Alice Loxton

Historian’s notebook: Chaucer’s questionable fashion sense

And meeting the superstar detectorists

  • From Spectator Life

I am chatting to Jon, an ex-tree surgeon from Derby, in one of the galleries of the British Museum. He became an amateur metal detectorist when his wife, Julie, gave him the kit on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. ‘Our honeymoon to Barbados was cancelled because of Covid’, he explains, ‘so this present was the trade-off’. It has proved a source of marital bliss: Jon adores his new hobby, and Julie enjoys ‘weekends of peace’. 

How remarkable that these objects have spent centuries lying forgotten underground until – Beep! Beep!

A few months ago, Jon pulled a strange, curved object from the sandy Staffordshire soil, which at first he thought was an aluminium drawer handle. Then, after wiping it down, the colour changed, revealing its true, dazzling form: a 3,000-year-old gold clothes fastener in perfect condition. It was, historians think, made in Iron Age Ireland and is one of only seven to have been discovered. 

It’s Jon’s first visit to the British Museum, and at this rate, the first of many. ‘I’ll be back next year’, he chuckles, ‘Plenty more to find’. How remarkable that objects such as this have spent centuries lying forgotten underground until – Beep! Beep! – a metal detector flies above them, and their second life, exhumed, begins. 

Jon’s discovery at the British Museum (Getty Images)

I headed off to Temple Church this week for a lunchtime organ recital, surrounded by effigies of crusading knights, penitential cells where men starved to death, and memorials to the Blitz firestorms. Those that run the place have a particular interest in English legal history, this being the church of London’s Inns of Court. It was here that King John’s rebellious barons first demanded he assent to their charter of rights over Epiphany in 1215. The King refused, but was forced to sign what became the Magna Carta at Runnymede later that year.

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