A massive hoard of over 2500 coins dating back to the eleventh-century has been discovered in southwestern England. It represents the largest discovery of coins from the period following the Norman Conquest in 1066, and preliminary estimates are valuing the hoard at £5 million.
The British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme announced the discovery, which primarily includes coins depicting Harold II (1066), the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England and his successor, William the Conqueror (1066-87), first Norman King of England.
In January 2019 a group of metal-detectorists including Lisa Grace and Adam Staples were searching on land near the Chew Valley, Somerset when they discovered an initial group of coins. Along with five other colleagues they found a total of 2,528 coins dispersed in the ploughsoil over a small area. The find was reported to the local Coroner, as required under the Treasure Act 1996. The coins were brought to the British Museum the day after being discovered, where they have been cleaned for identification purposes and catalogued in a report for the Coroner. “It’s an amazing feeling to have unearthed this spectacular hoard,” explained Lisa and Adam. “We’ve been dreaming of this for 15 years but it’s finally come true.”
The hoard is in good condition and is made up of 1,236 coins of Harold II and 1,310 coins of the first type of William I, as well as a number of fragments. The discovery is hugely significant, not least because it contains almost double the amount of Harold II coins compared with all of the previous known examples combined. Most of these Harold coins were produced in Sussex and the South East, which indicates financial preparation in the area to resist the Norman invasion.
In addition, the hoard makes up five times more examples of the first coin type issued by William I, following his coronation on Christmas Day, 1066.The hoard thus provides an unprecedented opportunity to examine changes in the coinage in the immediate aftermath of the Norman Conquest. Preliminary analysis indicates the presence of mints previous unrecorded for Harold and William respectively, including coins of Harold from the local mint of Bath. There are also suggestions that the Norman die cutters producing these coins struggled to understand Old English based on the quality of spelling on the coin.
“This is an extremely significant find for our understanding of the impact of the Norman Conquest of 1066,” says Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coinage at the British Museum. “One of the big debates amongst historians is the extent to which there was continuity or change, both in the years immediately after the Conquest and across a longer period. Surviving historical sources tend to focus on the top level of society, and the coins are also symbols of authority and power. At the same time, they were used on a regular basis by both rich and poor, so the coins help us understand how changes under Norman rule impacted on society as a whole.”
The Chew Valley hoard also contains the first known examples of a ‘mule’ between Harold and William. Mules are coins with a design from different coin types on each side of the coin, indicating that the moneyer for the coin re-used a die to create one side. An early form of tax evasion, this avoided the moneyer paying a fee each time new dies were acquired – re-using an old die one illicitly avoided the fee. In this case, the mule demonstrates that coins were produced with Harold II’s name on after William I had taken control of the country following the Norman Conquest and established coinage of his own. The hoard also includes a rare example of a mule of Harold’s predecessor Edward the Confessor (1042–66) and William I.
The exact circumstances in which the hoard was buried are uncertain. It was buried in the period c.1067–8, but in 1067 the Welsh attacked Herefordshire, in 1068 William himself besieged Exeter, and later the same year the sons of Harold returned from Ireland, raiding around the mouth of the Avon, Bristol and down into Somerset. The last of these is the most likely to be directly associated with the hoard, but all three indicate a period of unrest in the south-west which might lead to wealth being buried for safety.
It will now be examined by the local Coroner to confirm if it is Treasure. Under the Treasure Act, which in England is administered by the British Museum, museums are given the opportunity to acquire finds of Treasure. The Roman Baths & Pump Room in Bath have expressed interest in acquiring the hoard for their collection.
“We are very excited about the discovery of this important hoard in North East Somerset with such strong connections to our area,” said Councillor Paul Crossley of Bath & North East Somerset Council. “If we are able to acquire the coins, we will work to display them locally, as well as partnering with the British Museum to make them available for loan to other exhibitions so that they can be seen by a wider audience.”
Top Image: Sample of the Chew Valley Hoard – Photo: Pippa Pearce © The Trustees of the British Museum