Figures reveal record number of Shropshire treasure finds as detectorists dig deep

Shropshire has thrown up a host of fascinating historic discoveries in recent years and new figures show a record number of buried treasure troves were found in the county in 2019.

Detectorists Steve King and Steve Lloyd, who found the 'Wem Hoard' , along with the dig organiser John Parry
Detectorists Steve King and Steve Lloyd, who found the 'Wem Hoard' , along with the dig organiser John Parry

Fortune hunters and metal detectorists made 28 discoveries over the year, shows data from the British Museum and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – the largest haul since records began in 2012.

A total 123 finds were reported in Shropshire over the eight-year period.

The Treasure Act currently defines treasure as finds older than 300 years and made of gold or silver, or found with artefacts made of precious metals.

But the Government announced in December that a new definition would be introduced to protect treasure from being lost to the public.

It would see artefacts defined as treasure if they are "of historical or cultural significance".

The move followed the growth in popularity of metal detecting, which brought to light a number of Roman finds that do not meet the current criteria for the definition of treasure, the DCMS said.

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage said: “The search for buried treasures by budding detectorists has become more popular than ever before and many ancient artefacts now see the light of day in museums’ collections.

“However it is important that we pursue plans to protect more of our precious history and make it easier for everyone to follow the treasure process.”

Some of the coins and silver pieces found in Wem

Shropshire has a significant history with treasure finds and 2019's top discovery was 'The Wem Hoard'.

The hoard was, according to experts, one of only six finds in the country of hacked up silver and coins – the system of payment by bullion after the Roman left in the fifth century.

It was found when three metal detectorists made their way to the furthest corner of a farmers' field at a detecting rally near Wem.

So important was the find that archaeologists returned to the area and unearthed further silver remnants.

The site of the find was kept secret to prevent it being targeted.

Speaking at the time the county's finds officer, Peter Reavill, praised the men for helping to unearth part of Britain's history.

"This is a hugely important discovery from the Dark Ages," he said.

Items from the 'Wem Hoard'

He said the 200 broken fragments included siliquae coins and a halved, well-worn denarius made in the first century and pressed back into service as a piece of bullion.

The hoard was located by Steve Lord, Steve King and Andy Bijsterbosch after they detected a handful of coins in the ploughed field during a rally organised by John Parry and the Whitchurch Lions.

Mr Lord, from north Wales, and Steve King, who lived near Chester, had been on car park duty at the dig and decided to walk half an hour across to the furthest corner of land away from the hundreds of other metal detectorists who had attended the event.

Speaking at the time, Mr King said: "We had been talking about the one thing neither of us had ever found was a Roman silver coin.

"We started detecting and I saw Steve bend down and pick something up and he said 'You will never guess what I have just found'. It was a silver coin."

Having taken the frequency of the coin, Mr King then continued and within seconds found the same frequency and other coin.

A third enthusiast, Mr Bijskerbosh, from Blackpool, joined them.

"The beeping and finds brought us closer and closer together until we were standing over a small patch of earth," Mr King said.

Soil

"We put a probe in and the signals went off the scale so we dug down about a foot and a half. Eventually I put my hand down into the soil - and brought up a huge pile of silver and coins, with the brooch sitting right on the top. It was incredible."

Anyone who thinks they have struck a hidden hoard has to tell the coroner within two weeks, so they can hold an inquest to decide who will receive the items.

If they don't, they face an unlimited fine or up to three months behind bars.

Local and national museums are given the chance to purchase any pieces which a coroner rules as treasure.

But the finder doesn't leave empty-handed – they will be paid a sum depending on the haul's value.

In 2019, a record 1,311 treasure troves were reported across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – 87 of which came from the West Midlands.

Metal detecting was the best way to unearth lost treasure, according to the figures.

The devices tracked down 96 per cent of finds in 2018, the most recent year with details on how the objects were discovered.

A further three per cent – 29 cases – were archaeological finds and seven from field walking or scouring streams and shores.

In 2019-20, a survey of 713 adults in the West Midlands found 3.6 per cent had taken part in metal detecting at least once in the previous year.

This compares to an estimated 1.8 per cent of adults across England.

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