A virtual lockdown museum

This post is inspired by The Museum of London’s Collecting Covid project which aims to acquire both physical objects and first hand experiences of living in lockdown London.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme West Midlands office is based at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and like London, Birmingham has seen empty streets, cafes, trams & trains and of course our museum galleries.

We are not sure at the moment when we will be able to get back to our beloved yellow office, a bright and cheery space at the home of The Staffordshire Hoard, one of the most important collection of Pre-Raphelite paintings in the world and the permanent exhibition of Birmingham, Its people, its history which is where we could imagine our Covid objects being placed in the future.

Our team of volunteers have shared the objects that they would include. We already knew we had a talented group of people volunteering for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the West Midlands. We now know of their other super musical and crafting talents.

Aimee

The first piece of knitting I’ve ever got past a few rows and it’s only the free time permitted by the lockdown that’s allowed me to sit and learn properly!

Bob

I thought I’d share a picture of my worktable, which has given me some solace during lockdown. I’ve spent a lot of time here, trying to be creative, but mostly trying to be quiet, as my wife teaches in the room below, and my daughter works in the room next door. Now, you might think it looks a bit cluttered, but I can always find some space to work. If I had a bigger table or more storage, I probably wouldn’t work any differently.

Becky

I’m teaching myself the electric piano, the advantage being that you can use headphones and not disturb significant others.  I find playing scales very mindful and relaxing – learning to read music not so much! If I can play a piece from beginning to end eventually I’ll be very happy.

Jane

I bought this sewing machine when I got married for £10, 50 years ago!  It is a sturdy, no-frills machine that just keeps on going.  Over the years I have made clothes and curtains and upholstery and during the last few weeks I have been doing curtains for my daughter-in-law and granddaughter (using Facebook and WhatsApp to work out what is needed!) and loose covers and cushions for myself.  I took the photo with some of the fabrics I have been working with – I love rich colours and patterns.  I will always then have the items I have created as a reminder of this strange time.

and myself

I would include this muffin tray. I have been enjoying the time to do lots of baking with my one year old son. He enjoys making a mess and covering the kitchen worktop in flour.

#MuseumFromHome

As part of this exciting day of activities organised by BBC Arts I have produced a small presentation about a Roman Polden Hill brooch. We see many of these brooches, discovered by metal detectorists. In fact there are over 3,000 recorded on our database.

In this presentation I discuss a specific example on display at my workplace, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. My hope is you will understand a little more about this specific brooch type and come and visit it in Gallery 36 once we are open again. 

The brooch is displayed with the foot at the top and the head from which the pin extends at the bottom. It is believed they were worn like this to fasten clothing together, such as a tunic. One theory is that they were worn this way as it stopped the fabric of the garment gathering up, so the orientation was mainly for aesthetic reasons. They often now have a green coloured surface patina that has developed due to oxidisation. If you imagine in their original state they would have been a shiny magnificent copper colour. There are also examples made of silver that have been gilded and some of the bronze versions also have enamel detailing along the bow.
Polden Hill is the name of a place in Somerset where a large number of these brooches were discovered. In fact, despite these brooches being named after a site in the South West with the help of PAS data it is believed they may originate from the West Midlands. The large distributions of the brooches are evident on this map which shows the high concentration in the area around the Severn and Avon Valley’s. We can also begin to see clusters of finds close to known Roman sites in the Midlands such as Wroxeter, Wall, Droitwich and Alcester.
Detectorists have also found the lead patterns here in the midlands that would have been used in the manufacture of these brooches adding weight to the argument that this particular type of brooch was probably manufactured in the area The pattern was formed from lead so that a two-piece mould could be created around the object in clay. Molten bronze could then be poured into the mould to produce the copper alloy versions that are more commonly found. It is thought that the clay moulds were only used once; however, the pattern provided a method for producing these brooches on a much larger scale.
These brooches are dated to 80 -120 AD. So this is some 37 years after the Roman invasion of Britain. To put the brooch in to context, AD 80 is the same year that the Colosseum was completed in Rome by the Emperor Titus. The end of the period when this type of brooch was produced Hadrian ruled,  who famously commissioned the building of a wall in the north in AD 122.

You never know what you might find doing a spot of gardening, but what should you do if you find an object on your own land?

The large majority of finds recorded by The Portable Antiquities Scheme are discovered by metal detectorists, however we also see artefacts found by members of the public and gardeners. You may recall the object voted number one in the series entitled Britain’s Secret Treasures was a Lower Paleolithic flint handaxe made more than half a million years ago found by a man walking his dog along a beach in Norfolk.

This gold mourning finger ring dating to circa AD 1600 to 1800 is not a hugely unusual find across the country. In fact over one hundred have been reported as treasure across the country under the Treasure Act 1996. Memento Mori finger rings and were popular from 16th to 18th centuries and were made to memorialise the dead but also to keep reminders of one’s own mortality. They are often engraved with skulls and have mottos inscribed within the hoop. This one for example reads: “Live Holy and dye happy“. They may also be inscribed with the initials of the person that has passed along with the date.

For more information regarding the ring visit www.finds.org.uk record number: WMID-6ABC41

Perhaps slightly unusual is the fact that this ring was discovered in a back garden in Birmingham. You may think if you find something in your back garden that you as the landowner will be entitled to keep it. However this is not the case if a single object is of precious metal such as this finger ring, then it must be declared to the local coroner within 14 days of discovery. The easiest way to do this is to contact your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) who will complete all the paperwork on your behalf. They will write to the Treasure Team based at the British museum and the local coroner with the information of the find plus when and where it was found. Your local FLO will photograph your find and then in most cases write the specialist report, this is then used by the coroner to make a decision regarding if the object qualifies to be declared treasure or not. If you are unsure if to declare an object then you can always contact your local FLO, information can be found at www.finds.org.uk on the contact page

If a local museum is interested in acquiring the object and the coroner declares it treasure at inquest that means that the Crown is then formally regarded as the owner of the item. The next phase is that it will then be valued by The Treasure Valuation Committee. Once the interested museum pays the agreed valuation, unless the reward is waivered which is encouraged, then the title is regarded to have transferred from the Crown to that museum.

Besides single objects such as finger rings, brooches and thimbles to name a few; if you discovered two or more coins found together of gold or silver content or 10 or more base metal coins found together which can be dated to over 300 years old then these must also be declared. For all the relevant information regarding the items that constitute treasure see the treasure page at www.finds.org.uk

Finally, although you are not obliged to record non treasure items we are interested to see those other items you may find. The majority of objects we record on the database do date to over 300 years old, however we have recorded other items such as World War One medals that have been lost and have local historical value. In some cases members of the original owners family have been traced and the objects have been returned to the family. So if in doubt regarding the age of your object please get in touch with us.

Victoria Allnatt and Teresa Gilmore
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, West Midlands, B3 3DH. Telephone: 0121 348 8225

The Coundon pendant

The Coundon pendant has been dated to circa AD 1450 – 1550. The pendant is named after a small hamlet which was part of the ancient parish of Holy Trinity, Coventry. Records tell us the church had land in Coundon from at least the early 14th century. The Domesday book of AD 1086 records that Coventry Priory also held land in the hamlet at that time. The priory’s lands in Coundon were not administered as a unified demesne estate, and were subsequently easily divided at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries between AD 1536 – 1541. We will never know of course the identity of the original owner of this religious object or the circumstances of its loss, however, there is a possibility that it could have belonged to a Prior or a local wealthy landowner.

The object has a suspension loop at the top and three remaining pins in the corners that are thought to have once contained pearls which later perished in the ground.

One side is crudely engraved with the head of Christ and the other with a half-length image of Christ as the Man of Sorrows.The object was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme office based in Birmingham under the stipulations of the Treasure Act 1996. A specialist report was written and metal analysis conducted at the British Museum established the gold content to be 83% gold.

The Coundon Pendant is on permanent display at The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery located in Coventry city centre.