For close to 1300 years, an ordinary field in Staffordshire concealed a long lost treasure of gold. Its discovery made international headlines and has now been valued at £3.285 million. In this article, we talk about the people behind the discovery and the efforts to recover the treasure.
The find was made on a field near the town of Lichfield. The owned of the property, Fred Johnson, said that eight other metal detectorists had searched over that field over the years, but none of them were able to find anything. Mr. Johnson adds, “I think because the ground is on a mound, the top soil must have been washed away and coupled with the fact I’ve been ploughing the land, this is what must have brought the artefacts up to the surface.”
In comes Terry Herbert, a 55 year old who has been unemployed because of a disability. He had been doing metal detecting for over 18 years, and his colleagues often told him that he had luck on his side when he went out searching. Herbert said, “My mates at the [Bloxwich Research and Metal Detecting] club always say that if there is a gold coin in a field, I will be the one to find it.
Herbert got permission from Fred Johnson to go over his fields, and on July 5, his metal detector made the first discovery. “I have this phrase that I say sometimes – ‘spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear’ – but on that day I changed coins to gold,’ he said. “I don’t know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it. Maybe it was meant to be, maybe the gold had my name on it all along.”
For the next five days, Herbert found more and more pieces of gold and silver in that field, taking them back to Mr. Johnson’s home where they were placed into ordinary boxes. Herbert remarked, “I was going to bed and in my sleep, I was seeing gold items. As soon as I closed my eyes, I saw gold patterns. I didn’t think it was ever going to end.”
As the significance of the find dawned on the discoverers, a call was made to Duncan Slarke, an archaeologist based in Birmingham and working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. “Seeing the material for the first time was absolutely breath-taking,” said Slarke. “I’d had a call about the material and I’d listed something like 50 sword caps/sword pom caps in gold. And to see the material, I didn’t really know what to expect, but to see the material actually in boxes on a table, glistening at me, I was staggered.
“I was there for 4 hours just looking at the material and the finder actually called me Duncan Wow after, because that’s all I could say, wow, because it was find after find after find, of the most staggering quality.”
At this point more archaeologists were called in from Staffordshire County Council, as well as experts from the British Museum, to assist with the find. One concern that quickly emerged was that if news of the discovery was leaked out, it might bring in looters and criminals who would try to search the field for themselves. Herbert remarked, “I was excited when I started digging up the gold but it was frightening in the end. I was getting frightened about other people getting on to the field, night hawkers. It was like a burden on my shoulders, it became a worry.”
A cover story was developed that a body was discovered on the farm and that the throngs of police where there to investigate a possible murder.
For the rest of the summer teams of archaeologists continued to excavate the fields of Fred Johnson’s farm, uncovering more items. In total, over 1800 artefacts were discovered, which amounted to 5kg (11lb) of gold and 2.5kg of silver.
On 24 September 2009 the hoard was declared treasure by the South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh, meaning that it belongs to the Crown. The hoard has now also been valued at £3.285 million, and once the artefacts are officially sold to a museum, Herbert and Johnson will equally split the money. In the meantime, Herbert has been upfront speaking with the media about how he made his discovery.
This has upset Fred Johnson, who did not want as much attention and is less concerned with receiving his half of the share. Johnson says, “I’m not happy with Terry. I think it is more about the money for him, and I’m going to have to confront him about that. Me and Terry agreed to keep it all low-key and I thought that would be the case.”