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History Mysteries

British Treasures – The Top Ten Finds

Over the decades, a significant number of ‘British treasures’ have been discovered across the United Kingdom. Most of them were located either by accident or by the patient work of enthusiasts with metal detectors.

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British Treasures
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In most cases, these wonderful British treasures were hidden by their owners during times of social and political upheaval – although, in the case of the Sutton Hoo burial and the Frome Hoard, they were associated with deliberate religious rites. Although many such discoveries have already been made, it is widely believed that many more exist, waiting to be revealed.

While the gold and gemstones are enough to excite the treasure hunter in all of us, the true value of these finds lies in their ability to open a window in the lives of the British peoples across the millennia.

THE SUTTON HOO TREASURES

Sutton Hoo British Treasures

  • Buried Circa: 620 AD
  • Historical Period: Anglo-Saxon
  • Discovered When: 1939
  • Location Found: Suffolk | England
  • Found By: Mr Basil Brown (Excavation)

  • Displayed: British Museum
  • Primary Materials: Gold, Garnet & Weapons
  • Number of Items: 1000+
  • Est. Value: £50,000 (1943) £1,250,000 (2013)

Mrs Edith Pretty of the village of Sutton Hoo had long believed that there were important ancient burial mounds on her property. In 1938, she asked an archaeologist, Mr Basil Brown, to excavate several of the barrows.

Three of the mounds had already been robbed in ancient times, but one of them still contained a spectacular Anglo-Saxon burial chamber built inside a 30-metre-long wooden ship. The treasure included armour, weapons, gold coins, gold jewellery with garnet settings, silver cups and silver-supported drinking horns, as well as a leather purse with a jewelled cover containing thirty-seven golden Merovingian coins, three coin-sized blanks and two ingots. It is considered one of the best British treasures ever discovered.

The burial chamber was probably constructed for an East Anglian monarch (Bretwalda) – most likely King Raedwald.

 

THE RINGLEMERE CUP

Ringlemere and Rillaton gold cups

  • Buried Circa: 1,700 – 1,500 BC
  • Historical Period: Bronze Age (Neolithic Styling)
  • Discovered When: 2001
  • Location Found: Kent | England
  • Found By: Mr Cliff Bradshaw (PMD*)

  • Displayed: British Museum
  • Primary Materials: Gold
  • Number of Items: One
  • Est. Value: £270,000 (2002) £470,000 (2013)

The Ringlemere Gold Cup is a Bronze Age artefact that dates back to around 1650 BC. It was found in 2001 in a farmer’s field adjacent to Ringlemere Lane and one kilometre west-south-west of Marshborough in Kent. It was classed as one of the top ten British treasures of all time.

Although damaged by ploughing, it is one of only five such golden cups located anywhere in Europe. (Two of which are British.) It is very similar to the Rillaton gold cup discovered in Cornwall in 1837. It is believed to have been a votive offering and is made from high-quality alluvial gold with naturally occurring silver. It is considered to be one of the most important treasures of the British Museum.

 

THE CUERDALE TREASURES

Cuerdale Hoard - British Treasures

Photo Credit: ​​JMial via Wikimedia Commons – CC-BY-SA-2.0

  • Buried Circa: 903 – 912 AD
  • Historical Period: Carolingian / Viking
  • Discovered When: 1840
  • Location Found: Lancashire | England
  • Found By: Unknown Workers

  • Displayed: British & Ashmolean Museums
  • Primary Materials: Silver
  • Number of Items: 8,600+
  • Est. Value: £2,600,000 (2013)

The Cuerdale treasure is the largest collection of Viking silver ever found on British soil. It includes coins, jewellery of English and Carolingian origin, hack-silver (silver fragments) and silver ingots. It was unearthed in a lead chest by workmen repairing a river embankment in 1840. At first, it seemed that it would be quickly ‘acquired’ by the workmen, but the landowner and his bailiffs fortunately rescued it. It is generally believed to have been buried by Vikings who were fleeing from Dublin (Ireland) around 905 AD. This provenance is not certain, and historians and archaeologists have proposed several other theories.

 

THE CHEAPSIDE HOARD

Artists Impression

  • Assembled Circa: 1580 – 1620 AD (1610)
  • Historical Period: Elizabethan & Jacobean
  • Discovered When: 1912
  • Location Found: London | England
  • Found By: Unknown Workmen

  • Displayed: Museum of London
  • Primary Materials: Gold, Silver & Gems
  • Number of Items: 400+
  • Est. Value: £ 3,250,000

The Cheapside Treasure is a collection of wonderful British Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery dating back to around 1600 AD. It was found in 1912 by workmen who were demolishing a building (some say digging a cellar) in the Cheapside area of London.

They revealed a small chest containing more than 400 pieces of jewellery, including brooches, rings, ornate chains, gemstones, and many other decorative pieces. The gemstones included Colombian emeralds, topaz and amazonite from Brazil, a ruby from India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, opal, garnet, amethyst, and pearls. One Colombian emerald was so large it was hollowed out to incorporate a Swiss timepiece.

This British treasure is believed to have once belonged to a Jacobean jeweller who hid it during the English Civil War and never had the opportunity to reclaim it. Most of the hoard is now in the Museum of London.

 

BRITISH TREASURES – THE SNETTISHAM HOARD

Snettisham Hoard British Treasure

  • Hidden Circa: 75 BC
  • Historical Period: Iron Age / Iceni
  • Discovered When: 1948 / 1850 / 1990 AD
  • Location Found: Norfolk | England
  • Found By: Mr Charles Hodder (PMD*)

  • Displayed: British Museum | Norwich Castle
  • Primary Materials: Gold, Silver & Jet
  • Number of Items: 150+
  • Est. Value: £11,600,000 (2013)

The Snettisham Hoard is made up of 75 complete golden torcs (neck ornaments) and around 150 gold torc fragments. These extraordinary British treasures were all found in roughly the same location at Ken Hill outside of Snettisham. The first items were unearthed in 1948, but the largest find was uncovered in 1990, and it amounted to over 9 kilograms of gold fragments. This prompted a full archaeological investigation, which revealed 75 complete golden torches that had been buried in specific pits. It is very possible that these were the ‘royal ornaments’ of the Norfolk Iceni tribe.

 

THE MILDENHALL TREASURE

Mildenhall Treasure

  • Buried Circa: 390 AD
  • Historic Period: Late Roman Britain
  • Discovered When: 1942 or 1943
  • Location Found: Suffolk | England
  • Found By: Mr Gordon Butcher (Ploughing)

  • Displayed: British Museum
  • Primary Materials: Silver Tableware / Plate
  • Number of Items: 34
  • Est. Value: £50,000 (1943) £1,250,000 (2013)

The Mildenhall Treasure dates back to the fourth century AD. It consists of two small, decorated serving plates, two large serving platters, a deep fluted bowl, two small decorated bowls, a set of four large decorated bowls, two small dishes, a deep flanged bowl with a domed cover, five small round ladles with dolphin-shaped handles and eight long-handled spoons. There were initial doubts that a treasure of such quality could be found in Britain. Subsequent discoveries have confirmed that Roman Britain did indeed have high-status goods, and Anglo-Roman nobility were accustomed to using this type of dinner service. The discovery remains somewhat controversial, and a novel about it was written by the famous British author Roald Dahl.

 

THE STAFFORDSHIRE HOARD

Staffordshire Hoard - British Treasure

Photo Credit: David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0 )

  • Assembled Circa: 650 AD – 750 AD
  • Historical Period: Early Anglo-Saxon
  • Discovered When: 2009 / 2010
  • Location Found: Staffordshire | England
  • Found By: Mr Terry Herbert (PMD*)

  • Displayed: Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
  • Primary Materials: Gold & Garnet
  • Number of Items: 3,500+
  • Est. Value: £3,285,000 (2012)

The Staffordshire Hoard is arguably one of the top three treasures ever located in Britain. It is certainly the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and jewellery ever discovered in the United Kingdom. Most of the pieces were related to weapons or armour and were exclusively used by men. The origin of the treasure remains a mystery.

Given the high quality of the workmanship, it is likely that the nobility of the Kingdom of Mercia once owned the treasure. One theory is that Danish invaders swiftly occupied the area for a time, causing the treasure to be hidden rather than surrendered. Why it was never retrieved is the great unanswered question. It is one of the few great British treasures not permanently displayed in the British Museum.

 

THE HOXNE HOARD

Hoxne Hoard - British Treasures

  • Hidden Circa: 407 AD
  • Historical Period: Late Roman Britain
  • Discovered When: 1992
  • Location Found: Suffolk | England
  • Found By: Mr Peter Whatling (PMD*)

  • Displayed: British Museum
  • Primary Materials: Gold & Silver Coins
  • Number of Items: 14,865
  • Est. Value: £2,660,000 (2013)

The Hoxne Treasure is the most substantial collection of late Roman silver and gold discovered in the United Kingdom. It comprises 14,865 Roman gold, silver and bronze coins from between 364 – 423 AD. It also includes some 200 silver tableware and gold jewellery items. The treasure was buried in a small oak chest. It represented considerable wealth, leading experts to believe it was part of the treasury of a wealthy Anglo-Roman family who were concerned about the safety and security of the region in the period immediately after the withdrawal of the legions from Britannia in 407 – 410 AD.

It is likely that the hoard represented only some of the family’s wealth and was not considered worth the risk of retrieval. By today’s standards, the original owners of the treasure would have been considered multi-millionaires.

 

THE FISHPOOL HOARD – BRITISH TREASURES

Fishpool Hoard - British Treasures

Image Credit: BabelStone / CC-Zero

  • Hidden Circa: 1463 AD – 1464 AD
  • Historic Period: Medieval (War of the Roses)
  • Discovered When: 1966
  • Location Found: Nottinghamshire | England
  • Found By: Mr Bernard Beeton & four workmen

  • Displayed: British Museum
  • Primary Materials: Gold Coins | Rings & Jewelry
  • Number of Items: 1,247
  • Est. Value: £300,000 – 1,200,000 (2013)

The Fishpool Hoard consists of 1,237 gold coins dating back to the 15th century, four rings, three pendants, two gold chains and a brooch. It is officially the largest collection of medieval coins ever discovered in the United Kingdom. Experts believe that it was probably buried by a person or family displaced by the Battle of Hexham during the War of the Roses. Why it wasn’t retrieved is a matter of conjecture, but the most likely answer is that the owners simply couldn’t find the spot where it was buried. The treasure was discovered by means of a metal detector and is now on display in the British Museum.

 

THE WINCHESTER TREASURE

Winchester Hoard - British Treasures

Image Credit: The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum / CC-BY-SA-2.0

  • Hidden Circa: 75 – 25 BC
  • Historical Period: Celtic Iron Age – Pre-Roman
  • Discovered When: 2000
  • Location Found: Hampshire | England
  • Found By: Mr Kevin Halls (PMD*)

  • Displayed: British Museum
  • Primary Materials: Gold: Coins | Rings & Jewelry
  • Number of Items: 10
  • Est. Value: £450,000 (2013)

The Winchester Treasure is one of the oldest collections of treasures to be found in Britain and dates back to around 75 BC. Although a relatively small find it consists of some exceptional pieces of Iron Age jewellery made from high-quality gold. In addition, it was owned by somebody in Celtic Britain but was clearly of Roman origin, thus providing proof that high-value trade existed between Britain and mainland Europe prior to the official Roman conquest of large parts of Britain in 43 AD. The items found include two sets of gold jewellery, each of which is made up of a torc and a pair of brooches linked by a gold chain.

AND BECAUSE IT REALLY DESERVES TO BE ON THIS LIST …

 

THE FROME BRITISH TREASURES

Frome Hoard - British Treasures

Image Credit: Portable Antiquities Scheme / CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Babel Stone

  • Assembled Circa: 253 to 305 AD
  • Historical Period: Roman Britain
  • Discovered When: 2010
  • Location Found: Somerset | England
  • Found By: Mr Dave Crisp (PMD*)

  • Displayed: The Museum of Somerset
  • Primary Materials: Silver & Bronze | Roman Coins
  • Number of Items: 52,503
  • Est. Value: £320,250 (2011)

The Frome Hoard is the largest collection of bronze Roman coins found in Britain. In total, 52,503 items date back to between 253 and 305 AD. It is the most substantial collection of coinage found from the reign of Carausius, who independently administered Britain from 286 to 293. The treasure was stored in a large ceramic pot. Experts believe that the vessel was religious in nature and that the coins were probably added over a period of time as a communal offering to the gods. Only five of the coins are made from silver. The hoard is on permanent display at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

IMPORTANT NOTES

  1. Est. Values: The value assigned to each of the Top Ten British Treasures has, where possible, been based on published figures. It should be noted that the value assigned by the Coroner’s Inquest associated with the Portable Antiquities Scheme may well be significantly lower than a free-market purchase might generate. As such, some of the values are estimates based on auctions of similar items. Additional factors such as historical importance, market demand and the rarity of the objects have been factored into the estimates. In particular, the estimate for the Cheapside hoard has had to be based on the value of similar finds elsewhere in the world.
  2. (*PDM) Private Metal Detectorist. It’s worth noting that 60% of the Top Ten British Treasures were discovered by private individuals using metal detectors.
  3. Of the eleven British treasures featured here, eight are on display at the British Museum in London.
  4. Only finds that fit the traditional description of treasure (treasures) are featured in this section. There have been many other spectacular finds that are definitely ‘National Treasures’ such as the Vindalanda Tablets and the Lewis Chessmen. There are also other finds and treasures that do fit the qualification but unfortunately didn’t make the top ten (eleven). These include the Mold Golden Cape, Bitterley Hoard, Hartford Hoard, Hackney ‘ Double Eagle’ Hoard and the Asthall Treasure.