Chelmsford Museum Gets Its Hands On King Of Britons' Gold

By Corinne Field | 04 November 2003
Shows a photograph of a man holding a gold coin in his outstretched hand, next to a table which holds more gold coins.

Photo: Chelmsford Borough Council Museums Officer Nick Wickendon shows off the coin hoard. Photo: Paul Starr.

Chelmsford Museum can now boast more bling than Basildon on a Saturday night following the acquisition of a hoard of rare Celtic gold coins.

The 23 coins, found in Essex in 1999 by a local metal detectorist, date from pre-Roman Britain. They were minted by tribal kings Dubnovellaunus and Cunobelin sometime around the late first century BC and early first century AD.

Their purchase means Chelmsford Museum now houses the largest collection of coins of this type in the UK.

Nick Wickenden, Chelmsford Borough Council's Museums Officer, says, "This find doubles the number of previously known coins of this type from Britain. They are in very good condition and Cunobelin's name actually appears below the famous Celtic two-horse chariot. On the other side is the word CAMV, an abbreviation of Camulodunum, the Celtic name for Colchester."

Shows a photograph of two men holding gold coins in their outstretched hands, next to a table which holds more gold coins.

Photo: Nick Wickendon and Greg Newitt, the dedicated metal detectorist who made the incredible find. Photo: Paul Starr.

Cunobelin, an Essex boy who was immortalised in one of Shakespeare's later plays, Cymbeline, controlled a large part of the southeast from his capitol at Colchester. He was the most powerful king to rule in Britain before the Roman invasion and the Roman’s referred to him as Rex Britannorum, King of the Britons.

The coins, some of Cunobelin's first coinage, were found by metal detectorist Greg Newitt from Southend on farmland in Great Waltham in 1999. He carried out some amateur excavations and found pottery and metal work as well as the coins, which suggests that a settlement was once on the site.

But even so it is unusual to find such a large amount of money in one place. According to Nick Wickenden it is possible that the gold was a gift to the gods and never meant to be found or, based on evidence from similar finds, that it was a stash that its owner planned to use to pay mercenaries.

However it is more likely that, in the absence of banks, it is simply a Celtic form of safety deposit box.

Shows a photograph of a group of men holding gold coins in their outstretched hands, next to a table which holds more gold coins.

Photo: Essex Numismatic Society and the Friends of Chelmsford Museums were on hand to inspect the coins. Photo: Paul Starr.

It is not the first time that Mr Newitt has discovered treasure with his metal detector. Over the past few years he has found two other hoards of Celtic gold coins in the same area, both of which were declared under the terms of the Treasure Act and are already on display in Chelmsford Museum.

This latest hoard has cost the museum £12,000. The Heritage Lottery Fund contributed a large chunk and so did the Resource/V&A Purchase Fund. Chelmsford Borough Council, the Friends of Chelmsford Museums and the Essex Numismatic Society also donated.

The coins will go on permanent display as part of The Story of Chelmsford exhibition this month.

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