Little Waldingfield History Society was absolutely delighted to welcome Darren Clarke to the Parish Room on Wednesday 17th June. As we anticipated, he enthralled our thirty five plus audience with remarkable stories from his lifelong passion for metal detecting, with numerous photos of his very large number of finds over the years and also a display of many of these objects. What we didn't expect was Darren's incredible knowledge of the history of England from the stone age onwards, along with a detailed understanding of the objects he uncovered - quite a tour de force given the tiny aid memoire he used.
Many things remain in the memory from his 90 minute talk - my personal favourite being his description of the field notes he has made and kept from every excavation over the years. These detail where, how and why a particular site (field or part of a field) was chosen, the time of year, what crops surrounded the site (if any), soil condition and of course the results of his endeavours. As he later explained, modern farming methods with huge tractors and machinery do great damage to hidden objects and he believes the time may soon be past when amateurs can find objects with much semblance to their original shape and condition; it also seems that modern chemicals do great damage to metal objects when exposed by the plough or other equipment, and they can then very rapidly corrode away - stone objects can also be severely damaged. Despite this, with the aid of his copius filed notes, he is able to revisit sites from time to time in a targetted manner with real hope of unearthing more material - a strategy that has served him well over the years.
Darren gave tips on how to go about metal detecting, identifying potential sites for investigation, contacting land owners carefully (because its very easy for them to say no), examining soil conditions to look for colour changes or other anomalies - the process of selection is fairly straightforward but done properly, can save many hours wasted in fruitless searches. He then demonstrated his machine, explaining both how to achieve the best results and how to obtain the best value for money - his advice is don't buy the most expensive as they can cost thousands of pounds and may be no better than machines costing a few hundred.
Darren also emphasized how important it was to know the sort of objects that might be unearthed at each site, what they might look like in various stages of damage / decomposition and how to decipher unknown objects, giving as example one of his first very early finds which subsequently turned out to be very recent and part of a toilet cistern - a valuable lesson learned the hard way. The secret is to join one of the many clubs / societies who have regular get togethers where advice is freely given, potentially saving hours of fruitless research.
After a brilliant talk and many questions, Darren ended by letting the audience scrutinise the many finds he had brought along and play with his detecting machine - it seems quite likely that some new found fans will soon take up this fascinating hobby.
Our next talk will be in September, the first of our forthcoming new annual programme, when Roger Green will talk about “Simon of Sudbury and the French Connection”. Simon Sudbury was Bishop of London, then Archbishop of Canterbury before finally becoming Lord Chancellor of England, crowning Richard II at Westminster Abbey; however, he became extremely unpopular after his role in introducing the Third Poll Tax and was dragged by a mob from the Tower of London and savagely beheaded in 1381 - it sounds like a gruesome but fascinating local interest story with national implications.
We look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room on Wednesday 16th September for what is sure to be a wonderful evenings entertainment.
Andy Sheppard 25th June 2015