Being footloose and fancy-free in the boyfriend department, and the proud owner of a ‘Friends of the British Museum’ card (a brilliant present from Kim), I spent the weekend of love with my greatest love – HISTORY. Thus my first visit to the British Museum was on the Buried Treasure weekend that included gallery talks by BM curators, displays of ancient crafts by re-enactment societies and guided tours around the Buried Treasure Exhibit itself.
As a young ‘un I wanted to be an archaeologist, and throughout changes in career I have never lost my desire to find historical treasures in the ground. I still have a battered crucifix, with the body of Jesus broken off, that I found in the sheep pens on our first farm. And of course there was that dinosaur bone in a rock that I picked up at the base of the cliffs at Yallingup, which Mum threw away after three years gathering dust in the shed – Claireosaurus: Lost Forever.
The Buried Treasure Exhibit displayed the Hoards (ie collections of coins and precious objects found in the ground) uncovered by amateur metal detectorists and members of the public (usually farmers) across Britain. I was never so eager to get out into the countryside and start crawling around on hands and knees with a shovel than I was after I saw the gold displayed. I felt like a Viking at one point, leaning closely and jealously against the glass that separated me from great wealth. Pillage … sack … pillage … *ahem*
One of the highlight of the exhibition, for me, was one of the smallest pieces in the exhibit – including the toy frying pans from Victorian doll sets and the tiny manicure sets from Roman Britain – the badge of the Gloucester Boar, the sigil of Richard III before he was King. As a Richard III groupie of long standing I nearly left a nose print trying to get closer to the tiny piece of metal that would have been hugely missed by its owner.
In the time of the War of the Roses, the power of a Duke such as Richard Duke of Gloucester rested solely in his retinue, and you were a member of his retinue by virtue of the Badge you wore. Finding such an important piece, especially considering how much it would have been searched for and just how tiny it was, was extraordinary luck.
Apart from my gold lust, the talks by the BM curators were brilliant, bringing back memories of university, but with the added glamour of listening to the foremost scholars in their fields. I was a bit of a groupie of the BM’s Ancient Britain curator and went to three of his lectures and toward the end we were sharing history jokes.