The treasure trail
The story of how it all went wrong for the hoard’s finders
The origins of the Herefordshire Hoard remain shrouded in mystery. This is hardly surprising given it is thought to have been buried in the 9th century. We know however quite a lot about its 21st century recovery. The only mystery surrounding that unearthing are the decisions that were made by the hoard’s finders.
The two metal detectorists who unearthed the hoard in a field at Eye near Leominster, Herefordshire.
At the time the pair may not have known the exact value of what is now known as the Herefordshire Hoard. But they were sufficiently excited to take photographs of their discovery while it was still in the ground. They also took photos of the field. Presumably, this was to help them return to it at a later date to look for more treasures.
They would later come to regret posting one of the images they took on the online portal of a metal detecting club. No doubt the image, featuring three of the coins from the find, was posted to attract interest.
It did attract interest. From the finders’ point of view, this worked against them. Police investigators later used the image as evidence against the men (despite the fact that it had been deleted by the time they had access to their phone’s digital footprint).
The other big mistake the finders made was to try to sell items from the hoard on the illicit market.
What the pair should have done was report their discovery to the authorities. This is because all buried treasure belongs to the nation.
The judge who sentenced the men said they had cheated not only the landowner, but also the public of ‘exceptionally rare and significant coins’.
Calling the men’s actions ‘greedy and selfish’, the judge sentenced one to ten years in prison and gave the other an eight and a half year sentence.
A co-conspirator was sentenced to five years for conspiracy to conceal criminal property and conspiracy to convert criminal property. Another person involved, was later sentenced to twelve months in prison, suspended for two years.
The moral of the story is to act legally and declare such discoveries. Had the metal detectorists stayed on the right side of the law they could have expected to receive, as the judge pointed out to them, a half share or a third share of the hoard’s value.
About the Hoard
The Herefordshire Hoard is an Anglo-Saxon and Viking age hoard buried around 878. The items recovered to date include a gold arm bangle with beast head clasp, a magnificent pendant made from a rock crystal sphere encased within a gold decorative cage, a gold octagonal ring with black inlay, a silver ingot and twenty nine coins mostly of Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia.
The hoard was found buried in a privately owned field at Eye, near Leominster in 2015 by two metal detectorists. The finders did not have permission to be on the land and did not declare their finds to the local Coroner’s Office or the Museum Service; this is a legal requirement under the Treasure Act (1996). Instead they began to sell objects from the Hoard on the illicit market.
Following notification from the local Finds Liaison Officer, West Mercia Police launched an investigation. This resulted in four people being found guilty of crimes relating to the Hoard in 2019 and three received lengthy prison sentences.
Significance of the Herefordshire Hoard
The Herefordshire Hoard rewrites English history
- The coins show an alliance between Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia, revealing clues into the politics of the period when the idea of a unified England was taking shape.
- Ceolwulf II is recognised for the first time as a significant ruler and king of Mercia equal to Alfred of Wessex
- The hoard is the first evidence of likely activity of the Viking Great Army in Herefordshire.
The objects themselves are beautiful, the result of great craftsmanship.
The Herefordshire Hoard is of national importance and currently kept in the British Museum, but we hope to raise the funds with our 'Bringing the Hoard home to Herefordshire' campaign so that it can be available to the public of Herefordshire to see.
The Herefordshire Hoard currently comprises 29 silver coins, one silver ingot, a beast's head gold bracelet, a rock crystal pendant and a gold ring. It is believed the Hoard originally contained more than 300 coins and many ingots, most of which have been illegally dispersed.
The Hoard is extremely important as material evidence that the Great Viking Army passed through Western Mercia during 877-9. Exactly where the objects came from, who collected them and why they were buried remain matters for speculation: It may have been buried to hide it from the Vikings or it may have been brought into the country and buried by Vikings.
The Herefordshire Hoard includes a number of 'Two Emperor’ pennies minted by both kings, which are amazingly rare coins.
The Herefordshire Hoard includes a number of ‘Two Emperor’ pennies minted by both kings, which are amazingly rare coins. These coins have an image of two figures (emperors) side by side with a winged figure of Victory overhead, and on the front of the coin the head of either Alfred of Wessex and Ceowulf II of Mercia. It is thought that these were struck to commemorate an alliance between Wessex and Mercia and that both kings were equals.
This is intriguing as up to now, historians had been led to believe that Ceolwulf II was a puppet king, under the control of the Vikings. These, and other coins in the hoard suggest that he was a more active partner to Wessex in these turbulent years.
Take a look at the videos examining the coins more closely.
Other Hoards found in Mercia include the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard (2009) and the Viking Watlington Hoard in Oxfordshire similar to the Herefordshire Hoard (found 2015).
Several ‘Hoards’ associated with Viking culture have been found in Great Britain. Typically, they comprise a mixture of silver coins, silver jewellery, ingots and hacksilver that has been taken in loot, some coins originating from as far away as the Middle East. Some hoards also contain artefacts, religious ornaments or gold items.