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Museums and collections


Dr Martin Allen, Senior Assistant Keeper
Department of Coins and Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum

My favourite thing on display in the museum is the Chesterton Lane Corner hoard of medieval gold and silver coins. The discovery of this hoard some thirteen years ago was one of the most exciting things I have been involved with during my time at The Fitzwilliam Museum. As an expert on medieval coins I had always hoped that someone would find a coin hoard in Cambridge one day, and I was overjoyed when I received a phone call from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit in October 2000 to say that they had found a hoard at Chesterton Lane Corner and would I be interested to see it. Yes please!

The archaeologists had been excavating the site of a new sewer shaft – not a very glamorous location, but they made some extraordinary discoveries. At the bottom of the hole was a prehistoric river channel, and above that a Roman road and part of an Anglo-Saxon execution cemetery with many decapitated skeletons. Above this were the remains of the medieval house in which the hoard had been buried in the 1350s, shortly after the Black Death wiped out a large part of the population.

After the hoard was acquired by The Fitzwilliam Museum and conserved at The British Museum I had many weeks of painstaking but absolutely fascinating work identifying the coins for publication and later display. Most of the coins are silver pennies, which were the main currency of England until the Black Death, but there are also nine magnificent gold coins from the 1350s. The total value of the hoard was more than £10, which was an enormous sum of money at the time, equivalent to many years of earnings for most people. I often wonder who owned the hoard – they must have been a very wealthy citizen of medieval Cambridge, and quite possibly a merchant dealing with large sums of money.