Cheshire HEROs

Bronze Age burial mounds Illustration by Dai Owen

Bronze Age burial mounds illustration by Dai Owen. ©Cheshire Historic Environment Record.

As jobs go, being an Historic Environment Record Officer (or HERO as we like to be known) is a pretty interesting one, not least because I get to look at maps, aerial photographs and read about archaeology every day.

A large part of the job is maintaining the Cheshire Historic Environment Record (HER), adding new records and updating existing ones. We also carry out searches for archaeological consultants, academic researchers and the public. This does involve a lot of time spent in front of a computer, but occasionally I get to go and look at actual archaeological sites (outside!).

This week, thanks to information from a member of the public, I am making a visit to a possible round barrow, deep in rural Cheshire.  Cheshire has 135 round barrows, but in general they are not much to look at on the ground, being mostly ploughed out. Looks however, are deceptive. In 2012 a training excavation for the HLF funded Habitats and Hillforts project uncovered four Bronze Age cremation urns from a de-scheduled round barrow. This barrow (one of a group of seven) was believed to have been completely ploughed out.

It’s not only looking at archaeology in the field that can yield exciting results though. We receive regular updates from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. When we incorporate the new information about individual finds into the HER we can discover some surprises. Most recently  we have added a  group of around fifty Roman coins found in close proximity and including four radiate coins, over thity nummi, five other copper alloy coins and an Islamic coin. Amongst the group are three unusual coins from the Eastern Mediterranean; a nummus from Constantinople c.AD 348-51; a decanummium of Justinian I from Constantinople AD 542-9 and an Islamic coin which probably dates from the eighth to tenth centuries AD. The coins all display corrosion consistent with exposure to the British soil conditions, suggesting that they are not souvenirs introduced to the site at a much later date. This is a notable concentration of coins from the eastern Empire and may represent a hoard which has been dispersed by ploughing.

In addition to the PAS data, a regular flow of new information into the HER comes from Grey Literature, local society journals, members of the public and research projects.

Today I received two new research and recording reports from the Cheshire Gardens Trust. We have been assisting their volunteers in their work in recording survival of undesignated historic gardens and landscapes. Their reports are full of really useful information about the development of large houses,  gardens and designed landscapes and their survival today.

They do a lot of documentary research and we recently held a training day in the HER for their members so we could show them what resources they could access by visiting the HER, in particular the digital aerial photographs and maps.

Visitors to the HER can view our full set of digitised aerial surveys of the county, taken every 10 years since the 1970’s as well as the 1940’s RAF Aerial Survey. They also have access to the printed source material behind our digital HER records and as much tea as they can drink (and occasionally cake.)

For more information about the Cheshire Historic Environment Record and to visit the online version of the HER visit

Recording finds in Chester

Early Medieval Strap End

Early Medieval Strap End

I am the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officer for Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and today I was visiting the Grosvenor Museum in Chester where I hold finds day on the second Friday of each month.

My day started well with a queue of three visitors as soon as the doors were open. The first finder was a local metal detectorist who frequently records his finds on the PAS database. His grandson had found a Post-Medieval signet seal ring combined with a pipe tamper, similar to this example LVPL-A563A1. After writing out a receipt for the object the finder left and was followed by a local field walker who had brought me a bag of stones. Although they ‘fitted in his hand’ the stones had not been worked and upon further investigation I discovered they had been found near a river which explained the amount of wear. It was a relief not to have to carry them all away with me!

A couple more visitors came and went with small objects to add to our knowledge of the local area. Next came a detectorist who I had not see in a while. He showed me an object which his wife had found a number of years ago. This had been recorded by my colleague as a Post-Medieval drawer handle as it has very similar qualities. The record can be found here LANCUM-2D85A8.

The finder then explained he had just gone back to the same field and found a long curving pin which he took out. After having a ‘Eureka’ moment he had realised that his pin was the same greyish green patina as his wife’s object and asked her to dig it out of their box of unidentified finds. It was a perfect match and a Post-Medieval drawer handle suddenly turned into an Iron Age pin! The pin is similar to the swan necked type which date from 300BC to AD50. He also brought a lovely thumb-nail scraper and a 14th century seal matrix for me to record.

Following these exciting finds there was a bit of a break between visitors allowing me to catch up on Photoshop, the less exciting side of my role. My last visitors of the day was a married couple who detect locally and are keen to record their finds. Having showed me a group of interesting finds the previous month, I had asked them if they would allow me to display their finds in the new PAS case which will be in the Museum of Liverpool from next month. They were happy to loan their objects to us for six months and had brought them in along with a couple of new discoveries. They have found a number of Early Medieval finds including this lovely strap end LVPL-D1295B and this Early Medieval buckle LVPL-BFBC1E


Both of these objects are unusual finds for the Cheshire area where we don’t see many Early Medieval objects. However these new records are starting to show interesting patterns of activity. You can see their finds from next month at the Museum of Liverpool and after a bit of Photoshop in the office next week the pin will be available to view here.

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:

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012