As coin hoards go, it is on the small side, but it caused a
considerable amount of excitement locally. This is a story that shows
what a local community can do when there is a museum with a band of
very enthusiastic volunteers.
From Oct. 30 through to Nov. 6, 2016, Jonathan Barber was exploring
a farmer’s field near the village of Chiddingstone with his metal
detector. By Nov. 6 he had found 10 late Iron Age gold coins.
Although the exact location is not being revealed, Chiddingstone is
one of the most beautiful and oldest villages in Kent County in
southeast England, with its single street having an abundance of Tudor
dwellings, all of which are owned by the National Trust.
A quaint village
The village is home in particular to a house in the Gothic style set
in 36 acres that, in the early 19th century, replaced a dwelling
dating from the 16th century. This site was then renamed Chiddingstone
Castle. During World War II it hosted members of the Canadian forces
before becoming Long Dene School.
Denys Eyre Bower, a former bank clerk who became an antique dealer
in London’s Baker Street, acquired it in 1955 as a home for his collections.
But Bower was arrested two years later for attempting to murder his
girlfriend and commit suicide. He was released from prison in 1962,
his solicitor having proved there had been a miscarriage of justice.
When he died in 1977, Bower left the castle and the contents to the
nation and it is still home to his collections and is a wedding and
event venue as well. The village is near the historic market town of
Edenbridge located 35 miles south-southeast of London in the upper
valley of the River Medway. The River Eden is a tributary of the Medway.
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Because Barber, the finder of the 10 coins, lived in the county of
East Sussex, he reported the discovery to his local finds liaison
officer of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is run by the British Museum and the
National Museum of Wales to encourage the recording of archaeological
objects found by members of the public in England and Wales.
In turn, the Sussex finds liaison officer contacted his Kent
counterpart, Jo Ahmet, based at the Heritage Conservation department
of Kent County Council in Maidstone. Ahmet subsequently contacted
Barber, an experienced treasure hunter, by telephone.
Ahmet learned that the coins had been discovered at a depth of 3
inches over a wide area, indicating that they had been scattered by a plow.
Barber has been using his metal detector on the find site for many
years, but the area had recently been deeply plowed, bringing the
coins nearer to the surface. Ahmet took possession of the coins and
arranged for them to be examined by the Portable Antiquities Scheme at
the British Museum.
Identifying the coins
The coins were identified by Dr. Andrew Brown as being “Gallic War
uniface” staters. They were struck by the Ambiani in northern France
almost certainly during the Gallic War period (circa 60 to 50 B.C.)
and imported into Britain during the late first century B.C.
While each reverse features a stylized horse facing to the right,
the obverses are blank. Although Celtic staters are frequently found
in southern England, hoards of these particular staters are rare.
Indeed, since 1996, the year the Portable Antiquities Scheme was
launched, this is only the second hoard of Gallic War uniface staters
to have been reported to the PAS.
In February 2017, Ahmet gave details of the find to the Eden Valley
Museum in Edenbridge, which is the nearest to the find site.
Immediately the museum made it clear that it would like to secure the
Chiddingstone Hoard when the formalities had been completed.
The museum is relatively new, as it was founded after a 1995
exhibition marking the centenary of the local council. This was
organized by the Edenbridge and District Historical Society.
The Eden Valley Museum Trust was established in 1997 and was granted
charitable status. With the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery
Fund, the museum opened in 2000 and is located in a Grade II listed
timber-framed house dating from 1380 to 1410.
Originally an open hall house, it was extensively rebuilt during the
16th century to give it a chimney and first floor. The frontage was
clad in brick during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Until
1913 the dwelling was known as Doggetts Farm. Miss Rickards of the
adjoining Rickards Hall, merged the two properties and in 1921 gave
the enlarged building to the Parish Church for community use. Today it
is known as Church House. The Museum leases the building from the
Acquiring the hoard
When the formalities regarding the hoard were over, the Eden Valley
Museum was offered the chance to buy the hoard.
Claire Donithorn, resident archaeologist at the museum, said: “We
leapt at the opportunity. This is our first significant Iron Age
exhibit. The coins date from precisely the time when Britain emerged
from Prehistoric to Historic Times. Our aim was to keep the hoard
together and to ensure that it stays in the Valley for us and for
future generations. These coins are an important part of the history
of the Eden Valley. They show that the Valley was connected to great
events in European history — the Gallic Wars. Whoever buried them may
have been involved in those wars and was probably living here in the Valley.”
As we have already seen, while the establishment of the museum was
made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, its
collections were mainly formed by accepting artifacts from all and
sundry. Its determination that the hoard should return to Eden Valley
meant that the museum was entering into the world of commercialism.
When a find is declared to be treasure, the objects are put before
an independent Treasure Valuation Committee comprising unpaid experts
who determine an open market valuation between a willing buyer and
seller. Should a museum wish to purchase the find, this is the sum
they have to pay. The money is usually split equally between the
finder(s) and the land owner(s). If a museum does not want the objects
found, then they may be sold on the open market and the proceeds split
between the finder(s) and land owner(s).
Of course, acquiring a find is not an end in itself. The museum was
adamant that the hoard should go on permanent display. This requires a
secure display cabinet. It was estimated that the total outlay for the
hoard and the display case would be £13,000 (about $18,172 U.S.). The
fact that the find comprised just 10 coins was advantageous to the
museum. Had it been 100 coins, the cost would have probably been out
of its reach.
The museum secured £11,315 from the South East Museums Development
Programme, The Headley Trust Archaeological Purchase Grant Fund and
The Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant
Fund, which is a government fund that, among other things, helps
The museum raised part of the remaining £1,685 by selling badges for
£1 and appealing for cash and online donations. To actually pay for
the hoard, the museum had to call upon its reserves. The fundraising
continues, to replenish those reserves. In addition to donations there
will be various events, including talks.
The hoard was ceremonially opened on April 7. Jonathan Barber, the
finder, was present with his metal detector and, as well as telling
the story of his discovery, he answered questions on treasure hunting generally.
Ahmet gave a talk on the Chiddingstone Hoard and the Portable
Antiquities Scheme in Kent. The hoard was open for public viewing on
April 11, 2018.
To learn more, visit the museum’s website.