Dr Rory Naismith writes:
This week, a selection of items from the Lenborough hoard goes on display at the British Museum.
It is the largest coin hoard ever to be considered under the Treasure Act of 1996, consisting of 5,251 silver pennies (and two cut halfpennies). The find came to light on 21 December 2014, during a metal-detecting rally at Lenborough in Buckinghamshire. Part of its excavation was filmed by one of the detectorists present. Initial digging uncovered the coins inside a lead container, but they were removed from this in the course of excavation. They are currently being kept at the British Museum, awaiting the result of a coroner’s inquest to determine whether the find constitutes treasure.
|The Lenborough Hoard|
The hoard consists largely of pennies of King Cnut (1016–35), of the so-called ‘Short Cross’ type. This was the last of three substantive coin-issues in his reign. However, the hoard also includes an earlier clutch of material from the time of Cnut’s predecessor, Æthelred II (978–1016). These span the second half of his reign, and include one specimen of the excessively rare and historically important ‘Agnus Dei’ type, probably issued in 1009 as part of a programme of prayer and penitence to ward off viking attack.
Until full publication, it is difficult to evaluate the exact context of the hoard. It belongs to a period when recoinages were being undertaken frequently, recycling the bulk of the currency – though, as in this case, collections of earlier coinage could sometimes be held back as savings or for private usage. The Lenborough find may shed light on how and why some coin-users retained earlier currency. Unfortunately, there is no obvious clue to the identity of its owner, or to the context of its assemblage, concealment and non-recovery. It was no small sum, however. 5,252 pennies amounted to £21 17s 8d in the contemporary system of account. A single penny during this period had considerable buying power – probably tens of modern pounds sterling or Euros – and the total content of the Lenborough hoard was more than most estates recorded in Domesday Book would be expected to produce in a year. It is clearly a lot more than most of the population would ever have handled on one occasion. That said, for the elite of late Anglo-Saxon England the Lenborough hoard would not have been an exceptional sum. The king and leading earls in 1066 were bringing in several thousand pounds a year, and in around 1037, just a few years after the hoard was concealed, the archbishop of Canterbury bought land at Godmersham in Kent for 72 marks of silver by weight – that is, at least 11,520 pennies (the equivalent of two Lenborough hoards). A shrine made for the Old Minster at Winchester in honour of St Swithun under the patronage of King Edgar (959–75) was said in a detailed description written soon after to have contained 300 lbs in precious metal.
The Lenborough hoard is impressive in its scale, and provides a precious insight into the currency of the eleventh century; but at the same time, it is a sobering reminder of just how much silver and gold was available in late Anglo-Saxon England – and of just how much might yet await discovery.