MEMOIRS OF A TREASURE HUNTER: A Sign from the gods by Barry Lawton

MEMOIRS OF A TREASURE HUNTER : A Sign from the gods, a missed opportunity, a blizzard from hell and the Eagle of the Ninth :

My friend Ron Rowland was in Peterborough doing an interview for Coin Monthly, before he left for home he had a day spare, so he went out looking for some ploughed fields to search. He found some that looked interesting and asked the farmer for permission to use his detector, the farmer agreed and Ron set off searching.

After about an hour he still hadn’t found anything and then all of a sudden he fell chest deep into a hole, luckily the farmer saw him and ran over, he couldn’t pull Ron out so went to get a spade, after some digging Ron scrambled out. The farmer said he’d never known any holes in this field, Ron borrowed the spade and dug down, this was a big hole and Ron could see stonework, and then Ron stood on something, he had put his foot through a vase full of Roman coins.

Archaeologists were called and it turned out Ron had fallen into a Roman building which was part of the Roman Town of Peterborough, (Durobrivae.) For a while Ron worked with the archaeologists on the dig which turned out to be a major discovery.

I got a phone call to go to his house, I sensed adventure. Ron opened the door and I went into his front room, there was tea and biscuits waiting for me on the table and maps opened all over the room, some he had written on and books opened at certain pages and photos of fields pinned on the wall. Ron sat down and told me a story, I felt privileged that Ron trusted me, we had travelled many miles together, as a newcomer to treasure hunting I had soaked up all his experience, his knowledge and vision. Ron, taking a sip of tea told me that during his time in Peterborough whilst working with archaeologists he had heard a story which dated back hundreds of years about a field near to where the Roman dig was that said it was the richest field in Britain, the field was just outside Peterborough in the village of Water Newton.

Ron said he was almost certain which field it was, but said he didn’t feel well enough to go on another trip. It was now December, cold and dark evenings, Ron said it was best to go as soon as possible before someone else did. I’ll never forget Ron’s next few words, he put his cup down and looked at me over his reading glasses and said “what do you think,” I think he already knew my answer.

When I got home I rang Norman, Roger and Joe, but only Norman could go, it was Christmas after all. So it was all set, me and Norman would go on New Year’s Day, the first day of 1973. We set off very early in the morning, the weather was ok, dry but very cold. We had Ron’s maps and photos so we were sure it wouldn’t take us long to locate the field. Norman drove, we talked about Ron and how ill he must have felt not to have come with us, after all his hard work researching, Ron’s days of long trips and digging were over.

We were about an hour away from Peterborough when the weather changed, the sky went dark and it started to snow, not heavy but it was cause for concern. We made our way to Water Newton and the snow was getting worse, we checked the maps and photos and found the field, it was a massive field, now white with snow. We approached the farmhouse not knowing if we would get permission or not, Norman knocked on the door, dogs started to bark and the door opened, the farmer looked half drunk from the night before, I told him what we wanted to do, he looked at us strange and said “ok, but don’t leave a mess or any holes” then he shut the door in our faces, I looked at Norman and said “I think that was a yes.”

We parked the car near the opening to the field, it was now snowing quite badly, we put our weatherproof clothes on, Norman was ready first and switched his detector on, I was just getting my detector out when Norman got a signal near the field entrance, just near the surface was something shiny, Norman quickly picked it up, it wasn’t old, it was a man’s silver bracelet, but to our astonishment there was a name engraved on it, “NORMAN” we looked at one another, what was the chances of that, Norman said, if that’s not a good omen I don’t know what is. We walked onto the field and split up, after about thirty minutes I still hadn’t found anything, the snow and hail was getting worse, I looked across to where Norman was, he looked like a snowman, he looked back at me and gestured we go back to the car. Norman hadn’t found anything either, the weather was just too bad. We got back in the car and decided to call it a day, it was the first time ever the weather had beaten us.

We set off back home, the roads were just about passable, we couldn’t stop talking about the bracelet, a sign from the gods maybe. As we approached Newark the weather changed, the snow stopped and there didn’t appear to be much snow on the ground. We had about two hours of daylight left so we decided to go to a field near Newark that always produced something, during those two hours I found a Saxon brooch and about twenty Roman coins, Norman found an Edward 1st silver penny, a few Roman coins and part of a sword handle, possibly Roman. We set off back home, at least it wasn’t a wasted trip.

We went to Ron’s house and told him the news, he said to wait for better weather and try again, but time rolled on and there was other places we wanted to go, over time we put it in the back of our mind, but then two years later in February 1975 we would be hit with a bombshell, the farmer at Water Newton had ploughed the field up and discovered one of the largest hoards of Roman silver ever found, it would be known as the Water Newton Treasure and is now in the British museum. The gods were playing with us that day in 1973, one god sent a message in the form of a bracelet with “NORMAN” on, one god made the weather so bad we couldn’t search for long, and one god sent us on other adventures instead of returning to Water Newton.

When I look back I can still smile, Ron was right and we almost found it, I’ll always remember it as the snow field, a blizzard from hell, on another day who knows, so many factors came together that day. Ron never let me forget it, it sure was a lesson learned. Then one day at Ron’s house he said “Have you ever heard of a village called Eagle?” I said “yes I have, why do you ask?” then Ron said “it’s a very old village, it’s even listed in the Domesday Book, I’m sure it’s connected to the disappearance of Rome’s Ninth Legion “Legio IX Hispana”, they never found it you know,” “never found what” I said, Ron replied “the Eagle, no one has ever found the lost Roman Eagle, just look at this map and this book on page 85 while I put the kettle on and get some biscuits”………

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