thinking about archaeology

A tale of silver bowls

Here’s a nice story from John Malam, who wrote to tell me about his allotment – in his words, “the closest I come to dirt archaeology these days”.

Winsford town council last year presented him with the Dempster Challenge Cup for his plot in Cheshire (see photos, both by John Malam). The silver bowl had been awarded by the council every year since 1926, so being an archaeologist, Malam set to and researched its origins in the local paper in the town library.

As he told the Winsford Guardian in May, “I kept coming across references to a Miss Dempster. She was a JP, and was involved with several Winsford groups, including the Amateur Theatrical Society, the Nursing association and the Albert Infirmary.”

Then he found a report from April 1926, describing how, “after a painstaking examination” of the 55 plots at Over Allotments (where his now is), the challenge cup was awarded to Joseph Bratt. The cup, the report noted, had been “given by Mrs Frank Pretty”.

That same year, the former Edith Dempster (born in Yorkshire into a family of wealthy industrialists, and then living in Cheshire) had married Frank Pretty, an Ipswich man in the Suffolk Regiment (Edith had worked with the Red Cross in the First World War in Britain and France).

Later in 1926 the Prettys bought a house overlooking the river Deben in Suffolk. Yes, this was the Edith Pretty whose husband died in 1934, and four years later initiated the excavation of a mound in her grounds that turned out to be the Sutton Hoo ship burial. So she gave a silver bowl to the people of Winsford, and several much older silver bowls – and much else beside – to the nation.

2 responses

  1. Interesting story, and an elegant cup. Preston’s novel “The Dig” is well worth a read.

    April 4, 2011 at 10:36 am

    • mikepitts

      I enjoyed The Dig, too. John Preston and I talked about Sutton Hoo on Radio 4’s Open Book with Mariella Frostrup in 2007, and I interviewed him afterwards for British Archaeology. The text is not on the CBA’s website, so I’ll post the page here (April 4 2011). Mike

      April 4, 2011 at 11:02 am

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