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Treasure Trove - The Dersingham Hoard
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
When Terry Grover arrived for work in Dersingham in July 1984 it was just a day like any
other. He was filling in pipe trenches for the new houses on the Oldhall building site when
he noticed something shining in the sandy soil. Interviewed later by the local press he
said, ”I thought it was just an old tin full of half crowns or something but it was coins and a
sort of silver goblet.”
When the hoard was cleaned and examined by experts Terry’s old tin was discovered to be
a cup of sterling silver in the shape of a rounded cone tapering deeply to the bottom. It was
9cm deep and had a diameter of about 10cm. Unfortunately it was damaged as the stem
that once supported the bowl was missing. The London hallmark dated the manufacture of
the piece to 1607-8. There was a maker’s mark and other pieces of silver by the same
hand were known to be at Brasenose College in Oxford. Inside the cup were 129 coins, all
shilling. The earliest one was from the reign of Mary 1 (1553-8). There were several from
the time of Elizabeth 1(1558-1603), and James 1 (1603-1625). The final group were from
the time of Charles 1(1625- 1649). The newest coin was minted during the years1641 to
1643. As there were no other coins of a later date I believe1643 to be the most likely date
the hoard was hidden.
The whole of England was in a state of intense anxiety. The relationship between
Parliament and the Crown had finally broken down and England was at war with itself,
county against county, town against town and father against son. The King had left
London and established his court and Capital in Oxford changing that comfortable
University City into a garrison town needing strong fortifications.
The first battles and skirmishes had been fought and news of them had been spread by
word of mouth but more tellingly by the publication of numerous pamphlets. The siege and
battle at Newbury in July 1643 was vividly told. There were heavy losses reported on both
sides and ”the soldiers having almost starved the people where they quarter and are half starved themselves, and for want of pay are become
very desperate ranging about the country breaking and robbing houses and passengers and driving away sheep and others cattle before their
Far worse was to be reported. During Christmas time that year at the village of Barthomley in Cheshire the villagers had taken refuge in the
church steeple when the King’s army approached. The soldiers set fire to the pews to force the villagers down, whereupon they were
”barbarously and contrary to the laws of arms murdered.” Many stories of murder, destruction of houses, and all manner of mayhem and
atrocity were reported from both sides. However there was an even greater fear than that of the behaviour of the armies. The fear of papacy
The King’s wife Henrietta Maria was viewed with absolute distrust. She had had a chapel built at Somerset House where she and many of
the aristocracy at court heard Mass. As a practising Roman Catholic she was suspected of trying to persuade the King to convert to her
faith. After all she had refused to attend his coronation, as it was a Church of England ceremony.
The people had grown accustomed to the plain white walls, bare wood, and order of service in their churches introduced during the reign of
Elizabeth1. When Archbishop Laud began trying to bring back some ceremonial in the form of altar rails, reverence for the Eucharist and
robes for the Ministers it caused great alarm to the Puritans or ”the godly” as they thought of themselves. It was rumoured that a papist army
was lurking in South Wales just waiting for the right moment to invade. A poor man, Thomas Beale, stated that while he was lodged in a
ditch near a Post House he heard two men planning to surprise and take London. Catholics were rumoured to be amassing supplies of
gunpowder to blow up the chief cities of England. There was no real evidence that Catholics had any such intentions but rumour fed on
So in this highly charged atmosphere what was happening here in Norfolk? If we coloured a map of the country in the way that is done during
General Elections now to show party gains and losses East Anglia would be coloured solidly for Parliament. It was called The Eastern
Association. Nevertheless there were many royalist supporters and Roman Catholics in the area. In January 1643 Cromwell and his troops
swept through Norfolk arresting anyone who did not fully support Parliament. Moreover war is an expensive business. Armies have to be
equipped, fed and housed so County Committees were empowered to raise money by taxing their populations, or sanctioning compulsory
loans. Money, silver plate, arms, horses and men were all expected to be offered for the support of Parliament.
In Dersingham Sir Valentine Pell lived in his family’s large house built in 1553 about where the surgery now stands. (Dersingham Hall and the
Tithe barn had yet to be built.) He was a Puritan and staunch Parliamentarian. He had been appointed to take over a company of foot
previously commanded by Nicholas L’Strange of Hunstanton.
The L’Stranges of Hunstanton Hall were Royalists and had openly declared their support for the King. Dersingham in fact was surrounded by
families who were Royalist supporters and many also Roman Catholic.
William Cobbe of Sandringham. a considerable landowner in the village, was known to be Catholic. His estates were sequestered and he had
to heavily mortgage them in order to have an income while he was so highly taxed. He was a Colonel in the King’s army and was married to
a daughter of Sir Henry Bedingfeld of Oxburgh the leading Royalist and Catholic in the area.
A member of the influential Paston family, William who lived at Appleton Hall just beyond Sandringham, was a noted recusant and Royalist.
(Appleton Hall no longer stands unfortunately.) The Hovell family at Hillington, and the Yelvertons at Grimston, were both Catholic and
Royalist. Many older villagers would still remember Henry Walpole of Anmer Hall, who became a Jesuit priest and was tortured horribly in the
Tower before being executed in 1595.
So the fears of a Catholic plot to overthrow the present order would have been very relevant here. Parliament was well aware of the situation.
As with other Royalist families in the area the L’Estranges were ordered to surrender all arms and ammunition at Hunstanton Hall to the
magazine at King’s Lynn. Armed guards were maintained day and night on all the bridges and ferry crossings between Cambridge and Lynn
to intercept men, horses, or plate being sent from Norfolk to the King. Parliamentary ships patrolled the Wash to safeguard the strategic port
of King’s Lynn.
Then in August 1643 Sir Hamon L’Strange mounted a successful coup in Lynn and declared the town for the king. This brought the Earl of
Manchester, Captain-General of the army in East Anglia, hot foot to the town. Advanced parties of soldiers secured all the roads into Lynn
and security in The Wash was increased. The sound of the daily canon fire into the town could be heard and people living in Gaywood fled
from their homes into the surrounding countryside. They would all have heard the rumours of what happened when soldiers came to your
I do not know if Sir Valentine’s foot company were involved in this particular operation but he and his troop, some Dersingham men must have
been included, were active during the campaigns. It was at this time that the hoard was buried which was frequently the only way of
safekeeping valuables. It was on land belonging to Sir Valentine but it is unlikely that he or a close member of the family was responsible.
Although a considerable amount of money for that time it was still not a large sum for a prosperous landowner. The cup was damaged and
unlikely to be a prized possession in the Pell house. Moreover he was on the winning side, and lived to 1658 so would surely have recovered
it. Parliament at the time was seeking subscriptions of money and plate and a damaged piece for scrap silver plus the coins would have
been a reasonable amount. A strong incentive for the owner to hide it.
It has been suggested that it was loot damaged in the taking and the looter never returned. There is not much evidence however that looting
took place even after the surrender of Lynn. It could have had a connection with the church. Spoliation of churches and Priest’s houses
during the rooting out of insufficiently Puritan clergy did take place but nothing certain is written about what happened in Dersingham. The
church plate seems to have survived the iconoclasm of the time and the church already had a communion cup from Elizabethan times and
was unlikely to have added to it.
Of course it might have been military pay rather
that loot. Someone however, in the highly
charged atmosphere, of the time went out one
night onto Pell land. They must have chosen a
landmark of some kind to aid easy recovery then
quietly dug a deep hole and placed their treasure
within it. They told no one of its whereabouts and
for reasons we can only guess at never returned
to retrieve it. If it was a villager hiding his savings
then not even family members knew where it lay
for the next pair of hands to lift it out of its hiding
place were those of Terry Grover in 1984. It was
declared Treasure Trove in 1985 and purchased
for the Lynn Museum with a grant from the V&A
museum. Mrs Elizabeth James, curator of King's
Lynn Museum is pictured here (left) with three of
Mr David Mallon (right) found another coin the day
after Terry Grover's find.
Below is the original Eastern Daily Press
newspaper article which we wish to acknowledge
as owner of this work.