TRENCH ART?

Trench Art is commonly defined as any decorative item made by soldiers or prisoners of war, where the manufacture is directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences. The most common example found by the detectorist is a decorated shell or bullet casing from the First World War. The term is also used to describe souvenirs made by soldiers during WW2, but is much more uncommon.

The term trench art conjures up a mud-spattered soldier in a soggy trench crafting a souvenir for ab loved one at home while dodging bullets and artillery shells. I think that image is far from the truth. The origins can be quite diverse and can include mementoes of war made by convalescent soldiers, souvenirs made by prisoners of war in exchange for food, cigarettes or money and so on. The lighter, fashioned from a cartwheel coin, was supplied by Mr Miyagi.

Art objects from the trenches of WW1 were generally created during pauses in battle, which could last weeks or months. These extended periods of time offered the soldiers’ ample time to carve or etch scrap metal into souvenirs. A soldier certainly needed a hobby to occupy his mind during these seemingly endless periods of inaction. The spent shell casings were plentiful so they became his material of choice.

The cynics will even tell you that enterprising French and Belgian citizens in the 1920s made such artefacts. Today, commercial firms offer ‘trench style art’ to those tourists touring the European battlefields.

The origins of trench art lie in the so-called ‘Prisoner of War Work’, in existence from the Napoleonic wars, and probably earlier. This work is characterised by its exquisitely intricate nature – impossibly labour- intensive, conjuring up images of months and years in captivity with little or no activity but that which you made for yourself.

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Tudor Gold Aglet

The AGLET s simply a lace tag that prevents the fibres from unravelling.
Take a look at the Tudor example found by Oliver!

Oliver Clark talks with John Winter

I don’t use a detector so I rely on my eyes and trusty rake. I started mudlarking in late 2013, and because the three-year Thames Foreshore Permit is valid from January to December, this meant that it only covered me for just over two years. I now have a regular licence.

Oliver astride his moped

Despite this, that single purchase was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I’ve always had an avid interest in finding long lost items from the past and used to do field walking with my dad when I was a boy.

One of my first significant finds on the Thames was a complete Georgian wig curler. Initially I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was ‘a something’. It wasn’t until one popped up on one of the Facebook groups I realised exactly what it was.

A Georgian wig curler

It’s often like this; if I’m not quite sure what it is, I pick it up and identification might come months or even years later. Having said that, I try not to hoard too many things. I regularly take back bits that have outstayed their welcome in my expanding collection of overflowing Tupperware boxes.

For those of you who have never heard the term before and don’t know what an aglet is, they are decorative ornaments used at the end of points (laces) to secure a garment, and are and often found in pairs on hats, or dresses. See Ian’s Shoelace Site for more information.

The best time to go mudlarking depends very much on the tides, which means I often find myself down there in the middle of the night armed with a head torch and accompanied by a friend. I find it more magical searching at night although it can be pretty scary. It’s very easy to get cut-off from the tide, or stuck in mud, so for safety reasons it’s always essential to go with at least one other person.

Funnily enough, most of my little gold bits have been found at night. Perhaps it’s something to do with the way my torch illuminates and highlights the gold.

Take a look at the portrait of Elizabeth de Valois, Queen of Spain – 1568, and especially the jewels. Notice the ribbons tying her sleeves and skirt are tipped with long, golden pearl-set aglets.

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A Law Unto Himself

“Pat is a very talented man whose carvings are absolutely fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like them.”


Introducing Pat Law and his canine friend Tizer

“Doing stuff for other people makes me feel good!”

It is a fact that among the legion of detectorists, there are some very intelligent and talented people, and in varying disciplines. I have been privileged and delighted to tell some of their stories in this blog and elsewhere. Using his special skill and talent Pat produces exquisite forms that are wonders to behold. Indeed, in a recent FB comment, Jackie Kirk said, “When the world collapses and there are no more apps or computers or storage systems: when the cloud is just a cloud, Pat’s carvings will become our history.”

Stonemason

Mr. Patrick Law is the tall guy who always detects in shorts and a beret, no matter what the weather – and wears a beard during the winter months. Pat is a stonemason who has crossed the line from craft to art and uses his artistic ability to carve stone into fantastic creations … like the ‘grotesque’ shown below. I had mistakenly called it a gargoyle, but Pat advised me on the difference. Evidently, a gargoyle is a carved grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building.

As an art student, rugby coach, teacher and a stonemason/carver in the family business, Pat has a rich history on which to look back.

First, something about his hobby: he started detecting ‘seriously’ in January 2015. Previously he’d stopped because “the technology wasn’t up to it.” Translated, that means he was an impatient young man and soon tired of collecting tractor parts and assorted dross. He described the experience as a “passing whim.”

One Man and his Dog

Tizer, the Patterdale Terrier

But now, things have changed – and it’s all thanks to Tizer, Pat’s highly adaptable Patterdale terrier. All permissions are local, so when the dog fancies an outing, Pat takes along his faithful friend … along with the Minelab CTX. They are the dream team! Used traditionally for hunting a wide array of quarry, the terrier is now perfecting his detecting skills, although searching in thunder and lightening can be exciting – but not recommended! Tizer doesn’t like loud bangs! “He’s as daft as a brush”, says Pat, “runs all morning then sleeps all afternoon … then again perhaps he isn’t so daft after all!”

Yorkshireman Pat loves local history and told me in his colourful evocative language, “Hammered coins are okay, but I’m more interested in what was going on with love tokens, those juicy slices of romantic history, and also spindle whorls.

Love Tokens

Pat says: I’m fascinated for every one has such a story to tell … and I wonder why I collect so many! In my wanderings across the pastures I’ve found a few of these sad rejections of passion. Every time I wonder what transpired when the token was accidentally lost … or deliberately thrown away. Was he a philanderer? Was the girl seeing another? We will never know for definite!”

The Whorl Pool

© PL

Friends jokingly say that Pat has a ‘Whorl Pool’. Why does the ubiquitous spindle whorl get him ‘buzzing’? I’ll let him explain, “Spindle whorls have been made from many materials throughout history. It is the ones cast in lead that I find enthralling and I remember that incredulity when I found my first one. They are fascinating!

“I’d only been detecting for a few weeks and resigned myself to finding only Georgian items on the land I was on … then I found my first. This wasn’t a coin that changed hands on a regular basis but a personal item owned most likely by a woman. Perhaps she used – and lost it while out in the field. Was she upset at losing it? Did she place a value on it? Was it one of many she possessed? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I looked at my first whorl. I’m sure all the whorl was thinking was ‘put me back on the spindle and let’s get back to work!’ After the first find they have come out at a fairly steady and at the last count I have unearthed 58. Perhaps they would prefer to live in my house rather than in the field. Every single one from the highly decorated to the basic washer type makes me happy. When I see that off-white disc peering from the freshly dug loam I know that even if I find nothing else that day I will be going home with a smile on my face!

Faces.© PL

The fact is that somebody used his or her hands a lot, making it and using it and I can identify with that! I think of a whorl as a woman’s tool – her means of making a living. What was going on that so many were discarded and I find so many? Were they thrown away because there was a better model? Thoughts like these are what go through my head.”

I first came across Pat when I was searching for material to include in a newsletter I was creating. What he said was simple, but very profound, and worth repeating for a wider audience.

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Metal Micky

The Central promenade is one of the beautiful Blackpool beaches. Almost a century ago, thousands of souvenir pendants were produced for the first Blackpool Carnival, which saw two million people enjoy a week of pageants, parades, shows, and races. At least one of them dropped a pendant – and that’s the one found by detectorist ‘Metal Micky’ almost 100 years later.


He’d been stuck indoors for over 10 years with aching legs and associated health issues and just had to get out of the house. Things were about to change.

Preston based Michael Brady is about 45 years old and, like a lot of us, rather overweight and battling depression. But, in Michael’s case he was born with rheumatoid arthritis and didn’t start to walk until six years old.

Michael was motivated and inspired when a friend showed him a detecting  magazine and, as a result, he went and bought a detector. In no time at all he says, “I was hooked”. The good news is that the hobby encouraged him to get out and walk more. As a result, he’s gradually losing weight and friends now call him ‘Metal Micky’.

On one of his early forays using his Garrett Ace and searching on wet sand, he made a rather special find, a pendant with the following words: BLACKPOOL CARNIVAL JUNE 1923. None were believed to still exist. Michael had struck heritage gold. So, a rare piece of Blackpool history was discovered on the beach after almost 95 years.

The pendant found and donated by Michael. Courtesy of the Blackpool Museum Project. The pendant will be displayed in the Local and Family History Centre in Blackpool’s Central Library from February 2021.

Blackpool is soon to get its first museum – telling the story of Britain’s first mass seaside resort and its place in the history of popular culture. The museum is due to open in 2021 and will be named SHOWTOWN.

Michael offered to donate his find to Blackpool’s Heritage Collection as they didn’t have one.

A spokesman for The Blackpool Museum Project said:

“Blackpool began what it thought would be a new tradition, holding an annual Carnival in June. The 1923 Carnival was such a greatsuccess that another even bigger and longer carnival was arranged to take place the following year. Unfortunately the 1924 carnival was set to be the last of its kind Blackpool held … although the crowds were equally as immense as the previous year, drunkenness and violence were rife.”

So, the find was rather significant. In 1923 Blackpool organised its first Carnival and in 2017, the year Michael found the pendant, the Carnival was re-launched.

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A LITTLE WHIMSY

A whimsical person is unusual, playful, and unpredictable, rather than serious and practical. What is life without a little whimsy?

Fake news?

I’ll start with some fake news seen last night on Auntie Beeb and sent to President Tweety for verification. I understand that Rudy Ghouliani is on the job. What a relief!

Interesting pictures made from belly button fluff … and more!

Because of FaceAche and other social media, metal detecting forums have taken a bit of a bashing. Some (not all) use different ways to attract new and current members.

In an effort to remedy the situation, the Administrator on a forum you might know, made the decision to change some of the games members could play in the ‘arcade’ section. People were invited to suggest exciting activities. Here are some of the more sensible of those suggestions.

  1. a fishing or noodling page
  2. a page where transvestites can hang out
  3. another one for people with an OCD with an OCD with an OCD with an OCD
  4. hints and tips for whittlers and gardeners
  5. workshop for all those interested in duct tape art
  6. a place where all those taphophile enthusiasts can meet up
  7. workshop for toilet roll knitted cover collectors
  8. Pooh sticks … or Scrabble competitions for the not so energetic
  9. killing and eating your own food-but you can share with others
  10. Yoga with special emphasis on the Kama Sutra
  11. making interesting pictures with belly button fluff – involve others
  12. taking pictures of yourself playing dead and perhaps starting a lurkers section
  13. making a collage from finger and toenail clippings
  14. snoring in tune with Abba’s greatest hits
  15. a section where old farts can hang out

Sad to say that some suggestions were considered frivolous and impractical. The one chosen isn’t even on the list. The venerable Texan Dick Stout was the inspiration : in one of his popular Brain Farts he said,” I finally figured out the real reason for the . . . spade.  It’s for taking photos of your detector leaning on it.

And that’s all you had to do – take a memorable picture of your spade resting on the detector. This has proved to be a resounding success on many sites. Thank you Dick.

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The oldest gay in the Stone Age village

I’d never qualify as an archaeologist. Some seem to be masters in imaginative writing when it comes to the interpretation of archaeological data and that’s a quality I lack. Often their storytelling allows us non-specialists to understand the past, and that’s a good thing is it not? But I do think that a lot of archaeology is based on imagination. Different ‘experts’ can dig the same sites or look at the items we present for appraisal, and reach completely different conclusions.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what people in the past were thinking and believing, especially without having access to substantial written historical records. There is always the bias of their own culture. We don’t have a voice from the past to help us. The archaeologist’s interpretation is all we have to go on at the present time.

Consider the obvious material clues as found in a Saxon grave I witnessed being excavated. The grave goods were of good quality and interpreted as belonging to a person of high status – and that’s a reasonable conclusion, but they could equally have belonged to a thief. What is the current jargon? Thinking outside the box!

The skeleton was found in a Prague suburb with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs – rituals only previously seen in female graves. Men would normally be buried with weapons, hammers and flint knives. Courtesy of Europics

Where is all this leading you may ask? I came across a story of a late Stone Age man unearthed during excavations in the Czech Republic. According to archaeologists, the way he was buried suggested that he was of a different sexual persuasion. The first known gay caveman! But not everyone is convinced!

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