His finds include a 6,000-year-old arrowhead, a hoard of Roman coins, and a Napoleonic sword
From the outside, there’s little indication that a tiny bungalow tucked away down a quiet cul-de-sac in Staple Hill contains anything unusual in the slightest.
It certainly wouldn’t be anyone’s first guess for the location of an extensive collection of historical finds dating back over six millennia, a treasure which has been found over a period of decades with the help of a simple metal detector.
David Upton, 75, from Staple Hill first developed an interest in metal detecting more than thirty years ago when colleagues at Rolls Royce in Filton – which he worked at for 19 years – told him about their finds.
“I got to know a couple of men who worked in the neighbouring shop who would go out metal detecting.
“They brought in some of the things they’d found one day and showed them to us, I was asking a lot of questions and I think they could tell that I was interested because from then on they made a bit of an effort to get me involved.”
It was one of these early finds that sparked a keen interest in metal detecting for David – in particular, a bronze statue believed to have rather mystical powers.
“One of the men found a little bronze statue, which was a figure of a man completely naked except for snakes all over his body and spikes around his head. I don’t know too much about it, but apparently he was told that it was Saxon.
‘Word got round it had a curse’
“The man from Rolls told me that since he had found it and had it in his house he had been having all sorts of problems with the lights flickering on and off, his telly wasn’t working properly and the pipes had been all blocked up.
“He gave it to a friend, who had all the same problems. Word got around that it had a curse on it.
“As far as I know the Bristol Museum had it in the end. Around 30 years ago I asked to see it, and someone told me they kept it locked away.
“I’ve always remembered that because it was so unusual – I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you’d forget.”
David hasn’t found anything with any unexplained powers during his own adventures, but the story did inspire him even further to get out and explore with a kit of his own.
David said: “One of the blokes used to ask me why I didn’t just take it up – I just told him that I had nowhere to go, as simple as that.
“This went on for quite a long time until one man, I think his name was Pete, said he had permission to go out on Bailey’s Court Farm, which was a massive open space than before all of the building.
“That was it really. I got permission from the farmer there, who was really good with us and would more or less let us go wherever we wanted.”
Metal detecting enthusiasts must obtain permission from the landowner before heading out to seek hidden treasure, and after years of metal detecting David has built up a good relationship with a number of farmers who allow him to scour their estates.
At the beginning of his metal-detecting days, David would frequently go out to the Bailey’s Court Estate in Stoke Gifford with friends or his late brother, however, after losing touch with his former fellow enthusiasts, he now goes it alone.
He doesn’t drive and so heads out to his favourite spots in Frenchay and Hambrook exclusively by bus.
“I don’t get bored of going to the same places. You can look at a field at surface level and it can look a bit ordinary but you never know what is sitting there underneath just waiting to be discovered.
“That’s the thing that really excites me. There’s no way of knowing what you might find.”
When it comes to the objects David has unearthed over the years, there’s certainly been plenty of variety.
From a 6,000-year-old fragment of an arrowhead, to a box of jewellery filled with precious stones, to a huge sword believed to have been used during the Napoleonic War, David still keeps the vast majority of his finds in his own home – with the exception of a gold coin he sold several years ago for £800 and some objects which are occasionally placed on display at Frenchay Museum.
Several of the things he has found – such as a small hoard of Saxon coins – have been examined by Bristol Museum, and even sent to regional museums around the country by historians in order to further research the finds.
Many other objects have also been valued or examined over the years, including a huge coin marking Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee which lists the important dates throughout her life and even a map of the British Empire. Despite researching the coin online, David has been unable to find anything quite like it.
“One of my sisters said to me a few years ago ‘why don’t you just sell it all or get rid of it?'” David said. “The thing I have always said is that I’ll sell it if I need to – I like having it around me and being able to take it all out and have a proper look at it.
‘It’s like you’re discovering a secret’
“Sometimes I just lay everything out and look at everything I’ve collected. Even after all these years, it’s still amazing to me, to think of the way they’ve just sat there underground for hundreds or thousands of years and no one has touched them.
“It’s like you’re discovering a secret, that feeling when your detector buzzes and the little monitor says you have gold or silver on your hands never gets any less exciting.
“I’ll keep on doing this for as long as I can and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it.”
Heading out into the fields three or four times a week, most would agree David could be forgiven for splashing out on the latest piece of kit every few years.
Not so, he says. David still goes out with the same trusty metal detector he bought for around £300 from a specialist shop in Newport in the late 1980s – and claims it has only improved with age.
“I take good care of my kit, make sure it’s clean and in return, it has never let me down. I’ve never bothered with anything new, I can’t imagine what it would do that my detector can’t.
“I always say, it runs better now than it did when I got it all those years ago. It’s helped me find a treasure – why would I want anything more?”
The detector not only indicates whether there’s metal underground but also shows what type of metal the object appears to be made of and how far below the surface it is buried.
“It’s absolutely brilliant,” David said. “I don’t think I’d swap it for anything.”
Most people would find the thought of spending hours scanning the ground for treasure relatively tiresome, but David made clear that in all his years the novelty has never worn thin.
‘There’s always something’
“Metal detecting has become such a huge part of my life – it gets me out and about, and so many people come up to you all the time to ask about what you’re looking for, what you’ve found, all sorts of questions.
“It’s something that people seem to be really interested in. I could talk for hours and hours about it and never get bored, there always seems to be something else to say.”
And what about the days where there’s nothing to be found? According to David, they simply don’t exist.
“Oh there’s always something,” he laughed. “That’s what I enjoy so much about it. It might not be something very good, but there’s always something.”