Presented here for sale is a hoard of English gold coins of James I (1603–25) and Charles I (1625–49), discovered in the grounds of the historic Hazelbury Manor near the small village of Box in Wiltshire in August 2020 (PAS WILT-0CB2A3).
The fourteen gold coins were retrieved over the course of two days by Steve Simmons, an employee at the manor who had been granted permission to detect the land by its current owners. Tightly clustered together at a range of depths between six and twelve inches, the coins represent a single deposit.
One of the coins (lot 13) has several small peripheral adhesions across its surfaces, which represent the remnants of the leather purse or pouch in which the coins were contained. Mr Simmons was, at this point, a relative newcomer to the hobby of metal detecting, having begun to search the Manor grounds just two months prior to the hoard’s discovery. Remarkably, the hoard was his first numismatic find of any kind.
Hazelbury Manor was founded in the fourteenth century, although activity in the area appears to well pre-date this. Mr Simmons’ activities have revealed a wide range of pre-medieval artefacts from the area, indicating rather intense and continuous occupation of the site from the Iron Age to the early Medieval period. Antiquarian reports indicate the presence of a Roman Villa on the site. Although recent archaeological excavations were unable to validate this, the prevalence of related small finds discovered by Mr Simmons, including Roman brooches and coins, suggests that these reports may well be accurate after all. The Manor passed through various families in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, receiving numerous architectural adjustments, and in 1575 a royal visit, along the way. From 1602 until 1682 the estate became the property of the Speke family, being possessed during the Civil War period by George Speke (1598–1656), whose wife and daughter were recusants.
The deposition of the Hazelbury Manor hoard has been dated to c.1643, and this agrees with the freshness of its two most recent additions (lots 13-14) and the lack of any coins carrying mint marks from after this period. While hoards from the Civil War period have been discovered in significant numbers, it is most unusual to find an assemblage consisting entirely of gold coins, and the Hazelbury Manor find is significant in this regard. The location of its deposition is also notable; at a crossroads along the ancient Wyres Lane (running from Hazelbury Manor to Box Mill), placed precisely eight feet away from two perpendicular sections of medieval wall. This placement of the hoard appears deliberate and was presumably intended as an aid to its recovery, while the distance between the find-spot and the Manor argues against it being an occupant of the house that deposited the coins. We have then an unusual hoard deposited in the grounds of Hazelbury Manor by a presumably transient figure who intended to recover it, but was unable to do so.
In early July 1643 Lord Hopton led a Royalist army north toward Bath, securing first the bridge at Bradford-on-Avon, passing Claverton, progressing to Batheaston and finally facing Parliamentary forces at Landowne Hill on the 5th. The battle resulted in a defeat for Hopton; he was prevented from taking Bath with his cavalry routed and scattered. The following day Lord Hopton’s army retreated to Devizes. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know for certain if the events at Landowne Hill have any relation to the deposition of the Hazelbury Manor hoard.
All we can say is that given the close proximity of Hazelbury Manor to the battle site, its significance in the local landscape and the apparent chronological alignment between the hoard’s deposition and Lord Hopton’s movements towards Bath, such a relationship is certainly plausible. If this is indeed the case, it may explain why the original owner did not retrieve their coins; they either fell atop Landowne Hill or were caught up in the ensuing retreat, without opportunity to retrace their steps along Wyres Lane.