Secret Mudlark Diary (subscriber content): Broad Arrow Spotting

Hello Mudlarking Friends!

Before I head off to the potentially sunny foreshores of Suffolk this weekend (ship wrecks and fossil hunting, stay tuned), I wanted to get in a quick blog about what’s been on my mind this week. 

“So, what would that be, then?”

It’s the sign of the Broad Arrow, or, Admiralty Mark, otherwise generally described as ‘that crows foot arrow mark that denotes government property’. 

“Well, what is the broad arrow, exactly?”

The Admiralty Arrow, or Broad Arrow was a sign used to identify material belonging to the British Crown, as early as the 14th century, but more commonly from the 16th century. Also referred to as ‘crows feet’, the broad arrow mark was used on all manner of government property, and can be found stamped, printed or engraved upon all things of military ownership – yes, that does include prisoners in their arrow-marked prison uniform!

What’s interesting to note, is that even really tiny items aren’t small enough to evade this stamp of ownership; we often find hand forged copper nails on the Thames foreshore, stamped with the mark of the broad arrow, and, another interesting small object in my collection bearing the broad arrow is part of a military naval hypodermic syringe. Now, we know what the broad arrow or Admiralty Arrow looks like, but, when is a broad arrow not a broad arrow?

When it’s an Ordnance Survey Bench Mark, of course! Similar-yet-different, the OS BM is often mistaken for the Admiralty Arrow. Notice the horizontal line above the tip of the broad arrow? That’s how you know it’s an OS BM, and not an Admiralty Arrow.

Simple, right? No. Not always. And, that is, most specifically, what has been on my mind this week, and what I am trying to get to the bottom of*. I took the above photograph of a local pavement, specifically the kerbstone, engraved with two broad arrows – the Admiralty Arrow, and another with a ‘strike through’, which appears to be neither Admiralty or Bench Mark?

The marks are puzzling me for two reasons:

1) I’m not aware of its location having had anything to do with an admiralty or government building in the past.

2) Why on earth is there another mark next to it that is neither Admiralty nor Bench Mark? Why is it struck through? Is that an accident or intentional? Is it actually a BM after all?

I don’t have the answer right now, but I am certain of one thing – I will be getting to the bottom of it very soon and will, of course, update you here. If you have the answer to the mystery pavement marking, please, do let me know!


🌊 ⚓️

Further (interesting) reading about pavement markings here: 

The Geological Society: Kerbstone Conundrum

* I am also STILL trying to get to the bottom of Mystery Bone Object, which has now been conclusively ruled out as a lace bobbin fragment. More on that, later!

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