There be Dragons in Bidford

In 1921, during the cutting of a new road in the village of Bidford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, workmen discovered an Anglo-Saxon cemetery dating to the 6th century.

That year 23 skeletons were found, with another 80 discovered the following year alongside a variety of grave goods including spear heads, knives, arrow heads, shield bosses, buckets, bronze bowls, a bronze box, brooches, glass and amber bead necklaces, rings, pins, bone combs and straighteners and metal tweezers. 137 complete or partial cremations in urns were also discovered, with further excavations and discoveries continuing over the next two years into 1923.

The majority of these finds are cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust but the site lies within a mile of the Worcestershire County boundary and, perhaps as a result, a few of the finds are in the collections curated by Museums Worcestershire. One of the most striking is an Anglo-Saxon bucket, a rare and intriguing object sometimes found in 5th to 7th-century Anglo-Saxon graves. They are usually made from wooden staves and have copper-alloy or iron bindings and fittings. Their size varies greatly, some are a similar size to modern day mugs to some as large as 20cm in diameter.

These were not functional objects but highly decorated symbols of status. This example in the Worcestershire collections is decorated with fittings depicting dragons, a mythical beast believed to seek out treasure and guard it fiercely. Dragons appear throughout the Anglos-Saxon world, in stories and adorning jewellery, armour and other objects such as this wonderful bucket.

Buried Treasure and Medieval Love

Intriguing discoveries of archaeological items can happen while metal-detecting, gardening, walking across fields or playing in the mud.

Since 1997, Museums Worcestershire has collaborated with the British Museum and Birmingham Museums Trust to host the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records archaeological artefacts and coins discovered by the public. The scheme has recorded over 15,000 finds from Worcestershire, dating from the Stone Age through to the Post-Medieval period.

One find which has caused much excitement recently is a medieval silver brooch, found in the Rushock area by metal-detectorist Scott Heeley. As Mr Heeley suspected the brooch was made of a precious metal and more than 300 years old, he reported his discovery via the local Schemes’ Finds Liaison Officer. Under the Treasure Act of 1996, museums are given the opportunity to purchase such finds, often requiring challenging fundraising projects to secure grants and donations, but in this case the finder and landowner kindly donated the brooch to Museums Worcestershire’s permanent collection. For museums, donations like this are a wonderfully generous gesture and the brooch will forever be a legacy for future generations to enjoy.

The brooch dates from the late 1200s to mid-1300s, and is most likely a romantic gift which demonstrated the depth of the suitor’s love. It is silver with gilding, in the form of a circular frame with a miniature sword-shaped pin pivoted on the edge. The outer face of the brooch is decorated with punched annulets and the rings may represent hawthorn flowers, which are associated with love and are a common symbol of this period.

Bearded Jug

This particularly interesting looking jug from Worcester City’s collection is known generally on the Continent as a Bartmann or “Bearded” jug. In England it is known as a “Bellarmine” jug, possibly named after the Italian Jesuit theologian, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542 – 1621), who was a leading figure of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and staunch advocate of no alcohol. Bellarmino disagreed with James I on papal dominion and the jug may have been a way of ridiculing him with a humorous depiction on a vessel that would have contained alcohol.

These salt-glazed stoneware jugs were made predominantly in the 16th and 17th centuries, more commonly manufactured in Europe, mainly Germany to start with, then eventually, English examples were found; their defining features are the bearded man depicted at the neck of the vessel and decoration around the bulb. This particular bottle was found in Worcester.

Discovered in unlikely contexts such as buried beneath floors or tucked behind fireplaces, these bottles were used as “witch bottles”. The bottle would be filled with articles such as sharp objects, nails, pins and human urine. This was then sealed and buried to keep witches at bay.

Loyalty comes in many guises

In August 2017, a metal detectorist came across this wonderful find in the Worcestershire countryside. It is a silver gilt incomplete pendant with Charles I on one side and a crowned shield of Great Britain (i.e. the Stuart Coat of Arms) on the other. It was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and declared as treasure by the coroner.

A few years later and Worcester City Museums are now the proud owner of the artefact. This pendant was a way of showing your personal declaration of loyalty to the monarch. Other items such as buttons and badges were also commissioned and worn for this purpose. They would have been worn in the 17th century, up to 1660 when the crown was restored back to the monarchy.

Although there are other examples from around the country, not many have been found in this county, despite our Civil War heritage. Some versions combined the personal arms on one side with the owner’s initials on the other indicating their royal allegiance.

Museums Worcestershire would like to thank the generosity and continued support of The Commandery Members who have enabled us to acquire this wonderful object for the museum collection.

Treasures beneath our feet

Museums Worcestershire has collaborated with Birmingham Museums Trust since 1997 to host the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Scheme was set up to record archaeological artefacts and coins discovered by the public, whether they were using a metal detector, gardening, walking across fields or playing in the mud. In the past 21 years the Scheme has recorded over 15,000 finds from Worcestershire, dating from the Stone Age through to the Post Medieval period. These finds can be viewed at www.finds.org.uk.

One find recently recorded is a miniature axe found near Earl’s Croome, dating to the late Iron Age to Roman period (about 100 BC to AD 200). The axe is made of bronze and measures 28mm long and 18mm wide. It is not certain what these miniature axes were used for, whether they were toys or apprentice pieces, but the most likely interpretation is that they were used as a ritual object. Examples have been found on Roman temple sites, for example in Baldock, Hertfordshire, but there is no evidence of a temple in Earl’s Croome. What this axe was doing in Earl’s Croome remains a mystery, but it could be as simple as a Roman soldier dropping it as they marched through the parish to reach their fort in the Welsh Marches 2,000 years ago.

If you are lucky enough to find buried treasure you could you add more pieces to the jigsaw by recording your finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Angie Bolton
Senior Finds Liaison Officer – Portable Antiquities Scheme

Tudor Candlesticks from a Forgotten Palace

Tickenhill Manor in Bewdley was once the home of James and Alice Parker. The Parkers were keen historians and for many years had been collecting “every sort of variety of relic so long as it appertained to Worcestershire”. In the 1930s they began to show these objects as a ‘folk museum’ at their own home. Over 30 years they amassed a collection of around 30 tons of objects and were attracting up to 2000 visitors a year. This collection became the founding collection of Worcestershire County Museum in the 1960s.

Few people are aware, however, that a royal palace once stood on the site of Tickenhill Manor; a Tudor palace, built by Henry VII for his eldest son and heir, Prince Arthur. Arthur married Catherine of Aragon in the chapel at Tickenhill Palace at the tender age of 12 in 1499. The palace was built for royalty and furnished accordingly. Two candlesticks, now in Worcester City’s collection were excavated from the grounds there. They are fifteenth/sixteenth century in date and once lit the halls of this royal palace. In common with most metal candlesticks of this date they are made of brass, now tarnished by many years buried underground and would, most likely, have held wax candles.

Just three years after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Arthur died and the course of English history was changed forever. His younger brother became Henry VIII and with him came the foundation of the Church of England and the reformation. Arthur’s body was taken to the chapel at Tickenhill and then on to Worcester Cathedral where he lies today. In time, the Palace became home to Henry VIIIs daughters, Mary and Elizabeth and later hosted Charles II who wrote from there to Prince Rupert, urging him to relieve York, leading to the Battle of Marston Moor. Despite this royal pedigree, some 350 years later, Tickenhill Palace is all but forgotten.

Medieval Roof Tiles from The Commandery

The largest collection of late medieval roof tiles found in Worcester came, not from an archaeological excavation, but from the roof of a building.

The tiles were found, still in use, on the roof of the Garden Wing at The Commandery. It is possible that these tiles have been reused in their current location from an earlier building (possibly at The Commandery, but not necessarily) and that they have been taken off and put back on this present roof a number of times.

These medieval tiles were locally made in Worcester and are significant for the stamps that many of them carry. In 1467 Worcester City Ordinances introduced compulsory tiling on roofs in an attempt to reduce the number of houses with thatch roofs and therefore the number of fires. The tiles had to be stamped with an individual maker’s mark so that tiles could be traced back to their original workshops in a bid to ensure high quality in production.

Maker’s marks on The Commandery roof tiles include indented rings, petals, triangles, crescents and arrangements of dots and lines. A number of the tiles also preserve the footprints of animals, long gone, that walked across them when they were being manufactured: animals like dogs, cats, deer and heron. These marks, an early form of building control, are not thought to be found anywhere else in the country outside of Worcester.

Buried Treasures

A rare coin hoard of medieval Long Cross silver pennies found by metal detectorists in Dodderhill was recently acquisitioned into the Worcestershire County Museum collection.

Hoards of the Long Cross period are relatively rare – only 37 are known from the whole of England and Wales and this is the second such hoard in the care of Museums Worcestershire, the first being from Belbroughton. This hoard is thought to date back to the 1270s.

The hoard includes two relative rarities: a complete 3ab1 penny of Hereford and a European-brabantinus. There are fewer than 5 Hereford 3ab1 pennies and only 9 Brabants recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, out of around 43,000 medieval coins. The Portable Antiquities Scheme records discoveries by metal detectorists and other members of the public.

This hoard amounts to 5s 2.5d, which would have been equivalent to over 40 days’ wages in the 13th century, so could either have been a considerable purse loss, or the accumulated savings of a peasant.

The coin hoard will be kept in the county thanks to generous donations from Felicity Marshall and from Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

Here be dragons

This floor tile from the Museums Worcestershire collection was discovered during excavations at the Commandery in 2005-6. The tile is likely to be of local Worcestershire production, and dates from the 14th century when the Commandery was still serving its original purpose as a monastic hospital – a function which it fulfilled for 500 years.

The tile is thought to have been part of a single paved area, demolished sometime between the late 18th – mid 19th century. By this period, the Commandery had become a family home, and was later transformed into a pioneering school for the blind sons of gentlemen.

The tile is decorated with a four legged beast with a long curved tail. There has been some debate as to whether this creature is a dragon or a wyvern, but the lack of wings on this example may suggest that it in fact represents a dragon. The image of a dragon on this Worcester-made tile, and in the context of its original location within a monastic hospital is thought-provoking. Perhaps the image alludes to the legendary stories of Saint George, famous amongst many other saints for his traditional run-in with a dragon.

The dragon has been universally adopted, and adapted, throughout the last millennium, and across the world. There have been many suggestions as to the origins of dragon and wyvern myths – snakes, crocodiles, sea creatures, dinosaurs and even rainbows have been suggested as the common origin of the mythical beast. In Chinese traditional culture, the dragon has been viewed as a symbol of strength and good, whereas more fearful tales from other cultures present the dragon as a villain.