Metal detecting duo find rich pickings under Royal School

Wednesday 5th August 2020

Lee Marchi (front, left) and John Campbell outside Gordonstoun House.

Coins dating back to the Thirteenth Century along with bullets, Victorian plant labels and even a time capsule have been discovered by metal detectorists at Gordonstoun School.

The finds chronicle the fascinating history of Gordonstoun, which was once a grand estate owned by Scottish nobility before it was converted into one of the world’s most famous boarding schools.

The items were found by Lee Marchi and John Campbell who work in Maintenance and IT Services at the School and are keen metal detectorists in their spare time.

John Campbell said,

The very first time we went out detecting together we found a time capsule outside St Michael’s Kirk which sits in the grounds of the School. It was only thirteen years old but nobody knew it was there: it must have been buried by a couple of former students. That was just in our lunch-hour during the tattie (October) holidays. We realised there was a lot waiting to be found.”

Lee Marchi continued,

“We have a lot better ‘find rate’ than you would normally have because nobody has ever detected here before. The second time we went out together we found a solid silver Edward I coin dating from 1272 – 1307. This might date back to the time when there was a market close to the old Ogstoun Cross.”

Since then the two friends have found a coin from Charles II reign in the 1600’s, a George III shilling from 1817, a florin from 1929 as well as a throwing disc which could date from the time when HRH Prince Philip attended the School.

Throwing disc and a selection of coins found by Lee and John.

John Campbell described the moment they unearthed the disc:

“We were in front of the main School building and got a hit. We dug down to the stone foundations of the original drive but the target was below that. Our hole was getting bigger and bigger until we spotted a substantial brass ring. At first, we were worried in case it was a grenade or a bomb but then we realised it was the brass edge of a vintage throwing disc. These had a brass surround and centre with wood in the middle and was probably thrown by a pupil in the 1940’s or 50’s. What we don’t know is how it ended up under a layer of heavy stones.”

The pair have also found bullets and shell casings on the North Lawn – an area which would have been used as a sports field by both HRH Prince Philip and HRH Prince Charles when they attended the school. These munitions date from the Second World War when the school was requisitioned for use as barracks by the army.

Lee and John have also found a silver George V sixpence from 1929.

That was only an inch and a half under the surface,” said John. “It would have been a devastating amount to lose for the person who dropped it.”

The archaeology under the ground at Gordonstoun is so rich because it has been protected by high levels of security around the school.

“Even though we’re employees, we had to seek permission from the Bursar before we could start detecting,” said Lee. “She said that was fine as long as we found something valuable enough to pay for a new school master plan! All our finds are of a very low value so far but we love finding things that tell a story.”

The School’s archivist is now helping the pair by sending them historic pictures of the grounds and gardens which they use to identify new hotspots to try but, despite the excitement of it all, it has to take second place to the day job.

“The only problem is that I get nothing done when I go to see the archivist because I get so absorbed in the old maps, so I’m trying to stay away!”

The Principal of Gordonstoun, Lisa Kerr said,

“Gordonstoun has a fascinating history and it’s so interesting to see what has lain undisturbed just under the surface of the ground for centuries. Perhaps the next step is to get the children involved. I think Lee and John will be able to organise the best treasure hunt ever!”


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Gordonstoun is an independent boarding school which was established in Moray in 1934 by Dr Kurt Hahn, a Jewish exile who fled Nazi Germany. He founded the school with the ideal of developing better world citizens equipped to contribute to society. Dr Kurt Hahn was the driving force behind the Outward-Bound Movement and The Duke of Edinburgh Award. Gordonstoun has been a pioneer of character education which, as well as academic subjects, includes outdoor activities, sailing, athletics and service to the community. Three generations of British royalty have been educated at Gordonstoun, including the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. Approximately one third of the pupils at the co-educational boarding school receive financial help in order to attend. The school was described as ‘outstanding’ and ‘sector-leading’ in its most recent inspection.