A rare Medieval Continental Sterling Penny from Dorking, Surrey

This unusual silver medieval coin was found by metal detecting just to the north of Dorking, Surrey and has been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database as SUR-A17568. It is an example of a type of coin known generically as a “continental sterling” penny, more specifically by the French name ‘au château brabançon‘. Its obverse shows a castle gate flanked by two towers with the legend DVX DE BRABAnTIA; the reverse has an English style long cross with three pellets in each angle with the legend MOn/ETA/BRV/XEL.


SUR-A17568: a medieval continental sterling au château brabançon

This coin, only the sixth of its type yet recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk), was minted in Brussels by John III, Duke of Brabant, which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It dates to the first half of the 14th century (c. 1312-1355), a period when the silver coinage of England, following Edward I’s reforms in 1279, was the finest in Europe – the very term “sterling” being a reference to the purity of the silver (at 92.5%). This was a far cry from earlier English issues which were often plagued by poor quality, clipping, forgery and variable weights which undermined confidence in their use.

The new Edwardian coinage was widely imitated by continental rulers seeking to boost confidence in their own economies. Typically such copies are of lower grade silver and initially closely imitated the design of the originals, with similar facing portraits and legends. The type seen here however, with its distinctively different “castle” obverse, superceded such imitative issues in the low countries. It represents an example of a distinctively new form of continental coinage, generated by the growth and increasing confidence of the economy of Brabant as it profited from the English wool trade and cloth production in the early 14th century. Nevertheless, the continued influence of the English currency remains clear on the coinage, with an English-style reverse still evident on this issue.

During this period the polity of Brabant became an important regional power and John III, who was also a grandson of Edward I, became a useful ally to his cousin Edward III during the early part of the hundred years’ war. He even attempted to marry off his daughter Margaret to Edward, the Black Prince, Edward III’s heir. This alliance disintegrated before that could actually happen and John subsequently switched sides to ally with the French in 1347, an event typical of the turbulent politics of the time.

Throughout this period, coins like this circulated informally in England with varying degrees of acceptance and legality. Consequently finding a coin of this type, even a rare one like this, doesn’t necessarily indicate a specific or unusual connection. Instead it speaks more broadly of the wider context of the country within the northern European economy, the strength of the English currency and the complex politics during the early stages of the Hundred Years’ War.


Allen, M, 2012, Mints and Money in Medieval England, Cambridge University Press

Grierson, P, 1991, Coins of Medieval Europe, London: Seaby

J. Chautard, 1871, Imitations des monnaies au type esterlin frapées en Europe pendant le XIIIe et le XIVe siècle, Nancy

Mayhew, N.J, 1983, Sterling Imitations of Edwardian Type, London: The Royal Numismatic Society

A papal bulla from Guildford

This finely preserved example of a medieval papal bulla, or seal, was found at Compton near Guildford in Surrey and recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) as SUR-D520A7. It is named to pope Innocent III (1198-1216), one of the most powerful popes of the era. The obverse read INNO/CENTIVS/PP III and the reverse displays the heads of St. Peter (right) and St. Paul (left), facing inwards and separated by a small central cross patonce, with legend SPASPE (‘Saint Paul and St. Peter’) above. There are slots on the upper and lower edges for a ribbon which would have attached the bulla to a document.

SUR-D520A7 – a bulla of Innocent III from Guildford

A bulla like this was affixed to a document issued by the papacy in order to demonstrate its authenticity to the recipient. The associations with important church documents and the papacy often resulted in these objects being subsequently destroyed to decommission documents or modified for re-use as amulets or in another apotropaic fashion. This example has suffered none of these fates and remains intact and in remarkably good condition.

Beyond its intrinsic interest, this find has a potential local historical connection, being directly contemporary to the First Baron’s War (1215-1217), a time when nearby Guildford castle was a royal possession and the scene of dramatic events. The named pope on this bulla, Innocent III, was notably the pontif to whom King John turned in his attempts to annul Magna Carta and oppose the barons’ demands in July 2015. He dutifully proved to be a supporter of John’s royal cause and condemned the original charter signed “under duress” at Runnymede. Following this annulment of this iconic agreement the civil war intensified and on June 6th 1216, Prince Louis of France invaded with the support of the rebel English barons in a concerted attempt to unseat the King. The French army advanced across Surrey, arriving at Guildford on June 8th. The castle surrendered to him immediately, apparently without conflict and was briefly occupied by the French – an episode which saw it suffering damage and partial demolition. Across the rest of the country the war dragged on for a year and a half before Louis, having lost the support of the English barons, was finally defeated at Lincoln in May 1217.

Despite this historical context, the nature of the document to which this bulla was attached will of course never be known and we can only speculate as to the identity of the individual or establishment to which it was originally sent. It nevertheless offers a glimpse of a dramatic period and an interesting example of how a metal-detected stray find, when properly recorded and documented, can directly connect to wider historical events within the area in which it was found.

A Rare Survival of a Medieval Textile Girdle from Betchworth, Surrey

Found in the environs of the Betchworth estate, Surrey and recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme as SUR-1CD215, this trapezoidal copper alloy plate was one of a pair which flanked a forked spacer element as part of a late Medieval strap end of composite type (Egan and Pritchard, 2002: p140-146). In of itself, this is a common type of find and is 14th or 15th century in date. The plate is decorated with an abstract geometric motif comprising a central band of alternating triangles each with a single small slashed line at the centre, surrounded by two rows of rectangular and triangular panels, each with decoration in the form of rocker-arm patterns or short incised lines.

SUR-1CD215: a late Medieval strap end with preserved textile fragment

What makes this particular object interesting however is that despite having lost its partner plate and spacer it retains a portion of the girdle or belt to which it was attached, in the form of a small patch of textile which remains on the rear edge of the plate. This fragment of organic fabric, measuring 19.8mm by 12.5mm, retains the full width of the girdle or belt (around 2cm) and is tablet woven from a coarse fibre, with neat parallel sides. It is most likely made of linen or worsted. Originally it was likely to have been dyed or patterned – however any colours have now faded and bleached due to the years of burial.

The strap end was attached to the textile strip using two copper alloy rivets mounted on the decorated rear edge of the plate. The corrosion of these rivets created a high concentration of toxic copper salts in the immediate environment of the surrounding cloth which inhibited bacterial action and prevented decay – but only in the area where these salts penetrated. Consequently the rest of the textile has been lost. This surviving fragment demonstrates that only a short length of the end of the belt or girdle was retained within the strap end, clamped between the plates and spacer with the rivets at the rear, as was the typical method of attachment (Egan and Pritchard, 2002: 37). The survival of the textile also suggests that the rest of the strap end has only recently become detached and may remain to be recovered.

Girdles and belts were ubiquitous elements of later Medieval dress, likely produced in standard widths and often subject to sumptuary laws. The changing fashions for tighter fitting clothing in the 14th century added to their social importance and they had a role in expressing identity (Gilchrist, 2012: 99, 103). They were often highly decorated with mounts, buckles and strap ends which today are ubiquitous detect finds and recorded in vast numbers on the PAS database. Despite being made variously from leather, silk, linen and worsted cloth, surviving examples are usually leather and almost exclusively recovered from waterlogged (usually urban) contexts. Consequently this textile fragment recovered from open agricultural land is a very rare survivor.


Gilchrist, R, 2012, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course, Boydell Press

Egan, G, Pritchard, F, Dress Accessories 1150-1450, Museum of London

A Ptolemaic Coin from Leatherhead, Surrey

This extraordinary copper alloy coin (SUR-4EA551) was found by a walker in a nature reserve in Leatherhead, Surrey, apparently lying on the ground surface. Although heavily worn, it is identifiable as being from the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, possibly a dichalkon (1/24 drachm) or diobol of Ptolemy II (Ptolemaios II Philadelphos), minted in Alexandria and dating to 285-246 BC. The obverse depicts the diademed head of Zeus-Ammon right; the reverse shows an Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, with wings open and the letters ΛΞ in left field.

A Ptolemeic coin from Leatherhead (SUR-4EA551)

This exotic find was recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) with, as is so often the case, absolutely no archaeological context and presents us with a real mystery. On the face of it, two possible origins can be suggested; as either a modern or ancient loss. Perhaps the most likely suggestion is that it can be dismissed as a relatively modern deposition, perhaps dropped in the last century by children playing with something acquired as a souvenir from service in Egypt during wartime or the period of the country’s incorporation within the British Empire. There is however, the tenuous possibility that it may represent a contemporary import from the late British Iron Age, perhaps exposed on the ground surface by a burrowing animal or weathering. If so it may offer tantalising evidence of pre-Roman trade networks and contacts with the Mediterranean.

This idea is not quite as ridiculous a suggestion as it sounds. There are now more than 20 examples of similar Ptolemaic coins which have been recorded as finds from England and Wales on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database (www.finds.org.uk) alongside dozens of contemporary exotic coins of Helenistic, Punic, Numidian and Greek origin dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. Many of these on the PAS database have been flagged as “finds of note” – that is, finds where the recorder is sufficiently convinced of their validity as a part of the local archaeological record to mark them as significant within it. In these cases, attributes of site association, the presence of contemporary finds or the condition of the patina (which can differentiate coins originating from desert environments as opposed to British soils) can be used to suggest that the coin is not to be immediately dismissed as a modern loss.

Even so, in isolation as stray finds outside of an excavated archaeological context, these types of unusual finds can always just be written off as most likely being modern losses. The strength of the data recorded on the PAS database is however in being able to look beyond such finds in isolation to examine their wider occurrence across the country. Combined with increasing numbers of other early (pre conquest) Roman colonial and provincial imports which are being recorded (including notable examples from Surrey such as SUR-D6E275 and SUR-E28078) it is possible to suggest that at least a few of these coins represent a genuine archaeological insight into Iron Age trade. Perhaps such exotic coins, whilst not retaining exchangeable value as currency in the early British monetary economy, were regarded as curios or keepsakes by traders and travellers, occasionally making their way back into the possession of local people in this part of the country. The findspot of this example is particularly interesting from the perspective of the county’s archaeology as it lies close to the transportation corridor of the Thames, known to be a major trade route to the continent in the late Iron Age. Of course, in order to corroborate such ideas we would need examples found within a unambiguous depositional context of the period; until then all we can offer from the PAS evidence is the suggestion.

This coin is currently on display to the public at the Surrey History Centre in Woking.

An Early Medieval Architectural Censer Cover from Guildford

A censer, also known as a thurible, was a container which was swung from chains to produce scented smoke during church services. It comprised a metal vessel containing incense, ignited with burning embers or charcoal, with an openwork cover which allowed the resulting smoke to disperse. These covers were often highly decorative objects, but today are extremely rare survivors from the Medieval period, with less than twenty examples known. A particularly rare type are the early “architectural” style covers, modelled on the square towers of late Anglo-Saxon churches, which date to the 10th-11th centuries. Recently an object resembling one of these and likely either a small censer cover or an associated fitting, has been discovered near Guildford and recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme as SUR-777720.

A 10th-11th century censer cover from Guildford (SUR-777720).

The object is 45.4mm in height and decorated in a simple style which is comparable to the Winchester style or Romanesque traditions, with cast openwork panels to the side walls and four lozenge-shaped fields forming the roof. The base comprises a plinth with two projecting rounded perforated lugs which contain rusted iron. These are possibly the remains of narrow rods which would have attached to a suspension chain, allowing the cover to be raised so that the bowl beneath could be filled with incense.

The side wall panels on the long axis contain trefoils, probably stylised depictions of angels, with small central bosses; these alternate with panels above the fixing lugs which depict a flower bud between a pair of facing scrolls. The perforations in these panels would have allowed the incense to disperse. The four lozengiform roof facets have five-leaved foliate motifs, possibly palm fronds. These form pointed arches to each of the four sides. One of these roof panels has a small hole drilled into it near the apex. The top of the object has a rounded terminal knop and there are eight smaller decorative knops at the angles between the roof and sides.

According to Zarnecki et al (1984) only three examples of this style of architectural censer cover were known from this period before the PAS, including an elaborate example from Canterbury (1927,1116.1) one from Pershore, Worcestershire (1960,0701.1) and an incomplete example found in the Thames in the 19th century (1837,0328.1), all of which are held by the British Museum.  Another, much simpler example has since been recorded by the PAS (NMS-DFB8F0) which has been infilled with lead and re-used as a weight. A couple of comparable objects in the British Museum collection of near identical size, form and decoration albeit labelled as “finials” (1997,0403.2 and 1997,0403.1) have also survived by being infilled with lead for re-use. 

The object must have come from a relatively wealthy church and is certainly contemporary to the foundation of the royal castle complex in Guildford at the end of the 11th century, a time when wealth and power were concentrating on the area following the Norman Conquest. The reasons why this object was found in a field outside the modern town however, are unclear. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that it was stripped from a local church during the chaos and religious zeal of the reformation or the English civil war and subsequently thrown away. A late Medieval gilded mount, probably from an altar cross or mazer (SUR-3D236F) has been previously found in the area which could perhaps add weight to the idea that a number of Medieval liturgical fittings were once dumped here and have since become dispersed across the site.


Clinch, G, 1903, Old English Churches: Their Architecture, Furniture, Decoration, Monuments, Vestments, and Plate, London

Tonnochy, A. B. (1932). A Romanesque censer-cover in the British Museum. The Archaeological Journal 89. Vol 89, pp. 1-16.

Zarnecki, G., Holt, J. and Holland, T.  1984, English Romanesque Art 1066-1200, London    Arts Council of Great Britain in association with Weidenfield and Nicolson

An Iron Age Anthropomorphic Mount from Surrey

This little object (SUR-D01AF2), with its evocative human face with staring eyes and slicked-back hair, is a copper alloy handle attachment mount, probably from a stave-built bucket. It dates to the later Iron Age (1st century BC to the 1st century AD) and is one of a relatively small number of representations of the human form from the period – and one of only a handful of anthropomorphic examples of this particular type of object that are known. Found by a metal detectorist near the present day course of the river Wey in Wisley, Surrey, and recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme it is a rare and important discovery.

SUR-D01AF2: An Iron Age bucket mount from Surrey

The mount is hollow and cast in the form of a male head, 17.2mm in width, with a triangular nose, simple slash-line mouth and large teardrop shaped eyes delineated with deeply incised lines which taper towards the back of the head. The pupils are two holes which probably originally held inlays of coral or other material. The top of the head has a hairdo indicated by swept-back lines and a moulded line around the brow. The rear of the head is pierced to take the axis lug from a handle, with the lower edge at the neck ending in a curved edge to fit over the rim of a vessel. The chest comprises an oval plate, with a rivet at the centre of a slightly raised circular decoration and indications of a neck decoration of some kind. This rivet likely fixed a now lost decorative element to the front of the mount.

The majority of Late Iron Age figurative bucket mounts depict bovines, and where they do appear in human form, they depict the figure wearing a horned helmet or with horns protruding from the head. This example from Surrey differs markedly as there are no bovine features present. It is however, very similar in form to another example from north east Hampshire (BERK-1CEE21) as well as being comparable to a few other finds recorded by the PAS such as ESS-BD8454 from Essex, PUBLIC-72DACF from Cambridgeshire and BERK-783763 from Oxfordshire. Other published parallels are known from Welwyn in Hertfordshire, Aylesford and Alkham in Kent, Thealby in Lincolnshire and Ribchester in Lancashire (Powell 1966, 225; James & Rigby 1997, fig.19; Jope 2000, pl. 182i; MacGregor 1976, ref. 316). 

The proximity of the find to a watercourse raises the possibility of it representing some sort of “votive” waterside deposition, perhaps being deposited inside a paleochannel which was a free-flowing watercourse in the Iron Age. This type of watery deposition is a well attested social phenomenon of the period in the wider Thames Valley area, which has led to weapons, shields and a range of other high status objects being consigned to watercourses in the Iron Age, only to be recovered by activities such as dredging in modern times. As no comparable finds were reported from the vicinity in this case, it is possible that the original bucket has become broken up with its components dispersed by fluvial action along the watercourse. It is also possible that the mount was intentionally detached and deposited in isolation, perhaps with the intense face being intended as a depiction of a deity. Whatever the reason, its recovery is a glimpse into a vibrant and astonishing culture which had a very different world view to our own.


James, S. & Rigby, V. 1997. Britain and the Celtic Iron Age, London: British Museum Press

Jope, E. M. 2000. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Oxford University Press

MacGregor, M. 1976. Early Celtic Art in North Britain, Leicester University Press

Powell, T. G. E. 1966. Prehistoric Art, London: Thames & Hudson

Hidden Objects and Old Buildings

The artefacts recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) can help illuminate all sorts of mysteries from the past – including long forgotten traditions and strange superstitions which were once a part of ordinary domestic life. Sometimes these finds can turn up in situations more commonly dealt with by other heritage specialists – such as those concerned with the built environment, which is (by definition) rarely an area dealt with by the county Finds Liaison Officer.

A recent example of this comes from a number of strange objects found during work being overseen by the Historic Buildings Officers of the Surrey Historic Environment Planning team, which had been intentionally walled up in a 16th century grade II listed building in Nutfield, Surrey. These objects included a child’s boot or shoe (SUR-C78410) which had been hidden along with a small wooden whipping-top toy (SUR-C7C19E). The shoe has a stacked heel, front lacing tabs to the ankles with copper alloy eyelets and a nailed sole. It is of UK child size 10 which suggests that the owner would have been around 5 years of age. Both these objects are probably of the same early 19th century date and it is tempting to speculate that they both belonged to the same child.

The hidden shoe (SUR-C78410) and whipping top (SUR-C7C19E) found with it from Nutfield, Surrey.  ©Surrey County Council / Portable Antiquities Scheme
The tally stick which was found in a different part of the building (SUR-C7FF15). ©Surrey County Council / Portable Antiquities Scheme

These were not the only finds that the building has produced however. A wooden stick with carved numerals or notches (SUR-C7FF15) which represents a simple type of tally or mnemonic device was also found inside an exterior wall next to a window. A comparable example of an unsplit tally with the same X and I style notching is pictured on p225 of Gertrude Jekyll’s “Old West Surrey” from 1904, where it is described as a notched hazel stick “bill” used to keep accounts by illiterate local farmers in Surrey prior to the middle of the 19th century. The reason for its intentional concealment remains unclear – perhaps it may have represented a symbolic discharge or binding to the household of a debt or obligation?

Other parts of the building and the garden around the house have produced more common types of domestic finds including clay pipe bowls which date from between the early 17th and late 18th centuries and demonstrate the length of occupation of the house. These were likely made in London, Guildford, Horsham and Reigate and are typical of this area during the period (David Higgins, pers com).

Although strange, these discoveries are far from unique. A comparable local example of concealed shoes in old buildings is recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database as a result of work by Surrey County Archaeological Unit (SCAU) in 2017 during the redevelopment of a 17th century grade II listed building in Ockley, Surrey. Here a child’s front lacing boot (SUR-B4C651) was found within a wall adjacent to a chimney and a second, possibly earlier, latchet fastening shoe (SUR-B4CD73) was discovered in the roof. Unlike the finds from Nutfield however, these shoes were not found in apparent association with other types of objects.

The shoes found in the house at Ockley, Surrey (SUR-B4C651 and SUR-B4CD73). ©Surrey County Council / Portable Antiquities Scheme

So what is going on with these finds? It seems that they demonstrate the use of shoes as talismans to ward off evil or bad luck as part of an old practice, going back well into the medieval period and which apparently survived well into the 19th and even early 20th century in many parts of the country. Typically these finds are well-worn single shoes, often from a child and hidden near to an access point or portal to the building – such as a doorway, chimney or a window. By doing this, perhaps it was thought that the “essence” of the individual would be incorporated into the fabric of the house which would bring luck or ward off evil from the family.

Other manifestations of this sort of idea can be seen in the use of hidden “witch bottles”, as well as horseshoes and apotropaic marks over doorways and windows. Such talismans were widely used as a diversion or deterrent to deflect the attentions of evil spirits and prevent witches or demons from entering and harming anyone in the house. The Surrey Historic Environment Record (HER) can demonstrate a range of other examples of this practice from around the county, including a late 17th century witch bottle from Reigate (21519 – MSE21519) as well as further examples of hidden objects (16927 – MSE16927) and apotropaic marks around fireplaces in old houses (15871 – MSE15871).

Whatever magical or spiritual power they embodied, the use of objects in this way was widespread across the country; Northampton Museum has an entire Hidden Shoe Index, set up in the 1950s, with thousands of instances known across the country. Most are of single, well-worn shoes, around half of which belonged to children and around half of which date to the 19th century, as with these examples from Surrey. The inclusion of other types of objects with hidden shoes is known from examples from other parts of the country (eg DEV-867707) where groups of finds such as fragments of clay pipe, bone, shell, glass and stone and whole items such as stoneware vessels are known components of “witch” or “concealed” deposits. In the case of the example from Nutfield, the toy forms an unusual addition and certainly adds poignancy to the little shoe.

The tradition of concealing artefacts in buildings clearly seems to have been a widely accepted and practiced tradition in this country. Although we no longer have a precise understanding of the beliefs and superstitions which led to it being a part of the psychological landscape of rural life, through recording and preserving the examples that we find, either on the PAS database or county HER, we can help to shed a little light on this fascinating set of practices which undoubtedly shaped family life in rural households during previous centuries.

Originally published in Bulletin of the Surrey Archaeological Society, Dec 2019.

FLO Meetings in Surrey, April 2021

As of the week beginning April 12th 2021, in accordance with Government guidelines for the re-opening of library service facilities, the Surrey FLO will once again be available for meetings with finders to take in and return bagged groups of finds for recording at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. Appointments will need to be arranged in advance (confirmation of receipt of finds will be provided by email from the FLO after the meeting). Please ensure all finds are bagged and tagged with findspots as usual!

Opening hours for the History Centre will be as follows:

Tuesdays 09.45-12.45 and 13.45-16.45
Wednesdays 09.45-12.45 and 13.45-16.45
Thursdays 09.45-12.45 and 13.45-16.45

To arrange an appointment please contact the Surrey FLO Simon Maslin at simon.maslin@surreycc.gov.uk / 07968 832740. At present weekend museum meetings are not available. Meetings with Hampshire finders at the offices of Hampshire Cultural Trust in Winchester are dependent on the timetable for the re-opening of Museum venues and are consequently not anticipated until late May 2021.

Medieval Armorial Harness Fittings Relating to Surrey– and Problems of Identification

During the 13th and 14th centuries a fashion for decorative metalwork on the horse harness of the well-to- do saw widespread use of armorial decorations. These took the form of individual pendants and more elaborate sets which included miniature banners, pendants, mounts and bosses (Ward Perkins, 1940; Ashley, 2002). Elements of these are widely recorded as stray detector finds on the PAS database and there are now more than 90 recorded examples from Surrey.

The blazons on these decorative objects are highly diverse, although most often they relate to the royal arms of England (gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or) as well as the arms of the major noble families of the day. A large portion of the finds we record carry devices which are indeterminate as to origin and meaning, perhaps in many cases being “pseudo” heraldic and imitative, but also frequently relating to arms which are unidentifiable.

This issue of attribution is complicated by the effects of corrosion on the combination of techniques used to convey the various key elements of tincture on these copper alloy objects. The fields of the blazon were often represented with coloured enamels either laid directly on the surface or in recessed cells (champlevé); the charges were often represented by raised retained areas of metal which were then polished, gilded or tinned to convey either of the two heraldic metal colours (or and argent). Obviously seven centuries or more underground usually reduce these subtleties to a homogeneity of corroded metal. This presents particular problems for untangling the heraldry – as the colours represented are absolutely key in differentiating blazons which may be otherwise identical in design.

Two examples which demonstrate this conundrum have been recently recorded, both of which have particular local relevance to the history of Surrey. HAMP-2EAD62, from over the border in Old Basing, Hampshire, is an example of one of the more common blazons seen in harness pendants of the period, with something like thirty examples on the database known from all over the country as well as others published elsewhere (e.g. Ashley, 2002: p13, number 92). This blazon, described as checky a metal and azure, is one of the simplest (and oldest) arms recorded. Key to the identification of the family is the treatment of the metal on the retained check square elements which might have been either gilded (or) or tinned (argent). If the latter, the arms may relate to the Gatton family (left shield, below), with a local connection in the period being Hamo Gatton, of Gatton in Surrey, who served as sheriff of Kent in 1286. If the former, the blazon is most likely to relate to the Warenne earls of Surrey (right shield, below), who were one of the most powerful families of magnates of the 12th and 13th centuries, holding a title created during the reign of William II for the first earl, William de Warenne, a Norman who fought at Hastings.

HAMP-2EAD62 and two alternative interpretations of the blazon (images courtesy of Portable Antiquities Scheme and Wikipedia contributors).

A second example, SUR-B77C92, from Betchworth carries another very simple blazon (ten bezants 4, 3, 2, 1) on a mount which is possibly a carriage fitting. In this case the arms are most likely of the Zouche family but the colour of the field is key. If blue (azure) it would relate to the junior family line (right shield, below) and a possible local connection in the form of William la Zouche who was appointed Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1261. If red (gules) however, it will relate to the senior line (left shield, below) and the Barons Zouche, possible Alan la Zouche, 1st Baron la Zouche of Ashby (1267-1314). In an intriguing segue from the previously discussed example, Alan la Zouche actually died in 1270 as a result of injuries sustained in a fight with John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and his retainers in Westminster Hall!

SUR-B77C92 and two alternative interpretations of the blazon (images courtesy of Portable Antiquities Scheme and Wikipedia contributors).

These artefacts represent finds of considerable potential local interest, both for archaeologists and Medieval historians. In many cases further research with scientific techniques to determine traces of chemical and metallic residues could potentially help resolve some of these questions of identity, however such facilities are generally beyond the reach of finders and FLOs. Through careful recording we hope to add to the growing corpus of these finds and generate opportunities for further multi-disciplinary research to unpick these types of local associations using documentary, archaeological and other sources of evidence.


Ward Perkins, J.B. 1940, The London Museum Medieval Catalogue, London: HMSO

Ashley, S.  2002, Medieval Armorial Horse Furniture in Norfolk, Dereham: East Anglian Archaeology            101

A late Bronze Age Socketed Axehead from a Surrey Hillfort

Whilst the vast majority of metal objects recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk) come from detectorists, every so often a more unusual method of discovery results in a find coming our way from people out enjoying the countryside. A good example is this socketed axehead (SUR-F51EA5) dating to the late Bronze Age (c 1100-800 BC), which was uncovered by a dog nosing around in rabbit burrows a short distance outside of the banks and ditches of Holmbury Hillfort in the southern part of central Surrey. The owner of the dog picked up the find and apparently kept it in a drawer for two years without realising its significance, before bringing it to the Surrey FLO for proper identification and recording in September 2019.

SUR-F51EA5: a late BA socketed axehead

The axehead itself is a well preserved example of its type, remaining complete aside from surface damage typical from the prolonged exposure of copper alloy surfaces to the acidic sandy soils of the area. The form is small and simple, with a short, narrow blade, a sub rectangular socket with moulded rim, single side loop and undecorated sides. There are pronounced casting ridges down each side as is typical for these mould-made objects. These types of axeheads were produced in large numbers during the Ewart Park phase of the later Bronze Age (c 900-700 BC) and continued to be used well into the subsequent beginnings of the Iron Age.

The context of discovery of this example is particularly significant from the perspective of the local archaeology. Whilst it ties in to a general picture of late Bronze Age activity on the greensand escarpment along the Wealden fringes of Surrey, the specific archaeological evidence from the nearby hillfort, most particularly the ceramic sequence, has previously suggested a late Iron Age origin for the site (Thompson, 1979; Bird and Bird, 1987), with no strong evidence for permanent settlement. Small residual quantities of late Bronze Age post Deverel Rimbury pottery, contemporary to this axehead, have also been recorded, which has provided tentative evidence for earlier origins for the site (Seager Thomas, 2010). Consequently, whilst this axehead in isolation can tell us very little in the way of specifics about the history of the site, when seen in the context of this previous evidence it becomes very important in strengthening arguments for the earlier origins of the hillfort. It quickly becomes apparent from this just how important it is to record the discovery of unusual stray finds like this to ensure that the information that they represent becomes preserved within a broader context of understanding.

The story of the discovery of this find has a happy ending. It has now been returned to the landowner, Shere Manor Estate, with the intention that it will be displayed either in a local museum or in a community space in the village. This type of outcome, where finds remain preserved and displayed within the communities and areas from which they originate is a very important one with regards to the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It is only made possible through the generous actions of finders and landowners and is becoming ever more vital in a time when museum acquisition budgets are cut to the bone and the public facility to retain items of archaeological heritage is constantly challenged by the activities of both commercialised metal detecting and a booming online antiquities trade.

Bird, J and Bird D.G. 1987, The Archaeology of Surrey to 1540, Surrey Archaeological Society

Seager Thomas, M, 2010, A re-contextualisation of the prehistoric pottery from the Surrey hillforts of Hascombe, Holmbury and Anstiebury, Surrey Archaeological Collections 95

Thompson, F.H, 1979,Three Surrey Hillforts: excavations at Anstiebury, Holbury and Hascombe, 1972-1977, Antiq J, 59.