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.