Hoards of buried treasure are found fairly regularly, or so it seems, and when I recently saw a photograph of the Cuerdale hoard of Viking silver, dug from the bank of the River Ribble near Preston, Lancashire, it struck me that many of the items are so small and seemingly insignificant that if they had been found on their own, they might not have been recognised for what they were. But they were found in a hoard, and so granted the importance they deserve. The hoard is now in the British Museum.
It really made me think back to my childhood in the 1940s and 1950s, when children were much freer than they are now. My friends and I went everywhere without supervision. I went for miles on my own, with a few sandwiches, and told only to be “back in time for tea”. I always returned at the correct time, but in the meantime I had rambled or cycled in all sorts of places that today would most certainly be out of bounds. Modern Health & Safety authorities would implode at the mere thought!
For instance, I can recall abandoned quarries, the shores of Lough Erne, a deserted saw mill (complete with all the rusty machinery), a German forest just after WW2, farms, disused RAF stations, riverbanks, up dangerously dead trees, into tunnels, down holes, up huge piles of parachutes in a hangar, falling in ponds, being chased by huge dogs, scrumping apples, getting stuck in a collapsed air-raid shelter, wandering and climbing over bomb-damaged buildings and sites, and running down dark alleys after nightfall.
We even bought fireworks with our pocket money, and then lit them in the street! It was what we did, and I don’t remember anyone ever coming to any harm. We were trusted, and we obeyed instructions.
We were absolutely all over the place; scruffy, happy and exhausted at the end of the day. But we were also respectful, and a threat to “Tell your Dad!” really put the frighteners up us, even though my father had never laid a finger on me.
So, what is the point of all this reminiscing? Well, while we were scrambling under hedges, investigating rusty old farm machinery, dumped vehicles, and so on, we often came upon things. By that I mean, for example, a wonky ring of dark metal that didn’t seem to belong to anything. In short, something that I now think looked like one of the items from the Cuerdale hoard. It often happened. We’d find something, examine it, decide it was rubbish, and throw it away. Just what treasures might have suffered this fate? Did we ever come close to a hidden hoard? What might we have dug up so unknowingly from among the roots of an ancient hedge?
Oh, it hardly bears thinking about. That yearned-for time machine would come in handy to take us back to such moments. We could then take a second look, and shout, “Don’t chuck it away! Take it to your Dad or your local museum! Just in case.”