Regionally important Anglo-Saxon silver hooks with entwined beasts go on display at Whitchurch Museum.

Published: 5 years ago Author:

Hooked Tags Prees

Whitchurch Museum haveacquired a pair of silver engraved hooks dating from the late 9th or 10th centuryAD. This acquisition has been supported by the Art Fund and many local contributors including Whitchurch Town Council, Prees Parish Council, Shropshire Archaeological Society, Whitchurch Historical and Archaeological Group. The hooks were discovered in the Prees area, North Shropshire, by two individual metal detectorists some two years apart. The two finds were reported to the Coroner as potential treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act. Today is the first time they have been on display since their loss some 1100 years ago

The hooks are very similar to one another and form a matching pair. Each hook is of a similar shape with two sewing holes positioned on one edge. They are both decorated with similar entwined beasts which oppose one another. The exact beast is unknown - some think they could be hound / hunting dogs, whilst others prefer that they are deer. The bodies of each animal is enclosed within interlace in the 'Trewhiddle' form - this style of decoration helps date the design. The craftsmen who made the tags would have hand carved / chased the intricate design from the flat panel and then filled the grooves with niello. Niello is made of silver, lead and copper and when applied would have been a blue black colour. A thousand years in the Shropshire soil has removed most of this surface, but originally the design would have been one of contrasts between bright silver hound and a dull black coloured background.

The function of the hooks is also unclear; similar examples have been found with burials often being positioned around the knees / legs. This has led some specialists to believe that they were used on clothing - possibly as garter hooks to stop socks / trousers slipping. However, other evidence from coin hoards suggests that these hooks were used on satchel, purses, or leather bags to close them; this would explain why they are found in graves near the legs. The coin hoards also help to date their use - with the best example being found in a hoard of English coins discovered in the Forum in Rome which was dated to AD 945. Very few pairs of tags are known and of those recovered to date these are the most decoratively elaborate and well preserved.

Although we can marvel at the opulence and decorative skill of the people who made these very fine objects - we are at a loss to say something about their original owner. We do know that they were of high status and that to find the two hooks within the same area suggests that they were lost together. Material from the early medieval period is very rare in Western Britain and Shropshire has very few finds of this date. We do know that Whitchurch was an important Roman town (Mediolanum), being positioned between the important cities of Uriconium (Wroxeter) and Castrum (Chester). Although we have very few finds of Saxon date there is nothing to suggest that its regional importance at the heart of the Roman road network, doesn't continue into the Saxon and Medieval periods.

Our current lack of understanding of the period makes the discovery and reporting of these finds especially precious; the two detectorists who found the hooks have shed light on a very poorly understood part of our history. Hopefully as time goes by more material from this period will come to light and tell us about our ancestors.

Peter Reavill

Portable Antiquities Scheme - Shropshire and Herefordshire

Twitter:PASin the Marches@PeterReavill

Whitchurch Museum is especially grateful to the following people and groups for their generous support in acquiring these amazing finds:

The Art Fund, The late Miss Marjorie Jones, Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society, Whitchurch Town Council, Prees Parish Council, Whitchurch History and Archaeology Group, Mr and Mrs Adams, Mr and Mrs Willis, The Frioends of Whitchurch Heritage and St Alkmans Lodge (no 2311).


Mrs Peggy Mullock - County Councillor for Whitchurch North

This is a "great coup for Whitchurch and the local area - it's only right that the tags should be kept in the museum nearest to where they were found"

Dr Judith Hoyle - Volunteer Curator at Whitchurch Museum & Archives

"As an accredited museum Whitchurch Heritage Centre was offered the chance to acquire these important items of Treasure by The British Museum. Thanks to a substantial grant from the Art Fund and the generosity of groups and individuals we were able to raise the amount of money required.

There are currently no Early Medieval items in the collection and so the pair of silver tags nicely bridge the gap between our Roman and late Medieval finds. These important artefacts not only enhance the collection but showcase the talents and abilities of previous inhabitants of the area."

Information on the Treasure Act can be found here:

Images of the tags and more detailed reports can be seen here:

All images can be downloaded and used freely - please acknowledge their source and that: They are used with the permission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Information about Whitchurch Heritage Centre can be found here:

Details of The Art Fund purchase scheme

Contact: Peter Reavill 01584 813 641

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