Local Treasures....


How often have you taken a stroll along the quiet leafy lanes around Petham or Waltham, perhaps walking the dog or just to aid digestion after a hearty Sunday lunch? Being retired I have more time than most and, having lived in Petham for over 25 years there are not many nooks and crannies I havenít explored.

When I first arrived in the area there were considerably more older residents than today, most of them either born locally or having lived here since the last war. Being fascinated by history I was a willing audience to tales of downed German planes, doodlebugs, tanks hidden in the woods, anti-aircraft batteries situated on Stone Street and Londoners down for the hop picking season etc. This place was buzzing in more ways than one 70 years ago but, look at it now.....itís as dead as the proverbial Dodo.! Or is it?

One thing I have discovered is that human nature being what it is, people have always been prone to lose or discard personal possessions and, if you take a moment to think about it, you will realise our quiet leafy lanes have seen constant activity in one form or another for at least two thousand years. I know this for certain because my tiny flat is crammed with boxes containing thousands of artefacts, including some nice Roman and medieval coins, all recovered by me personally within a mile or so of Petham. My oldest treasure (apart from the usual sea urchin fossils found everywhere) is a beautiful middle bronze age axe head dated by the British Museum to 1500 BC.

If I had enough time to thoroughly research my finds I would for example be able to tell you exactly which Georgian and Victorian regiments passed through our villages and on what fields they camped. I have many of their tunic buttons and musket balls. My collection of lead weights and tokens of every shape and size is considerable, these are amongst the most common finds on any field; they conjure up a picture of activity at harvest time when produce was weighed and perhaps sold on the spot. A lot of those weights are dateable back to Roman times. I could show you a little lead flask (called an Ampulla) which contained holy water and was lost in medieval times by a pilgrim returning home from Canterbury. Beautiful hammered silver coins going back to the reigns of Edward 1st, 2nd and 3rd must have caused their owners much grief when their loss was discovered. Handmade buckles and clothing fasteners from the Tudor period, along with enamelled horse pendants and intricate strap ends are a reminder of life at a gentler pace, before the industrial revolution left its detritus of broken traction engine parts and scrap iron upon our landscapes.
I hope this short article has been of interest. I will gladly show my finds to anybody with the time or inclination to make contact with me (Petham 700605). May I also take this opportunity to point out I do not trespass on private land. I have the kind permissions of the Maylam family and that of Mr Hulme, at Merton Farm. Unfortunately I have no contacts in Waltham or elsewhere locally, so any offers of search permission will be gratefully accepted, and of course all finds will be shown, shared and responsibly recorded.

David Caplan