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The Silsden Hoard: West Yorkshire’s Mysterious Treasure

KC Author Photo croppedby Katherine Clements

 

One coin marks the first to go

A second bodes the fall

The third will seal a sinner’s fate

The Devil take them all…

So recites Mercy Booth, the protagonist of my latest novel, recalling an old folkloric rhyme, remembered from her childhood.

The ancient coins she refers to, with their ominous associations, are a fiction – I created the rhyme, just as I created the story behind it – but they are inspired by a real archaeological artefact: The Silsden Hoard.

Fans of the (highly recommended) TV show Detectorists will know that the holy grail of metal detecting is the discovery of gold. In 1998 keen detectorist Jeff Walbank hit the jackpot, uncovering 27 gold coins at Silsden near Keighley in West Yorkshire.

These Iron Age coins, known as staters, were not common currency. European in origin, the first British coins were minted in bronze about 100BC, and in silver and gold from about 50BC. It’s thought that they were not used to purchase goods, but were given out by tribal leaders, perhaps in recognition of kinship or military service – a kind of medal or status symbol. What’s so unusual about this particular hoard is that the Brigantes, the tribe that contrSilsden Hoardolled the West Yorkshire area at this time, never made their own coins. Production was mostly limited to the tribes further south; the coins found at Silsden almost all come from the Thames area, a territory governed by the Catuvellauni. Most were issued by the powerful leader Cunobelinus who ruled from about 10 to 40AD and was dubbed ‘King of the Britons’ by Roman historian Suetonius.

Only two other similar hoards have ever been found in Yorkshire, almost a hundred miles away at Beverley and Walkington, so how did these coins end up at Silsden? Archaeologists’ best guess is that they were left behind by refugees fleeing the Roman invasion of 43AD. As the Romans advanced north, it’s possible that people sought protection from the Brigantes; the Brigantian territory, which extended over most of northern England, was the last to fall. They were not defeated until the AD70s and even then maintained a resistance movement that was never fully subdued.

The Silsden Hoard was declared as treasure and now resides in Castle Cliffe Museum, close to where it was found. This museum is a little gem, full of fascinating local artifacts of the sort that would be overlooked by a bigger, richer institution.  The coins are presented in a simple display case, with sparse information. Something about their humble appearance is at odds with the troubled times they represent. I was intrigued.

In The Coffin Path, Mercy describes the coins thus: ‘Each is small, about the size of a buttercup head, decorated with strange patterns and the crude impression of a horned beast – perhaps a stag, or something more sinister.’

Silsden Close UpHere they are:

The coins are not worth an awful lot of money – you can buy similar on auction sites for a few hundred pounds, with rare examples reaching the thousands – but they are quite beautiful and very evocative, and the mystery of why they were left behind remains unsolved.

What happened at Silsden? Were these valuables buried in haste as Roman soldiers approached? Were they abandoned as people fled in fear? Or was it an attempt to secure their wealth as they prepared to stand and fight? And what became of their owners? Why did they never return? These are the questions that feed a novel.

Intrigued? – You can buy The Coffin Path Here

THE COFFIN PATH HB COVER

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Powerful drama of a King’s Execution – The Crimson Ribbon

 

Blurb:

Based on the real figure of the fascinating Elizabeth Poole, The Crimson Ribbon is the mesmerising story of two women’s obsession, superstition and hope.

 May Day 1646. The Civil War is raging and what should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn. Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

 Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

I received this book for review from the Amazon Vine programme because I love the seventeenth century and it looked like my sort of book. I was not disappointed.

The story of Elizabeth Poole and her role as witness to the beheading of a King is brought masterfully to life in this gripping drama. Told through the eyes of Ruth Flowers who is on the run to escape a witch hunt, the book draws the reader gradually into the uneasy, fragile world of desperate people looking for an answer to the bloodshed of the English Civil Wars. Elizabeth Poole herself remains an enigma, shedding layers of shifting truths that make the reader unsure who or what she is. Is Elizabeth a sinner or a saint? Ruth’s devotion to her, though not fully explained, is both her salvation and her downfall.

Although it only uses historical events as a kind of backdrop to the story I found the historical background to be well-researched and atmospheric.  But the strength of this novel is in the portayal of the ever-changing relationship between Ruth and Lizzie, and the writer’s ability to take you fully into the mindset of a nation which can try a King for treason against his own country.

I look forward to more books from this debut novelist, Katherine Clements. For comparison you might like to try ‘As Meat Loves Salt’ by Maria McCann which tells of a similar obsessive relationship between two men, and is one of my favourite reads about this period.