Sunday, December 20, 2009

How I started Metal Detecting - The Beginning

Added To World Metal Detector Community By Roman Ron Morley

At the end of November I celebrated my 65th birthday which is usually the official 'retirement' age for workers here in Britain although I took early retirement from my post on the local USAFE base after 37 + years some two years ago. Since my 'official' retirement I have been taking time out to reflect on how I first developed an interest in all things ancient. Well it all started for me some 55 years ago when I was still attending my local Primary School. One day during morning break in the school playground another local lad by the name of Johnny Allsop told me his dad, who was a local farmer, had a field littered with Roman dating pottery shards. He offered to take me and show me where it was situated, I took up his offer and sure enough there was ancient pottery laying everywhere. I picked up some pieces and once home stored them in a large biscuit box.
With my interest now well and truly aroused I started to explore other areas of the parish and was soon cycling up a local ancient trackway known as Sandy Drove.It was here I discovered another interesting field where pieces of pottery lay in abundance, I had inadvertently stumbled on a large Roman dating complex. Within a few months my biscuit box was bulging with pottery, flints and clay pipe bowls. (May I say at this point I was very lucky to have been born in this particular area of East Anglia, had I not been it was doubtful I would ever have developed my interest in seaching for ancient artefacts. The 'Brecklands' that lay in this area of England consists of large tracts of sandy soil, here when the winds blow the fields' top soil soon blows away revealing any objects dropped in the past, likewise the rain quickly washes the sand away and any objects are soon exposed to the naked eye.) As it was I took my little cache of finds to school to show my teacher when Mr Dent the headmaster advised me to take them to the local Manor-house to show to a certain Lady Briscoe , the Lord of the Manor's wife who just happened to be an archaeologist. I wasn't too sure what to do as the fields that lay alongside Sandy Drove belonged to her husband, being part of their estate, and I hadn't been given the necessary permission to go on there searching in the first place. I was only around 10 years old at this time and was more than a little scared to go to the 'Hall' and talk to this very posh old lady.
Still one day a few weeks later and taking my courage in both hands I cycled down to the local manor-house where standing on tip-toe I just managed to reach the big brass knocker. I banged it four times and soon heard approaching footsteps echoing within the house getting ever closed. The door swung open revealing an old grey haired lady, I blurted out what I had been doing and was soon ushered into the house. The old lady who opened the door was indeed Lady Grace Briscoe but my fears were to prove groundless as she was very kind and friendly and was soon examining my box of 'finds'. Certain pieces of pottery within the box interested her and I soon found myself sitting in the passenger seat of her Wolsey 4-44 car as I took her to show her to the field from where the pottery had first appeared, I now found out this area was known by her as the 'Roman Field' and in fact she had carried out excavations here in 1949. I was now given free range of her husband's Estate, I searched other fields laying behind the 'Roman' Field again I was very lucky as these fields turned out to contain sites dating from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman period, Saxon period right through to casual Mediaeval-dating losses. In those years through the1950's right through the 1960's I was the only local interested enough to spend hours when the fields were clear of crops walking up and down looking for signs of early occupation. In those heady far-off days bronze coins, brooches, worked flint tools etc lay on the top of the soil standing out like the proverbial sore thumb against their sandy back-drop. I found some 100 Roman coins as well as silver hammered mediaeval types laying on the field surfaces over the next nineteen years. Strangely enough these all came from the Briscoe Estate fields, Johnny Allsop's dad's field that lay in another area of the village never yielding any 'eyes-only' coin findsfor me at all although Johnny's dad had spotted and picked up scores of them over the years laying on the surface. In those days bronze issues came out of the soil as good as the day they were lost always having a lovely green and shiny patina unlike the sad-looking specimens we find today. Of course it was a very 'seasonal' occupation back then that only lasted for a few weeks in any given year normally those searching weeks would be late in the summer when the fields were clear of crops plus of course the field surface had also to be rainwashed or wind-blown before you could spot any would-be finds anyway. Anyway I built up a nice collection over those years plus I enjoyed digging out some Roman-dating kilns that were exposed after deep ploughing in 1970-72
It was in early 1972 when a local lad turned up on my doorstep one evening with one of these new fangled metal detectors. It was an unusual type in that it was an American model he had brought with him that looked light years ahead of the few crude British models I had seen up to then. He had come to see me as he was looking for somewhere to search so I took him to my main Roman coin producing 'eyes only' field. Coin finds had dried up there during the last couple of years and I honestly thought I had found most of them so telling him he might be lucky and find one that I had missed I left him to it. To my utter amazement he found a further 150 coins on that field during that first year. I was absolutely gob-smacked, I had no idea back then at the amount of casual losses these sites could produce. Suffice to say I bought my first detector, a C-Scope Mark 11 the following year and have not looked back since. Again I count myself fortunate that I got in on the 'ground floor' as it were of detecting in this country when the majority of finds were still in the ground waiting to be found. Now some 20+ detectors later I am still going strong, retirement has meant I have much more spare time to search although my fields are few and far between. I hope to continue my searching for at least another ten years, and as far as past-times are concerned, let's face it, if God created a better hobby then he kept it for himself!

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