Cover Jan 2015

January 2015 Cover – © Rodger Shearer

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UK Detectorists find so many personal items like buckles, buttons and clothes fasteners in fields because in past times they were literally spread on the land along with human waste. There wasn’t a sewerage system or refuse collection as we know it today.

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The little room – © JW

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Queen Mary I Groat – Issue date 1553 -1554 – © JW

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The Roman Gold Ring

15 November 2014 — 13 Comments

Rob Williams and his partner Tina live in Cumbria with their three teenage children and have been using detectors for about 20 years, but only in a casual way and then only using very simple machines. That is, until now! This year they upgraded, found success – and detecting is now their main outdoor pursuit.

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staterThe mention on a detecting forum about the wisdom of purchasing coins on eBay reminded me of an earlier post that I reproduce here. Apologies if you’ve seen it before, but it will be ‘fresh’ for some of my readers. What is it you have to be cautious about? Read on …

 

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In Britain today policemen are sometimes referred to as ‘Bobbies’. Originally though, they were also referred to as ‘Peelers’, both names in reference to former Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel who created the modern police force.

If you had asked me last week about ‘Peelers’ I would have regurgitated a half-forgotten history lesson circa 1947 and related the story above. If you had asked me yesterday I might have referred you to the orange fruit Mrs. John bought at the supermarket; they were called ‘easy peelers’. Not tangerines or satsumas, but ‘easy peelers’.

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I’ve just spent a frantic half hour looking for all the copper pre-decimal UK pennies that I’d ever found. Why? A throwaway comment on an American detecting forum from a guy living in New Mexico was the catalyst for my search.

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Never did I think that as the son of a coal miner growing up in a County Durham pit village in the 40s and 50s, the experience and local knowledge gained would help a fellow detectorist over 60 years later. A cousin currently living in the same village contacted me and mentioned that he was finding an unusual number of Victorian and the later Georgian coins in one particular area, and asked if I could I explain why this was the case. The answer was easy …

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Coins from my own collection ©

Most people know that when not at work, miners were often involved with hobbies. Their amusements and recreations often included pigeon racing, gardening, football, quoit playing and whippet racing. Indoor games such as cards, dominoes and darts were frequently played in the local public houses.

Sadly, heavy drinking and gambling were all too common. The latter illegal pursuit took the form of betting on the horses and engaging in the game of Pitch and Toss, the favoured form of coin gaming in mining communities, which has been played at least since the 18th century. Pounds were often staked on every toss and even gold was known to change hands.

Gambling with coins must be as old as the advent of coin usage itself. Even during the reign of Elizabeth I it was a punishable offence under the vagrancy laws of the day, and so it was all those years ago in that small pit village where I was born.

It was a ritual that every Sunday after the pubs’ ‘chucking out’ time, the miners would make their unsteady way across the grandly named ‘Golf Links’, carefully trying to negotiate the numerous cow pats, disturbing startled skylarks and trampling buttercups and daisies underfoot. They were making their way towards a large ring, devoid of grass around which they formed a circle. If I remember correctly, my father (Me Da) used to call it a ‘school’!

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Pitch and Toss – CC Licence

The general rules of the game were relatively simple. One man, the ‘Hoyer’, who didn’t participate in the game, balanced two pennies on spread fingers and threw them in the air. Depending on how they landed, the winners were paid from the stakes of the losers… or something like that!

Because gambling with coins was an illegal pursuit, scouts or lookouts were posted to keep an eye out for the local Poliss (police). Just imagine the chaos and confusion when the alarm was raised and drunken miners fled in every direction scattering coins in their wake … coins that are now being found many years later by a keen detectorist who now knows just a little more about their provenance! 

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Mission Aborted

Just over a year ago Joan lost an earring in a cycling accident on one of the Buckinghamshire trackways. Mrs. John and I went on a mission today to try and find it. The Deus was fired up, boots polished and a new battery inserted in the probe. I was ready as I would ever be.

Alas, the theory was good, but I failed the practical – bit like sex, really! After about thirty minutes of stumbling around and being helped to my feet on at least three occasions, I decided to call it a day. My feet were like jelly and I was absolutely knackered. This was proof enough that my detecting days were over! There was a consolation prize. I managed to find two £1 coins; a twopenny piece; three bits of tin foil and a bottle top.

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© JW- Modern Coins

The oldest coin here is just over 30 years; the youngest only 14. This is the state of modern coinage after only a few years being lost … they were not even in the soil, but under the grass at the edge of the pathway. In another ten years they would have been unrecognisable. 

When I arrived home, I took to my bed and slept for six hours. When I surfaced I still felt rather wobbly …

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