The antiquarian Henry Preston (1852-1940) is an important, but often overlooked, figure in Lincolnshire archaeology. He was instrumental in the establishment of Grantham Museum in 1926, having previously founded the Grantham Scientific Society in 1890. His personal collections of artefacts and his records of them are a core part of the Grantham Museum collections.
His antiquarian interests and his daily work collided with the discovery of Roman remains at Saltersford. Preston was the manager of the Grantham Waterworks Company between 1881 and 1934, and over the course of a number of years in the early 20th Century, he recorded finds and building remains uncovered by the company during the construction of Grantham Waterworks. Preston was not the first to discover the site (Stukeley for example, in his Itinerarium Curiosum (Iter V) indicates that the site was known in the 18th Century, commenting that ‘many Roman coins are found here … and mosaic pavements, Roman bricks, urns and the like’), but his discoveries confirmed the presence of the town on both sides of the River Witham, and he was the first to record finds systematically.
One of Preston’s many illustrations of his finds from Saltersford is this page of enamelled objects – brooches of various types and a seal box lid – dated the 3rd February 1916. Although his description of them as ‘late-Keltic’ is now rather odd (all of the objects are Roman, and date to at least the 2nd Century AD), he is correct in the sense that such enamelling was a hallmark of native British art from the late Iron Age onwards.
One question that inevitably gets asked of any antiquarian drawing is just how accurate it was. This is especially true of remains such as mosaics, when the original is now re-buried or lost entirely and the drawing the only surviving record. Thankfully, in this instance, these objects are still in the museum’s collection for comparison, and three of them are photographed below. A few minor differences can be noted, such as the differences in the number and colours of the cells on the duck’s back, but generally the illustrations are good. He has noted, for example, the asymmetry on the cells of enamel on the lower part of the seal box lid.
Henry Preston’s diligent recording of Lincolnshire finds and their provenance has undoubtedly added to our understanding of the County’s heritage, and he deserves wider recognition for his efforts and his careful approach.