My personal introduction to torcs (apart from the casual wow factor at seeing them in the flesh, albeit behind glass at the British Museum) started in 2005 with an enquiry by Norwich Castle Museum, and its curator Tim Pestell.
They were due to have an exhibition of a number of new and wonderful detectorist finds from the county, and one of these was the curiously named South West Norfolk torc. What they wanted was a replica torc (ideally) to use as a teaching aid. The discussions around this blossomed a bit and, as well as an example of the replica torc, they also wanted some associated tools and artefacts to go with it.
But the first step was to be able to view the original torc in person to see what the scale of the task was. I try to do this with every object I replicate so that I can photograph the item from every angle and measure the essential aspects – this gives me a much better grip on what I’m trying to tackle as a replica, beyond what is stated in the report. At these early stages, often the report can be pretty spartan as it’s only written to identify it and not written up for the purposes of replicating such a thing.
Conveniently enough it was still with the British Museum being valued, etc and so I only had to travel to London – which turned out to be a stroke of luck. What I hadn’t bargained on was seeing both the original South West Norfolk torc and also a couple of others that were sat in their respective protective boxes in the research rooms. This was total serendipity.
I dutifully sat down and did my thing with my camera and vernier calipers making copious notes and handling these real treasures. But once I had exhausted the South West Norfolk torc, my eye was naturally drawn to the boxes which contained a complete (gold?) torc and a separate (silvery) terminal. I asked if I was allowed to handle them and perhaps even take images of them too…
I fully expected to be told that I was only allowed to photograph the one I had come to see but they allowed me to examine and record these others too! I can’t readily recall now, but I may not have even been told that the complete torc was the one from Newark. It still shed grit and dirt as it was lifted and moved, so was still fairly ‘new’. It wasn’t staggeringly shiny and gold, looking instead rather ‘brassy’, but it was complete with only one mark to suggest it had been damaged – possibly by a plough strike as was thought then. It was so mobile too – lots of spring to it. Almost fresh as it were.
The second example was just the terminal end. This proved to be the terminal of the Sedgeford torc which had been lost since the rest of the torc was ploughed up in 1965 minus one terminal – now the torn off end had been relocated some 40 years later. I was able to look inside it and like everyone else draw incorrect conclusions about the way it was constructed! However, I only got as far as replicating the South West Norfolk torc and the rest was to remain pure speculation for the time being.
These carefully collated images sat around on my lap top until, in 2015, there was a sudden need to have another look at what they really were. I’d never been comfortable with the idea of hurling molten gold at a whole set of hand made skinny wires in the hope that they didn’t just melt the wires. The volume of gold in a terminal was far too much to my mind – and this is indeed borne out when you look at other examples. It’s not that it won’t work – just that if it doesn’t work, you have now shortened all your hand-made wires and your casting will have been a beautiful failure. I cannot tell you how long it takes to make wires like this! If one end works well, it can still go wrong for the second terminal. It just seemed too rash when all of the work on the terminals is so considered and expertly done.
But in 2015, I was asked by Newark Museum to look into the concept of replicating the Newark torc for handling, education etc. This was the point which started me on a little quest and when I first vocalised my misgivings about the alleged technique. But the information was so thin on the ground for anyone who isn’t a researcher and I needed someone on the inside! Enter Tess Machling, who had lots of PDFs to share!
My next serendipitous act was to ask Google Images for ’…a better image than I had of the Newark Torc.’ I viewed what was offered up and suddenly spotted a thumbnail of one that I didn’t recognise – especially in respect of what I thought I was going to get. It turned out to be, after some clicking around, the terminal end of the Netherurd torc from Scotland, all on it’s own. Moreover, you could look inside it, as it wasn’t joined to its neck ring.
I realised that if we were going to get better answers on the subject and understand how they were made we needed to view it in person – all the way up in Bonny Scotland. It would I hoped, give us some much needed answers. But those turned out to be not at all the ones we expected. By then it was far too late – I was utterly hooked. No turning back now.
[If you’d like to see more of Roland’s replica work please click HERE]