Excitement of Finding Treasure Trove

 Way back in 1963, a young schoolboy was walking across a field near to the Antonine Wall, when he stumbled across a piece of carved and lettered stone.

The stone turned out to be part of a Roman altar, which is now housed in the Falkirk Museum, and the schoolboy was Jim Walker.

 A talk delivered to Largs Probus Club, 17th April 2024.

This chance find sparked in the young lad a lifelong interest in history and archaeology, and was also his first introduction to the mysteries of Treasure Trove; and incidentally rewarded him with the princely sum of 4 pounds and 10 shillings.

Sadly, this lucky discovery was not to be repeated for Jim, but he did have plenty of other tales of amazing finds to regale us with, and he began by explaining a bit about the legal aspects of ‘Treasure Trove’.

It will be no great surprise that the law on the subject differs between the home nations. That for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is a bit vague and full of gaps. The Scottish law is much clearer  –  anything you discover in the ground, on the seashore, in a river, even your own garden, is not yours to keep. It has to be reported first to the police, who pass it to the Procurator Fiscal, from where it may be sent on to the magnificently named King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer, who can convene a valuation committee to establish the value of the item, after which it has first to be offered to National Museums Scotland.

It’s not all bad news, though. The finder will eventually get a cut from the sale proceeds.

So, to some tales of remarkable finds.

Falkirk, 1933, and workmen uncover a jar containing 1,925 Roman silver coins. Surprisingly, the top of the jar was still covered with a woven tartan like cloth, now known as the ‘Falkirk Tartan’.  The workmen got £50.

Mildenhall in Suffolk, 1942, and a lone ploughman ploughs up a hoard of Roman silver. 34 items, his farmer boss reports (eventually), though the ploughman said ‘40’ and it seems some may have been exchanged for readies to the nearby US servicemen. As the farmer didn’t report the find till 1946, he only received £2000 instead of the £5000 valuation figure. The ploughman incidentally got nothing, until many years later when Roald Dahl wrote a book on the find and gave him some of the proceeds from its sale.

Jim had plenty of other wonderful stories  –  in nearby Snettisham, an initial 1948 find of gold from the Iceni tribe, led to the discovery of another twelve hoards through the next sixty years and the paying out of over six million pounds.

A schoolboy helping out at a dig on Shetland in 1958 found a box containing 28 silver objects hidden from raiding Vikings. The lad got £100 for that; not bad in 1958.

More recently, the magnificent Galloway hoard of Viking age objects discovered near Kirkcudbright, and jumping back nearly 200 years, the curious tale of how the cow (possibly a brown cow) uncovered the famous Lewis Chessmen.

Great stories, and my favourite, the Shropshire Piano hoard. 

A downsizing couple couldn’t get shot of their Edwardian piano so donated it to a local school. Bad move. As some of the keys were a bit sluggish, a piano technician was called in, who removed eight cloth pouches from deep within the instrument containing over 900 gold sovereigns, valued at £500,000. As no authenticated claimant came forward, the piano technician (finder) and school (owner) would do very nicely from it; the unfortunate couple would be entitled to nothing.

This was a truly fascinating talk that kept us all enthralled. 

So if you see groups of mature gentlemen furtively swinging metal detectors back and forth or delving into the innards of ageing pianos, you know they would have been present at Jim Walker’s Largs Probus Club “Treasure Trove” talk.

Largs Probus Club will next meet in the Willowbank Hotel on Wednesday 24th April when John McLean will speak on the Life of a Country Park Ranger.

Men over the age of 50 who are retired, or nearing retirement, can attend three meetings as a guest before deciding whether to become a Club member. Please use our Contact Form if you wish to attend as a guest, or to enquire about joining.