Object in Focus - Aldbury Pottery

a tan coloured pot with two short handles which circle out from the top.

This flagon was used as a burial urn from a very rare Belgic cremation cemetery (around AD 1-50). It was among six individual burial groups found by Aldbury School students in 1943 in a nearby field. In each pit one vessel served as a burial urn and probably contained cremated bones. Other finds were accessory vessels – flagons, platters and beakers – containing food and drink for the afterlife.

In early September 1943, during the Second World War, Miss G B K Harris, then Headmistress of the school at Aldbury, reported the finding of small fragments of pottery in the village to Percy Westall, the Curator of Letchworth Museum.

This material had been shown to her by a Mr Wright during a nature ramble by class IB Boys, who were trying to locate a special plant, the Great Henbane, on Mr Wright’s smallholding.

Following the identification of the finds as ‘pre-Roman’, a fascinating series of events unfolded. The school children excavated the site and kept a detailed record of their work, including written descriptions, and scaled drawings of the site and their finds, as a school project. Several of their exercise books have survived and these, together with other correspondence in the Letchworth and St Albans Museums and at County Hall, Hertford, have enabled the full story to be recorded.

Alongside the pottery vessels, three decorated bronze ‘Colchester’ type brooches, very similar to large safety pins, were also recovered. The pottery itself seemed to be mainly of local manufacture, although some pieces were almost certainly ‘imported’ from outside the region.

The burial ground, on current evidence, seems to date from the first half of the first century AD. Even today, it remains a very significant find and was, until the excavation of the King Harry Lane Cemetery in St Albans in 1966-9, one of the largest groups of such vessels known.


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