From the Archives

From the Archives – Parliament Piece, Kenilworth – A Metal Detector Survey

The piece of open land known as Parliament Piece, sandwiched between Upper spring Lane and the Coventry Road, is the subject of a bit of local myth and legend.

Parliament Piece from the air
Parliament Piece from the air

One persistent myth is that it is said to be the site where Henry III held a Parliament during the great siege in August 1266. This subject was tackled by Norman Stevens in a Mythbusters article in Kenilworth History 2016. It is considered much more likely that Henry’s parliament took place at the Priory (later Abbey), of which he was patron, and which he had made his base during the siege. The name Parliament Piece is more likely to derive from Cromwellian troops having used this spot as their camp for an assault on the castle that never came, safely out of range of the anticipated Royalist muskets, much later on during the English Civil War (1642–1651) .

Nevertheless, Parliament Piece has had a hugely varied history. Here, Cyril Hobbins takes us on a whistlestop tour of its chequered past via numerous metal detector finds, ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, in an article first published in Kenilworth History 2007 – 2008:

Parliament Piece, Kenilworth

A Metal Detector Survey 1987-1989

Cyril Hobbins (survey undertaken with the kind permission of the late Miss Helen Martin)

During the mid 1980s I was given permission to carry out a full metal detector survey of the land known as Parliament Piece. It was owned by the late Miss Helen Martin, as part of ‘The Spring’. I was to meet this very gracious lady on many occasions during my explorations as she walked her dogs there. She was always very keen to examine and discuss my latest finds.

Parliament Piece was about to be handed over to ‘The Open Spaces Society’ for safe keeping by Miss Martin. She (and they) were very interested in my work: permission to search remained for a year or so after her death. I was in full time employment as a social worker/manager then, so searching was done during any spare time available and in all kinds of weather. I carefully logged my finds on record sheets of my own design (I had no computer then). From them I was able to build up a reasonable idea of area usage over the years.

My metal detector was a (then) top of the range ARADO 120B, a rather heavy and noisy beast that still is an excellent machine for detecting small non-ferrous objects beneath the ground. Many people imagine that a metal detector has the ability to find items at great depth when in fact the range is usually no more than 12 inches (30cm) – not very far below turf roots. Only a strong garden trowel was used for extracting finds and all turf divots were replaced and then heeled in. No deep archæology was ever disturbed: by the next day all traces of my efforts had vanished. My detector was set to discriminate between ferrous metals, silver foil and coke but not enough to ignore modern aluminium can-pulls, the bane of any serious detectorist.

The actual depth that metal objects end up is dependent on many factors: the length of time since deposited, the soil and subsoil types, farming methods, cattle/horse grazing and, surprisingly perhaps, earthworm activity.

The topsoil on Parliament Piece is generally good, in places very gravely with a sandstone base. There is clear evidence of quarrying and possibly gravels extraction. More of this later.

During the three years I discovered that the find spots of many artefacts had a real story to tell, hence this paper. I must add here that I haven’t found the time or permissions fully to explore my findings and I am happy for any follow-up explorations to challenge my theories.

Surmised past uses of Parliament Piece:

The type and positions of groups of finds enabled me to make an educated guess at what different areas of the field were used for. Later, a little research confirmed some of my findings. Sadly (and to my surprise) no ancient or medieval artefacts were discovered anywhere on the land. If there are any, they were beyond the detecting range of my equipment.

Sunday School Medal of Merit
Sunday School Medal of Merit

Area 1, behind the boundary hedges to Upper Spring Lane and Coventry Road: I excavated a series of Sunday school medals, Victorian and Edwardian coins, and odd remnants of corroded jewellery (including one relating to the Wesley brothers) as well as broken spoons and a beautiful silver one Rupee piece. From this I concluded that the corner for some time had been used for Sunday school picnics or open air services.

Area 2, immediately behind the Coventry Road bus stop: Lots of metric and pre-metric coinage, broken bangles, (amazingly) a working wristwatch, corroded lipstick and make-up holders, and a cigarette lighter; all evidence, perhaps, of occasional courting couples.

Area 3, around the rocky depression just in from the Coventry Road end of the Upper Spring Lane boundary: Here I discovered two heavy iron hammer heads, Georgian and Victorian coinage, and odd bits of clay pipe, evidence of men at work. I am inclined to think that this is the remains of a small stone quarry. It would be interesting to know where the excavated stone was used.

Area 4, the central area backing the Coventry Road boundary and up to and along the Gypsy Lane footpath boundary:

A corroded but complete foot patten
A corroded but complete foot patten

An amazing number of very interesting items surfaced here: barrel-tap keys of brass that were once used by farmers to secure cider and beer barrels. A number of Jaws (or Jew’s) harps – small, lyre-shaped instruments, each with a narrow steel spring which produced a twanging note when plucked. I discovered, too, a wide assortment of coinage of the Georgian period including a forged half crown – forging was a crime punishable by deportation or death even then. A corroded but complete foot patten came to light – the oval shape fooled the ferrous discriminator of my equipment. Iron-ring pattens were fixed to strapped wooden soles that buckled on over normal footwear. They kept the wearer above any mud or slurry in the farmyard or dairy – early day Wellingtons, in fact. One mystery item is the shell-shaped scraper, cast from base metal. Detectorists in other parts of the country have found similar items; as far as I know their true use is unknown. From these finds I surmise that a small fair or market may have been held in this area.

Area 5, behind area 4: I discovered evidence of a house. I seem to remember reading that one stood on Parliament Piece, and here I found three Georgian halfpennies fused together by fire, and other coins and tokens of the period. This raises the question of whether the market/fair finds were something to do with the owner/tenant of that building?

Area 6, to the left of area 5 and slightly further behind: I found clear evidence of a soccer pitch that once had metal (tubular) goal-posts; I uncovered all four corroded stumps in situ at each end of the pitch. Further evidence of club activity was obvious when, in one particular spot close to the farther goal, I dug up a whole series of pre-decimal threepenny bits. I can only guess that at this point subscriptions were collected, or refreshments sold, with threepence the going rate.

Area 7, the banks of the water-filled pit or pond – a very common feature of fields used for grazing in this area: Here was evidence of minor hunting and fishing. Finds included lead musket- and pistol-balls, later lead bullets, old and modern shotgun cartridge cases and ends, 0.22 rifle bullet cases, lead weights, a corroded pocket-knife and odd coinage of all periods from 1750 to present day.

Area 8, is what remains of the field, mainly towards the back, close to the existing cottage, and in between and surrounding all the other areas:

Here I uncovered the usual scattering of things that a metal detector finds: mixed coinage, lead musket- and pistol-balls, odd buckles both from clothing and harness but in no particular pattern that might point to a particular use. Perhaps the most significant of these finds were those clearly from the Second World War. Bullets, all for the army issue rifle, the ‘point 303′ Lee Enfield. To my amazement I discovered three live rounds of this ammunition! Following safety procedures, I took them for safe disposal to the Police Station where I had to sign a firearms certificate declaration! The discovery of the ammunition points perhaps to regular soldiers training a local Home Guard contingent.

Wartime Finds
Wartime Finds

Chunks of jagged shrapnel from the Anti Aircraft guns that helped defend Coventry and the surrounding area are a common find on local land. Parliament Piece was no exception. The business end of each shell was designed to burst into red-hot jagged pieces at a pre-set height; found chunks have a distinctive chocolate-bar pattern that helped them break up. Many pieces have clear evidence of manufacture, and type and height-setting figures. I have collected verbal evidence that red-hot shrapnel like this rained down in quantity during raids. Little wonder that steel helmets were issued to all personnel!

One small area of ground off Upper Spring Lane proved to be beyond my equipment’s capabilities because of the mass of ferrous metal such as buried roofing sheets, farm machinery and even an old car.

This fascinating and wide-ranging collection of artefacts gives a real insight into the past uses of Parliament Piece but, sadly, not the mediæval evidence expected by myself or Miss Martin when I started.

Detectorists can and do find mediæval items not far below the turf on other sites. Worm activity and farming bring them close to the surface after long burial. I have a good collection of Roman and mediæval artefacts in my collection, all officially recorded, and all found locally, with permission, but regrettably nothing from this survey.

The survey continued for a time after Parliament Piece was taken over by the Open Spaces Society, but despite many letters and appeals their blanket ban on metal detecting eventually prevented further work. I should stress, however, that no damage was done to Parliament Piece during my survey: as I remarked above, a garden trowel only was used for any digging, all divots were heeled in after a find was extracted and recorded, and, by the next day, hardly any trace of my work could be seen.

I presented the whole collection to the KHAS just after the ‘Barn’ Museum was opened, and it is there still for all to see.


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