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 …

Coins3

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’!

Pitch-and-Toss-copy

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 too 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.

Moodern Coins

© 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 …

Derek’s Early Christmas Present. The highlight in this issue – due in the shops on Friday 31 October – is Derek McLennan’s exclusive six-page account of the finding of a Viking hoard in Scotland. This remarkable find was the subject of a blog post earlier this month. See HERE.

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Musings on Medieval Money

26 October 2014 — 24 Comments

Contrary to what you may have heard, read, or believe, I’m not old enough to have been born in the Middle Ages. In my heyday as I zigzagged drunkenly across a field swinging the detector and finding some artefact or other, I often took a guess – as I am sure you do – how the item came to be resting there.

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In February 2010 a lady metal detectorist found an extremely rare British gold coin near Caister, Lincolnshire, called a ‘Tring Wheel’. The first known specimen, a gold quarter stater minted in the mid first century BC, around the time Julius Caesar raided Britain, was discovered near Tring in Hertfordshire. Hence the name.

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Warning – resurrectionist post – I needed to let off steam in April 2013. So what poked my particular goat with a sharp stick and enraged it so? Something had to be done …

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If you need a reminder, Derek McLennan was the finder of the Scottish Viking Hoard that has dominated the local, national and foreign media this week.

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Ray’s Parker Token

13 October 2014 — 7 Comments

Recently I received an email from my Aussie friend Ray Swinnerton, containing a copy of The Fossicker, the newsletter of the Geelong Prospecting club, also in Australia.

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Whorl2The blog about Sarah the Spinner and the ubiquitous spindle whorl proved to be very popular. Books on the subject are few if non-existent. Rather like some detectorists, archaeologists don’t seem particularly interested either. Yet, I find them fascinating!

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