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 married at St Mary’s parish church, our children attended the local primary school and I taught at the secondary school for nearly 40 years. Members of our family lie at rest in the churchyard. This setting is where my story takes place and is from an article I wrote in 2012 – and is very special to me – I hope you like it.
Recently, a boy I used to teach many years ago was detecting with his friend Richard Barry and found a hoard of 19 hammered coins in one of his father’s fields. The finds didn’t receive any publicity, but were reported to the FLO, 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 rarely 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 50s. A swift calculation tells me I taught the latter (and his wife) nigh on 40 years ago when he was but a callow youth of 14 or 15. 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 again.
Peter started detecting at the age 20 and in that time has had a lot of success with basic model detectors and spurns higher end machines. He told me 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 Peter wryly said: ‘Capable of finding anything only 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 still in business.
He also remembered using 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 he wasn’t as technically minded as Richard but assured me 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 forgot about it and searched elsewhere on the farm.
I suppose we could regard our heroes 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 a local club. His current machine is a manly E-Trac and his best find-the Wendover Hoard, is the subject of this article.
It wasn’t until just recently that Peter detected 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 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. Furthermore, 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 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.
Invitation and a Surprise
Peter and Richard invited me to meet them for a chat and make yet another sweep of the field. I found nothing of significance with my 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 20. 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 1205-07.
Earlier Finds on Same Field
Peter and Richard have detected on this field many times. In 2008 I reported on an archaeological day at Aylesbury Museum and highlighted a magnificent dagger quillon that was on show. When the article was published, the picture of the quillon was rather small. As they found it on the same field it is worth a reprise-only LARGER!
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 sounding like the Magic Porridge Pot! The fine selection of working crotal bells represent the sort of finds mere mortals like Ian Murray 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 I 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 40 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 250 mph 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 this never happens …
Too late I’m afraid. The ‘Wendover Hoard’ field has been desecrated and destruction of the leafy County of Bucks – like many others – continues unabated.
THE END – I’M DIS-CHUFFED
My thanks to the UKDFD, the PAS database and the two boys for help in preparing this article.