Welcome to my blog. I am not a very regular blogger, but I try to keep this site updated with news and information. If there's none of the above I may just share my random ruminations.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Two Memorable Visits AND my connection to the Mildenhall Treasure

The Palace of Westminster

My husband and I on the terrace
View of the London Eye from the terrace


This week my husband and I travelled up from Gloucestershire to London. We checked in at the New Cavendish Club and then went out for several hours of lunching and shopping.What could be nicer?
Lunch was perfect but afterwards it was he who gleefully bought himself a pair of shoes, while I bought nothing!  And then we returned to the club to get ready to go out. But we could easily not have been in London at all. 
Westminster Hall

It was only a few weeks ago that we received our invitation to a reception at the Houses of Parliament. But my husband wasn’t keen. In the abstract, making a trip to London only to stand around for several hours in a collar and tie, on very best behaviour, glad-handing and making social chit-chat was unappealing to him. But my eagle eye instantly honed in on the venue and the date this event was going to be staged.

“I’d love to visit the Palace of Westminster,” I said, “and that day is our wedding anniversary.”  He was hooked and landed.

Chapel ceiling
And what a fabulous evening we both had.  The function took place in The Jubilee Room, which you get to by going through the oldest part of the palace, Westminster Hall, and up a  flight of stairs.

We did stand around for an hour or so, drinking wine, eating nibbles and chatting to old friends and work colleagues of my husband’s, but it was fun.  Then  I felt very privileged to be  taken by Colonel Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, on a bespoke tour of The House. We watched the Lords in session. We visited the chapel and the terrace, and were taken into the Commons, once the sitting was over.  

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

British Museum
The next day we made our leisurely way over to the British Museum, where our son works as the project curator for the upcoming Vikings exhibition. This is going to be staged in the spring of 2014, in the brand new exhibition space currently being built.  It will have as its centrepiece an actual salvaged Viking ship.
Having been tipped the wink not to bother with the Pompei exhibition because it's very crowded, despite the timed tickets, we did a short tour around the Assyrian section, and then, as always, we made a special diversion to look at the Mildenhall treasure.  (In the British Museum at the moment there is a special display - with the great dish as its centrepiece - which looks at dining through the Roman period.)

When he was free, we met up with our son and he  took us behind the scenes, unlocking doors that the general public never pass through. I feel doubly privileged that on our trip to the capital last week I sneaked a peek at the slightly dusty and a touch shabby, back offices and store-rooms of our great museum.

The Mildenhall Treasure

Now, to get back to that treasure.... Why do we  feel an attachment to this fabulous hoard of Roman silver? It is because we DO have a family connection.

My uncle Sydney Ford, (pictured with the treasure on his sideboard behind him) was the husband of my grandfather’s sister, Ethel. My son, Tom, (pictured beside a display of the treasure in 1989) is therefore Syd's great great nephew. 

In uncle Syd's version of the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure, he found it on his farm. He was driving the tractor and plough which turned it up out of the soil. He took it home and cleaned it up. He thought it was pewter.  He was going to declare the find and took it (or some of it) to London - to the British Museum - to show them, but because it was war time the British Museum was closed.  So he kept it. What else could he do?  At Christmas he kept his fruit and nuts in the great dish.  But a nosy neighbour tipped off the police and the hoard was taken away from him after the war, so he never got any credit for finding it, nor any recompense.

In more recent years I’ve learned more about the ‘official account’.  It was not Sydney but his farm worker,  Gordon Butcher, who turned up the treasure. It wasn’t even found on my uncle’s farm at all, but on neighbouring land.  And I’ve also heard that there is some doubt over whether it originally came from the Mildenhall area at all. Roman villas have been found there but no remains of a villa of sufficient grandeur to have owned such a service has ever been excavated in the location. Another suggestion I’ve read, linked to the previous point, is that it was stolen (from whom or from where was not made clear) and had been hidden there by twentieth century villains! And there were persistent rumours at the time, apparently, that Sydney Ford knew in advance he was going to be relieved of his fruit bowl et al so he kept back a cache of coins or some other choice artefact from the hoard when the authorities came for it in 1946.  It was declared Treasure Trove And he was recompensed - £2,000 between him and his ploughman, Mr Butcher.   

(Great) Uncle Syd, was a favourite. We always loved seeing him.  He was mischievous and rascally and had a definite twinkle in his eye. When I was young I took on board the story as he told it. Of course it was true. But now? I have no trouble in believing him capable of a certain degree of roguery.  I don’t suppose we will ever know the real story and Syd is long gone and can no longer give us any answers.    


Margaret James said...

Well done, your Uncle Syd!

Anne L Harvey said...

Thanks for this Gilli. I love these family history stories! Half the time they're distorted truth but fascinating nevertheless.

Gilli Allan said...

Thanks Anne. If it was just distortion it would be one thing. But there is actually a profound mystery at the heart of this story. The hoard was far more rich and glamorous than can be accounted for by the evidence of nearby villas, leading to speculation that it wasn't from the area at all, but was brought in from somewhere else. Who by? And when? There has even been talk of it having been a modern (war years) crime - brought in from Italy by pilots into the Mildenhall Air Base. The mystery is only added to by Syd's reluctance and obfuscation to point out the spot "he" found it. gx

hinofan said...

The Mildenhall Treasure was immortalised in a short story of the same name by Roald Dahl. I think his adult stories are better than his childrens stories.

Eddie said...

Great story! I just discovered this topic and was glad to add your personal account to the histories. Brilliant info.