Ashmolean Museum to acquire ancient hoard of King Alfred the Great

With our support, the museum has raised the £1.35 million required to purchase the hoard after it was discovered in Watlington, Oxfordshire, in 2015.

The Ashmolean Museum has successfully raised the £1.35 million needed to acquire an Anglo-Saxon hoard discovered in Watlington, Oxfordshire, in 2015, which contains numerous coins featuring the likeness of Alfred the Great.

The money was raised following a public appeal, which saw more than 700 donations from members of the public, alongside significant contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£1.1m), Art Fund (£150K), contributions from private individuals, and the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean.

Comprising around 200 coins, seven items of jewellery and 15 silver ingots, the find is not particularly large, but is hugely significant because it contains so many coins of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex (r.871–99) and his contemporary, Ceolwulf II of Mercia (r.874–c.879), including the rare ‘Two Emperors’ penny, which shows these two kings side-by-side. The image suggests an alliance between the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, challenging written sources which dismissed Ceolwulf as a puppet of the Vikings, and thus offering a new insight into this tumultuous period of England’s history.

Discovered by metal-dectorist James Mather, the location and date of the find is also significant. Oxfordshire lay on the border of Mercia and Wessex, and Oxford was one of a number of fortified towns developed under Alfred in part to control the Thames which was used as an important route for Viking ships to strike into the heart of England. It can be dated by the presence of a single ‘Two-Line’ type penny which was not produced until the late 870s. It is clear that the hoard can reveal more about this historical period and once acquired it will be studied by Ashmolean experts and conservators. Following a regional tour of the objects, the hoard will go on permanent display in the England Gallery.

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, says: ‘This is a major acquisition by any standards and we’re delighted for the Ashmolean and its visitors. It was a very focused and determined fundraising campaign and we’re pleased to have been able to make a significant grant towards it. The Ashmolean’s collection provides a perfect context for the hoard and we look forward to seeing and learning from the many gallery displays it will make possible in the years to come.’

Once formally acquired, the Museum will launch an HLF funded events and education programme for the hoard. This will begin on 11 February 2017, when the treasures will be put on display at the Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock (until 19 March). In collaboration with Oxfordshire Museums Service, the Ashmolean will stage roadshow events around the county which will include talks, object handling sessions, and displays of the objects at locations including Bicester, Faringdon and, of course, in Watlington. The hoard will also be the focus at the Ashmolean’s annual Festival of Archaeology, which takes place every year in July.

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