Newsletter Extras - The Story of a Gold Ring (May 2012)
The Story of a Gold Ring
- Tony Burke
(The edited version of this article originally appeared in the May 2012 edition of the CCHT Newsletter, page 10.)
Finding the Stone Priory seal matrix (Nikki Perkins' article in the January 2012 Newsletter) has been a wonderful experience and my wife Veronica and I are pleased that it has given so much pleasure to those directly involved, and to those who have read about it. The episode caused me to look back to another beautiful find we made in 2008 – what is now known as "The Cobham Ring" (Ian McCulloch's article May 2010 Newsletter) - and to put pen to paper to share the story of another piece of the heritage of the delightful community in which we live.
Working with David Taylor and David Williams, the Surrey Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, we were helping to flesh out the history of Cobham with what tangible evidence we could unearth. A lot of cold, muddy work had been involved, often with nothing to show for hours of prospecting and digging!
We had set out one dry Sunday afternoon in the September to try our luck on some stubble fields where we felt there might be a chance of more early artefacts than we had encountered up to that point. Despite the interminable rain late that summer, soil conditions were good and it was not long before I got an interesting signal. Could this be something worthwhile, I thought - or will it be that frustrating small piece of scrap lead? It took longer than usual to locate the target: it turned out to be about 6" deep and on its side, and, lifting out the soil surrounding it into the stubble, it looked confusingly like a short stem of hay until it flipped fully into view. It was not circular being partially out of shape, and I still did not realise what it was. Then it hit me – a gold ring in otherwise superb condition.
The skull motif on the outer face and the sharp script on the inner surface including the letters "ob" quickly pointed to a ring worn in memory of a loved one – a mourning ring.
What subsequently transpired was as exciting for us as finding the ring. The inscription read in beautiful lettering "Prepare to follow. FV. ob 16th May 70 " with a maker's mark "TS". The year turned out to be 1670 and David Taylor, who acted with impressive speed, identified the "mournee" as a local knight of the time, Sir Francis Vincent (page 18-19). According to the local parish register at St Mary's Stoke D'Abernon he:
"dyed May 16, 1670, between seven & eight of ye clocke in ye morning, and was buried on Friday night following, being ye 20th day of ye same month"
Three views of the ring showing the inscription inside.
Even more interestingly, in 1669 the gentleman made the following bequests for seven mourning rings in his will:
"To my loving sister the sum of Ten Pounds wherewith to buy her a Ring. To my said cousin three pounds & to his wife forty shillings to buy them rings. To my loving brother and said friends the sum of Ten pounds a peece to buy them rings"
David's researches revealed that Sir Francis had married into the family which then owned the manor forming part the land on which we were detecting. His further research showed that the land had passed into that family (who were the Abbey bailiffs at the time) by purchase from the Crown – Henry VIII - in 1537, following the dissolution of the monasteries. So here was a real lesson in local history!
Of the seven rings for which money was bequeathed it will probably never be known which of them is the ring we found. But to have learned so much about it made this find so very memorable.
The ring necessarily went through the Treasure process, was declared Treasure, and subsequently acquired by Elmbridge Museum where it now sits on display in the entrance foyer. As the landowner Dominic Combe and I had waived the majority of the assessed value to help the Museum acquire it, we each later received a handsome certificate from the Government minister of the day in acknowledgment. This was a pleasant surprise, which in some measure compensated for having to part with such a beautiful little object.