Cherwell Community Archeology

Old PPE is identified by Cherwell Community Archaeology

Until recently I had no idea what a PPE is or was – these initials were not in my vocabulary. Sadly now we all know that it stands for Personal Protection Equipment – and that is what was found in 2016 at The Highwayman Inn, Banbury Road, North Kidlington.

At our usual club meeting in November, Nick Duval passed the pistol to us to find out what we could about it. At first we wondered, as it was only 5 inches long and very rusty, if it was a toy pistol. Our research took us on a journey, and this is what we discovered.

Old PPE found at the Highwayman hotel. Photo by Christine Turley

On Wednesday 4th December myself and a friend attended The Portable Antiquities Scheme at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford with our ‘ancient pistol’, in an attempt to find out more information – i.e. where and when it was made and its use. We informed the curators that the pistol was given to us at a ‘show and tell’ session. It was found a couple of years ago and the owner was not sure what to do to identify it. He informed us that it was found while double digging in the vegetable patch of the garden in North Kidlington (so at about 0.4 meters).

There are no firearms experts based at the Ashmolean but they helpfully gave me the phone numbers for the Royal Armouries, Leeds. Some questions were answered:

What was it? It was a ‘muzzle loading percussion pistol’ – 135mm in length with two triggers – one missing and no trigger guard. It had 4mm bores. There were two nipples or pans. No identifying marks were visible.

Where was it made? According to Lisa Traynor (Curator of Firearms) the pistol was probably made in Belgium – between 1840 and 1846. Unlike today, this pistol could have easily been bought in a local hardware store. It would have been used for personal protection (hence the PPE), and could have been hidden in a pocket or bag. The Royal Armouries supplied a photograph showing two complete facsimiles of the same type of pistol.

Facsimiles of the same type of pistol. Photo provided by the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

How did the pistol come to be found at The Highwayman, Kidlington? This raised the question of transport in the mid 19th century. In Kidlington we had turnpike roads, unmade roads and the canals and rivers. The railway did not come to Kidlington until 1850. Any description of how the pistol came to be in Kidlington would be a matter of fiction – and for sure this may come at some point.

Christine Turley, May 2020
With thanks to the Royal Armouries for information and photo