Mrs A Westall and the
Sword in The Dell

This tale demonstrates how by sharing a family story, especially on the internet through the Rootsweb "Kingsclere" mailing list, can help solve a mystery.

It all started with Dorothy Jones reminiscing about her mother's childhood as follows:-

It was a miracle Mother survived her childhood. The Apothecary was careless in carriage of his pills and potions by horseback and on one occasion dropped some 'chocolate' which Mother found. Only when coerced by a desperate Mother to explain what she'd eaten that was making her so ill, was a remedy found to counteract the laxative and re hydrate her.

Grandmother, in the cottager tradition, always kept a pig. This particular tale arose with the slaughter of a sick pig, with septicaemia, following a 'cack-handed' attempt to 'ring' its nose. Due to the infection, the meat was unfit for human consumption, so it was necessary to dig a large pit capable of taking the carcase. In the process a perfectly preserved sword in its scabbard was unearthed. This was cleaned and, for want of a better place, was hung behind the kitchen door, where it remained until spotted by the Vicar on a routine call. The Vicar spirited the artifacts away and Ada WESTALL [later WATTS], an astute businesswoman, received £10 for her find, supposedly from the London Museum. This would have been quite a sum for the period. I have not, as yet, been able to date or substantiate this tale. Has anyone else heard of this Kingsclere find or something similar?

Mother was fond of relating her 'pig tales': her love of fried, plaited, chitterlings [pig intestines] until the day she arrived home from school early and discovered their origins, her mother painstakingly turning them inside out with the aid of a cane to rinse them in salt water. Mum could never face them again! With today's emphasis on healthy eating, I dread to think of a nutritionist's views on the 'packed lunch' which consisted of bread and dripping or a solid block of cold rice pudding!

Mum wore her hair in pigtails for school, to keep it tidy, but she was plagued by a particularly obnoxious boy who took great delight in playing 'ding-dong' with her plaits. However, on the last occasion, Mother spotted his reflection in a shop window, creeping up behind her. Before he could pull her hair she swung round and 'socked' him. Later the boy, accompanied by a master from his school, identified Mum in her classroom and she received a caning. However, she said it was worth it: he never bothered her again.

Probably the saddest tale of Mother's school days was the award of a scholarship to attend grammar school and Grandmother's refusal to send her; employment in service at the earliest opportunity being deemed the desirable outcome of a girl's education in the early part of the 20th Century. Grandmother claimed she could not afford the school uniform, yet she later took on a beerhouse, 'The Pheasant Inn' [since renamed The Yew Tree] at East Woodhay, until her second husband allegedly 'drank the profits', failing to record the 'on the slate' drinking of his cronies whilst he was inebriated, so they moved south, to a sweet shop in Freemantle, Southampton.

Denied a decent education herself, Mum never stopped learning. She knew the names of all the wild flowers and grasses in the hedgerows; could recite in old age all the poems she had learned in her youth and, most importantly, was the fount of all knowledge for the difficult clues in crossword puzzles! Whatever the cost, she determined the 3 daughters who passed their '11-plus' should take their places at grammar school: no small feat with 8 young mouths to feed.

Previous to Dorothy's reminiscences above I had received, through this site, the following enquiry from a researcher working at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London details of which were forwarded to Dorothy.

Dear Sir,
I am actually working on a German dagger dated 1541 that has been found in Kingsclere, as it is reported in 'Transactions of the Newbury and District Field Club', vol. V, 1895-1911, 242: "In the year 1911, a very remarkable dagger was brought to public notice- said to have been concealed in the chalk deposit at 'The Dell', Kingsclere".
Your web site provided me a lot of interesting information but I would like to know if the town has some archives concerning the XVIth century (records of hunting parties, letters, inventories...) and if it is possible to have more details about the discovery of this object (name of the person who found it, in which circumstances...).
I look forward to hearing from you.

Marie-Anne Michaux

After contacting the V&A Dorothy received the following information from the Metalwork Department

The dagger to which you refer (Museum Number M628-1911) was on display in our arms and armour gallery until April this year (2004). It is now in store but can be seen by appointment. It was bought by the V&A in 1911 for £8 from the Rev. A. Finch, the vicar of Kingsclere who was acting on behalf of Mrs A Westall. There is no record of how this sum was paid. The dagger itself is of steel, etched and gilt, engraved with phrases from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and dated 1541. The total length is 42.5 cm.

Dorothy also had a reply from Marie-Anne as follows

It seems indeed very likely that the "sword" of your tale is the dagger of the V&A, with the only difference that the museum apparently did not purchase the scabbard because it did not fit the dagger. It was on display until recently, but unfortunately the V&A decided to remove all the arms and amour for storage. It is still visible by appointment.

Finally with the compliments of the West Berkshire Heritage Service, the following extract was obtained from the Transactions of the Newbury and District Field Club, vol V, 1895-1911, p242.

Dagger Found at Kingsclere
In the year 1911 a very remarkable dagger was brought to public notice - said to have been concealed in the chalk deposit at "The Dell", Kingsclere. It was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, and the following is the official description:-
"Dagger of steel, etched and gilt, German dated 1541. The hilt of Moorish form shows remains of etched ornament; the quillions are turned inwards close to the blade. The blade has a wide back, bevelled towards the point; it is enriched with arabesque foliage at the base and with inscriptions on either side as follows:-
"Ein linde antwordt stillet denn zorrnn, Aber ein hardt word Richt grim ann Salomonn am 15". (A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs xv, 1)
"Es kumdt alles vonn got gluck vnnd vngluck leben vnnd tod armut vnd Reichtum Ecc. am 11 anno do 1541" (Prosperity and adversity, life and death, poverty and riches, come of the Lord. Ecclesiasticus xi, 14)
The dagger may perhaps have been used for hunting purposes. The sheath, which did not belong to the dagger, was not purchased."

Dorothy Jones notes:

I am fortunate to have a friend who is a martial arts expert with an extensive knowledge of armour through the ages, and who is of the opinion that this particular type of weapon, with its long, narrow and pointed blade, would have been designed to penetrate chain-mail. How the dagger came to be secreted in The Dell is a mystery, but the most likely explanation is that it was concealed after theft. An opportunity for researching the period when the dagger might have been buried was lost due to the short-sightedness of the V&A in not acquiring the sheath in which it was found.

The following photographs were supplied by the V & A after Dorothy's visit to their storage facilities in January 2007