A MAN and his metal detector has been uncovering priceless pieces of history across the North-East during the pandemic - but what are his most interesting finds? 

Metal detecting first piqued the interest of Mark McMullan, of South Park, Darlington, when he bought his nine-year-old daughter a toy detector last Christmas.

The 47-year-old investment manager took to traipsing farmers fields in August 2020 and has so far found countless coins and local treasures - including a cannonball and buttons from a local Quaker family.

Mr McMullan says treasure-hunting is a mindful but addictive hobby. 

He said: "I've found all sorts of things, they are not always the most valuable but I have found a gold sovereign from 1889 and medieval objects going back to the 1100s. 

"For me, it's not about value, it's about the history. When I find something, I want to know its history and link to the area. It's astonishing, fascinating.

"I could be out there all day and not find anything but the other day I was out for two hours and found 15 coins. It's the thrill of the chase, isn't it."

Mr McMullan, who has not studied history since his GCSEs, has just upgraded his metal detector.

He added: "My daughter hasn't used hers much."

The Northern Echo: Mr McMullan with his metal detectorMr McMullan with his metal detector

The dad is part of the Prince Bishops Metal Detecting Club, which is based in Darlington, but they have been unable to meet due to Covid restrictions so he has gone at it alone. 

He said: "I know some farmers who allow me to use their land but that's the hardest part of the hobby.

"Some other people have been in touch and invited me down to their land to detect, they are interested in what's on their land.

"It's the mystery and the history of lost things. I love rescuing lost treasure. It's quite addictive."

Mr McMullan, who has recently set up a Facebook page to showcase his findings and urges anyone with land to get in touch, previously found livery buttons from the Quaker Backhouse family and returned one to a descendant who now lives in the North West. 

He said: "She called me and it was just brilliant. She was excited, asked how I found it and the history. The items I find mean so much to someone, that's why I like it."

So what are five of the most interesting items Mr McMullan has found? 

Civil war cannonball

The Northern Echo: The cannonball. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullanThe cannonball. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullan

While Mr McMullan chipped away at this "big lump of iron" he soon realised it was a cannonball. It was found near Walworth Castle and he is "pretty sure" it was fired from a Falconet Cannon.

The falconet was a small and light cannon developed in the late 15th century and continued to be used until the mid 17th century.

The hobbyist metal detector says the falconet resembles an oversized matchlock musket which, due to its wheels to improve mobility, was popular during the English civil war (1642 to 1651).

A 'know your onions' teaching coin

The Northern Echo: Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullanPicture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullan

If you have ever year the phrase 'know your onions', this is one of many theories on where it comes from. S. G. Onions made a set of coins that were used in schools to help children learn pounds, shillings and pence. 

Mr McMullan says this coin is a "real cracker" and dates his find to the 1840s, with '12 pence makes one shilling' written on it with a correlating number of dots to reinforce the teaching. 

A hunting whistle 

The Northern Echo: The hunting whistle alongside another find. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullanThe hunting whistle alongside another find. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullan

This is no normal whistle. Mr McMullan believes it is a pewter Hawking whistle from the 1600 to 1700s. 

Hawking or Falconry whistles were common in the Medieval and Tudor period and were often worn as jewellery or sewn onto the owner’s garments.

As the Falconry name suggests, the whistles also play a part in the hunting of wild animals although the tool fell in popularity with the rise of firearms. 

Love token 

The Northern Echo: Love token. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullanLove token. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullan

Found in a local field in the west of Darlington, Mr McMullan was delighted with how this silver love token cleaned up.

The silver love token's message is still clear; it is inscribed with the words 'the Lord watch between thee when we are absent from one another'.

It was found alongside a Victorian sweetheart broach.

A lead head

The Northern Echo: A lead head. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullanA lead head. Picture: The History Hunter/Mark McMullan

You read that right - a lead head. Mr McMullan expects this head is the finial from a lead tobacco jar, which were popular in the early 1800s and used to store pipe tobacco.