Where water wells up from the earth: excavations at the findspot of the Late Bronze Age Broadward hoard, Shropshire

The Broadward hoard: composition, chronology and context

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The Broadward hoard: composition, chronology and context
In 1867 a large hoard of metalwork was found during drainage and water management in a field known as ‘Lower Moor’ at Broadward Hall, on the Shropshire–Herefordshire border (fig 1). When the work was carried out, a concreted mass of metal was discovered, broken apart and found to comprise bronze artefacts, including at least 53 spearheads, 11 fragments belonging to at least two leaf-shaped swords, five ferrules, two ‘bugle-shaped objects’, a tanged chisel, a chape, and part of a tubular armlet or ring. The collection was subsequently dispersed, but 76 implements were presented to the British Museum; a box of finds kept at the Hall has since disappeared. It seems possible that a second group of objects was found in 1912–13, but nothing is known about them. Even so, it is likely that the hoard originally contained over a hundred objects. All the surviving artefacts were published by Burgess, Coombs and Davies in 1972. Further information is available in two files in the Lily F. Chitty Collection (Shropshire Record and Research, 1992, Files 194 and 195).

There are four accounts of the original discovery but they provide little information on the circumstances in which it was discovered and contradict one another at several points.14 The first is the position of the findspot. One source refers to a ‘tumulus’ adjacent to the hoard site. It had been levelled some time before the metalwork was found. There were supposedly three such mounds at Broadward, and this particular example was located ‘in a nearly straight line with the other two’.15 In fact, one of these features was probably of glacial origin, although is enclosed by a shallow ditch, whilst another can be identified as a medieval motte. A line linking these features would extend well to the east of the findspot marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey map as ‘Bronze Spear Heads found 1867’. No trace of a third mound can be recognised today.

The earliest references to the hoard refer to the local microtopography. ‘The Lower Moor, in which the bronze was found, has been up to the time of the discovery one of the most wet …. of the Valley of the Clun’.16 ‘The cutting [that revealed the metalwork] was at the extreme edge of the swampy ground, where it rises rather abruptly to a higher level’.17 The hoard was ‘on the very edge of [a] former morass’.18 This description accords with the findspot recorded by the Ordnance Survey (SO 39007625), but not with the site suggested by Burgess, Coombs and Davies19 who were influenced by Banks’s reference to a line of barrows further to the east (SO 391762).

Nineteenth century sources also shed light on the contents of the hoard. ‘Spear-heads and fragments of various patterns lay in a confused heap … Many were taken from the earth cemented together with the gravel into large solid lumps, the points laying in all directions’.20 One author records that ‘large teeth … chiefly of a small equine species’ were found with the metalwork;21 others say that ‘whole skulls of ox and horse ... were taken up with the spears and other bones of the animals, as if the beasts of burden and their freight had been swamped in the bog’.22 ‘Bones of oxen and pigs [were] found in the same locality’.23 They were not confined to the position of the hoard, as Rocke and Barnwell record that ‘the number of animal bones dug up in every part of the field is remarkable’.24 With the Late Bronze Age metalwork were ‘the imperfect remains of a small urn’.25 It has been lost, but an illustration of the pot (fig 2) shows that it dates from the Roman period.

There is even more confusion about the circumstances of the original discovery. It is clear that the main group of metalwork was encountered in draining the bog. One account implies that the deposit was found in digging a land drain and that part of it might have remained intact. ‘The extent of the deposit was not ascertained, as it was not disturbed much beyond the width of the cutting, being an ordinary drain’.26 Their description of the discovery also states that the ‘bronze was found at a depth of five or six feet below the surface’.27 It was ‘in a deposit of clayey alluvium’.28 The hoard was recovered under difficult conditions, as the excavation flooded once it reached the water table. That is why it was impossible to observe the relationship between the metalwork and the pot. In fact the two statements contradict one another. The trenches dug to install the drains were considerably less than five feet [c 1.52m] deep, but this was not true of the wells that they connected. They provided a source of fresh water which was pumped to Broadward Hall. The findspot recorded on the earliest Ordnance Survey map is shown as a spring. It was replaced in the same position by one of the wells.

These accounts raised the possibility that a Late Bronze Age hoard had been associated with a deposit of animal bones. More were found in draining other parts of the bog. The unusual size of the barbed spearheads encouraged the view that the hoard was a votive deposit. For both these reasons Burgess, Coombs and Davies suggested that ‘excavation of the site … would be desirable’.29 In the end that did not happen for nearly forty years.

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