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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

Categories
Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Lady Anne Clifford – travelling 17thC style, with 40 carts

You can’t live in the Westmorland area and not know anything about Lady Anne Clifford. In the 17th century she travelled William_Larkin_Anne_Clifford,_Countess_of_Dorset (2)around her vast Northern estates accompanied by more than forty carts which contained everything she needed to make herself comfortable at her great castles, which were in ill-repair. What she took with her included her large oak bed, and a pane of glass (very expensive in those days) for her bedroom window.

As well as restoring her ruined estates, from 1649 to 1662 she was a patron of the arts, including architecture, sculpture and painting. She also had a keen interest in books, including manuscript illumination and calligraphy. These were passions gained from her mother, Margaret Clifford, from whom she inherited not only her staunch Anglican faith, but also a love of literature and the classics. However, her early life was far from easy, as she spent much of her life in a long and complex battle to regain her inheritance.

800px-George_Clifford_3rd_Earl_of_Cumberland_after_Nicholas_Hilliard
George Clifford (after Hilliard)

She was born at Skipton Castle, the daughter of George Clifford, who had been a favourite at Queen Elizabeth’s court as a skilled jouster, and by now had been given extensive lands in the North, including no less than four castles. When Anne was only 15, her father died, and as her two brothers both died young, that left Anne as the only surviving heir.

Her father, fearing she was still too young to manage all his lands, left his entire estate and all his titles to his brother Francis Clifford, leaving Anne £15,000 in compensation. Anne was outraged, for she knew this to be in breach of a legal entail, one which stated that the Clifford lands were to be left to the eldest heir, whether male or female. This law dated back to the time of King Edward II. The lands included Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham Castles.

brough-castle
Brough Castle – owned by the Cliffords. Now a ruin, it was one of the castles she restored, now with English Heritage

But Anne was stubborn and determined. She began legal proceedings, and in 1607, the judges decided that the Skipton properties were rightfully Anne’s. Her uncle, however, was not prepared to give up without a fight, and refused to give up the estates.

Skipton
Skipton Castle Yorkshire

Two years later Anne married Richard Sackville, the third earl of Dorset, who tried to take charge of her affairs. In 1617, despite the advice of her husband, and amid growing pressure from King James I himself, she refused to accept a settlement of the dispute. Hardly surprising, considering it proposed all the estates were to be given to Francis, her uncle, and his male heirs, and only £17,000 was to be given in compensation to Anne. Nevertheless, the settlement went through, and to Anne’s frustration, her husband quickly took control of the money.

Anne had to wait for the death of her cousin in 1643, before finally getting back her inheritance, but there is a happy ending to this tale. After the English Civil Wars had ended, Anne moved back to the North. An old woman by now, she spent the next 26 years of her life lovingly restoring her ruined family castles along with the churches on her lands.

Lady Anne Clifford died in 1676 at Brougham Castle, in her family home. Read more about her in her own diary, surprisingly available on kindle a mere three hundred and fifty years later. Told in a sparse matter-of-fact way, it details the comings and goings of this remarkable woman, who was never in one place for long, and seemed to have inexhaustible reserves of energy.

Appleby Castle
Appleby Castle, one of Lady Anne Clifford’s estates
DSCN0761
Almshouses built for poor widows by Lady Anne Clifford, in Appleby

 

 

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The Smoke of her Burning by M C Logue

The Smoke of her Burning 

Smoke

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to one Captain – Colonel, now – Holofernes Babbitt.  Hollie to his friends. A man who begins the Uncivil Wars series as a disaffected mercenary cavalry captain in the Army of Parliament, and ends up by 1649 as a husband, father, Leveller, and political menace.

The new book, “The Smoke of Her Burning” is something of the book that shouldn’t have been.

The second, “Command the Raven”, is set in 1643, when for reasons many and various Hollie and his rebel rabble end up detached to Yorkshire under Thomas Fairfax’s command. The new one begins in early 1644. – And, of course, 1644, this was going to be Marston Moor, and the Bolton massacre, and the siege of Lathom House, and all those other great Northern events in Fairfax’s year of wonders.

Except, of course, it isn’t. Because Marston Moor doesn’t happen until the summer, and although Hollie Babbitt’s company are fictional, they are a fictionalised company in a real campaign, and I’m very proud of their being “not real but could have been”. So I got to wondering where a troop of cavalry would have been, had they rejoined Fairfax in the spring of 1644.
It was just out of interest, of course, because that’s how I research the books. I’ve got a little mental map of Fairfax’s campaigns, and I plot when Hollie might have been able to slip off home, and what that might mean for his family arrangements. How old his children might be when daddy comes home – old enough to recognise him from his last home leave, or old enough to be afraid of the strange man in the buffcoat, or so new as that he didn’t even know they were on the way?
And it was never meant that the battle at Selby should have a book in its own right. It was meant that it was going to be a tiny hiccup on the march to York, a little diversion before Marston Moor. And then, as ever in my books, the people got involved in the action – mad Puritan lieutenant Thankful Russell, and the very mysterious Gray, and cork-brained romantic posh poet Luce Pettitt. The odd ones out: Russell who’s an officer in his head, always and ever, but who can’t always manage to stay on the straight and narrow sufficient to retain his commission. Gray, who wants to be a fierce warrior, one of the boys. Which isn’t ever going to happen, for a very real and practical reason. And Luce, who’s committed to the noble ideals of the Parliamentarian cause, but who’s better at healing people than hurting them.

Really, what inspired “The Smoke of Her Burning” was those three, and their odd dynamic, both within the troop and with each other. And Hollie trying to get his head round the idea that as a captain he could please himself, but now he’s a full colonel and expected to toe the party line, and he’s really not very good at that. And set that against Selby, which was a fierce battle, and one which isn’t known as well as perhaps it ought to be. And then of course I stumble across a group on Twitter who are trying to get the Abbot’s Staith in Selby taken on as a community space, the Staith being one of the monastic warehouses in Selby, on the edge of the Ouse. And, you know, I’m passionate about local history, communities owning their own past, so I contact the people who run this group asking about the Staith and of course the next thing you know I’m getting maps of 17th century Selby and discussing whether or not Belasyse might have used the monastic warehouses as a powder store. (Which, in the book, is what he does!) And then I published an excerpt from the new book on a review site and was contacted by one of the local librarians, and we’ve been chatting about stabling horses in the Abbey and whether there were cobbles in the streets and how deep the fields flood round those parts…

So “The Smoke of Her Burning” is out on October 12, and all the royalties for the first month are going to the Abbot’s Staith community fund for the upkeep of the medieval warehouse,

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