MGM 2005: Fabulous Finds In London - Unlocking The Past

By Carolyn Bandel | 04 May 2005
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Shows a photograph of a woman leaning over a table and holding an artefact, while another woman seated opposite looks at a book.

Experts were on hand at the Museum of London to identify fabulous finds brought in by members of the public. Photo: Peter Arkell.

24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Journalist Carolyn Bandel got the lowdown on Fabulous Finds at the Museum of London.

A medieval key, a Victorian pee pot and Britain’s most unexpected historian – London’s first Fabulous Finds Day, on April 30, revealed some surprising discoveries.

Anything over 300 years old was officially classified as a fabulous find on the day, so it’s unsurprising that Lochlan Smyth’s oversized, 14th century key caused a bit of a frenzy at the event that helped kick-start the annual Museums and Galleries Month.

“I knew it was good when I found it!” beamed Lochlan, who, at 13, must be one of the youngest metal detecting enthusiasts around. However, his brother Toran who is nine and brought in a Henry VI coin he uncovered recently is already contemplating a career in treasure hunting.

Shows a photograph of a boy holding up a 14th century key which has been mounted on a piece of red, framed material.

Lochlan Smyth showing off a 14th century key he uncovered in Hastings, East Sussex. Photo: Peter Arkell.

While Lochlan told the story of how he dug up the medieval key at a Hastings building site three years ago in front of TV cameras, his ‘colleague’, Chris Chapman, 66, clarified: “We are a group of five of metal detecting enthusiasts of which Lochlan and his dad are part. Each Sunday we go all over East Sussex to make new finds.”

Chapman has made some incredible finds himself. Carefully he uncovered a small, golden ring he found last week. “It’s about 400 years old,” he said, still amazed by his discovery. “After I found it in a field last week, I was so excited that I couldn’t do anything else all day.”

In the mean time, in the entrance hall of the Museum of London, event host for the day, fellow metal detecting enthusiast and ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman signed copies of his book about historical treasures found in Great Britain and Ireland.

Wyman, who has been involved with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a government funded initiative that helps people share identify their finds, has been digging the dirt himself for about 15 years. “I’m doing a history of my house in Suffolk, so it’s part of learning about what has happened in the local villages,” he explained.

Shows a photograph of former member of the Rolling Stones Bill Wyman leaning over a table with artfacts on it and speaking to another man and a woman who is on the opposite side of the table.

Like a Rolling Stone... Mr Wyman discusses the finer points of the fabulous finds on show. Photo: Peter Arkell.

“I have been working on the history of the house for a good 10 years and I found things that go back to the 11th century,” Wyman said. “The oldest things I found are from the bronze age. I’ve found part of a bronze axe, which dates back to 1600 BC, and since I have found four more from 700 BC. Also I’ve found fossils and Neolithic tools.”

And, as if talking about metal detecting and archaeology with one of the biggest rock stars the world has ever known wasn’t surreal enough, Wyman explained how he found two complete Roman sites near his house.

Back inside, George Paice from London looked slightly disappointed while putting some pottery back in his bag.

“It’s a pee pot which I found while digging foundations in London’s Magdalene Street, someone told me it was from the 17th century,” he said. The experts didn’t seem to agree: “by the type of pottery, the way it is glazed it looks like the everyday pottery that was used around the 1850s,” said a museum curator.

Shows a photograph of a woman standing next to a table at which a line of people are seated. One of them, a man, is holding up a coin.

Fabulous finder Helen James took a 17th Century coin along to the museum for the experts to identify. Photo: Peter Arkell.

Nonetheless, the experts were very happy that the public are interested in uncovering history.

Andrew Richardson, Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer for Kent explained: “we wouldn’t know about half as many things as we do now if people didn’t go out with their metal detectors.”

Britain’s archaeology fans: dig out your back garden!

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Carolyn Bandel is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the London region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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