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by Nigel Swift

We recently complained about an 11th detecting rally at Boxted. Now an 11th is coming to or near Weyhill Fair. If ever somewhere should be protected it’s there, where social and commercial interaction took place for at least 8.5 centuries. It can’t be scheduled (no buildings there) so instead it’s being progressively denuded for fun and profit (ostensibly “for charity”, even though everything found is kept by the detectorists.).

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Sites really don’t come better than this!” crowed the organiser. Yes. I used to pass here daily, it’s history personified: 750 years of almost continuous gatherings including the country’s largest sheep fairs (100,000  sold a day at the peak), mentioned in “The Vision of Piers Plowman”, held on land partly owned by Chaucer (did he hear some of his tales from characters here?). Thousands turned up for the hiring of workers and all manner of entertainments – perhaps jousting, sword fighting, dog-baiting, bear-baiting, cockfighting, and strolling minstrels, Mystery Plays and mummers. By the sixteenth century it had an on-site court to settle disputes and lawlessness and thereafter it expanded further to include a horse fair, a cheese fair, and a hop fair. There were even said to be cases of wife-selling, as immortalised by Thomas Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge.

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So by September two sites will have hosted 11 rallies each. At an average weekend attendance of 200 each one, that implies 70,000 hours of exploitative searching. A vivid illustration of the folly of UK policies, especially the recent decision to allow metal detecting rallies to restart. Any chance PAS could express dismay? No? Would poor Wayne be upset?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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