Mystery Discovery on the Isle of Dogs August 28, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern , trackback
Something that always gives Beachcombing a kick is to run across an archaeological discovery from three or, preferably, four centuries ago and try and understand what on earth our ancestors thought they had discovered and what they had really come across. Past examples in this place have included a ‘Buddha’ from medieval London and the ‘evidence’ of one of Claudius’ elephants from the same city. Archaeology seems to have been so much more fun back then.
For today what about this third bizarre archaeological discovery from the same city that apparently appears in no modern text book? This letter was written c. 1820 and appears in a publication that was about as reputable as the whore of Babylon on a bender. But the letter writer is literate and doesn’t seem to be particularly outrageous: he makes no claims to have dug up the Ark of the Covenant.
Some time in the month of April 1800, the men at work upon the Canal [on the Isle of Dogs], there found at the depth of six feet, a spur of uncommon dimensions; it measured eleven inches from shank to shank; it was quite black, but, on examination, the man who found it, discovered it to be pure gold. Sir Henry Banks purchased it for 35 guineas. A few days afterwards they came to the skeleton of a horse, about the same depth, standing erect in a perfect state : On being exposed to the air, however, it fell to pieces. (wonderful 261)
Before Beachcombing gets to the ‘spur’ he will deal with ‘Sir Henry Banks’. There was an alderman of this name at the end of the eighteenth century – ‘Sir’ and all – who was also head of Christ’s Hospital. Obit unknown, but honestly Beach has not looked that hard.
Then we have the ‘spur’ that is eleven inches long and of pure gold… Spurs are reported not just from the Mediterranean but from the tribal north in the Iron Age. But would a spur of gold even survive usage? And would a spur ever be eleven inches long? There has to be the suspicion that our Isle of Dogs workmen discovered something else and explained it as a spur when they came across the body of an erect horse. Was this a grave of a cremated chieftain?
It should be noted that ‘impractical’ golden objects do sometimes appear in Celtic royal tombs: e.g. golden shoes.
Any ideas or any later sightings of this spur in or out of Sir Henry’s possession? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
31 Aug 2011: Invisible has it in for my Sir Henry, sadly with good reason. ‘Um, Sir Henry Banks died 7-21-1774 according to the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, p. 3 so the alderman wasn’t the purchaser of the spur in 1820. I think the gold spur was obviously made for Gog or Magog.’ Thanks Invisible!