I am a finds liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme covering Shropshire and Herefordshire

Peter and Victoria’s ten top tips for a career in Archaeology

As a companion piece to: http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/my-career-is-in-ruins/ 

Here are our tip top tips to give you a head start to a career in archaeology:

  1. Never be afraid to say you don’t know something – everyone starts somewhere!
  2. Attend conferences, they give you an overview of current research, you can network and meet the experts.
  3. Keep a diary, build a portfolio of your work, i.e any papers you have written.
  4. Volunteer – make it work for you, target your interest areas. i.e fieldwork, working with small finds, historic houses, conservation, archives etc.
  5. You may consider joining a volunteer programme such as PAstExplorers or The National Trust.
  6. Use your spare time to gain relevant experience such as summer digs, work placements, they all look great on your CV.
  7. Find a specialist topic that you enjoy researching and have a go at writing about it, this can be used to take to interviews. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Archaeology based. It is not only useful to show your work but also how you have varied interests and transferable skills.
  8. Have a look at job adverts for positions you may be interested in, you can see what relevant skills are needed and identify any gaps in your own experience.
  9. Take a look at websites such as CIfA that has advice on early career development.
  10. You may not wish to have a career in Archaeology but you can still have an interest and partake in activities such as joining local societies, attending open days at your museum or volunteering at a local dig site.

It’s not all like Time Team. You may have to work long hours in bad weather and you may never become a millionaire. However a career in Archaeology can be very rewarding and quite often no two days are the same. You will certainly get to work with like-minded people passionate about their past.


Peter Reavill at work   digging

My career is in ruins

Peter Reavill at workdigging

A conversation between Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire and the intern for the  West Midlands, Victoria Allnatt; both of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme

VA:         Peter, Can you tell me about your career background?

PR:         I always enjoyed history at school growing up in the weald of Kent and loved exploring castles. I undertook a degree in history and archaeology at the University of Wales: Bangor (now Bangor University) where I had an amazing tutor who lured me into studying prehistory. After university I worked in North Wales as an archaeologist, then moved to Cambridge and worked for the Fitzwilliam Museum, then as a cataloguer at the University Library. I was then enticed to Ireland to work on a number of archaeological sites, developing new skills and specialities. After this I worked for number of years with Canterbury Archaeological Trust before undertaking an MA in Landscape Archaeology at University of Sheffield. On graduating I worked again in Kent before being offered the job as Finds Liaison Officer, in 2003. I have been working in the Marches for the PAS ever since.

PR:         What about you Victoria – how did you get into archaeology?

VA:         I studied Archaeology as a mature student. After being made redundant in 2009 it was an opportunity to do something completely different. After college I worked in a travel agency, a hotel, and then in conference and events. History was my favourite subject at school too and after travelling to a number of historical sites in the world I knew archaeology was a topic I wished to learn more about. I thought if it doesn’t lead to a job at least it would be an enjoyable topic to study. I started looking at possible courses in the UCAS prospectus and especially looked for universities with a high intake of mature students (I didn’t want to feel to out of place!) Worcester University and the Archaeology courses especially accept around fifty percent mature students. I was interested in The Archaeology and Heritage Course, the modules included museum studies, British Archaeology and Historical Buildings amongst others. I thought this would give me a broad range of topics which would help when looking for jobs afterwards. As I didn’t have enough credits to attend university I had to write a short essay and then attend an interview with the head of the course at Worcester. Luckily I gained a place and I am so happy I chose to attend university later in life. It meant I tried a lot harder than I would have done at eighteen! I was following a line of women in my family to attend university later in life. Both my mum and my two aunties graduated in their forties. Alongside my studies I also started volunteering with the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Worcester. This proved invaluable for gaining hands on experience with archaeological objects. I now had the opportunity to handle small finds, not just look at them from behind glass!

VA:         How important was having a relevant qualification in obtaining your current job?

PR:         Without an MA – I don’t think that I would have been short listed for my current role. But it isn’t really the piece of paper that makes a difference – it is the experiences that you build up both at university but also in work or through volunteering that really make the difference. The MA was one of the things that opened the door to an interview but once there it gave me the chance to present all my other skills and experiences. Saying that – 12 years ago I was as green as they come and I feel exceptionally lucky to have got this amazing job – especially when I see how amazingly talented many of my colleagues are.

VA:         So how do you get experience?

PR:         That is really tricky as often people want direct and relevant experience and sometimes you only get this by already doing the job. But that shouldn’t put you off – there are lots of ways to fill your CV with ‘relevant’ experience. Today – one of the ways is to volunteer, but to make sure that you make the volunteering work for you by making sure you get out as much as you put in. So for example if you want to work in museums, volunteer and make sure you try everything, from front of house work to handling and recording objects. Alternatively for working on sites – make sure you dig, but also record, draw sections, use specialised equipment etc.

Most importantly keep a diary of the duties you do – it sounds silly but it gives you a way of keeping track so when you apply for the perfect job you already have a tick list to go to of things you can do. Keep examples of your work too for a portfolio to take to interviews – having sat on both sides of the table in interviews – it makes a huge difference to actually see as well as here how brilliant a candidate is.

Finally – think about the other things you have done that give you transferable skills – whether it is temp-ing in a call centre or working in a bar, you pick up useful things that are directly relevant – how you deal with a tricky situation or the all-important health and safety question which is in almost all interviews. For me when I worked as a cataloguer in a library – it had nothing to do with archaeology, but gave me transferable skills using computerised databases, creating catalogue entries and dealing with the public – all these are relevant to what I do now (I just didn’t know it at the time)

VA:         Big answer – small question :  here’s another – is it beneficial to specialise in a particular area?

2013-T495_X-Ray_plan (1)PR:         It depends: I think it is often better to have several areas of interest rather than just the one, so using me as an example: I’m a heritage professional / landscape archaeologist, with an interest in small finds (metalwork). However, I have detailed knowledge about prehistoric metalwork and specialise in Bronze Age metalwork. But given the employment market I think that having many strings to your bow is as useful – and maybe more useful – than just being very good at one thing. We as a profession desperately need more specialists – the problem is that there isn’t always a full time job for them!

PR:         So what about you – are you developing a specialist interest?

HESH-A74856
VA:        
I like the Romans, somebody has to! I like Roman architecture and have enjoyed recording Roman brooches on the PAS database. Not so much Roman coins! But through practice and training I am getting to grips with identifying them. I really loved researching ethnicity in Romano Britain as part of my undergraduate dissertation. It was interesting to learn that the country at the time would have been a lot more multi-cultural than the old text books would have us believe.

But ultimately to get back to answering the question! At the moment in the early stages of my career I am trying to keep my interests and skills broad. It is not the easiest time to find employment in the archaeology sector so I think the more skills I can develop the easier it may be to find work, I hope anyway!

PR:         and more generally, you have been an intern with us for more than six months – what has been  your favourite part of the internship so far?

VA:         I have loved handling small finds and never knowing what is going to be brought in to the office next. The element of surprise and that no two days are the same. I have also been lucky to attend lots of training sessions such as Roman coin identification training, GIS training and in the near future I am attending a photography training course and a Roman Radiate coin identification day

PR:         and – the worse bit?

VA:        Although it is exciting to see so many objects it can also feel like you are never getting to the bottom of the pile! Of course we want metal detectorists to keep bringing in their finds, however sometimes it feels like you will never clear your to do list!

VA:        what is your favourite part of being an FLO?

Prehistoric finds Acquired through Treasure Act - Shrewsbury MuseumPR:        The variety of my working life, I’m able to meet with lots of different people, record really interesting finds, visit new sites and sometimes excavate them, undertake new research and analyse the landscape in new ways through the losses of people in the past. Also when Shrewsbury Museum had its move and redisplay – suddenly all the objects they had acquired through the Treasure Act were put on display across the museum – it was like visiting old friends again – and you can see the difference you have made to the archaeological record and history of a county

VA:         and likewise – the bit you dislike most?

PR:         that is tricky, like most jobs there are always bits you dislike – I suppose if I had to choose a least favourite part it would be … probably the mundane aspects of manipulating digital images of finds or filling in paperwork. I’m rubbish at filing and keeping things tidy! I tend to like most aspects of the finds work – although I’m always fearful of pottery – you really need to be a specialist in the local fabrics – and after 12 years I’m still getting to grips with them.

PR:         OK – there must be something that you have recorded that you are amazed by – what is your favourite find?

HESH-408A03VA:        ooh, well just recently we have seen an Iron Age Gold quarter Stater. As they are gold they come out of the ground almost looking brand new, so you know you are seeing it how the original owner would have seen it over 2000 years ago. Besides the shiny objects, I also like the more ordinary items that tell a story, for instance the ring that was made from a coin found on the site of a prisoner of war camp. You start to think about who that person was that made it.

VA          And you must have seen some stunning things – what’s yours?

HESH-4844A4 detail 1PR:         That’s a hard one – there have been some brilliant things – I really like the Iron Age spoons reported through Treasure from Nesscliffe and the West Shropshire early Medieval Pendant. Another favourite is the pendant made from a Viking die used to create gold foil mounts– that is very cool

PR:         You’ve been working with the three FLO’s in the West Mids – what is the best bit of advice you have been given?

VA:        I have been given so much encouragement and support to try my hand at many things, for example writing an article for a specialist Metal Detectorists magazine or help deliver a class to school children on Prehistory. I guess it’s been the advice to give anything a try, it is all good experience and builds a diverse portfolio of work. I may not have had the confidence to give some of these things a go without the support and encouragement from the West Mids FLO’s.

VA:         I’m lucky being able to turn to the three FLOs in the West Mids for advice – but where do you turn to for advice?

PR:         I said before – that I work with some amazing people within the PAS – whether it is National Finds Advisers, the central office team, or other FLOs – there is always someone there to ask for help or advice. When it comes to objects – as the Scheme is run from the British Museum – we have access to their curators as well as other researchers – so actually it is often a matter of thinking who best it is to ask – rather than trying to find someone.

PR:         we are almost done – as your internship finishes in October – where do you hope this internship will lead?

VA:         I hope it will lead to a full time Finds liaison Officer position or maybe an assistant museum curator’s role. Or perhaps a part time position so I can complete a part time Master’s course.

PR:         and what happens if the unexpected happens to your chosen career path – not that it will?

VA:        I hope I have developed a broad range of skills now such as handling small finds, report writing, assisting with the creation of museum displays, blogging and online social media and photography.  It is hoped these skills will find me a position somewhere, or I could volunteer on some digs and maybe turn to fieldwork – but I do enjoy small finds work.

VA:         and Peter – what is next for you?                                           

PR:         Who knows – it depends who rings up or drops in with the next bag of finds – I love my job with the PAS and hopefully we will be able to weather the impending spending reviews. It would be a national scandal is the PAS didn’t continue for the next twenty years – we are now seeing the rewards from working closely with the metal detecting community and are gathering amazing data on finds which really does change the history books. Regional, County and community led museums are also benefiting from the scheme acquiring treasure and other finds – many of which are now being donated to them by members of the public.

I also hope to continue researching the finds and landscape of my area – and writing those results up (something I’m bad at) so that others can see the full impact of my – and others work.

For more information about the PAS: https://finds.org.uk/ 

And if you would like to volunteer with us visit: https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved

or Victoria’s Blog on her internship: https://victoriaallnattinternship.wordpress.com/

You can also follow Peter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PeterReavill

A week in the life of (Shropshire and Herefordshire) FLO

This is me

This is me

As a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) life is never straightforward and it is guaranteed that the minute you plan out what is happening during the week – everything changes. With this in mind – rather than just telling you  what I did today – I thought I would recap the whole week. I have left the everyday bits out and instead you have the edited highlights:

Monday

Recording Archaeological finds from the Hereford Metal Detecting Club – finds recording is what I (and all FLOs) spend most of our days doing. Whether it is recording broken buckles or corroded coins or exceptional artefacts they all add to the rich tapestry that is lurking beneath the English and Welsh landscape.

Tuesday

Morning meeting with the head of the museum service in Shropshire, County Archaeologist and Historic Environment Staff.  This is a chance for everyone working within the Council environment to catch up on what has happened and what is planned – sounds dull but was fascinating – especially as I had the opportunity to contribute important new sites discovered recently through recorded finds to the discussions. The sites of which will now be flown over by the HER team as part of their summer season of aerial photography.

South Shropshire Ring copyright PAS

South Shropshire Ring
copyright PAS

Lunchtime: Coroner holds an inquest into a gold post Roman ring discovered in South Shropshire. The ring is of National Importance (see PAS record). It is unlikely to have been worn on a finger – instead it is more likely to have either decorated a sword pommel or be a form of toggle / woggle / dress decoration. The date of the find is the really important and interesting as we have very little information about post Roman Shropshire (apart from what is known from Wroxeter). This find is likely to be of continental – possibly Byzantine – origin and as such is another link between Western Britain and what remains of the Eastern Roman Empire

Teatime: Talk to the local BBC radio Shropshire on their drive time show about the find, metal detecting and treasure

Wednesday

More treasure things – giving information to local press – about the ring from South Shropshire

BBC and Shropshire Star

Afternoon: Advertise PAS Finds Recording Assistant for the West Midlands – Headley Trust Intern. The West Midlands team of FLOs was awarded a bursary post  at the beginning of the financial year to help train and develop finds professionals / post graduate students in identifying and recording archaeological finds. This internship is offered part time over 6 months and will be based with me in Ludlow Museum Resource Centre. Visit the PAS vacancies website for more information!

Thursday

Back to recording the finds from the Hereford Club – something that should have been finished earlier in the week!

Afternoon – 3:30 Call from a couple of local metal detectorists to say that they had found a Roman coin hoard could I come out and have a look as they uncovered a small group of coins and stoppped.  This is exactly what we advise people to do when finding objects which are obviously still associated with an archaeological context.

So I went out to the site in XXXXXX (sorry if I told you where it was – I would have to kill you) to see what it was that they had uncovered!

Roman coin hoard

Roman coin hoard

The hoard looks to be lying beneath the ploughsoil and be undisturbed! From what could be seen – the hoard is most likely to date from the late 3rd Century AD and be positioned beneath a stone. This period (260-290 ish AD) has a huge number (over 660 at the last count) of hoards put in the ground – this phenomenon is currently being investigated by a specially funded archaeological project organised by the British Museum and University of Leicester (see here).

a few of the coins

a few of the coins

As there were more coins in the ground it was decided that it would be better to leave them and return to excavate the following week so all the archaeological information can be captured.

bottom of the hole

bottom of the hole

Evening Rush home and have quick wash and brush up: Then straight back out to Ludlow Museum for a evening fundraiser in aid of The Bitterley Hoard.

Bitterley Hoard

Bitterley Hoard

Last year for the Day of Archaeology I spent alot of time blogging about this really important civil war hoard from South Shropshire (see here) which had just made the news. Well, a year later the Shropshire Museums and the Friends of Ludlow Museum are trying hard to raise the monies to acquire and conserve this hoard (see here).

Crowds in Ludlow Museum

Crowds in Ludlow Museum

The event was well attended (with over 120 people) – and I even said a few words about what the hoard was, why it was important. Lottie, chair of the friends, then said what the Museum hoped to do with it when / if it were acquired.

Peter talking - standing next to the finder Howard Murphy

Peter talking – standing next to the finder Howard Murphy

The hoard is the largest civil war group of coins found in Shropshire in modern times and due to the level of preservation the leather purse in which it was deposited is remarkably well preserved. If you want to help save the hoard – and conserve it for display in Ludlow Museum then you can make a contribution through the Friends ‘Just Giving’ webpage.

Friday

Back to the office and recording those finds – as well as catching up on a weeks worth of phone and email messages. Oh and planning the hoard excavation for next week … but then I’m sure if I make too many plans something else is bound to crop up

Evening: Writing this blog – which I hope you have enjoyed!

 

Peter

______________

Peter Reavill

Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme

email: peter.reavill@shropshire.gov.uk

blog: http://finds.org.uk/blogs/themarches

The Bitterley Hoard – Day of Archaeology Blog

The Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

 

 

 

Dear followers of the Day of Archaeology,

I hope you have found some my posts interesting today – just wanted to say thanks for reading them and also thanks to Dan Pett and Lorna Richardson (and the rest of the team) for doing lots of the organising for this social media event.

If you want to stay up to date with what’s going on at the PAS keep an eye on our blog and news pages

http://finds.org.uk/blogs/

http://finds.org.uk/news

That’s all from me for this year

All the best

Peter

Peter Reavill

Finds Liaison Officer Shropshire and Herefordshire

Portable Antiquities Scheme

peter.reavill@shropshire.org.uk

Blog: http://finds.org.uk/blogs/themarches/

 

The Bitterley Hoard: Part Seven – Concluding thoughts

The Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

 

 

 

And in the end …

Visitors to the hoard site in the rain

The discovery, reporting, excavation, investigation and analysis of this hoard have taken over a year. In that time a detailed picture has evolved which has shed new light on events that happened more than 300 years ago. Coin hoards from the Civil War are relatively common with several known for each county in Britain; so many hoards show the upheaval and underlying worry of the general population. This urgency and unrest can be seen in Bitterley hoard – where the only direct archaeological evidence for the placing of the hoard in the ground– is the hoard itself. The excavation showed that the burying of the hoard was relatively quick – in a prepared container. The local events that caused the hoard to be buried are unknown but the fact that they were never retrieved suggests that something happened to the owner and unfortunately their loss has been our gain.

I would like to thank all the people involved in this treasure case – as well as those who have helped tell the story so far. I would like to say a special thankyou to the farmer – for giving us access to his land and also (most importantly) to the finder – Howard Murphy – who did the right thing in leaving the coins in the ground and calling in the PAS. He has enabled us to piece together a remarkable story. I hope this will inspire other detectorists to do the same when they make their next big find!

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

The Bitterely Hoard – Part Six – What happens next

The Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

 

 

What happens next?

The hoard has now been declared Treasure under the 1996 Act, the next stage in the process is for it to be assessed and valued by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee. Once a current market value has been established and agreed upon – Shropshire Museums hopes, with the aid of grant funding and local contributions, to be in a position to acquire the hoard. These monies will be paid as a reward to both the finder and also the farmer.

For more information on this process and for all your treasure queries see: http://finds.org.uk/treasure

There is a strong local desire to see these coins kept within the county. The hoard will be displayed at several museum sites in Shropshire for all to see.

Emma-Kate Lanyon, Head of Collections and Curatorial Services for Shropshire Museums has said

“This hoard has thrown light on a dark and turbulent period of our relatively recent history. Like all hoards of this nature we ask the question why was such a large amount of money left in the ground and never retrieved. We hope to find the funding necessary to acquire the hoard and ensure it can tell its unique story as part of our seventeenth century gallery at the new Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery when it  opens at the Music Hall (shrewsbury) in late summer 2013”.

More information about Ludlow Museum can be seen here:

http://www.shropshire.gov.uk/museums.nsf/open/9409F0EC30A6B0BF80257479005015A2

this new museum project can be found here:

http://www.shropshire.gov.uk/museums.nsf/open/07683EFB8004F5BA8025765D003D4319

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Five – Shropshire in the Civil War

 Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

This section has been written by Jonathon Worton who is a studying for a PhD student at the University of Chester looking at the English Civil War in Shropshire.

Shropshire at War: July 1643 – March 1644

Speeds Map of Shropshire – Copyright and permission of Shropshire Archives/ Shropshire Council

Between July 1643 and March 1644, during the First English Civil War, the military situation in Shropshire changed radically as the war became increasingly hard-fought on Shropshire soil.

Since the beginning of the conflict between King Charles I and his political opponents, the king’s supporters in Shropshire had been active and by September had effectively neutralised parliament’s following in the county. On 20 September King Charles, his court and elements of his army entered Shrewsbury. Considerably reinforced, the Royal army marched from the county in mid-October – to fight the first major battle of the Civil Wars at Edgehill in Warwickshire on the 23rd – leaving Shropshire under Royalist control.

When in March 1643 the Royalist general Lord Capel took command in Shropshire, there were still no Parliamentarian forces or garrisons in the county. Whilst skirmishing and raids by both sides took place along the Cheshire border – with fierce fighting occurring at Whitchurch and Market Drayton – most of Shropshire was at relative peace. The county was, however, being increasingly exploited to provide money, resources and recruits for the Royalist war effort. In May, Sir William Waller’s Parliamentarian army captured Hereford, and Shropshire’s Royalists feared a Roundhead thrust into the south of the county. Whilst the London press reported the fall of Royalist Ludlow, in reality Waller’s expeditionary force soon withdrew back into Gloucestershire without having ventured onto Shropshire soil.

Royalist control in Shropshire was seriously threatened for the first time in September 1643, when a group of local Parliamentarian activists who had been driven into exile in 1642 returned to the county with military support from Cheshire and London. This county committee established a garrison at Wem and fortified the minor market town with earthworks and artillery. The threat to the Royalists’ headquarters at Shrewsbury some eight miles to the south was clear, and on 17-18 October Capel’s army repeatedly attacked Wem. Although greatly outnumbered, the Roundheads beat off the Cavaliers, who withdrew to Shrewsbury having suffered heavy casualties. Defeated in battle, Capel had also become unpopular with Shropshire’s populace – Royalists and neutrals alike – for whom wartime taxation, conscription and other military demands had become an unacceptable burden; after the defeat at Wem, one London news book (the equivalent of the modern newspaper) reported that Capel feared to leave Shrewsbury in case the townsmen barred the gates behind him!

Panorama View of Shrewsbury 1630 – 1650 – Copyright and permission Shropshire Museums

Whilst the situation of the Parliamentarians at Wem remained precarious – they complained they were isolated, short of arms and ammunition and had few local recruits – psychologically they held the upper hand. Lord Capel was recalled to the king’s headquarters at Oxford in December 1643, and there is evidence that without effective local leadership, Royalist support, morale and administration in Shropshire began to crumble. One Cavalier colonel described how the defences of Shrewsbury were in ‘great neglect’. By January 1644, the Parliamentarians were strongly fortified at Wem and had established lesser garrisons in north Shropshire. On the 12th, led by Colonel Mytton, they inflicted a significant defeat on the Royalists at Ellesmere, capturing a munitions convoy, routing the escorting cavalry regiments and capturing a number of high-ranking Cavaliers. To the south of the county, just over the Herefordshire border, was the small Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan Castle. Having successfully withstood a siege the previous summer, in the New Year the Roundheads at Brampton Bryan raided and plundered Royalist territory and succeeded in establishing an outpost in southwest Shropshire at Hopton Castle.

The Royalist high command at Oxford now turned to their most famous general, King Charles’s half-German soldier-nephew Prince Rupert, to restore the military situation in Shropshire. The prince is largely remembered as the most dashing of Cavaliers, famous for his good looks and hell for leather cavalry charges. In reality, Rupert was sober in his habits and suffered fools not at all; a careful administrator as well as a skilled tactician, Rupert was a professional soldier and a charismatic leader who attracted a following of like-minded energetic and ruthless young officers. Appointed by King Charles in January to the regional command that included Shropshire, Prince Rupert arrived in Shrewsbury on 19 February leading at least 700 experienced cavalrymen. Other Royalist reinforcements, from as far afield as Bristol and Ireland, were not far behind. The arrival of the charismatic prince no doubt heartened loyalists and swayed others to the Royalist cause. At Wem, Colonel Mytton feared the power of the prince’s persona, as much as his reinforcements, ‘in regard of the reputation of the man, whose name shouts loud in the ears of the country people’.

The influence of the prince was soon felt, with a series of Royalist successes. On 23 February he despatched one of his protégés, Major Will Legg, with a task force of cavalry and infantry to seize supplies of food and fodder from the countryside around Wem, thereby denying it to the Parliamentarians. On 4 March a Roundhead supply convoy was captured near Tong, and the next day Rupert led a raid on Market Drayton, taking by surprise and routing a Roundhead cavalry force encamped there, including a regiment from Yorkshire. Around 18 March the Parliamentarians had established a garrison at Apley Castle near Wellington, but on the 24th a Royalist force, including a Welsh regiment, occupied the town and captured the castle. The following day at Longford, near Lilleshall, 600 Parliamentarians under Mytton were defeated by a similar number of Royalists. With their last mobile force defeated, the Parliamentarians were pinned down in their garrisons. On 24 March Hopton Castle was surrendered after a hard-fought siege, and the Roundhead garrison massacred. In co-operation with Royalists from Cheshire led by Rupert’s deputy, Lord John Byron, the prince’s forces took the minor enemy garrisons in north Shropshire; and by 30 March at Ellesmere, 600 Royalist soldiers from Shrewsbury had joined forces with Byron’s men to threaten Wem. The same day another Royalist officer wrote from Shrewsbury, with obvious enthusiasm, that ‘we shall not be long troubled by our neighbours of Wem’.

By the end of March 1644, Royalist supremacy in Shropshire had been largely restored, and the Parliamentarians were contained in their garrisons at Wem, Tong and Longford, and over the Herefordshire border at Brampton Bryan. These remaining outposts soon came under Royalist pressure, and by the end of April, Wem remained once again as parliament’s sole stronghold in Shropshire.

Marshall Prospect of Shrewsbury – a view of the town in the restoration?
Copyright: Shropshire Museums

Reflections on the Bitterley Hoard – from a County perspective

From the above, it is difficult to attribute the deposition of the Bitterley hoard to a specific military event during this period. Whilst the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan was stubborn and determined, it lacked the manpower and resources to range widely into south Shropshire, and would have been checked by the Royalist garrison at Ludlow. For this period of the Civil War in the county most of the fighting occurred in the northern half. Thus, with the exception of the perceived influence of the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan – and that of the lesser, short-lived outpost at Hopton Castle – and the ‘scare’ engendered by the brief Parliamentarian occupation of Hereford in May 1643, for much of the period July 1643 to March 1644 south Shropshire must be considered to have been relatively safe for Royalist supporters, with the direct threat of Parliamentarian military action fairly minimal – although of course it is easy to state this with the hindsight of history!

There may have been Royalist soldiers from Shropshire who had served in the garrison of Bristol since its capture in July 1643, and later returned to serve in the county. A locally recruited regiment – Colonel Richard Herbert’s – had fought at the capture of Bristol, and may have been part of the garrison for a while. After fighting at Newbury in September, it returned to Shropshire and was, at least in part, in garrison at Ludlow from October. Prince Rupert’s own regiment of foot had been part of the Bristol garrison, and marched from there to Shropshire when the prince assumed command at Shrewsbury. Rupert’s ‘Bluecoats’ may have been in action at Hopton Castle, but were more likely at Brampton Bryan. An officer of the regiment who having been quartered at Bitterley and had hidden his monies there, before leaving to be killed or fatally wounded at Brampton Bryan? –  tenuous, perhaps! Bristol was also a source of Royalist war materiel that found its way to Shropshire via Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

As mentioned, Royalist military taxation became increasingly oppressive. Although in March 1644 Rupert reformed the system set up by Capel, if anything the demands became greater; and doubtless Rupert’s tax collectors were not adverse to seizing what they thought was due and considered had not been paid under the formal collection process. Parliamentarian sympathisers would of course have been under closest scrutiny for concealed wealth, but neutrals and Royalist supporters would not have been immune from these demands, the grinding financial severity of which should not be underestimated. Perhaps the Bitterley hoard is a classic case of wartime tax avoidance?

A summary of Jonathon’s current research can also be seen here:

http://finds.org.uk/research/projects/project/id/322

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

 

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

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The coins in the Bitterley Hoard were analysed by Dr Barrie Cook and Henry Flynn of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum.

The summary of their report can be seen below.

The hoard comprised:

Edward VI, silver: 1 shilling

 

Elizabeth I, silver: 46 shillings

 

 

 

James I

  gold: 1 Britain crown;

 

 

 

 

 

silver: 4 half-crowns and 20 shillings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles I,

  Tower mint, silver: 31 half-crowns and 33 shillings

 

 

 

 

 

Charles I, provincial mints, silver: 1 half-crown

Charles I, Scottish coinage, silver: 1 30-shillings and 1 12-shillings

In total there are 1 gold and 137 silver coins. The gold was of the crown gold standard, 22 carat fine, and the silver of the traditional sterling standard over 90% fine metal. The face value of the silver coins was £9 6s., including the Scottish coins in English value terms; the single gold coin was originally worth 5s. but was later re-valued to 5s.6d., giving a total for the hoard of £9 11s.6d.

The latest coin is the Bristol half-crown dated 1643, produced between July 1643, when Bristol fell to Prince Rupert for the king, and March 1644. This places this group among the large number of hoards that were deposited in the early years of the English Civil War, never to be recovered until modern times.

The range of coins present is entirely consistent with such a date, with the appropriate representation of Tudor and early Stuart material. Apart from the gold coin, there are only two denominations present, the half-crown and shilling, making this a batch of quite highly selected material, without even sixpences, usually the third denomination present in large numbers in mid-17th century coin hoards.

The full Catalogue can be found here:

http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/430201

Further Reading:

Anyone interested in coin hoards from this period should have a look at the excellent study by Edward Besly.

E. Besly, 1988 English Civil War Coin Hoards British Museum Occasional Paper: 51 British Museum, London.

Peter Reavill

June 2012

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Four – What’s it worth

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Contemporary Value of the Hoard

Jonathon Worton, a research student at the University of Chester has suggested what the hoard could have been worth in the 17th Century. This is really interesting as it puts some perspective into how far money went in the period. From my point of view as an archaeologist it just proves the old adage  “The only things certain in life are death and taxes“.

Jonathon writes:

“with reference to monetary values, I always think it is more informative to consider the contemporary purchasing power, rather than attempting modern equivalence.

Some interesting examples:

1. In 1640/41 the day rate paid by the Corporation of Shrewsbury for ‘public works’ for an artificer – a wheelwright, carpenter, joiner – was 14d (less if ‘diet’ – food – included), 8d for a day labourer. These were probably good average rates for a days’ toil. (Ref. Reed, Shropshire Transactions, Vol LV).

(more…)

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Two – Conservation

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Investigating the Hoard at the British Museum – Conservation

Unpacking the Hoard

The top of the block

The hoard reached the Department of Conservation and Research at the British Museum and was worked on by Pippa Pierce and colleagues in the department. Pippa had been involved from the start of the project giving really useful advice both before and after the excavation. The hoard was slowly excavated from its clay block and over time the container and the coins within were revealed.

 

Partially excavated

The coins within the pot

 

 

The coins were excavated stratagraphically to see if there was a structure to the deposits – were the coins at the top more recent than those at the bottom?

The excavation showed that there was no difference between the layers and that they had been thoroughly mixed before deposition. What was interesting was that it seems as if the coins were placed in the vessel in small stacks or columns and several groups of coins were removed in this way. In total there were 138 coins all of high denomination -many were very well preserved.

The container was revealed to be a local ‘blackware’ vessel called a tyg. Tyg’s are multi-handled drinking cups / mugs. They have several handles as the sides of the pot are thin and the contents are often hot (and highly alcoholic). This meant they could be passed from person to person without burning fingers; it is also thought that the handles segregated the rim and so each person would have their own section and so drinking would be more hygienic. The size of the vessel is about standard for those known from the period (diameter 88mm).  The vessel was slightly cracked and the rim damaged through compression within the soil – so if the finder had tried to lift it without help it could well have broken into many pieces.

The purse inside the pot

Impressions of the coin in the leather

A relatively unique find within the hoard was that the vessel was lined with the well preserved remains of a fine leather purse. The leather is very fragile and the impressions of the coins can be clearly seen preserved within it. Its survival is rare as leather and other organic material seldom survive in the soil. If the finder had dug the hoard himself and emptied the contents of the vessel then it is likely that this unique element would have been severally damaged or lost as it is so fragile.

 

Removing the coins

Inside the pot – coins and leather

The pot and purse

 

See next post: The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

All images within this blog are used with the kind permission of The British Museum

For more images see:

PAS Flickr Account

http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/sets/72157630327419608/

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012