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Metal detecting duo find rich pickings at Gordonstoun

By Lorna Thompson

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COINS dating back to the 13th Century along with bullets, Victorian plant labels and even a time capsule have been discovered by metal detectorists at Gordonstoun School.

The finds chronicle the fascinating history of Gordonstoun, which was once a grand estate owned by Scottish nobility before it was converted into a boarding school.

The items were found by Lee Marchi and John Campbell who work in maintenance and IT services at the school and are keen metal detectorists in their spare time.

John said: "The very first time we went out detecting together we found a time capsule outside St Michael’s Kirk, which sits in the grounds of the school. It was only 13 years old but nobody knew it was there. It must have been buried by a couple of former students.

"That was just in our lunch-hour during the tattie holidays. We realised there was a lot waiting to be found."

Lee Marchi (left) and John Campbell outside Gordonstoun House.
Lee Marchi (left) and John Campbell outside Gordonstoun House.

Lee added: "We have a lot better 'find rate' than you would normally have because nobody has ever detected here before.

"The second time we went out together we found a solid silver Edward I coin dating from 1272-1307. This might date back to the time when there was a market close to the old Ogstoun Cross."

Since then the two friends have found a coin from Charles II's reign in the 1600s, a George III shilling from 1817, a florin from 1929 as well as a throwing disc which could date from the time when Prince Philip attended the school.

John described the moment they unearthed the disc: "We were in front of the main school building and got a hit. We dug down to the stone foundations of the original drive but the target was below that. Our hole was getting bigger and bigger until we spotted a substantial brass ring.

"At first, we were worried in case it was a grenade or a bomb but then we realised it was the brass edge of a vintage throwing disc. These had a brass surround and centre with wood in the middle and was probably thrown by a pupil in the 1940s or 1950s."

The pair have also found bullets and shell casings on the North Lawn – an area which would have been used as a sports field by both Prince Philip and Prince Charles when they attended the school. The munitions date from the Second World War when the school was requisitioned for use as barracks by the Army.

Lee and John have also found a silver George V sixpence from 1929.

"That was only an inch and a half under the surface," said John. "It would have been a devastating amount to lose for the person who dropped it."

A throwing disc and a selection of coins found by Lee and John at Gordonstoun.
A throwing disc and a selection of coins found by Lee and John at Gordonstoun.

The archaeology under the ground at Gordonstoun is so rich because it has been protected by high levels of security around the school.

"Even though we’re employees, we had to seek permission from the bursar before we could start detecting," said Lee. "She said that was fine as long as we found something valuable enough to pay for a new school masterplan.

"All our finds are of a very low value so far but we love finding things that tell a story."

The school’s archivist is now helping the pair by sending them historic pictures of the grounds and gardens which they use to identify new hotspots to try – but it has to take second place to the day job.

Gordonstoun principal Lisa Kerr said: "Gordonstoun has a fascinating history and it’s so interesting to see what has lain undisturbed just under the surface of the ground for centuries.

"Perhaps the next step is to get the children involved. I think Lee and John will be able to organise the best treasure hunt ever."

More stories here.

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