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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 six, historian Suzannah Lipscomb finds out more about the Lindisfarne Hoard and Mariella Frostrup travels from Lancashire to Cologne on the trail of a massacred saint.
In 1963, Alan Short found a pile of Elizabethan silver coins under a house in Lindisfarne. Although it was an exciting discovery, it was even more interesting when a second hoard was found in almost the same spot forty years later. In 2003, Richard Mason was helping to renovate his father’s house when he found a jug buried in the ground. Richard said: “I was hand digging around a pipe and I heard a clunk I thought that’s strange so I dug around it and exposed a little jug. I pulled the jug out, it was covered in mud and clots I had a quick look inside it appeared empty - I chucked it in the back of the van and thought nothing more of it.”
The jug was left in Richard’s father’s basement for eight years and then one year before Christmas, Richard decided to clean the jug. He tipped it up and out fell a pile of gold and silver coins. The coins come came from all over Europe and one of them was found to be a silver thaler, a coin made in Germany in the 1500s. The thaler was eventually adopted by the early American colonies and become known as the dollar. To own a thaler in Elizabethan times would have meant the owner was a very wealthy man raising the question of why it was buried under a house in Lindisfarne.
Next on the programme Ekow Eshun learns more about male grooming in the sixteenth century when he gets to grips with an object found in Derbyshire nine years ago. Discovered in Longford, the silver object is an ear scoop and toothpick and would have been used by a man to clean his teeth and ears. For noble men in Elizabethan times, cleanliness was highly prized, despite the fact that bathing was a novelty rather than a daily routine.
Ekow said: “Thanks to our Derbyshire finder I can just imagine its 16th century dandy owner producing it with a flourish at a dinner party, scooping his ears and picking his teeth whilst the other guests look on in admiration.”
Next Mariella Frostrup learns how a badge discovered in a field in Lancashire is linked to one of the most horrific massacres in the Middle Ages.
Paul King, a sheet metal worker found the badge whilst walking through fields in Preston. The face on the metal badge was identified as being of the virgin Saint Ursula. Ursula lived in in Britain in 500AD and was a devout Christian. Her father was a local King and arranged for her to marry a Pagan to help relations between the Christians and Pagans. She agreed as long as her husband became a Christian and she could go on a holy pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by 11,000 virgins. Her conditions were met and the group left for Rome. But tragedy struck on the way home as the group travelled through Cologne, they were attacked by Pagan Warriors and were all slaughtered. Ursula was made a saint and a church was built in her honour in Cologne called St Ursula Basilica, which is decorated, in a macabre tribute, with human bones found after the massacre. Badges were also made with Ursula’s face on them to sell to pilgrims visiting the church and it was one of these badges that ended up in the field in Lancashire hundreds of years later.
Mariella said: “Not only have I got to uncover the story of a sadly neglected saint but also to follow in the footsteps of an early British pilgrim who braved the long and perilous journey to Ursula’s shrine here in Cologne and returned with a much treasured souvenir.”
Finally Michael Buerk visits Newbridge on the Isle of Wight where in 2011 retired fireman Richard Armiger was hunting for treasure when he made an extraordinary finding. He found an object in the ground that glinted gold and was buried about a foot deep. The object turned out to be a piece of Limoges enamel which at one time would have been used to decorate a church altar. The piece dates back over 800 years to a time when churches were the centre of life for the whole community and were ornate and beautifully decorated.
Michael said: “This enamel is a survivor, a rare relic from the time before Henry VIII and the religious revolutions that all but wiped out the decoration and trappings of previous ages. Revolutions that not only changed our churches but changed England and what it meant to be English forever.”