THE WENDOVER HOARD
In May 2012 I published the story of a hoard that has never appeared in my blog – unless it was one of those lost – and is worthy of a place. You’ll find out why . . .
Wendover is a picturesque village in Buckinghamshire and often described as the gateway to the Chiltern Hills. I know it well. My wife and I were married at St Mary’s parish church, our children attended the local primary school and I taught at the secondary school for nearly forty years. Members of our family lie at rest in the churchyard.
Finders of the Hoard
Quite recently, a boy I used to teach many years ago was detecting with his friend Richard and found a hoard of nineteen hammered coins in one of his father’s fields. The finds didn’t receive any publicity, but were reported to the Finds Liaison officer, duly recorded on the PAS database, and now reside somewhere in the Aylesbury Museum’s collection. Both guys were thrilled with the certificate received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) thanking them for being responsible detectorists.
I don’t usually give the ages of the detectorists featured in my articles, but this is rather special and gives both the story perspective and my introduction some kind of legitimacy. Richard and Peter are both in their fifties. A swift calculation tells me that I taught the latter (and his wife) over forty years ago when he was but a callow youth of thirteen or fourteen. Although I have met Peter in the intervening years, and even detected together on the ‘hoard field,’ it was a delight to re-unite our friendship once again.
Peter started detecting at the age of twenty and in that time he has had a lot of success with basic model detectors and spurns higher end machines. He told me that he prefers to switch on and go rather than spending ages playing with buttons. His first detector was a rather ancient, large and heavy Fieldmaster, a machine capable of finding anything no more than an inch below the ground.
You may not readily recognise the brand name, but they are one of England’s longest established detector manufacturers and (I believe) still in business. He also remembered a Gold Mountain machine. This American manufacturer has been out of business for many years but you occasionally see a second-hand (pre-loved?) model being sold on eBay.
Many of Peter’s finds are in museums, including the Ashmolean in Oxford. He commented that he wasn’t as technically minded as Richard but assured me that he was rather good at operating a combine or ploughing a straight furrow! When he first detected the Hoard Field (before 1988) he explored the lower part. Then the field wasn’t ploughed but set-aside, so he basically forgot about it and searched elsewhere on the farm.
In many ways, I suppose our heroes could be regarded as strange bedfellows. Richard owns his own interior furnishing business and although he dabbled in detecting as a youngster, he had a long break from the hobby before taking it up again about eight years ago. Unlike Peter who likes to go off and mooch on his own away from people and cars, Richard attends digs and rallies and is a member of Weekend Wanderers. His current machine is a Minelab E-Trac. His best find is the subject of this article.
The Hoard in Detail
It wasn’t until just recently that Peter decided to detect the top end of the grassy field just after it had been cut, and was fortunate enough to find three hammered coins. So, he immediately called Richard and told him of the finds. They made an intensive search over several days and found a total of 19 coins. Richard also found a socketed axe head and Peter, a fine silver buckle.
Richard said, “There are loads of poor signals in there that you wouldn’t investigate because they are so deep. “The ground is so hard and stony. It’s not worth the effort digging.”
Peter, because of the fact that they found so many coins in so short a time, thought perhaps the plough had thrown them to the top and he is convinced that when the field is ploughed again, more will be found.
The coins were subsequently examined by Dr. Barrie Cook of the British Museum who said that all but one were silver pennies of the kings of England. The remaining one was an issue of the English kings from Ireland, easily located in the main picture. All but one of the English coins belong to the Short Cross coinage, in production between 1180 and 1247. The remaining coin is a penny of King Edward I, issued in 1280-1.
Dr. Cook reports: Between this coin and the others there had been two wholesale national re-coinages (1247 and 1279) and a weight reduction for the penny, so it can safely be regarded as a coin lost separately and individually, and not part of the major group. The Irish coin is contemporary with the Short Cross coins and circulated in England at the same time. He then proceeded to list each coin in detail and if you would like the full report, it is listed under BUC-589AC3 on the PAS database.
Invitation and a Surprise!
Peter and Richard invited me to meet them for a chat and make yet another sweep of the field, but didn’t find anything of significance with the Deus, just a load of rubbish. Using his E-Trac, Richard found a tidy George IV shilling. But here’s the surprise!
Peter, who was swinging his trusty ancient C-Scope as usual, was triumphant! One would have thought that it was against all the odds, but he found another hammered coin, albeit with a cracked flan, but making the hoard total up to a round figure of twenty.
Rod Blunt of the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) recorded it as a John Short Cross penny which is in keeping with the bulk of the hoard coins. The date is 1207.
Peter and Richard have detected on this field many times. You may remember that in 2008 I reported on an archaeological day at Aylesbury Museum and highlighted a magnificent dagger quillion that was on show. When the article was published, the picture of the quillion was shown rather small. As it was found on the same field it is worth a reprise!
Several other hammered coins have also been discovered over the years and two of the more interesting ones are shown here. First is a Mary Groat from 1553-54 – she only reigned for a year, so this makes it quite a rare find.
James II also reigned for a very short time, 1685-88, which also makes this Threepence another comparatively rare coin. It also looks as though it was worn as a pendant at sometime.
Roman artefacts – and much more – have also been uncovered. The site is beginning to sound like the Magic Porridge Pot! The fine selection of working crotal bells represent the sort of finds mere mortals like myself aspire to . . .
As we were sitting in the farmhouse kitchen having a welcome cup of tea, there was a knock on the door. A friend of Peter’s had found a pristine cartwheel ‘tuppence’ in a box in the attic. He didn’t know what it was and had brought it for Peter to identify. I was able to add to the ID with some extra detail about Matthew Boulton, the Soho Mint and why every cartwheel had the same date etcetera. Peter said something to his friend about how fortunate it was that we had an expert on hand.
Now, I’ve never regarded myself an expert – especially as far as detecting goes, but clearly Peter regarded me as such. What happened next confirmed just how much influence schoolmasters have on pupils. As we were leaving, Peter casually asked me if I knew what a chough was, and he carefully proceeded, with slow and very clear enunciation, to spell out the word, C-H-O-U-G-H (pronounced CHUFF)
This was an unusual request and had no idea where it was leading. Without hesitation I said that it was a bird of the crow family. Yes, he said, “I also knew that and when I was a kid, you didn’t allow me to give the answer!” I had just re-enforced his belief that I was a know-it-all who knew everything, but at least enabled him to give vent to a perceived injustice he’d harboured for forty years. Strange what pupils’ remember.
Earlier on I said that Peter reckoned there were more coins to be found once the field was ploughed. I hope he’s right, but that may never come to pass. The proposed 250mph high-speed train link (HS2) between London and the West Midlands could be the only thing that’s going to plough straight through the middle of that field. I sincerely hope that this never happens!
My thanks to UKDFD, the Searcher magazine, Peter & Richard and the PAS database for help in preparing this article – JW