Vikings in South Derbyshire

Most people with an interest in archaeology, or who have been watching ‘The Last Kingdom’ on the telly, will have heard of the Viking Great Heathen Army which ravaged England in the ninth century. Fewer people may know that the Army overwintered in South Derbyshire, at Repton, in A.D. 873-4. It is unlikely that all the Vikings will have stayed in the camp all winter, as foraging parties would have been sent up and down the river Trent, and they will have wanted to keep an eye on the approaches to Repton to warn of any possible attacks.

One of the sites which I have been metal detecting on is a few miles upstream from Repton, on the opposite side of the river from the Anglo-Saxon site at Catholme, near to a place where the river is shallow enough to be forded, and from which there are good views of the Roman road where it crosses the river at Wychnor Bridge, and from which, on a clear day, you can see Tamworth. These factors would make it a good place for lookouts to be stationed.

So might this 8th century Arabic coin (PUBLIC-458D27) that I found on the site have been dropped by one of Ivar the Boneless’s lads?

Dirham of the Umayyads dating to AD 741-742
Dirham of the Umayyads dating to AD 741-742 (PUBLIC-458D27). Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC BY.

 

I’d like to think so.

The coin is currently on display in Derbyshire Unearthed, an exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery about Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Meet the Volunteers: Roger

Copyright: Roger Thomas License: All Rights Reserved.
Copyright: Roger Thomas License: All Rights Reserved.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a secondhand & antiquarian bookseller who got interested in archaeology by watching Time Team on the telly. I joined a local archaeology group in 2007, had my first go with a metal detector in 2014, was signed up to the PASt Explorers scheme by Wendy Scott (FLO for Leicestershire and Rutland) in 2015 and have been self-recording my finds onto the PAS database since then.

I live in North west Leicestershire, but do most of my fieldwork over the border in South Derbyshire.

 

What does your role involve?

An awful lot of learning! I don’t have an academic background (I was expelled from Grammar School in 1970 for taking time off to go and see Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival, which seemed like a good idea at the time – and to be honest it still does) but I’ve always been interested in books and have assembled a decent library of finds identification books to help with self-recording. And I can always bother Alastair whenever I get really stuck.

I usually go out detecting twice a week and at the time of writing I’ve found about 300 objects which are worth a record. As I’ve been detecting for 23 months, that equates to 13 items a month, or roughly 1½ items per detecting session. Or to put it another way, for every 4 hours spent detecting I usually find one thing that isn’t a shotgun cartridge, mastitis ointment tube, horseshoe, bit off a tractor, ringpull, bottle cap or green waste…..

 

What area of history/archaeology are you most interested in?

At the moment I’m particularly interested in what happened in South Derbyshire after the Roman Conquest.

 

Why did you start volunteering for the PAS?

I was keen to identify things myself and there was no FLO in post for Derbyshire at the time, so Wendy Scott suggested I could have a go at recording stuff myself. There was an offer of free training, which I was only too happy to accept.

 

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for the PAS?

The training days I’ve been on – at the British Museum, York & Leicester Universities, the Museum of London and Birmingham Museum – have all been thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ve learned more in the last one & a half years than in the previous forty.

 

What is the most exciting find from Derbyshire you have recorded so far?

That would probably be the 13 Roman lead sling shots.

Three images of a lead Roman slingshot.
A Roman sling shot from Catton, South Derbyshire (PUBLIC-640928). Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC-BY.

They are the first to be recorded from the East Midlands, and I’d love to find out more about why they were where I found them.

 

What is your favourite find from Derbyshire that has been recorded on the PAS database and why?

Not sure if I’m supposed to choose something I haven’t recorded myself, but everyone who’s ever handled this Neolithic stone axehead (PUBLIC-6B05D3) has wanted to take it home with them.

Neolithic stone axehead (PUBLIC-6B05D3). Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC-BY

It’s just so beautiful and tactile and must have taken someone hundreds of hours of polishing to get that fabulous surface finish.

It was probably deposited into the River Trent as a votive offering. Luckily for us the river moved and it was found in the spoilheap when a lake was being dug over the palaeochannel.

Thanks are due to Kevin Leahy for helping with the photography.