The Portable Antiquities Scheme provides a unique avenue for documenting small finds which, although not associated with any archaeological context, can still yield important new information about local and national history purely on their own merits. One such find recently recorded by the Surrey FLO, is SUR-F847F3 – a papal bulla or lead document seal found near Odiham in north east Hampshire. This type of seal was used to authenticate papal documents, and was attached to them with silk or hemp cords; the obverse typically features the name of the pope and the reverse shows the heads of St Peter and St Paul.
The vast majority of these objects relate to medieval popes, however the obverse of this example reads PAVLVS // •PA•PA• // IIII, demonstrating that it was issued by Pope Paul IV (1555-1559). In its association with this pope it is absolutely unique on the PAS database as being the only post-dissolution bulla ever recorded. It is believed to represent the latest known example of this sort of object found anywhere in the country. The significance of this bulla becomes particularly apparent when this date is considered against its historic context – the brief Catholic revival under Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain (1553-1558). This means that it can be interpreted against the background of the (temporary) resurgence of communications between Rome and the various Catholic entities in England, as the papacy attempted to re-assert itself in England under royal assent.
The findspot is not far from an important royal deer park and manorial site (Odiham Place), owned at this time by Chideock Paulet, a noted catholic and the son of the Marquis of Winchester. He was also at one point treasurer to the Bishop of Winchester who was himself based at the nearby palace at Farnham in Surrey and who controlled large estates in this part of the country. At this time the Bishop was one John White (1510–1560) a Roman Catholic who was promoted by Queen Mary to the see in 1556 and who was subsequently deprived of it in 1559 on the accession of the protestant Elizabeth I. He would therefore perhaps seem to be the most likely candidate for the intended recipient of the documents to which this object was attached.
Although the details of the decree secured by this object will never be established, the find helps illustrate the religious turmoil which dominated the late 1550s in England, as the country struggled with its spiritual identity both domestically and in relation to the ecclesiastical power structures in Europe and Rome. In view of its unique importance, the finder has very generously agreed to donate this object to Hampshire Cultural Trust. It is due for a more complete write up in the journal of Post Medieval Archaeology later in the year.
A rare example of an inscribed silver medieval hawking ring or vervel has recently been recorded from Surrey. This little object (SUR-44916D) was tied to the legs of a hawk and used to connect the bird to a leash which tethered it to a perch. During the medieval and post medieval periods, falconry was a ubiquitous pursuit of the nobility and the exact species of hawk used by any individual was socially regulated and dependent on their rank. As a hawk was a highly expensive badge of status, this object had a doubly important function in both securing the valuable bird and identifying the owner.
What makes this example highly unusual is the lombardic script used in the inscribed lettering which suggests a 14th – 15th century date for the object. Most examples which are found and recorded by the PAS are much later and date to the 16th – 17th century.
The name inscribed on the vervel reads RAVEnEShOLmE, which may be a personal or place name – and most likely is both. A John de Ravenesholme, identified as the “king’s yeoman” of Edward III (1327-1377), is recorded as holding the manor of Pury in Bentley parish, a few miles across the border into Hampshire in 1344. This same individual and other members of his family also held estates in Northamptonshire as well as Lancashire in the latter half of the 14th century, including a messuage called Ravensholme in Downham, Lancashire, which may well be the origin of the name. Whilst speculative, this association makes sense in terms of the earliest conceivable date for the vervel.
The loss of this type of object would most likely have occurred accidentally whilst people were out in the countryside, far from a settlement, busy hawking and hunting. As a result it is not a type of find which would ever likely be made from a conventional archaeological excavation. The work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is vital to record such socially charged and significant little objects, which would be otherwise invisible to the archaeological and historical record.
One of the most important and lasting legacies of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is the way in which it has transformed our understanding of the very existence of a wide range of artefacts which were previously entirely or almost entirely unknown in Britain. A great example of this achievement is our knowledge of the distribution and use of a rare type of Bronze Age flat barbed and tanged arrowhead, made of copper alloy in apparent imitation of earlier and far more common flint examples. They are clearly functional objects in terms of their size, form and manufacture, but being made of what was at the time an expensive material they may well represent a significant display of social status through their ownership and use. One such example, SUR-4655A8, has recently come to light in Surrey and is the first of this type of object to ever be recorded from the county.
Although there are now more than twenty examples of these small finds on the database, prior to the start of the scheme there was really only one known in Britain – from the Penard Hoard, found in West Glamorgan in 1827. This particular example was long thought to be an exotic import from the continent where metal arrowheads of this very early date are more widely known. The work of the PAS has demonstrated that these arrowheads are actually a part of the British Bronze Age metalworking tradition, as they have now been recorded from many different parts of the country as isolated finds. For now however, the Penard example remains the only one from a dateable archaeological context and provides the best dating evidence (to the middle Bronze Age, circa 1275-1140 BC). As more examples come to light, perhaps from better contextualised hoards or sites, our understanding of these little objects in terms of when and how they were made and used, can only increase.
One of the most interesting finds recorded from Surrey by the Portable Antiquities Scheme during summer 2018 was an Anglo-Saxon spearhead, SUR-0EC561. This object was recovered by magnet fishing from the confluence of the Bourne or Hoe stream with the Abbey Stream and river Wey adjacent to Newark Priory, Pyrford (TQ0457).
This spearhead has a lozenge-shaped cross section, with pronounced midrib and a characteristic split socket. According to a commonly used typological scheme for these objects produced by Swanton (1973) from studies of burial assemblages, aspects such as the profile and ratio of blade to socket length enable the spearhead to be attributed to category H2 (angular blade with concave curves to the angle) and dated to the latter half of the 6th century AD. It was heavily corroded by nearly fifteen centuries at the bottom of a river. It was also apparent that it had been intentionally bent to an angle of around 50° before deposition and would have been over 27cm in length when straight.
Spears had a great deal of meaning in early Anglo-Saxon society which was, in many ways, fundamentally a warrior culture. They were the most common weapon type of the 5th and 6th centuries, and are the most common type of weapon found intentionally deposited, like this example, in rivers. Two comparable examples of contemporary spearheads deposited in local rivers are known from within a kilometre or so of the find spot and many other examples are known from North Surrey and the Thames valley.
This find represents a rare and important material addition to our understanding of the pre-Christian cultural landscape in Surrey and the origins of the minster of Old Woking and the occupation activity underpinning the medieval site of Newark Priory. Following its recording by the PAS, the artefact was returned to the finder, who subsequently and very generously donated the spearhead to Guildford museum, where it now compliments the wider collection relating to Anglo-Saxon Surrey and the history of Newark Priory.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme doesn’t often record items from the last century, except when they turn out to be something quite special, or have considerable historic interest. One such item from Surrey which was recorded recently, is a rare example of an object which tells a story of the patriotic fervour and intense social pressures experienced on the home front during the early days of World War One.
This find, SUR-07E25F, is a copper alloy badge found by a detectorist at Send, near Woking, of a type that was commissioned by John St Loe Strachey, High Sheriff of Surrey in 1914, to support and encourage local men who wanted to join up. The badge shows a rose surrounded by the legend SURREY 1914 and a paraphrased biblical quote on the theme of service and sacrifice taken from the book of Judges, verse 2: WHEN THE PEOPLE WILLINGLY / OFFERED THEMSELVES. The badge was designed by the artist Henry Strachey, brother of John St Loe Strachey, and reproduced by Messrs. Elkington, Silversmiths, of 22 Regent Street, London.
The function of this badge was publicised by Strachey in an article published in the Surrey Press and the Spectator Magazine on September 26th 1914. In the article he talked about the badge offering “proof of service proffered to the state” for those who tried to enlist in the early months of the war, but who were turned down on the grounds of poor health or for not making the recruitment grade in terms of height or physical fitness. The badge was intended to be worn by those individuals to mark their desire to serve and to encourage them to continue to train and to ultimately try to enlist again at a later date.
The need for such a badge becomes clear when the intense climate of social pressure placed upon those pilloried as “cowards” for not being in uniform is remembered. Against this background, this object represents a story of a well-meaning attempt by a local dignitary to protect local men from the “white feathers” and shame dealt out to those of enlistment age who remained behind in Surrey. It also tells the wider tale of the jingoism and enthusiasm for enlistment which gripped the nation in the autumn of 1914, before the horrors of the Western Front and the return of broken survivors from the trenches changed the tone of the war.
The finder has generously agreed to loan this very poignant find to the Surrey History Centre in Woking and it was presented to the current High Sheriff of Surrey at a heritage event on the centenary of the armistice. It will now be displayed alongside other local items related to the Great War in Surrey.