Money, precious metals and weapons have been buried in the ground – hoarded – for most of the past three thousand years.
From Yorkshire alone there are hundreds of hoards and together this buried wealth has much to reveal about the history of the region from Prehistory to the Present day.
Prehistoric wealth is found buried in many areas across Yorkshire. The places that it is found suggest a close connection to the spiritual world.
Before coinage existed, the high status objects of the Bronze Age were weapons; axes, spears and swords. Around 3000 years ago, groups of these objects were buried together in hoards, such as these axeheads from Westow.
The reason for their burial is usually suggested to be religious. They are often found near to water – in rivers or lakes – where they may have been thrown as an offering to a god or as a part of a ceremony.
The time taken to craft these objects and the amount of metal needed both suggest that these were rich offerings.
About 2000 years ago, during the Iron Age, gold coinage began to be used in Yorkshire. These gold coins were produced far to the south and only reached Yorkshire in small numbers.
In certain parts of East Yorkshire, a number of Iron Age coins have been found but across most of the rest of the region they are unusual finds. The fact that each coin contained so much gold and their rarity in Yorkshire suggests that coinage probably had a largely symbolic role.
This is a gold stater struck by the ruler of the Corieltavi around 30 AD. It was made in modern Lincolnshire and travelled north to be buried in East Yorkshire.
The images on coins of the Iron Age are based upon Roman and Greek examples, with this coin featuring a simple horse design.
Each coin contained nearly five grams of gold which gave it an incredibly high value. It is likely that it was only used by the richest members of society and only for a small number of purposes.
The Arrival of Rome
With the arrival of the Romans in Yorkshire in the 1st century AD, money and hoards changed completely.
The incoming Roman army brought with them a complex monetary system which swept away the coinage of the Iron Age. Coins of silver and bronze replaced the gold that had preceded the Romans.
Money largely left the sphere of ritual becoming a means of buying and selling rather than a purely prestige item.
Coinage was used from the outset of the Roman conquest of Yorkshire as can be seen from the hoard at Binnington Carr.
This hoard was buried around 75AD, only four years after the arrival of the ninth legion in York. It was buried in a bronze bell and near to the Roman road toward the coast. Both the bell and coins were unusual objects at the time and suggest that they were brought to Yorkshire by the incoming Roman soldiers.
This coin from Binnington Carr reads NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS and has Nero’s portrait at its centre. The presence of the emperor's portrait at the very edge of the Roman Empire shows how powerful coinage could be as a symbol of imperial power.
A regular legionary in the Roman was paid 300 denarii per year. From this figure he had to buy all of the clothing, equipment and food that he would need for the year. This meant that there was little spare money for each soldier and that every coin was worth a lot.
Soldiers took care not to lose their pay and this arm purse found at Tadcaster shows the concern they had for safety. Coins were concealed inside the band which could only be opened by its wearer. The four coins found inside were enough to buy a fine pair of boots or imported luxuries such as olive oil.
This silver denarius of Marcus Aurelius was struck in 162-3 AD, a century after the arrival of the Romans in northern Britain. During the second century AD, coinage began to be used more commonly beyond the narrow confines of the army, with an increasing number of Roman coin finds across Yorkshire.
During the fourth century AD, Roman York - Eboracum - was a wealthy and international town, with connections across the empire.
Coin hoards from around Yorkshire suggest that this wealth was not just focused upon the town but that rural areas were also prosperous.
These hoards were often large. This is a hoard from Haxby where hundreds of bronze coins were found in one pot. The hoard was buried just outside York in the 350s AD and is likely to represent the wealth of a single person.
These coins were drawn from mints across the empire – France, German, Italy and the near east. Together they illustrate the amazing movement of people and goods in the later Roman empire. Huge numbers of coins changed hands and travelled long distances in the hands of travellers, merchants or soldiers.
This is a bronze nummus of Constantine the Great and was made in Lyon, in modern France.
It represents the ‘small change’ of the fourth century and would have been incredibly common with millions in circulation around the empire.
This coin had only a very low value and was likely to have been used on a daily basis.
Everyday people across all of Yorkshire would have been familiar with coins of this type; using, losing and hoarding them on a regular basis.
End of Empire
The end of the Roman Empire in Britain in the early fifth century AD was a period of great unrest.
The relative economic and political stability of the late Roman Empire gave way to a period of greater uncertainty.
Many coin hoards were buried around 410 AD, or shortly after, when Imperial control was withdrawn from Britannia.
These coins are found in a number of places; close to settlements and to areas of religious significance suggesting that coins were buried both for protection and as ritual offerings in troubled times.
This silver Siliqua has a depiction of the emperor Honorius wearing a pearl crown and imperial robe. During his reign, the formal connection with Rome was severed. The end of this authority had profound effects upon the coinage. Without Roman law, coins were often clipped, with small pieces taken from the edges of the coin. This coin has been heavily clipped with almost none of the legend visible around the edge.
The Cattal hoard that this coin is from was likely to be buried in the years following the end of the Roman Empire in Britain.
Emerging from the fragmented realms of period following the end of the Roman empire, a small number of large kingdoms gradually became visible.
One of the largest of these was Northumbria which stretched from York to Bamburgh.
The city of York was the economic heart of this kingdom with links which stretched across the seas to Ireland, Scandinavia and continental Europe.
The prosperity of this period is reflected in its coinage. Many coins of the ninth century are found around Yorkshire, both dispersed and in hoards.
The low value of these bronze coins meant that they were used by many people and are often found in large numbers. This hoard comes from Bolton Percy and it contained several thousand coins in addition to this imported pot.
The Arrival of the Vikings
With the arrival of the Viking ‘Great Army’ into Yorkshire in the 860s AD, there were big changes with the kingdom now ruled by Viking kings; Cnut, Sitric, Olaf and Eric.
Under their rule York changed greatly, even its name was altered; Jorvik replacing the older form Eoforwic.
The incoming Vikings were used to using silver, rather than the bronze coinage which had previously circulated in Yorkshire.
They valued silver by its weight and chopped up jewellery, ingots and coins were all used to pay for things.
The Vale of York is typical of this period with silver from many sources – York, southern England, France and even the middle East – all used by the person who buried it.
It shows the wealth and connections of Viking York.
This silver penny names king Eadred, the king of the English in the 950s AD.
He was the king who took power from the viking kings of York, sending them out of the city and creating a united kingdom of England, arguably for the first time.
This was a coin that Eadred had struck in York, proclaiming his ruler over the city. It was found along with 38 others at Warlaby, soon after Eadred’s conquest of the town.
The Coming of the Normans
The arrival of William the Conqueror and the Normans in 1066 represents a major turning point in the History of the region.
William’s Norman rule was not universally accepted in the North with York at the centre of plots to depose him in the 1060s.
This lead to the infamous ‘harrying of the North’ where William’s army marched across northern England’s countryside systematically destroying it.
This hoard is from Bishophill in York and it may have been buried during William’s campaigns to the area.
It contained many hundreds of silver pennies which suggests that the unrest of 1066 may not have had too big an effect upon the prosperity of York.
This is a silver penny struck for Harold II, who very briefly ruled England between the Death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 and the arrival of William the Conqueror. He defeated Scandinavian kings at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 but marched to Hastings where he was defeated by a Norman army. On this coin the centre reads ‘PAX’ which was Harold trying to declare the king’s ‘Peace’ across his new kingdom.
Richard III and the War of the Roses
The War of the Roses saw the Houses of York and Lancaster competing for the throne of England during the fifteenth century. The final king of the house of York was Richard III who ruled between 1483 and 1485 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth. This was period of political turmoil but also one which appears to have had only a limited effect upon the lives of everyday people.
This is a large hoard found at Ryther, close to York. It is composed of over 800 silver coins with the latest coins being the earliest of Henry VII, who united the houses of York and Lancaster through marriage. His coins date the hoard to about 1487 and the hoard also contains a small number of Richard III’s coinage which immediately preceded this. The hoard is a mix of coins struck for both York and Lancastrian kings suggesting that, in spite of the war, it was business as usual for many people.
This is the depiction of Richard III with which most of his subjects would have been familiar.
This silver penny depicts the king with a large crown and curly hair. It is not an accurate portrait of the king, it differs from other depictions, but is more of an idealised version of what a king should look like.
The coin is from the Ryther hoard and it is a penny but it has been clipped, losing much of its original edge.
Civil War Treasure
The English Civil War was a period of huge upheaval with many years of battles, sieges and campaigning across most of England in the 1640s. This unrest lead many to bury their wealth in the ground, likely for safe-keeping, while the high casualty count and displacement from land meant many could never go back and dig up their hidden money. In Yorkshire alone, there are nearly fifty hoards from the period of conflict, more than in the preceding century of comparative peace in the region.
This hoard is one of those hidden during the Civil War and comes from Middleham. It is the largest hoard ever discovered from the Civil War and is amongst the biggest ever found, from any period. Three large pots were found, full with over 5,000 silver coins. They show the huge amounts of wealth that were being hidden during the war. Given the huge size of the hoard, it is unlikely that attempts to recover this amount of money were not made suggesting that the person who buried it was not able to come back and dig it up.
This is a silver Halfcrown struck for Charles I in 1643.
It is one of over 5,000 coins from Middleham hoard. It shows the king in full armour and riding a horse, an image designed to emphasize the king’s authority and status as a war leader.
The coin was struck in York as can be seen from the addition of the word ‘EBOR’ – meaning York - beneath the horse’s feet. The king’s use of York as a place to strike coins is not surprising as York was one of the wealthiest northern towns and was firmly under Royal control for much of the early years of the Civil War.
This gold double crown was deposited as a part of the Breckenbrough hoard in 1644. The hoard was buried in connection to the siege of York in that year.
The Royalist armies supporting Charles I in the Civil War were besieged by a Parliamentarian army for several months, ultimately falling to their opponents in July 1644 following the Battle of Marston Moor.
The hoard was likely deposited by a royalist supporter as it contained receipts which show that they supplied Cheese to the King’s armies, in addition to over 30 gold and 1600 silver coins.
That it was such a large amount of money and was never recovered suggests that it may have been hidden by one of those who lost their lives during the siege or the battle.
The Rise of Banking
In 1694, the Bank of England was founded and it was soon followed by banks across the whole of the country.
These banks provided safe places for money to be placed during uncertain times and the need to bury money underground gradually receded.
These banks issued banknotes, such as this one from 1807, to act as representations of wealth stored safely in a vault. The rise of banking saw the decline of hoarding, a tradition which had over a 2000 year history.
Curated by — Andrew Woods
Data — Martin Fell
Video — Graham Thorne & Mike Linstead
Photography — Graham Thorne & Mike Linstead
Produced by — The Yorkshire Museum