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Treasures uncovered in our midst

By Mark Andrews | North Shropshire | News | Published:

When archaeologists first caught glimpse of Terry Herbert's discovery, they could barely believe their eyes.

The biggest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found in Britain was uncovered in a farmer's field just outside Lichfield. It is 10 years since Mr Herbert, a 55-year-old unemployed amateur using a 14-year-old metal detector, discovered the Staffordshire Hoard, as it quickly became known. Consisting of some 1,594 glittering pieces, dating back 1,300 years, it was found in field belonging to farmer Fred Johnson in Hammerwich. It was described as 'bigger than Sutton Hoo', and painted a fresh light on our understanding of British history.

While such finds are unique, there is still plenty of treasure awaiting discovery, as new figures released this week show.

A total of 40 discoveries were reported to coroners across Staffordshire, Shropshire and Mid Wales last year.

Anyone who discovers what they believe could be classed as treasure has to tell the coroner within 14 days, so the court can hold an inquest to decide who should get the loot. Failure to do so can result in an unlimited fine or up to three months in prison.

What constitutes treasure is defined by the Treasure Act, and includes coins, old metallic objects that are at least 10% precious metals such as gold or silver, or prehistoric metallic objects.

If the items are deemed to be treasure, both national and local museums are given the option to purchase the items, paying the finder a sum dependent on the treasure's value. If they are not considered treasure, they are returned to the finder who is allowed to keep them.

Shropshire, including Telford & Wrekin, had the most discoveries, with 18 being reported to coroner John Ellery. This led to four inquests in the county, with all of the finds being deemed to be treasure. The number of finds showed a marked increase compared to the previous year, when there were just seven reports.

A total of 17 reports were made to South Staffordshire Coroners Andrew Haigh, which was up on the previous year when there were 10 reported finds. The court held 14 inquests, and concluded that all of the finds constituted treasure.

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Over the border, there were five finds reported to the South Wales Central Coroner. A total of 13 inquests were held, with 11 of concluding that treasure had been found.

No reports were made to Black Country Coroner Zafar Siddique, who covers Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, last year.

All potential treasure finds are processed by the British Museum, whose experts advise coroners on whether the find fits the definition of treasure.

There were 999 finds reported to coroners across England and Wales last year, a six per cent decrease on the year before.

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Coroners completed 425 inquests, and determined in 380 cases that the discoveries were treasure.

Ian Richardson, treasure registrar at the British Museum, says: “The Treasure Act, administered by the British Museum, exists to make sure that the most important archaeological discoveries are able to be acquired by public museums.

"If treasure finds are not reported, as is required by law, then we risk losing artefacts that could have significant impact on our understanding of the past.

"The general public are fascinated by the history beneath our feet, and enjoy seeing new discoveries and learning how they help fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

"Treasure finds can also contribute to an enhanced sense of place as people are proud of discoveries from their local area."

NOTABLE FINDS OF THE PAST 10 YEARS *Staffordshire Hoard (2009 and 2012), Hammerwich: Amateur metal detectorist Terry Herbert discovered what was possibly the biggest find of the century beneath a farmer's field near Burntwood.

The collection was unparalleled in size and may have belonged to Saxon royalty, containing around 13lbs of gold and more than 2.25lbs of silver. It was eventually valued at £3.285 million, which was shared between Mr Herbert and landowner Fred Johnson. In 2012, a further 91 items were discovered – 81 which were deemed to be treasure, the remaining 10 found to be modern waste.

*Medieval brooch (2016), Weston Rhyn

In March this year Shropshire Coroner John Ellery ruled that a medieval brooch found by a metal detectorist at Weston Rhyn, near Oswestry, in September 2016 was treasure.

He said it dates back to somewhere between the 8th and the early 10th century AD and contained precious metal. Shrewsbury Museum expressed an interest in acquiring it.

*Medieval ring (2018), Ludlow.

The gold ring was found by detectorist Oliver Price at Greete, near Ludlow, on August 15 last year.

Senior finds liaison officer Angie Bolton told an inquest in Shrewsbury in February that the ring was complete, although its hoop was slightly misshapen.

“The bezel is formed by the hoop dividing into two horizontal strands each with a stirrup type bezel with a conical cell," she said.

“Both cells have their original stone setting missing. The two strands join at the shoulders which have a moulded decoration in the form of a zoomorphic face with a nose, circular indentations for eyes, high-relief pellets and low-relief annulets for hair.

“The hoop is D-shaped in section, and on the exterior it is decorated with low-relief chevrons and notches along the edge. The hoop tapers slightly in width towards the reverse.”

Gold coins (2015), Claverley

A hoard of gold coins dating back to the iron age were discovered by Derek Lloyd, from Kidderminster, in March 2015.

Mr Lloyd found the coins in a former potato field owned by Malcolm Powell.

When he uncovered the first coin he thought he had found a piece of silver paper or a bottle top and it was only on closer inspection that he realised he may be on to something a little more exciting.

Along with three friends he slowly dug a hole which revealed seven coins, stamped with ferns and horses, which date to AD20.

Single finds have been made but Iron Age coins are extremely rare within Shropshire and the local tribe, the Cornovii, did not produce their own coinage – there was no monetary system active on western Britain prior to the Roman conquest. At that time, coins were viewd as a token of allegiance or identity and probably were used to strengthen bonds between areas and people.

*Gold pendant (2018), Shropshire Marches

A gold pendant discovered at an undisclosed location in the Shropshire Marches in May last year was described as one of the most significant pieces of Bronze Age metalwork ever found in the UK.

The piece, thought to date back more than 3,000 years, was only the second if its type to be found in England, an inquest heard in February. The previous one was found in Manchester in 1806, but its whereabouts are now unknown.

Expert Peter Reavill told the Shrewsbury inquest: "The discovery of this nationally important artefact has the potential of being one of the most significant pieces of Bronze Age gold metalwork ever discovered from the British Isles.”

*Silver thimble, (2017), Bridgnorth

On June 8, 2017, metal detectorists discovered the thimble, which dates back to the 17th century, and the item was declared as treasure by Shropshire Coroner John Ellery at an inquest in Shrewsbury in February this year.

Finds liaison officer for Shropshire Peter Reavill explained that the the decorated thimble dated to the mid-17th century and was formed from rolled silver sheet.

It includes a zig zag pattern and had a short inscription that stated: “FEARE GOD” in block capital letters.

Mr Reavill said: “The thimble can be dated to the 17th century on the basis of style, spelling and the form of the seriffed capital letters, a form popular in the 1650s.

“The motto can be paralleled against other later 17th century silver artefacts including thimbles and posy rings.

“Thimbles with waffle-shaped indentations and religious mottoes are typical of the Commonwealth period (AD 1649-1660)."

*The gold in the piano (2016), Bishop's Castle

Aside from the Staffordshire Hoard, one of the most remarkable discoveries of treasure in recent years was a huge stash of gold found in a piano four years ago.

The piano, which had been bought in a house clearance sale in 1983, had been donated to Bishop's Castle Community College by owner Meg Hemmings in 2006.

In 2015 piano tuner Martin Backhouse was called in to work on the instrument, and found the huge stash of gold coins beneath the keyboard.

A total of 913 gold sovereigns and half sovereigns dating from 1847 to 1915 were discovered, weighing nearly a stone and valued at approximately £350,000.

*Gold signet ring (2017), St Martin's

Two men discovered a late medieval gold signet ring in St Martin’s, near Oswestry on June 23, 2017.

Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire, Peter Reavill told a Shrewsbury inquest in February this year that the ring was in 'stunning condition’ after being discovered in a ploughed field.

He said: “The form of the ring fits with examples dated to the period AD 1350-1550 – many of which bear religious iconographic designs."

*Silver strap-end (2018), Cleobury Mortimer

The medieval silver strap-end was discovered by a metal dectorist in Cleobury Mortimer on August 26 last year. It is thought to date back to 750-1000AD.

*Medieval brooch (2018), Cleobury Mortimer

Patrick Edwards, from Clee Hill, found the gold annular brooch while exploring with his metal detector in Cleobury Mortimer last year.

Finds officer Peter Reavill said it dated back to between 1250 and 1400.

*Silver coin (2017), Cockshutt

A silver Roman coin dated 88AD was found in Cockshutt, North Shropshire, by metal detectorist Alan Hughes.

He also found two Trajan complete coins and a fragment dated between AD103 and AD111. A fifth coin was identified as an Hadrian coin dated AD112 to AD138.

Only the 88AD coin was declared treasure, as no museum had expressed an interest in taking possession of the others.

*Roman brooch (2017), Wem

A silver Roman brooch dating back about 2,000 years was found in Wem in December 2017.

*Roman coins (2015), Eccleshall

Coins dating back to the rule of the Romans were uncovered in Eccleshall, near Stafford, between June and September 2015.

*Tudor coins (2015), Rugeley

A total of 21 coins, some whole, some in parts, were found at Hill Ridware, near Rugeley, in the summer of 2015.

The 25 coins thought to date from between 260AD and 281AD.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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