Thursday, 19 September 2019

Polly's Parlour — Victorian & Edwardian Branded Shirt Buttons

Some time ago I met a local man who I had never met before upon the modern bridge that spans the stream that runs through the bottom of our current fields of interest. We talked about fish — because I was then very interested in this stream and its fishes because it does hold good stocks of them these days due to its current state of rude health. According to this ancient fella, when he was a very small boy, he and his friends swam and paddled there and discovered that it held populations of 'stony loaches', which is a tale that would have been true, for it once did (and it even may now!) 

And then the conversation moved along ...

He then told me that the area of the stream that we stood above was once known as 'Polly's Parlour' and was a place where people came 'to enjoy themselves', which intrigued me no end. What on earth could 'Polly's Parlour' have been? What would have prompted such a name when there was nothing of a parlour nor anything like a parlour to be seen there?

The field that has been producing evidence of 'people enjoying themselves' directly abutts the area described, and given that it might have been part of Polly's Parlour or even Polly's Parlour' itself, then I have named it as such! 

Every field needs a good name, don't you think? And 'Polly's Parlour' is a very evocative name indeed!

What I hadn't banked on was becoming a collector of old shirt buttons. It's not that I have a particular want to —  it's just that they are frequent finds in Polly's Parlour and so a collection is forming of its own volition!

What is interesting about these shirt buttons is that some carry the names of the local drapers and outfitters who sewed them upon their shirts as a means of brand advertising. There's H J Nicoll of 39 New Street (Birmingham), Sadler of Birmingham, two that may carry brand names but are too corroded to decipher (yet!) and the star find, Goldie Brothers of Coventry. 

Two others are inscribed with 'Best Ring Edge' and 'Our Own Make' and the rest are plain.

They remind me somewhat of 17th inn & traders tokens, in that they may carry evidence of merchants, some of whom may be obscure or even unknown at the present. I cannot yet discover anything about 'Goldie Brothers' and their company nor Sadler of Birmingham and theirs, but a little research may fulfil that need. However, H J Nicoll of 39 New Street was very easy because they were a large company with seven outlets in five cities including Paris. Very swanky!

What I am wondering is this; shirt buttons are detached from a man's shirt through exertions, and what else does a red-blooded male do in the parlour of a woman named Polly, besides exert himself?

Maybe I have too rich an imagination...

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Emerging Patterns and Encouraging Ratios

After spending a couple of two-hour sessions on one particular field I had begun to establish an idea about what activities had taken place there in the past and what could be expected of it in the future. The finds made thus far indicated that the land had not seen much activity prior to the end of the 19th Century. There was a conical lead loom-weight which could date to pretty much any period from Roman to Post Medieval, the top of a tinned brass trefoil spoon dating to the 17th Century and some kind of belt attachment which was once gilded which probably dates to the Medieval period. That's not a lot to draw conclusions from...

The material from late Victorian through Edwardian times till perhaps the 1950's — seems to be telling me that the land was then grassland, that sometimes people came there to relax by the river and that they also brought their children along. Many lost shirt buttons, two general service buttons, a few coins, a silver finger ring, a seaside souvenir and two toys. Just the kinds of things that people tend to lose when they're picnicking.

I thought that a third session might prove my theory — and I was not to be proven wrong!

If you look closely then you will see that this coin has been struck with a decorative motif identical to that impressed upon the Tudor period lead cloth seal found just a few days before. Now there's a coincidence!

The first find proper was a coin — a silver 'Gothic' florin of Victoria in very worn condition — and this would have been lost during exactly the period that I had imagined. It's a real shame about the condition of this coin because it is one of the most attractive ever minted, in my opinion. It's only the second example I have found in my career. Not at all common, and I was very pleased with finding the fourth silver item from the group of fields to date, because there's a very good ratio emerging (one silver item every two hours!) and if it keeps up then gold will surely follow.

Amazingly, the next good find was another toy! A little deer sitting on its haunches. More evidence of the presence of children and another addition to my now burgeoning lead toy collection. Also, there's another good pattern and ratio emerging here. Finding toys is one of the real joys of detecting in my book and finding fields that will provide them is not at all easy, is it?  

The dogs really do enjoy detecting. They just love it! There's a field to explore, a river to swim about in and best of all —a pond to get really filthy dirty in. What more could a springer spaniel ask for?
The rest of the session's find were remarkably similar to those found before. The same mix of coins, shirt buttons and another general service button, along with a broken gilt wreath with red enamel inlay that probably once surrounded maybe a badge and lastly a very corroded wristwatch. 

There's another small object that at first, I had down as a drawer handle. It is not — because, there are no signs of a screw hole. Maybe it's a collar stud and a cheap one at that? I do not know. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

In the Round — Two Equestrian Keepers in the Same Day!

Another couple of hours out and about on the field that produced a brace of silver items last time around and within minutes of switching on and swinging about - up popped something which was clearly figural and in the round. These are the very best kinds of find in my book and I really do not care about which period they may hail from. If it's 'in the round' ...

Then give me these any day of the week. Sculpture is always the best! 

It was a toy and an equestrian figure, clearly. Maybe a Native American, but covered in soil and somewhat distorted it was quite hard to be absolutely sure. With such a white patina and so very heavy for its size then it was obviously made of lead. It was also quite substantial at two-inches in length. I have never found a lead toy quite so large in my detecting career — those few that I have discovered have been half the size or less.

Pocketing the find and moving on, I found the field to be what I had come to expect - lots of aluminium trash but then the occasional find worth considering. That's enough, should the finds,  prove interesting when and if they come. A field can be very sparse, as you know. Some fields can appear almost barren of worthwhile finds upon your first impression. What keeps me going through the lean times is 'finds rate'. Should that be high enough then the field is always worthwhile ...

But how to measure such a thing?

That's another article, for another time.

A little later, another article of 'sculpture' arose from the earth. Two in the one day! And again, an equestrian ...

What are the chances...?

Slim, and very!

Though I have always known about this particular find as a possibility — to this day I had never found an example for myself. It depicts the Victorian champion jockey, Fred Archer, "the greatest all-round jockey that the turf has ever seen". I cannot do full justice to this piece here — John Winter, Deputy Editor of 'The Searcher' magazine, has already covered the subject of the once very famous man who is depicted in this Victorian pewter pencil topper, and in detail.

Check it out here!

Monday, 16 September 2019

Thames Mudlarking — The Final Solution to a Finial Problem

The cast-iron finial from a railing found on the Thames Foreshore at Queenhithe
many moons ago. An object that had defied my identification attempts ever since.

A few weeks ago we stayed overnight at a hotel in the area of St James Park, London, and the next morning we decided to go out and look for a local cafe where we could get ourselves breakfast. 

Could we find anywhere local? 

No, we could not! 

We crossed the river via Westminster Bridge and eventually wound up in a cafe somewhere beyond Elephant & Castle and there we sat down. It was rather expensive — the menu poncified to an extreme. I do not need to know the names of both the pig and the man who reared the pig who made my bacon! But I have to say, it was very tasty... 

Afterwards, we wandered back through the streets of South London in the general direction of the river at Jubilee Gardens, when I was stopped in my tracks by the decorated stone capital of a church gate post.

I had seen something familiar!

It was decorated with an ornamental motif that bore a striking resemblance to something that I had once found on the Thames Foreshore and that had been knocking about the house for decades. I had always known that it was a cast-iron railhead finial - that much was obvious - but I had never seen anything similar to it upon any railing anywhere in the city. And London has a lot of railings to see...

I was so preoccupied with the capital that it took a while before I dropped my eyes to the gate itself,  and saw that its finials and those of the entire railing surrounding the church were of the same design — and so very similar that I now believe that they were cast from the same mould.

The only difference was that every finial had a longer point than mine and so it was clear that it had broken off at some point. I checked around and eventually found one that had also had its point broken away whilst in situ. A perfect match!

The church is St Johns, Waterloo, which was built in 1822-24 to the designs of Francis Octavius Bedford. in the increasingly unfashionable Anglican Greek Revival style of architecture. During WW2 it was struck by a bomb, suffered considerable damage, and was left as an open wreck for a decade thereafter. It was finally restored in 1950.

I wonder if my finial was one that was blown away from the railing in the blast? 

If so, then I very much doubt that it flew as a red-hot missile from Waterloo all the way to the City of London. Surely must've got there by another means entirely! 

Friday, 13 September 2019

Engraved Silver Plaque - Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth. 1858-99

Engraved silver plaque — Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth, circa 1858-99.  34 mm. 

The engraved oval-shaped silver plaque that was discovered a couple of days ago has turned out to be very interesting. As you can see by the inscription at the top, the scene is of 'Britannia Pier' which is located in Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. The pier opened to the public in 1858, was reduced in length by a ship collision one year later and was storm damaged in 1869. It was finally demolished in 1899 and its replacement built 1900. This later pier suffered a sequence of catastrophic fires - on no less than four occasions destroying the successive grand pavilions and ballrooms. This is a pier with a chequered history, however, it still remains in Yarmouth to this day. 

The plaque is a scene of the original pier and so it dates between 1858 and 1899. It compares very well to a contemporary photograph taken from a similar viewpoint (above) and may predate it because the gaslamp was not depicted with its surrounding ring of iron railing (and nor with its cap!). 

This is not by the hand of a trained artist but rather an amateur enthusiast or a perhaps a Yarmouth souvenir maker. Albeit naive, it is nevertheless charming. I think there may be two figures depicted and if so then the one in the foreground even seems to have its own shadow. There are also a series of feint gridlike striations in the background that may have been an attempt at depicting a ship's rigging, but may simply be damage incurred in use. It's hard to tell. 

Also, it is worth mentioning that the plaque blank itself was crudely fashioned because it is covered in small indentations and seems to have been formed by hammering. I do not think it was engraved upon a piece of manufactured sheet silver - perhaps a worn sixpence or shilling was pressed into service for the piece? And what is it from? At this moment I do not know exactly but I reckon it hails from a small wooden box or pocket case and was held in place with probably a mastic because there are no signs of attachment upon the reverse side. 

However, the find is only a couple of days out of the ground. Time will tell!

Thursday, 12 September 2019

A Brace of Silver and a Blue Coat Button

There's three arable fields on the new patch and two have been searched enough to give a sense of how productive they might be in the future. Field 1 I think to be no good for much, but of course you must never write a field off too early because any field may produce something special given time. Field 2 looks more promising and has produced already an item that dates probably to the sixteenth-century, which is by far the earliest find yet made.

Today I visited field 3 expecting to be just like field 2 because they abutt each, and in many ways it was. I encountered the very same spread of aluminium trash wherever I went together with the occasional chunk of anti aircraft shrapnel — and this is clearly something that we will have to endure for so long as we search this patch of land.

I got a soft wide signal that just kept growing in size and scale and loudness as I continued to dig down and down in ever widening circles. You have to keep going — such a thing might well be a hoard or a bronze helmet or a sword, or just about anything truly fabulous! 

I finally found the object on the top of the subsoil at about fourteen inches and it looked like bronze so I was very careful about extracting it. Unfortunately, as with most signals that go so deep it was dissapointing. What it was I had absolutely no idea ... apart from the fact that it was certainly rubbish!

Later the ground gave up something better in the form of a silver buckle ring. It was broken, but is repairable and it probably dates to the latter part of the nineteenth century. When I get the time I'll research the hallmarks and the makers mark and give it a firm date and origin.

I'm always pleased to find finger rings and anything made of silver is always a bonus. The next find was very interesting indeed, and again of silver. An oval plaque that when wiped with a finger showed a hand-engraved scene and at top, an inscription. More food for thought! And more research work for my busy digits!

There were a few more finds of interest to come. A lead loom weight, three shirt buttons, a crusty penny, a brooch that has seen better days but is something that originated from a Victorian church in our village - Salem Baptist. And then a small button that I reckon dates to the early nineteenth-century and is of the 'Birmingham Blue Coat School'.

My aim for any day's detecting is to come home with one decent artefact and one nice inscribed object be it coin, button or whatever. So, all in all these two short hours were very well spent in my opinion.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Lead Cloth Seals — Augsburg, Germany, with Pine Cone Heraldic Badge. 1500-1650.

Lead cloth seal— Augsburg, Germany, with pine
cone heraldic badge. 1500-1650.  18mm.

The little coin-like object that at first, I believed was a button, on closer inspection turned out to be a cloth seal — what I thought was a crumpled and compressed loop on the reverse was actually a letter 'A' with a crooked bar. 

What could be more Post-Medieval than that? 

I thought that it might take some time to research, but I could not have been more wrong. I asked Judy to Google 'lead cloth seal' just so that she could understand what such a thing was used for and what they looked like in general, and hey presto! 

There it was! Another example! City of Augsburg, Germany!

Arms of Augsburg
I love lead finds when they carry interesting designs. I had this down as a pineapple but it's not one of those - it's a pine cone - and what I believed might be Prince of Wales feathers on top, just a very stylised interpretation of the capital of a column. I also had the whole design upside down in my head. The pine cone is supposed to be viewed upright.

Judy loves it. She has already begun to construct the story that lies behind its presence in our fields.