Welcome to Top Finds from Cheshire Part 2 of 2. Part 1 looked at finds of note from Cheshire West and Chester, and this addition will be looking into finds from Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton. These blog posts are looking back through some of the amazing finds that have been recorded to the PAS over the past 23 years, in celebration of reaching the milestone of 1.5 million finds recorded on the PAS database. This amazing achievement would not have been possible without the hard work of Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), volunteers, interns and students, as well the finders who responsibly report their finds.
There are numerous finds from the Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton area that date from the Paleolithic through to the Bronze Age. Most of these objects are tools or weapons, such as palstaves, spearheads and worked lithic implements.
The first find for discussion is this Neolithic adze from Sandbach, Cheshire East (LVPL-0E5426), dated to c.3300-3000 BC. The object was found by chance whilst metal detecting. An adze is a cutting tool, used for smoothing or carving wood. There are currently only 54 Neolithic adzes formally identified on the PAS database; two of those come from the North West, one being this example from Sandbach and the other from Bury, Greater Manchester. The Sandbach example is unusual, because its surface is polished all over, as opposed to just the edge. This emphasizes it as a high-status object.
One of the most significant objects discovered from Cheshire East is the late Bronze Age sword from Swettenham (LVPL-55FB97). The sword dates to c.1000-900 BC and is a carp’s tongue type with a transitional hilt that features elements of both Type Huelva and Type Nantes. These transitional type swords are more commonly found in north-western France. The Swettenham sword is the fifth known sword of this type from Britain and is the first from the North West which makes this a nationally significant find. The sword was kindly donated by the finder and landowner to the local museum, Congleton Museum, where it is now on display.
Similar to Cheshire West and Chester, only a few Iron Age objects are recorded from Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton each year. Interestingly, unlike Cheshire West and Chester, more single coin finds have been reported from Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton than any other object group, with dress accessories and horse harness equipment being the next common find types.
The Malpas Hoard is a significant find consisting of a hoard of 7 gold Iron Age coins and 28 silver Roman coins (LVPL-DFD9E1; 2014T89). The Iron Age coins are gold staters of both the Western regional series and the North Eastern series dating to c.AD 20-50. The earliest Roman coin is a silver Roman denarius of the Titus Minucius Augurinus dated to 134 BC, with latest being six denarii of the Emperor Tiberius AD 14-37. Although mixed period coin hoards such as this are not uncommon, this particular hoard is possibly directly linked to a historical event. Dr Sam Moorhead, PAS Finds Advisor for Iron Age and Roman coins, argues that the Malpas Hoard could possibly be linked to the defeat and flight of Caratacus in the year AD50/51. Caratacus was a British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe who led the British resistance against the Roman invasion. It is believed that Caratacus fled from his final stand in the upper Severn Valley, Wales to the Brigantes territory for refuge, a journey which would have taken him directly through Malpas (Moorhead 2017: 13-19). Although it is not possible to be certain the hoard is linked with Caratacus, to be able to place hoards into a broader historical context is valuable for our overall understanding of hoarding practices in the late Iron Age to early Roman period in North West England. The hoard was declared Treasure and was jointly acquired by the Museum of Liverpool and Congleton Museum.
Much like the other areas of Cheshire, we see a large increase in material culture as we move into the Roman period. In this period, single coin finds are the most reported object, with brooches second. Several hoards have also been discovered from Cheshire East which will be discussed below.
From the Cheshire East area, three hoards have been discovered in recent times: two coin hoards, known as the Poole and Peover Hoards and a multi-object hoard, known as the Knutsford Hoard.
The Knutsford Hoard (LVPL-B44185; 2012T406) consists of 101 denarii and two sestertii, as well as three silver gilt trumpet brooches and two silver finger rings with intaglios, and dates to the late 2nd Century AD.
The Peover Hoard (LVPL-E332C6; 2015T46) consists of a single sestertius and 6956 radiates with a date range of AD 251-74. The Peover Hoard is largest Roman hoard from Cheshire and the North West of England (Ball 2017: 15).
The Poole Hoard (LVPL-8CC2AC; 2016T325) consists of 5 AE radiates and 1496 nummi that have a date range of AD 313-35.
Hoards such as these were deposited during periods of social or political unrest with the idea being that the hoard would be retrieved once the situation had stabilized. Why these hoards were never recovered by their depositors we will never know. All three hoards were declared Treasure, the Knutsford and Poole Hoards were jointly acquired by the Museum of Liverpool and Congleton Museum, and the Peover Hoard was solely acquired by Congeton Museum. Further information about the Malpas and Knutsford Hoards can be found here: https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/collections/archaeology/cheshire
Much like Cheshire West and Chester, Early Medieval finds remain scarce in the Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton area. Nevertheless, regionally and nationally significant finds have been recovered from the Cheshire East area.
The most significant Early Medieval find from Cheshire East comes from Marbury. In 2016, three Early Medieval silver openwork disc brooches were discovered, one wholly intact and two fragmentary, dating to c.AD 800-900 (LVPL-590EDA; 2016T953). The brooches are decorated with Trewhiddle-style decoration, depicting typical animal motifs. The brooches correspond to Weetch’s Type 16, and at present only 15 other examples are known. The presence of the brooches in the North West England presents a growing corpus of these brooch types in the North West of Britain. These brooches have previously been more common finds from the East of England, but the addition of the Marbury brooches with a copper alloy example from Flintshire, Wales (LVPL-30A793) and the Galloway Hoard, Scotland presents a growing North West presence. The brooches were declared Treasure and have been acquired by the British Museum.
A further discovery from the Marbury area is a silver pin with a polyhedral head dating to c.AD 700-900 (LVPL-EEFE6C; 2019T699). The pin appears to have no direct connection to the Marbury brooches, but does emphasize the presence of skilled craftsmanship in the Cheshire area during this period.
As in the case of Cheshire West and Chester, coins are the most common object recorded, followed by lead spindle whorls and dress accessories.
A particularly interesting object is the elaborated decorated lead spindle whorl from Swettenham dating to c.AD 1100-1500 (LVPL-C66E67). As previously stated, lead spindle whorls are common finds from Cheshire and much of England and Wales. Most of the spindle whorls recorded on the PAS database display some form of molded decoration, but rarely is the decoration as precise or as beautifully crafted as the example from Swettenham. Spindle whorls have been recovered from dateable contexts from the Roman to the Post Medieval period, but single chance finds such as these are usually dated to the Medieval period.
A rare find is a Scottish silver penny of Robert I (Robert the Bruce) from Marbury dated to AD 1320-29 (LVPL-DBB81E). Scottish coins south of the border are uncommon finds, and coins of Robert I are particularly rare. To date, only 20 coins on the PAS database have been assigned to Robert I. To put that in context, there are over 77,000 Medieval coins recorded on the database. This makes the discovery of the Marbury coin particularly interesting, as this is the only example from Cheshire and the second from the North West of England, with the other discovered in Cumbria.
The Post Medieval period continues to show coins as the most commonly recorded single object type, followed by buckles. Most of the material reported to the PAS from the whole of the Cheshire region dates from the Post Medieval to Modern period.
An unusual find is the almost complete skillet from Congleton dating to c.AD 1475-1500 (NARC-3775C7). The discovery of a near complete bronze cooking vessel is rare, as vessels such as these are usually represented through fragments only, such as legs, handles and body fragments (Butler, Green and Payne 2009: 3-4). These were valuable objects that were often repaired when damaged, rather than discarded. What is especially intriguing about the Congleton vessel is that it was discovered wedged between large rocks, which suggests it may have been deposited deliberately.
The final find of interest from Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton is the silver seal matrix from Swettenham (LVPL-505BF7; 2015T732). What is interesting about the seal is the direct connection it appears to have with its local area. The seal matrix depicts a donkey emerging from a crown or coronet which is the crest of the Mainwaring family. The Mainwaring family is known to have resided in Cheshire East and above the north porch of St. Peter’s Church in Swettenham is a sculpture depicting the family’s crest. The connection between the seal and proximity of the findspot to St. Peter’s Church presents an additional insight to the local history of the area. The seal was declared Treasure and acquired by Congleton Museum because of its clear connection to the local area.
These two blog posts have covered some of the more interesting and archaeologically valuable finds from the whole of Cheshire to celebrate reaching 1.5 million finds recorded on the PAS database. There’s plenty more on the database so why not have a look yourself and see what’s been discovered in your local area. Who knows what the next 1.5 million finds will bring us from Cheshire!
If you would like to report an archaeological find from England or Wales, contact your local Finds Liaison Officer: https://finds.org.uk/contacts
Ball, M. (2017) ‘Unpublished Coin Hoards from Cheshire: Part 1 Roman Hoards’, Journal for the Chester Archaeological Society Vol: 87 pp.13-41.
Butler, R., Green, C. and Payne, N. (2009) ‘Cast Copper-Alloy Cooking Vessels’, Finds Research Group 700-1700 Datasheet 41.
Moorhead, S. (2017), ‘The Malpas Hoard and the Flight of Caratacus’, in E.J, Stewart (ed.) Insights into Roman Hoards of North West England: Proceedings of the 2016 Conference at the Museum of Liverpool, Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool, pp.13-19.
Weetch, R. (2013) Brooches in Late Anglo-Saxon England within a North West European Context: A Study of Social Identities Between the Eighth and Eleventh Centuries. Unpublished PhD Thesis: University of Reading.