Steyning Museum: Hidden Fortunes - Hidden Treasures


When farm labourers, who had been set to work grubbing up a hedge on Chancton Farm in 1866, discovered an old earthenware pot, they broke it open to see what it contained. It was full of coins.

There was some excitement because the coins were not dissimilar in size to the old sixpence and appeared to be made of silver. The farm workers were happy, not because they received any reward, but because, for a little while, the Frankland Arms accepted the coins as payment for beer – one coin bought a quart of beer, apparently. There were reportedly some 3,000 coins in the pot so they could have kept going for some time but the word got out and, although many had already been sold locally or ‘hidden away for a rainy day’, the bulk of them were rescued by the Washington post master. The Solicitor to the Treasury declared them to be treasure trove and passed them to the British Museum.
 
They proved to be Anglo-Saxon silver pennies dating from the reigns of Edward the Confessor and Harold II – but none from after the Battle of Hastings. So, as Harold Godwinson, at his death, had been king for less than a year it must have been either just before or immediately after the battle that the coins were buried. We know, from the Domesday Book that the lord of the manor of Chancton in 1066 was Gyrth, the brother of Harold, and that his tenant in chief was 'Aeschere of Chancton'. As Gyrth was killed during the Battle of Hastings perhaps it was Aeschere who buried the pot of coins to keep them safe from marauding Normans. The running of the manor was taken over by Richard 'the man of William de Briouze' so maybe Aeschere never got back to recover the coins.

The 3,000 pennies in the hoard added up to £12.10s (240 pennies in the £). As Domesday states that the annual value of the manor of Chancton was only £4 in 1066, this was an extraordinarily large ‘deposit’ and must surely have represented the wealth of more than one manor.

It was also one of the largest hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins from this period ever discovered. It is interesting that the much publicised one recently found in Somerset is reputed to have a value of £5 million – but actually contains fewer coins than the Chancton hoard. A good number of the coins in the Chancton hoard were from the Steyning mint, providing the earliest evidence for its existence.

In the 1920’s John Cox, who had been sent to an isolated farmhouse to discover whether any of the possessions of a recently deceased farmer would be worth putting into an H.J.Burt auction, found more than he had bargained for. He noticed that newspaper had been crumpled into a couple of vases on the mantelpiece and, delving a bit deeper, he found 'that each vase was stuffed with One pound and Ten Shilling notes.' These alone added up to nearly £400. He then extended his searches and discovered that 'tucked away under two old mattresses and beneath several carpets there were more carefully hidden notes'. By then the haul had risen to £900 and he reckoned that it was time to bring in the executors.

Half an hour after making a quick call 'the peace of the valley was broken by the noise of car engines'. The executor had arrived – accompanied by numerous family members intent on discovering what else Uncle Ned had hidden away. 'Cupboards were searched, bedding minutely examined and floor boards taken up and the loft examined in such detail as would make a structural surveyor envious. Occasionally there were cries of delight as several small caches of notes were found'. John Cox did wonder what they had found but all the executor would say was 'A tidy bit more'.

Two stories separated by 860 years; both revealing man’s wish to preserve their wealth by hiding it and both showing how fruitless it all was in the end.
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