Viking Silver – LAS visit to Cuerdale, 7 Sept 2014

On the 7th September 2014 members of the Lancashire Archaeological Society visited the site of the discovery of the Cuerdale Hoard. Bill Shannon reports on the day:

Dr David Hunt at the start of the walk at Walton Church.
David Hunt at the start of the walk in Walton-le-Dale

The weather was glorious and the views stunning for our walk to the site of the Cuerdale Hoard, led by Dr David Hunt of Leyland Museum. We met at St Leonard’s church, located on a narrow ridge separating the valleys of the Ribble and Darwen, and David began by discussing the geography of the area, and how that ridge had been a major highway, ultimately linking Ireland with York. David then told the story of the find, and its significance as far and away the biggest Viking hoard ever found in this country. It was found in 1840 by workmen digging gravel to secure the banks of the Ribble at Cuerdale, where erosion was (and still is) taking place. The hoard contained more than 8000 pieces, and seems to have been buried early in the tenth century. Interestingly, although displayed in the British Museum as a great jumble of coins and hack-silver, it may have been a carefully ‘curated’ collection, comprising Viking coins from York, English coins from Alfred’s Wessex, and foreign coins from as far away as Byzantium and the Arab world, together with hack-silver mainly from Ireland and Scotland. Why it was collected, and why it ended up where it was found, continued to be hotly debated – not least by the LAS group.

Carved stone marking the find spot of the Cuerdale Hoard.
Carved stone marking the find spot of the Cuerdale Hoard.

From St Leonard’s, we crossed the road and headed down the footpath, and across the fields to the find site, in a little depression set back from the bank of the Ribble not far from Cuerdale Hall, and marked by a carved stone, now unfortunately almost illegible, although the words “Site of Cuerdale Hoard” can just about be made out.

Sitting by the Ribble Ribble near the stone marking the find site of the Cuerdale hoard.
Sitting by the Cuerdale hoard stone near the River Ribble.

We sat on the grass, while David gave an impromptu talk, and led a discussion about the site, amidst much speculation from all! Clearly the intention was to store the silver, not to abandon it. Could there have been a building at the site, and the silver stored in a box in the cellar? Was it intended to melt it down and cast ingots – or coins – on or near the site? How much was it worth – would it have paid a Viking army for a season for example? Why that exact spot – if the east-west ‘highway’ was up on the ridge, was there a north-south crossing of the Ribble near here? One thing we all agreed on was it is a whole lot easier to come up with sensible speculation when you are actually experiencing the site and situation for yourself.

For more pictures of the walk see our LAS Photographer flickr page

For more information on the Cuerdale Hoard see the British Museum website.

Thanks to Bill for this report. You can see coins from the Cuerdale Hoard (from the set given to Preston) on display locally at the the Harris Museum, South Ribble Museum and the Museum of Lancashire.

The mystery of the burial of the Cuerdale Hoard has also inspired a new novel called Viking Voices by Vincent Atherton, it is available from Troubadour or the Harris Museum shop on 01772 905414. 

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