Inquest into the discovery of a 17th Century Coin Hoard from Bitterley, South Shropshire

Published: 8 years ago Author:

The coin hoard in situAn important coin hoard from the English Civil War has been declared treasure today by Mr. John Ellery, H.M. Coroner for Shropshire. The hoard was discovered by a metal detector user in February 2011.

The hoard was found by Howard Murphy who discovered it on farmland in the Bitterley Area, South Shropshire. Mr Murphy, an experienced metal detectorist, realised that he had found an important find when he revealed the top of a pottery vessel which was filled with silver coins. He knew that he had made a significant discovery and so resisted the temptation to dig the find up himself and instead reported it to Peter Reavill his local Finds Liaison Officer, based with Shropshire Museums. Peter Reavill, who works closely with the metal detecting community in the Marches, organised a rescue excavation to investigate the find and its surrounding.

The excavation was able to establish the archaeological context of the find and enabled the hoard to be recovered under controlled conditions. This showed that the hoard had been placed in the ground relatively swiftly and was buried at a depth that prevented its rediscovery. The vessel and coins were lifted in a block of soil and transported to the British Museum for specialist excavation and conservation.

At the British Museum, the hoard was carefully excavated by staff of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. This was a slow and delicate operation revealing the coins that had been hidden for over 350 years. It was only at this stage that the full extent of the hoard was realised. The soil was taken from around the vessel revealing a small glazed four handled drinking vessel called a Tyg. The inside of this was crammed with neatly stacked silver coins. These were carefully removed to see if there was any internal stratigraphy (layering / order). When the coins had been taken out a very fine grained leather purse could be seen lining the inside of the vessel. Leather items like this very rarely survive, especially when buried in the ground, and if the finder had attempted to lift the hoard and remove the coins himself then it is likely that much of this fragile material would have been lost.

The coins were analysed by Dr Cook and staff of the British Museum, who found that there was a single gold coin and 137 silver high denomination (Half Crowns and Shilling) coins within the hoard. The group would have been worth £9 11s and 6d when buried. The earliest coin in the group was from the reign of Edward VI and the latest was from the Bristol Provincial Mint of Charles I which was made between July 1643 and March 1644. This suggests that the hoard was buried at a date after March 1644 most probably within the English Civil War.

Now this find has been declared treasure, it will be valued by the independent committee and Shropshire Museums will have the opportunity of acquiring it for the people of Shropshire subject to securing the necessary grant aid.

Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer, Shropshire and Herefordshire:

“When Howard Murphy found this hoard – he did exactly the right thing in reporting it and asking for help. We were able to recover the hoard and save important information which helps flesh out the story of why it was put in the ground.”

Emma-Kate Lanyon, Head of Collections and Curatorial Services for Shropshire Museums:

“This hoard has thrown light on a dark and turbulent period of our relatively recent history. Like all hoards of this nature we ask the question why was such a large amount of money left in the ground and never retrieved. We hope to find the funding necessary to acquire the hoard and ensure it can tell its unique story as part of our seventeenth century gallery at the new Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery when it opens at the Music Hall in late summer 2013”.

Contact: Peter Reavill

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