SCROLL DOWN FOR THE PENCIL TOPS
This post is mainly about Sharon, Derek, Fred, Alistair, and a supporting cast of hundreds. The saga really starts in the summer of 2014 when Derek found a Viking hoard in Dumfries and Galloway. Click on the links below to see a couple of articles he wrote at the time:
That was a spectacular discovery, and now that you have familiarised yourself with the details, let me tell you that it provides merely the catalyst for what many will regard as just a common but interesting find. But, for the moment, I will set the scene … and keep you guessing!
It was when Derek (McLennan) was giving a presentation about the hoard to an appreciative and enthusiastic audience that he realised how inspirational the hobby of metal detecting could be. In a magazine article written in September 2015, his partner Sharon, said:
“Detecting encompasses a drive to succeed, a determination to better our finds rate and a passion discover the hidden history of our past. If people could be in this motivated by single talk why not create the opportunity for more people to take part in this fantastic hobby?”
And so, Beyond the Beep was born. Sharon continued:
“Beyond the Beep is a catchy name and Derek and I were really pleased with it as it represents the concepts behind our not-for-profit metal detecting company …”
After a lot of hard work, the new organisation gained the support of many people and organisations including the National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD). I’ve made it sound too easy.
With a lot of people on board, including landowners, schools and teachers they started a series of six-week programmes in primary and secondary schools, which was a great success. In the article (sorry, I don’t have a PDF), Sharon said that whilst all this was going on, they ‘also wanted to investigate the possibility of using detecting with Combat Stress‘ … a charity that helps veterans suffering from mental health issues. Sharon and Derek were convinced that detecting could offer veterans mental as well as physical benefits. The digs are usually once a fortnight and are open to all military veterans.
Beyond the Beep with Combat Stress … and Fred Archer!
Derek tells me that they currently have guys from both Combat Stress and The Coming Home Centre on the digs, which they have been holding for nearly a year. There is no charge and all equipment is supplied, courtesy of Minelab.
On one of those digs held recently, the rain was lashing down and the wind was gale force, but there were some significant finds – a Victorian half gold sovereign, silvers, and a ‘lovely sixpence’. But it was the comment, “Alistair Milne didn’t manage any silver, but he unearthed a couple of interesting artefacts, including a Glasgow Children’s Fete medallion”, that attracted me.
Alistair isn’t a veteran, but he goes along in support of a metal detecting ex-soldier buddy. I found what he had discovered, but not mentioned, most interesting. What do you think it was?
The small artefact Alistair unearthed – a ‘Fred Archer’ pewter pencil top – oozes social history. Archer was a famous Victorian horse jockey. One theory is that the tops were inadvertently thrown out with the *night soil and is why so many are found.
Fred Archer is often described by race-goers as “the best all-round jockey that the turf has ever seen” with nearly 3000 race wins including 21 Classic and 13 Championship titles to his name.
We think of jockeys as rather small people, but Archer was a giant at 5’ 10”. As a result he had to diet far more than others, which had an effect on his health. At the age of only 29, he also suffered from depression and as a result committed suicide in 1886 by shooting himself.
The National Horseracing Museum displays a selection of Archer memorabilia, including the gun with which he shot himself. Detectorists often unearth other items reminding us of the greatest and most tragic jockeys of all time. Other Archer memorabilia include late 19th century clay figurine pipes, horse brasses and walking stick ferrules.
The oher examples shown above were found by Sharon and Derek – the one on the right by detectorist Bob Burton of Birmingham.
I inferred earlier that so many pencil tops were found by detectorists because they were probably thrown out with the ‘night soil’. At the back of my mind is another story, which I have published before, but unable to locate. Subsequently found – see below.
From what I remember, at seaside resorts around the country, but especially at Blackpool, there was usually a guy who would ‘guess your weight’ for a penny. If he failed to come close then you would be given a Fred Archer pencil top as compensation. I like it!
UPDATE November 2016
The Searcher Magazine of February 1997 – Two 19th – Early 20th Century Seaside Novelties. Joyce Wrench, a searcher of beaches in North Yorkshire found two different pencil heads. She said:
Two novelty pencil heads, hollow cast in lead. The neck of each head is of the right size and shape to fit a standard pencil. One head represents a jockey, the other a boxer. They may be portraits of celebrated individuals of the day.
The coming of the railways, from about 1859 onwards, made seaside resorts accessible to the masses. By the end of the 19th century day trips and annual Sunday School outings (as a reward for good attendance) had become popular. The seafronts were packed with visitors. The ‘cheap-jacks’ of the time were quick to exploit them and devised various attractions on or near the sands.
One such attraction would have been a small gent dressed as a jockey, with a set of ‘sit-on’ scales by his side. He would offer to guess your weight for 2d. If he was wrong he would present you with an almost worthless prize – a lucky charm or a pencil head. Such novelties no doubt cost only a few shillings per thousand, so that even when he ‘failed’ to guess your weight, he still made a tiny profit.
I once attended Cheltenham horse races around 1972 with a mate of mine and we were within a yard of the Queen Mum as she entered the stands. As her entourage passed a very tall man in a sailor officer’s uniform stopped and said, “Would you like a top tip lads?” When we replied in the affirmative, he then told us to keep our money in our pocket and not to gamble. It’s the best racing tip I’ve ever had.
I’ve been asked what I mean by NIGHT SOIL. ‘Night Soil’ is the content of middens. People used to lose all sorts down the midden, including buttons, money, brooches … and pen tops! The contents were collected and strewn on the land as fertiliser. Explains why detectorists find what they do … do! 🙂
From a post that was lost. Do you have an exact double somewhere in the world? Can a person be in two places at once? There are many intriguing accounts thoughout history of people who claim to have either encountered apparitions of themselves – their doppelgänger – and it manifests itself quite often. The world of detecting is no exception!
I was surprised – and delighted – to receive the picture of a detecting find via Hugh McCreadie from north of the border in Scotland. He was amazed to see that an artefact he had unearthed, for the tin-plate face was (allegedly) the spitting image of … me!
A doppelgänger is a German word basically meaning ‘look-a-like’ or ‘ghostly double’. They are often perceived as sinister and regarded by some as bringers of bad luck. Seeing one’s own doppelgänger is said to be an omen of death. ‘Nuff said!
Hugh said, “I couldn’t believe it, but it was unmistakably the face of John Winter!” Now that is scary. Looks more like a death mask to me and more like my father rather than how I see myself.
I’ve been asked for a passport picture so you could see the comparison, but graciously decline. Many readers of readers of this blog are familiar with my visage. Just look at the above banner and make the connection. Plus, I don’t wish to scare any small children who may have accidently come across this page!
I now know what Hugh had found was a pencil head of another celebrity of the day. Not John Winter, but King Edward VII.
UPDATE – January 2017
And another. David Baker says he found this example near Ancaster in Lincolnshire
UPDATES – February 2017
On a muddy Detecting Scotland dig (183) held at Dunning on Sunday 5 February, one of Dirt Digger’s best find was a pencil head of boxer Peter Jackson (probably), a celebrity of the day. This fine pencil top is the best (and only one of the boxer) I have seen found by a detectorist. What do you think?
The Fred Archer pencil head seems to have been the most popular if the number found by detectorists is anything to go by! Aidan Mitchell of the DUG THAT MDC on Facebook has just shown a magnificent example found in South Yorkshire on a Christmas dig and has kindly allowed me to add the find to my blog.