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Buried in time – the Selborne Cup *

* The Selborne Cup is actually from Blackmoor – so ‘Blackmoor Beaker’ might have been a more appropriate name for it!

The area around Blackmoor House, Woolmer Forest, lying close to the line of the Chichester – Silchester Roman road, has seen a number of finds of Roman material. In 1741, as Gilbert White records in the Natural History of Selborne, Woolmer Pond dried up and several hundred coins, including some of Marcus Aurelius (AD 146-180), were revealed lying together, as though they had been in a sack. Thirty years later another hoard was discovered nearby, contained in a pottery vessel. This featured coins from Claudius (AD 43) to Commodus (AD 192).

The 'Sepulchral Urn' that contained the burial.

The ‘Sepulchral Urn’ that contained the burial; as illustrated in the VCH, Volume 1.

In 1867, when Blackmoor House was being rebuilt, more finds were made, including a human cremation burial in a pottery jar. It was this deposit that also contained the Selborne Cup, along with a bronze patera, and a worn coin of Lucius Verus (AD 161-69). The cup was in the possession of the Selborne family for many years, before being sold in 1975. In 1983 it was bought by Hampshire County Council and is now displayed at the Curtis Museum. When the cup came into the museum’s possession the two halves were stuck together with old stamp paper and there was evidence of corrosion. It was cleaned, treated and strengthened and an easily reversible adhesive was used to reinforce the base and stick the halves back together.

The Selborne Cup

The Selborne Cup

A report by the British Museum states that enamelled bronze vessels, as a class, are quite rare and that the pattern on this one is high quality work. It describes the beaker as 106mm in height, of barrel-shape; constructed from two matching cup-shaped sections. The base is a separate piece of metal and there is a plain band of copper alloy 17mm deep around the rim. An ancient repair around the base is somewhat clumsily formed of a bronze patch. The small handle is placed high on one side and would have been soldered onto the rim. Its lower attachment plate, now lost, would have been fixed at the point of maximum diameter, where the sections join. There is a scar on the opposite side of the rim, suggesting the former presence of a matching handle, but no mark on the body of the vessel. The existing handle appears to be a secondary addition, as does the plain rim-band.

Enhanced detail of the enamelled decoration - spots of corrosion are clearly visible.

Enhanced detail of the enamelled decoration – spots of corrosion are clearly visible.

The intricate design in polychrome enamel incorporates cells of distinctive leaf-like shapes. There appear to be five colours; red; yellow; dark blue; turquoise and light green, although the last two are very similar in their present condition. The enamel is in a good state, though the base metal is damaged in places and there is considerable iron corrosion over the surface, presumably from the conditions of burial.

There are no close parallels. Moore (1978) lists 14 enamelled vessels from Britain, the majority being small hemispherical cups, with or without handles. (The existence of the Selborne Cup was not known to him).

The vessel containing the burial was a bead-rimmed jar produced locally by the Alice Holt/Farnham potteries (Lyne & Jefferies, 1979). It represents a type of vessel which was less important to the industry after the mid 2nd century.

References

Lyne, M & Jefferies, R, 1979. The Alice Holt/Farnham Roman Pottery Industry, CBA Research Report, 30.

Moore, C N, 1978. An Enamelled Skillet-Handle from Brough-on-Fosse and the distribution of similar vessels, Britannia 9, 319.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.