Viking - 27: The Silverdale Hoard - Chance Discovery in North-Western England
"Silver often makes a fool of many a good man. Some are wealthy, others want. Bare means are no shame".
Coin and ornament - whose haul was this and why was it buried?
Over two hundred items of silver were unearthed in a coastal north Lancashire field, buried around 900AD.
An unknown Viking chieftain may have left this hoard around AD900, buried it when pursued across the wilds of Northumbria - as it was then, stretching from coast to coast north of both the Humber and the Mersey - by a West Saxon king's men, his kinsman perhaps. The silver was left in a lead box, safe one might hope from the king's war-hounds who were less interested in the hoard than in the man who left it there.
The two hundred-odd pieces were found on the outskirts of Silverdale, handsome arm rings meant to be worn on the sword arms of Viking warriors amongst them.
A small settlement between the main railway line from Carnforth to the south to Ulverston in Cumbria and the Irish Sea coast, Silverdale is several miles from the A6. To the south you can see Blackpool with its lights, and Morecambe - more sedate - a few miles closer.
Darren Webster was using the metal detector has wife had given him at Christmas, 2010, when he found the forgotten king's wealth, amounting to just over a kilogram of silver. A coin minted for 'Airdeconut' - considered to be an Anglian coin-master's attempt at the Danish name Harthaknut, but not Knut's son - was found amongst the treasure. The 'Airedeconut' coin shows that within a generation of the Danes' settlement in the eastern shires, Guthrum's Danelaw, they were not coming as raiders or despoilers. This was colonisation in the wake of the 'micel here' (pron. 'mickel herre') the Great Army that came with the sons of Ragnar 'Lothbrok'. They were becoming Christian, as Guthrum had done as part of his agreement the Aelfred 'the Great'. The reverse of the coin is marked with the letters 'DNS' : 'Dominus' [Rex]. and set out in cruciform.
The hoard is seen as amongst the cream of recent finds. That it had lain undiscovered points to its owner coming to a premature end.
'It was a respectable amount of silver, easily the price of a good herd of cattle or sheep', reckoned coins expert Gareth Williams at its new home, the British Museum. 'One arm-ring on its own would buy an ox'.
Webster had collected his son from school and was on his way back to work when he thought he would take some time to try out the metal detector. He had been here before and found nothing more sensational than a Tudor 'groat' coin. A strong signal drew him to a sheet of lead a few inches (perhaps no more than 10cms) below the surface. He was 'miffed' at the find. However the lead seemed to be bent roughly into the shape of a container of some sort. When he tried to lift it he 'unleashed' a cascade of silver pieces.
'I knew on seeing the bracelets it had to be Viking', Webster recalled. 'I learned later there was one coin no-one had ever seen before. That was an odd feeling'.
This was in September, 2011. In December the find needed to undergo a treasure inquest not long before Christmas to assess its value and the reward shared between Darren Webster and the landowner. The Museum of Lancaster hoped to raise funds for the purchase of the hoard.
Amongst the coins were some minted for 'Alwaldus', Aethelwold the son of Aelfred's older brother Aethelred. By rights Aethelwold would have been king before Aelfred's own son Eadward 'the Elder', but somehow his rights were bypassed and he went over to the Danes. He was made 'king' of Jorvik after a failed attempt to take his place as King of Wessex. He died fighting his kinsman Eadward a few years later.
There were Frankish and Arab coins amongst others. Gareth Williams explained that silver coins had often been found in Viking hoards, 'tested' by teeth marks, signs of bending and clipping. One of the arm-rings was unusual, engraved in Gaelic, Saxon and Carolingian styles. Arm-rings were given in reward for military service by a king, jarl or chieftain and tended to be cut down 'as needed', instead of coinage. Some merchants preferred silver cuttings or quarters of these rings.
Another Viking hoard was found in a Lancashire parish in the 1990s, about sixty miles away at Cuerdale where eight thousand six hundred pieces of silver were unearthed. Further north-west, a few months earlier than at Silverdale, another Viking hoard was found in Furness.The British Museum also told of the most recent results for the treasure finds scheme and the portable antiquities scheme. This urges the voluntary reporting by amaterurs of less valuable but possibly also historically priceless discoveries.
Viking Treasure from the North West - No.3: Cuerdale Hoard
From an authoritative series of books published by Liverpool Museum, this one introduces the Cuerdale hoard found in NW England - then part of Northumbria. In the late 10th Century when many Norsemen were ousted from cities established by the Danes and West Norse (Norwegian) they found new homes in the north-western areas of Northumbria, now North Lancashire, near the city of Lancaster. The final destination of the owner of the Cuerdale hoard may have been York, where Dublin Danish king Sigtrygg 'Caech' held court until ousted by Aethelstan.
Artefacts from the neighbouring Cuerdale hoard
can be seen in Room 41 on the first floor of the British Museum.
There are silver and gold rings, (arm and finger rings), 'hack silver', i.e., cut silver from booty used as 'currency' in trading before the Norse kingdoms adopted coinage in the late 10th/early 11th Century, as well as silver ingots etc. The part of the hoard on exhibition at the BM can be seen in a case in one corner of the room, close to the Sutton Hoo artefacts in the recently re-opened Anglo-Saxon exhibition.
*The Viking Exhibition on the ground floor of the British Museum has run its course. With the success of this special exhibition the museum could well stage something along the lines of Anglian or Saxon (Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia on the one hand, Wessex and its eastern satellites on the other) artefacts. The ship found at Sutton Hoo typified the long rowing ships that brought the Angles, Jutes and Saxons to these shores.
The Viking exhibition was well worth viewing, with a reconstructed longship ship found in the Roskilde Fjord from the mid-11th Century (see also 'Sea Stallion' in the search box, a Viking longship based on one found in the same waterway that was found to have been built in Ireland from Irish timber). I saw the exhibition in early April with my wife and elder daughter. As you went in from the Great Hall the exhibition 'unwound' until you came to the main area with the ship and other reconstructed items.
The Cuerdale trail
Vikings, Life and Legend
[This book was published to accompany a special exhibition at the British Museum during the spring and summer of 2015]
The legend was larger than life, the belief in the hereafter paramount in their approach to life - although foremost was the awareness that they had to make a good impression on their peers. They were certainly fearless, there is no doubt about that. Sailing to the ends of the earth without really knowing what awaits is not for the faint-hearted! Take a look through this book and say you don't want it? I dare you!
Adjacent to the Anglo-Saxon finds in Room 41 at the British Museum
were exhibits from various Viking digs around the country. Just as the Norsemen settled in the north-west of what is now England - at the time part of the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons - they also settled elsewhere, such as in what is now the counties of Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. Settlement areas can be seen in name endings, mainly -by (town), -thorpe (thorp - hamlet, -thwaite (clearing), -toft (tofte = farm), -garth (gard = fortificaton/stronghold).
You can draw a line down the centre of England from the River Trent to the River Thames, east of that was the old Danelaw that dated back to the time of Aelfred the Great (the Danes' name for the battling king), west was what was left of Anglian Mercia (O.E. Mierca/Myrca): as far north as Chester, south as far as Oxfordshire. On a line east-west from the Humber to the Mersey was the Danish Kingdom of York (Jorvik) as far as the Tees in the east and the Lune and Ribble in the west. North of the Tees to the Tweed was Anglian Northumbria, otherwise known as Bernicia (O.E: Beornica). Bernicia was bordered in the west by the Kingdom of Strathclyde, later Scotland, and northward was originally a Pictish enclave until Northumbrian king Ine took his boundary north to the Forth, enclosing Dinas Eiddin, later Edinburgh, Gaelic: Dun Edin.
Norse settlement in the far north-west, around Carlisle and the Solway Firth created a sort of cultural 'island' amid largely Celtic domains. Further north settlement was in Caithness (Katanes) facing Orkney, and to the south of that Sutherland (Sudrland = land to the south), largely poor agricultural land later affected by the Highland Clearances of the 19th Century.
Words we associate with Scots usage such as 'bairns' (children = boerne), 'hoos' (house = hus), 'burn' (stream = born), 'wick' (inlet on a coast = vik) all came from Norse influence - they're also heavily used in modern Northumbria and more widely in Yorkshire.
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster