“The Silverdale hoard offers a unique window into the lives and craftsmanship of the Vikings who inhabited Lancashire over 1,000 years ago.”
A spectacular stash of Viking treasure – more than 200 pieces of silver including beautiful arm rings, brooches, silver ingots, and a battered, misspelt coin that revealed a previously unknown Viking ruler – will go on display this month near where it was found by a metal-detector enthusiast two years ago.
The hoard was found packed into a lead container inches below the surface of a field in Lancashire. But whether it would be displayed in the county where it was found had seemed in doubt in the economic climate.
Now, though, Lancashire county museum service has raised the £110,000 that it needed to acquire the third-largest Viking hoard found in the UK, with the help of a £45,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £33,000 from the Art Fund charity, plus other grants and local donations.
It was found in 2011 by Darren Webster, a stonemason who was out with the metal detector his wife had given him for Christmas. The field, on the outskirts of the village of Silverdale, near the Lancashire coast, had never yielded anything more exciting than a Tudor half-groat, but in a break between dropping his son to school and returning to work, he had no time to go any further.
He was initially disappointed when a strong signal proved to be caused by a scruffy piece of lead, but when he lifted what proved to be part of the container and silver began to cascade out, he realised he had something special.
He recalled that as soon as he saw the arm rings, including one unusual one combining Carolingian and Irish design elements, he knew the hoard was Viking. He reported it under the Portable Antiquities Scheme for recording archaeological finds, but the silver made it treasure, which a coroner’s inquest valued at £110,000, shared between Webster and the landowner.
Dozens of coins dated the hoard to about AD900, and also demonstrated the breadth of the Viking world, including Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian, Frankish and Islamic examples. The rarest – with a cross dating it to the time when the Vikings adopted the powerful new god of the Christians – bears the name Airdeconut, believed to be an attempt at the Scandinavian Harthacnut, a previously unrecorded ruler. There was also a coin minted for the nephew of Alfred the Great, and a fake coin with a thin film of silver over copper.
Dame Jenny Abramsky, chair of the memorial fund, said: “The Silverdale hoard offers a unique window into the lives and craftsmanship of the Vikings who inhabited Lancashire over 1,000 years ago. The fund exists to make sure historic gems such as this are not lost from this country and so our trustees felt it was vital it should be saved for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”
The museum service has created a special exhibition around the find, The Silverdale Hoard: the Story So Far, which will open at Lancaster City Museum on 25 October, and then go on display in its permanent home at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston next year.
The hoard weighs in at more than two kilos, including scores of fragments of chopped-up jewellery – the “hacksilver” used by the Vikings by weight as currency. The largest-ever find, the Cuerdale hoard of 8,600 pieces, adding up to 40 kilos of silver, was found by workmen in 1840 only 60 miles away.
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