Collection of gold and silver coins dating from 1560s was found in the same building as those found 50 years ago on Northumberland island
In the 1560s Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the Northumberland coast near Berwick, was something of an armed camp close to the front line of the defence against Scotland. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, stones from Lindisfarne Priory were used to build a small castle and other fortifications for the harbour.
So the garrison seems an unlikely place for not one but two of Britain’s greatest treasure discoveries. Perhaps an officer stationed on Lindisfarne was careless, forgetful or unlucky, as two small hoards of coins dating from shortly after the castle was built in 1550 have been found near a watercourse by the same house.
The first collection came to light in 1962, and consists of 50 silver 16th-century English and Scottish coins. It now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle, and is housed in the Great North Museum.
In 2002, while working underpinning foundations to the same house, local builder Rob Mason unearthed a dirty old jug. He kept it in his garage for several years before deciding to clean it out, when he discovered that it was filled with 10 gold and seven silver coins. The collection was taken to Dr Rob Collins, a Portable Antiquities Scheme expert in the North East who said:
This is a remarkable discovery and in light of the recent success of the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the region it would be very sad to see this treasure leave the North East.
The hoard has been declared Treasure Trove, and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle has now launched an appeal to keep the latest Lindisfarne Hoard with its predecessor at the Great North Museum. The total price of the hoard is £30,900, with £7,000 needed from public donations.
The 17 coins date from around 1430 to 1562. English coins from the reigns of Henry VI and all the Tudor monarchs are in the find. It is the foreign coins, however, which make the collection particularly important. They include two gold écus from François I of France, a gold scudo from Pope Clement VII, a gold crown from the Emperor Charles V and a silver thaler (the predecessor of the dollar) from the Electorate of Saxony.
The gold papal scudo is especially rare: it was struck for Clement VII, a nephew of Lorenzo il magnifico de Medici, at around the time he was refusing to allow Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon.
Inflation has done little to erode or enhance the value of the hoard. According to Dr Collins, back in 1562, it would have had roughly the purchasing power of £30,000 today:
Some of the coins have actually gone down in purchasing power, but the Clement VII escudo, which is one of only three I’m aware of in the world, has enormous rarity value.
Collins believes the two hoards probably belonged to the same officer, with the earlier hoard acting as a domestic savings fund, and the more recent one as his international account. Both hoards were found in similar stoneware jugs made in the Rhineland. The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle’s chair, Lindsay Allason-Jones, said:
As Lindisfarne in the Elizabethan period was used largely as a military garrison, with the priory used as a supply base, it is possible that the original owner of the two hoards was a military officer who had seen service on the continent.