Fred Johnson shakes his head in wonderment as he remembers the moment he realised there was an Anglo-Saxon field of gold on his Staffordshire farm.
Speaking at a Staffordshire County Council reunion to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard on July 5th, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure found anywhere in the world, Fred said:
“I can still remember the day as it if was yesterday.
“If anyone had of told me that there was treasure in one of my fields I would have laughed at them.
“When the metal detectorist showed me the first couple of items I wasn’t too sure what they were. And then it kept on coming, more and more.”
From the chance discovery of a couple of pieces by a metal detectorist Terry Herbert to the eventual removal of 4,000 items of gold, silver and garnets, what became known as the Staffordshire Hoard remains the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver found anywhere in the world.
Since approximately 700AD the treasures had lain untouched a few feet below the surface of a farmer’s field until the amazing discovery in the summer of 2009.
Now, in a rare reunion, Fred Johnson, owner of the field where the items were discovered, former Staffordshire County Council’s Archaeologist Steve Dean who led the excavation work and Philip Atkins, the then and now Leader at Staffordshire County Council have caught up to relive the moment. Fred said:
“The archaeologists must have been in the field for about five or six weeks and then I think it slowly sunk in that this was definitely something pretty spectacular.
“I’ve tried not to let it change my life too much, and obviously the money has come in useful. I still enjoy talking about it and I suppose it’s helped make Staffordshire famous.”
“The discovery of the Hoard is an amazing story and as the archaeologist involved in the excavation, it’s a part of my life I won’t forget in a hurry.
“I think we quickly realised how significant a find it was but keeping it a secret and getting the items safely out of the ground was the big challenge. Finding one such item would have been a career triumph but the sheer amount of items was incredible.
“It doesn’t feel like it was 10 years ago but it was nice to be back in the field and to meet Fred again. And, now with all the items conserved we have a clearer picture of where they came from and how they were used, before they were buried some 1,300 years ago.”
Philip Atkins, Leader of Staffordshire County Council, added:
“It certainly doesn’t feel like 10 years ago since the discovery and I can still remember how magical it was, not just for the immediate team, but for everyone in Staffordshire and even across the globe.
“During the time of its discovery all eyes were on Staffordshire, even garnering interest from as far as China. Not to mention a phone call from the Vatican.
“Even to this day, it remains the largest find of its kind in the world and still has people talking. And, with designs of the objects being linked to many regions across Europe, it’s now part of our fascinating history and giving people another great reason to visit Staffordshire.”
But a decade later the story of the Hoard lives on. Hundreds of small pieces have been painstakingly reassembled to recreate the objects they once made up, revealing even more about who owned it and how it ended up in a Staffordshire field.
In late 2012, the Hoard field was ploughed again and a further 81 small items, including a second ‘cheek piece’ were found and the archaeologists are satisfied everything has been found.
The Staffordshire Hoard collection is jointly owned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils on behalf of the nation and is cared for by Birmingham Museums Trust and The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.