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REMEMBER WHEN: The great Cricklade Saxon pot hoax
IT WAS 38 years ago that the Adver broke the story of the Saxon pot that was not.
It involved some supposed relics, some despondent diggers, a craftsman who felt sorry for them – and a secret not revealed for a quarter of a century.
As the sweltering summer of 1976 set in, a Cricklade potter called Ivan Martin prepared to exchange his Calcutt Street home for the peace of Cornwall and retirement.
Before setting off he held a small party for close friends, and chose the moment to clear his conscience of something that had weighed on it for a long time.
We reported: “A number of leading archaeologists could soon have egg on their faces – over hoax ‘rare’ pottery used to lace a dig at Cricklade.
“The bits of rare pottery were ‘discovered’ one day in 1951 – but not until today has it been revealed that the pottery was 1951-vintage, placed in the hole in the ground the night before it was discovered.
“The excavations at Cricklade were carried out between 1948 and 1963, and the success of the work was highlighted in a report by archaeologist CA Ralegh Radford which was printed in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine.
“The piece of pottery at the centre of the hoax was hailed as ‘one Continental import’ which had been ‘much over-fired.’ It was classed as Saxon stoneware dating from the 10th and 11th Centuries.”
The researchers said the pottery might indicate hitherto unknown trading between Saxon Cricklade and the potters of Europe.
In fact, the important fragments came from a lot closer to home and were left not by Saxons but by Mr Martin.
We added: “He said that in 1951 a number of archaeologists were staying with him at Cricklade and kept returning each night feeling rather despondent about not finding anything.
“So Mr Martin found a pot made by his wife, Kay. It had fallen down the back of his kiln flue pipe and had been fired many times, and had oil on it.
“He removed the pot, smashed it, and later placed a piece under the ground where the archaeologists were working... all for a joke to cheer up the archaeologists.”
There is now no clue as to whether the fragments survive in some forgotten corner of a museum, but there are still plenty of examples of Ivan Martin’s sturdy and richly-coloured work.
The Cricklade Museum collection - www.cricklademuseum.org - includes a jug thrown on his wheel in the 1950s, and eBay sellers currently offer examples for as little as £15.
Mr Martin himself lived for a while in Cornwall before moving to South Cerney.
He died aged 66 in 1979 at Cheltenham General Hospital, following a short illness.