a reminder of the close connections between this area of the North West and Ireland. Following the influx of Irish migrants to the UK in the 1840s as a result of the Great Famine, there was an increase in demand for Irish styled pipes. It is therefore possible that this pipe was manufactured locally to cater for this demand. This is supported by the discovery of a pipe bowl with the same design during excavations at Chester (Rutter & Davey 1980, Fig 75.30), and is an example of when material reported to the PAS contributes to our historical knowledge of an area and complements research undertaken through excavations.
The final object of this blog post is a display of bling which is epitomised by this gold locket from south of Chester, dating to c.AD 1550-1600 (LVPL-53C9B4; 2012T512). This locket is an unusual find and is a rare example of commesso jewllery found in England. Commesso cameos are jewels that combine a carved cameo with enameled gold and other materials such as precious stones. This example has a cameo of child at the bottom with a red stone above, possibly a garnet, and is surrounded by a foliate design of blue enamelled gold. This object was declared Treasure and subsequently acquired by the British Museum.
Ager, B. and Graham-Campbell, J. (2009) ‘5: Discovery and Contents’, in J. Graham-Campbell and R. Philpott (eds.), The Huxley Viking Hoard: Scandanavian Settlement in the North West, Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool, pp.45-57.
Bayley, J. and Butcher, S. (2004) Roman Brooches in Britain: A Technological and Typological Study Based on the Richborough Collection, London, The Society of Antiquaries.
Davis, R. (2015) Late Bronze Age Spearheads from Britain, Stuttgart, Steiner Franz Verlag.
Rutter J. A. and Davey, P. J. (1980) ‘Clay Pipes from Chester’, in P. Davey (ed.), The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe, III, British Archaeological Reports, British Series 78, Oxford, pp.41-272.
Spratling, M.G. (1972) Southern British Decorated Bronzes of the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age, Unpublished PhD, University of London.
Williams, G. (2009) ‘8: Hoards from the northern Danelaw from Cuerdale to the Vale of York’, in J. Graham-Campbell and R. Philpott (eds.), The Huxley Viking Hoard: Scandanavian Settlement in the North West, Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool, pp.73-83.
See also Part 2 which discusses finds of note from Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton.
If you would like to report the discovery of an archaeological object from England or Wales, contact your local FLO: https://finds.org.uk/contacts