Saturday, 9 October 2010

"Flogitoff" is Robinson

I've just received a comment (thanks, Mo) alerting me to the fact that the Mirror has revealed the name of the landowner ('Farmer Eric Robinson reaps £2.3m from treasure-hunter's helmet find' 9/10/10)
A hard-up farmer is celebrating after a Roman helmet dug up on his land by a treasure hunter made him a record £2.3million. Eric Robinson, 56, thought the precious 2,000-year-old helmet would only fetch about £20,000 at auction when the unnamed student uncovered it his field. But several mystery bidders at Christie's in London on bumped up the price and it sold in just three minutes. The grandad, who works 70 hours a week on his farm at Crosby Garrett, Cumbria, said: "My legs went to jelly. When you've been farming for years and made no real money, it's a big amount. "To think it has been in the ground all those years".
Just think, lying there in an archaeological layer in the fields he owns, but generations of predecessors also did without feeling the need to flog off the archaeological finds ... Lets hope farmer Robinson has no more nationally important archaeological sites or findspots in his fields, other wise he'd be letting the treasure hunters empty them.

Another more local newspaper gives us some interesting food for thought (Thom Kennedy, 'Fight on to keep Crosby Garrett Roman helmet in Britain', News & Star 9/10/10):
The farmer on whose land the helmet said he would have liked it to stay in Cumbria, but Eric Robinson remained tight lipped over whether he will receive any of the money raised from Thursday’s auction. “It’s quite amazing [that it was worth so much],” he said. “I would have liked it to be kept in Cumbria but I can’t do anything about it.” Mr Robinson said the man who found it had been coming to his farm for seven years and ‘hit the jackpot’ with this find. He added: “I saw it when he found it. It looked very special, like it was pretty important.”
Did it? A box of bits like the ones the PAS photographed in Christie's (except "when he found it" surely it was covered in mud/clay?). That is one odd thing the farmer on whose land the helmet was found says in this interview. There is another one though. The journlist wrote "Eric Robinson remained tight lipped over whether he will receive any of the money raised from Thursday’s auction". What an odd phrase; "remained tight lipped" suggests to me that the question was asked, "Mr Robinson, this helmet was found on your land, will you receive any of the money raised from Thursday’s auction?". What a dumb stupid question, in normal circumstances. [The helmet is his property, the question would be better phrased whether he would be sharing the cash with the treasure hunters who found it on his land. If he lost his prize bull the day before it was due to go to market, and the treasure hunters found it behind his barn, would they expect half the money made when he sells it?] So why on earth did Thom Kennedy ask such an odd thing? Why would the landowner not receive any of the money if it was found ON HIS LAND? What an odd thing to write. Unless Thom Kennedy has heard something in the village... a rumour perhaps about the nature of some strange deal whether verbal or written between Mr Robinson and The Anonymous Single Finder (who is now plural)? Odd.

Let us recall something Roger Bland wrote here:
Christie's asked for the PAS reference number but we declined to record it until we were satisfied that we had a precise findspot. We stressed to Christie's that no museum could consider buying it without that information and without assurance that the object was being sold with the agreement of the landowner.
It was "the Finder" who brought the object to Christie's, it was "the Finder" that refused to reveal where it had been found. It was when PAS pointed out that unless the landowner was produced, the object would not sell as well, so then - and only then - a/the landowner was produced and a findspot to match. What was the Crosby Garrett landowner's place in the sale of this object before that?

UPDATE: A reader who is better at such things than me has located farmer Robinson and his farm, its in the centre of the village just 2 km from the enclosures on the fell pictured in a post below this.

UPDATE (2): This is scary, Sunday morning I received more information dug up on the internet by two different people (neither of whom are policemen with special privileges); it is quite horrifying just how much information you can find out there about somebody, family business partners etc. Obviously I'm not going to share it here, but it adds some background to some of the puzzling features of what-we-are-not-being-told by those involved. All this of course really makes a mockery of the reasons that would no doubt be given why the details of who what where and when "has" to be kept a secret. No man is an island, even in Crosby Garrett, it seems.


Mo said...

The farmer states that he wanted it to remain in Cumbria but, "he could not do anything about it".

I may be wrong on this but I thought it was the farmer that wanted the helmet to go auction.(Well, according to the finder)

Seems to be some discrepancies in the story.

Maybe the farmer is concerned
about a backlash as he still has to live in the area that would have benefited greatly from the helmet.

Mo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, as ever.

Slightly tangential, but has anyone established what exactly is depicted in the photos of'bits' shown on the PAS site? There are markedly fewer than 67 'bits' in the photos - so did the PAS examine the item part way through restoration, in which case the photos on the website show something already partially restored, rather than what came out of the ground? (It seems obvious that the items in the photo have been cleaned, and probably also 'unsquashed' to use a particularly techical archaeological term ...)

As for Mr Robinson, I wish he'd taken a lead from Mrs Pretty of Sutton Hoo fame ... who not only took a view about sharing what was found on her property with others, but made sure it happened, too.

Paul Barford said...

There are indeed MANY discrepancies in everybody's stories. What is the REAL story of this discovery?

Yes, it was said to be on auction because that is what the land owner insisted.

Mo said...

Regarding my previous post I meant to say that the farmer does NOT seem to be "singing from the same hymm sheet"


Paul Barford said...

Fugitive ink: not at all a tangential question. In fact a very important one. there is a whole deal of uncertainty about the description of the state of the objects when seen by the PAS.

The photos on the PAS website would have been taken on the day the PAS saw the find, in Christie's - and THAT (we are told) was the day the bloke came down to London with them. If they are shown "half way through conservation" then that means that that earlier conservation had taken place before Christie's got their hands on them. But then the official story is that they had only been found a few days earlier. So... WERE they found when and where people say?

Was any earlier cleaning and conservation done in Northern England, or was it done somewhere else?

Tell me what you think of this technical process of unsquashing. How do you go about unsquashing a heavily corroded piece of very thin metal straight out of the ground? If it has been buried in the wet corrosive soils of northern England the thin copper alloy sheet tinned on one (?) face should be well and truly mineralised. Odd, eh?

Anonymous said...

That's exactly the discrepancy that puzzles me, Paul - we are told both that the PAS examined the item on the day it arrived in London, but also that they first saw it 'half way through conservation' [sic]. Which makes no sense, unless the item has been conserved elsewhere. But the pieces shown in the photo look very clean, they aren't stuck together, and I return to the point that there aren't 67 pieces shown - more like 25 at absolute most. The 'face' portion looks in more or less perfect order - clean, shiny, not a dent or a scratch.

Clearly I'm no archaeologist, but I do have just about enough training as a professional historian (Cambridge PhD if we're getting credentialist about this) to know something about the value of different types of evidence. Photos 'prove' nothing unless one can be very sure about the context in which they were taken - and so when it comes to somehow proving that the 'face' at least was found in very good shape, as some have suggested, I'd really like more clarity. If there's nothing to hide, why not make the information public?

Finally, as you've clearly thought a lot about these matters, is there any 'one stop shop' where you explain what legal changes (in the UK in particular) you believe would improve what is clearly a pretty unsatisfactory state of affairs? I'd be very interested in reading your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Mo said -
"The farmer states that he wanted it to remain in Cumbria but, "he could not do anything about it".

I may be wrong on this but I thought it was the farmer that wanted the helmet to go auction.(Well, according to the finder)

Seems to be some discrepancies in the story."


Quite. We have it in the Heritage Action comments section from someone that knew the finder(s) and let them search on their land that they were partial to verbal not written agreements regarding sharing the proceeds.

How we get from that to "The farmer states that he wanted it to remain in Cumbria but, "he could not do anything about it"" I have no idea. It's yet another mystery.

They're piling up aren't they, all tangly and webby!

Paul Barford said...

If there's nothing to hide, why not make the information public?
The US collectors would call it the need for "Transparency". Yes, let us write it in capitals:


Whose archaeological heritage is it? Why can we not know who is doing what with it? English Heritage published a while back an impressive looking book on its Conservation Policies in which public involvement in decision making played a large part. Where is that involvement here? Just somebody to raise cash from? Paying for something nobody can or will tell us precisely where and in what circumstances it was found - because we are not "worthy" of that information? Because it does not "concern us"? I say it jolly well does concern any of us wo are interested in the past and conserving what remains of it.

is there any 'one stop shop' where you explain what legal changes (in the UK in particular) you believe would improve what is clearly a pretty unsatisfactory state of affairs? I'd be very interested in reading your thoughts.
Well, there is a publisher who has actually taken on the task of producing a book by Nigel Swift (of Heritage Action fame) and myself which sets all this out (after us banging on and on about what is wrong with the system we have and why). Don't hold your breath, the proposed solutions are pretty mundane - and none of them are "ban metal detecting".

Sadly its probably too late to put this helmet fiasco in it.

Mo said...

The farmer's comments are strange.

I am surprised also that the farmer thought that he would only receive about £20k. He must have been aware of the estimate that Christies placed on the helmet.

According to the farmer the helmet was found 10" below the surface.

I am no expert on this but I would have thought that constant ploughing may have brought this to the surface sooner. The finder/finders had been detecting on this farm for some years. So why has it only just surfaced?

The field in which the Staffordshire hoard was found had been ploughed deeper than usual. That was why the hoard was found. But the hoard must have been buried on purpose and therefore deeper whereas the helmet was possibly lost.

As heritageaction says, this is a rum do.

Paul Barford said...

I think his "20k" was a layman's estimate before they decided to flog it off at Christie's.

I do not think it was from ploughed land. The PAS record calls it "heathland" . Do my Google game and work out where the "heathland" (technically is its not) is in the vicinity of Crosby Garrett. Certainly if it came from there, no modern ploughing there - untouched archaeology under grass, the bastards.

Sadly here I'm a bit cut off here from knowing where Farmer Robinson has his lands, but I bet "the boyz" worked it out pretty quickly and may even have been up there last night fossicking around in the dark.

Mo said...


As you must be aware I am not from an archaeological background.

Could I ask a question please?

What are the legal implications of metal detecting on
1) Site of High Archaeological Interest?
2) Site of Potential Archaeological Interest>

i.e. Is it restricted?


Paul Barford said...

Simple answer, none.

These are not legal definitions. Basically in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland which has better protection) sites which are not specifically protected (such as being "Scheduled") are unprotected from whatever anybody wants to do to them, whether it be the landowner, or somebody acting with their knowledge and agreement.

Over here on the continent any archaeological site has protection because it is an archaeological site (obviously I'm simplifying a bit here) but in Britain not, which is why we get this situation time and time again.

The Crosby Garrett helmet is just more visible and widely understandable than the rest of the archaeological evidence dug out of sites every day, every week, every month and every year and disappearing into private collections like this one is doing. I am urging we should look at the whole issue and do something about it.

Oh, and my first reaction to your question is that for 13 years you've had a public body, the Portable Antiquities Scheme getting lots and lots of your cash to be doing outreach to members of the public like you about PRECISELY this sort of issue. Instead they spend their time (and your money) being "partners" to metal detectorists to fill up their Database with "data" really no more reliable than the one page of rather superficial stuff they wrote on this helmet and how it was found.

Write to them with the same question (c/o British Museum London WC1) and ask what they've actually been doing about it over the past thirteen years (and then ask them "why not?").

[Sorry for the angry tone, I am not naive enough to believe there is an easy way out of this mess - wish I was in a way]

Mo said...


Thanks for your reply. The reason I asked the question was because I came across this site. I was not sure of the significance.

I will contact the PAS and my MP about changes in the treasure laws.

I have friends that live near to a recent significant find (not Cumbria). In the morning their animals are nervous as if something has spooked them during the night. I guess that this is going to happen a lot around the Crosby Garrett area now.

You don't need to make apolgies for being angry. It's good to be passionate about issues.

Paul Barford said...

The map shows proposed conservation zones (I could not make head or tail of the "legend"), but the place where I am pretty sure the helmet was found is outside them, but the houses of two people mentioned on this blog are within them. But a conservation zone is not the same as a scheduled site.

I think there will be quite a few nervous animals around Crosby Garrett for a good while, spooked by night-time movements. Perhaps its the electromagnetic fields generated by the metal detectors they are sensing ...

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