Imagine walking close to one of the UK’s many canals and stumbling upon a priceless hoard of lost treasure from the past? That’s what happened in 2009 when amateur archaeologist Terry Herbert was searching a ploughed field in Hammerwich, a village near the Wyrley & Essington Canal.
Herbert discovered what became known as the Staffordshire Hoard, a collection of approximately 3,500 pieces of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork that had lain undisturbed since the 7th century. The hoard can now be seen in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a short walk from the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal in Birmingham city centre.
The Wyrley & Essington Canal is one of many canals to have been constructed in the West Midlands during the golden age of our waterways. It was built to serve collieries in Wolverhampton, connecting with the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford Junction near Lichfield. A contour canal, it was nicknamed the ‘Curly Wyrley’ because of its circuitous route following the natural shape of the land. The canal was fed from Chasewater Reservoir, which is now the Chasewater Country Park – and this is just a couple of miles from the field where the Staffordshire Hoard was found.
The Hoard is an astonishing find. It is the largest treasure of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver yet discovered, featuring a variety of items that are almost all of military origin. This includes a number of fine sword decorations that demonstrate magnificent craftsmanship. Nobody is quite sure why the hoard was buried in this fairly isolated location, although some have argued it is connected with a Viking attack on nearby Lichfield in 875.
The complete hoard was uncovered over several years and valued at £3.28 million, which was shared between Herbert and the landowner after the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery agreed a joint purchase. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which is a short stroll from the towpath of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, opened a permanent gallery to display the hoard in 2014. This features items from the hoard as well as the story of its discovery.
Portable Antiquities Scheme