They will tell you that kith means your friends and relations. But look past recent times and you will find another meaning entirely: kith means: your native land; your country, and the people in it.
Just before the dawn of the nineteenth century, a little boy made a discovery about his kith, in the fields and tracks and ditches of Ribchester in Lancashire. Like his friends, he learnt about his place in the world by exploring it: unmonitored, and unaided. The son of a clog maker, he was wont to play on the wasteland by the side of the road leading to Ribchester Church. And like many little boys, he loved camps, and he found a fabulous hollow just right for making one’s own.
Digging was part of the deal. He dug until his hands were raw: and then- quite a long way below the surface – he hit something.
Roman treasure, as it turned out: a whole hoard, bowls, vases, basins, a bust of Minerva: and an extraordinary helmet.
Not just any helmet, and not a helmet for fighting. This was a ceremonial helmet, used for the games the soldiers used to take part in. It consisted of a flamboyant hat and a visor which took the form of a young face. Eerie, almost.
History does not record what happened – if a Lancashire urchin came home wearing a Roman helmet; but his clog maker father did not let it stay his for long. He sold it to a local member of the gentry who collected such things, and it found its way to the British Museum shortly afterwards in 1812.
It has stayed at the British Museum since, not ever again adorning a boy’s head, not ever taking part in games for which it was designed. It has wowed antiquarians for centuries and was thought to be the fairest and best preserved Roman Helmet ever found in Britain.
Until they got the metal detectors out in Crosby Garrett, Cumbria.
No-one knows who the metal detectorist was, who found it. We know he was in his twenties, and that by agreement with a local Cumbrian farmer, he was searching his fields for finds, only a few years ago in 2010.
He had never found much: a few tokens, bits and pieces. And then, the metal detector screeched and it howled, sending the alarm up that beneath the soil was something well worth investigating.
The helmet was in pieces. But they knew it was important. When reassembled, the helmet took the breath away of all who beheld it. And still does, today.
I wonder if it was easier to wrest the helmet from the hands of the metal detector, than that little boy centuries before? The helmet fetched £2.2 million: despite efforts by the Tullie House Museum, in partnership with the British Museum, to purchase it, it fell into private hands. The detectorist and the farmer were well compensated: but us, whose heritage this astounding find includes: we must wait until the collector assents to its being exhibited.
Treasure can fall into anyone’s hands, can’t it? And it seems it will naturally gravitate towards the moneyed and the powerful.
Yet: there is something to be said for it being in the hands of its kith.