An important hoard of Tudor coins – some of which shine light on the marriage history of Henry VIII – has been found by a somewhat startled family doing the weeding in their garden.
The British Museum revealed details on Wednesday of discoveries registered to its Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the majority of which are made by the nation’s army of metal detecting enthusiasts.
This year there has been an increase in garden finds, including two significant coin hoards: the Tudor coins in the New Forest, and the discovery of 50 apartheid-era South African gold coins dug up in a back garden in the Milton Keynes area.
More than 47,000 finds have been recorded with the scheme in 2020, with 6,251 reported during the full lockdown from March to May when metal detecting was prohibited.
Ian Richardson, the treasure registrar at the museum, said people had obviously been spending more time in their garden, “resulting in completely unexpected archaeological discoveries”.
That was certainly the case for the unnamed New Forest family who dug up 63 gold coins and one silver coin dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.
“They were out turning up the soil and all of a sudden these coins popped out of the ground … miraculously,” said Richardson. “It is quite a shocking find for them and very interesting for us.”
Probably hidden in about 1540, they include coins from Henry VIII’s reign, which are unusual in that they also, separately, feature the initials of three of his wives – Catherine of Aragon (K), Anne Boleyn (A) and Jane Seymour (I).
Barrie Cook, a curator of medieval and early modern coins at the museum, said putting his wife’s initial on gold crowns was “a very strange decision” and, numismatically, very interesting.
Whoever buried the coins was well off because the total value was £24, which is equivalent to £14,000 today. “That was a great deal of money, certainly more than the annual wages of the average person,” said Cook.
John Naylor, a coins expert from the Ashmolean museum, said the hoard was probably buried by a wealthy merchant or a member of the clergy. “You have this period in the late 1530s and 1540s where you have the Dissolution of the Monasteries and we do know that some churches did try to hide their wealth hoping they would be able to keep it in the long term.
“It is an important hoard … you don’t get these big gold hoards very often from this period.”
The Milton Keynes discovery is less interesting historically, but still something of shock. In total, 50 South African Krugerrand 1oz gold coins, minted in the 1970s, were discovered in the back garden. How they ended up there remains a mystery, the museum said.
Other finds listed in the report include a unique Roman furniture fitting with the “remarkably” well-preserved face of the god Oceanus; and a medieval forgery of a bishop’s seal matrix.
The museum also published its annual PAS report for 2019, which reveals that 81,602 archaeological finds were recorded – an increase of 10,000 on the previous year.