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Award-winning journalist Michael Buerk and leading historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes return to ITV for a brand new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures. Following its success last year, Michael, Bettany and a host of guest presenters uncover a fresh hoard of extraordinary objects found by ordinary people that have changed our understanding of British history.
Continuing its successful partnership with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is responsible for all finds in England and Wales, the new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures also joins forces with Treasure Trove Scotland and the Ulster Museum to include stories of outstanding artefacts discovered by members of the public in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Each and every artefact included in the new eight-part series has been selected due to its national importance, beauty and cultural or historic significance. All are artefacts, objects or treasures that have been left, lost or discarded by our ancestors, which reveal the remarkable story of how we once lived.
Once again Michael and Bettany are joined by a host of guest presenters including Kevin Whately, Mariella Frostrup, Katherine Jenkins and Vic Reeves, to find out more about the stories behind each item and to meet many of the members of the public who discovered them.
In episode five Bettany is captivated by a piece of jewellery that once belonged to Henry Stuart, son of King James I and John Prescott finds out more about politics in Roman times.
Also this week historian Suzannah Lipscomb travels to Brentford, Essex where an Elizabethan pendant was discovered five years ago by carpenter George Sparks. George found the treasure on the grounds of Ingatestone Hall.
Describing his find, he says: “First of all I thought ‘oh it’s a piece of costume jewellery’. I could see it was gold colour with some stones in, but with it covered in mud you couldn’t really tell. When I got back to my van there was a puddle there so I thought I’d dip it in there and wash it off with an old toothbrush then I could see the setting of the stones and that made me realise that it could be something that little bit special.”
His find was very special. The 400-year-old pendant is set with diamonds, a single red ruby and coloured enamel on the back and historians believe the pendant may have even belonged to Queen Elizabeth I herself.
Mary-Ann Ochota discovers more about an iron-age mirror found in a field in Pegsdon, Bedfordshire, in 2007. Unearthed by an anonymous finder, the flat piece of metal is elaborately engraved on one side and plain on the other. It is 2000 years old. Further items found near to where it was discovered, a silver brooch, pottery shards and human bone indicate the area was originally a burial site. So as well as being used for personal grooming the mirror would have held other meaning and been used in religious ceremonies.
Guest presenter John Prescott travels to South Wales to investigate the story behind the finding of a huge haul of Roman coins. Lord Prescott says: “I’ve been a politician for forty years, I have been in the middle of modern politics, the communications, the propaganda and I just wondered how did all this start so I’ve come to Cardiff to find out.”
The story started when treasure hunter Colin Roberts was searching a field near the M4 in 1998, and made one of the most significant finds in Welsh history - more than 3,800 Roman coins.
The treasure was valued at £40,000 and among the haul was a coin of particular significance as it featured one coin with three heads.
Two of the heads were of the two ruling Emperors of the time, but the third was of the Roman Governor of Britain, Carausius. He had put his head on the coin so he would be considered as important as the other two. Carausius was only able to stay in his position as he had support from his finance minister Allectus, but Allectus had ambitions of his own, he decided that he wanted to be governor and eventually killed Carausius. Lord Prescott likens the difficult relationship between Carausius and Allectus to that of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during Labour's years in power
He said: “I spent a lot of political time between two characters and this was Tony Blair and of course Gordon - both powerful men... There's a lot of parallels with it.”
Finally Bettany visits North Norfolk to find out more about last year’s discovery of a silver hawking vervel. Hawking or falconry was an aristocratic past time and vervels were tags that were attached to the hawks to signify ownership. The vervel belonged to Henry Stuart, the Prince of Wales. Prince Henry was born in 1594, the son of King James I but died before his 19th birthday of typhoid fever.
Bettany said: “The discovery of that vervel has just made me feel so connected to Henry, the forgotten Prince, and to the falconry he loved. And just think about this, if that falcon hunt had finished a day later or a day earlier then Henry would have ended up in a different place at a different time and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have contracted typhoid in which case we’d have had a Henry IX rather than a Charles I and our country and all of our lives would have been completely different.”
The vervel is now kept at Norwich Castle Museum.