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Cuerdale is a parish in Lancashire, on the south bank of the Ribble, just upstream of Preston. (OS Grid [1]).

At Cuerdale was found the Cuerdale Hoard; the largest Viking Age silver hoard known from north-western Europe.

The hoard was buried, at best estimate, about AD 905. Others estimates place it at any time between 902-910. In any event there are no coins dated to later than 905, and so it cannot have been buried in the invasion or flight from Brunanburh.

Contents Edit

The hoard is a treasure of over 8,500 objects buried in a lead-lined chest; it consists of silver coins, together with ingots, amulets, chains, rings and cut-up brooches and armlets (hacksilver). Five bone pins were recorded, which may have originally fastened cloth bags containing the silver, but these have not survived.

Most of the coins were minted in Northumbria, then under Norse rule. Some are of English, Continental and Arabic origin, indicating the extensive trading and political links the Nordic peoples enjoyed at the time. Much of the other material is typically Irish or Hiberno-Norse in form and decoration.

As well as some puzzling Norse or Danish coins, the Hoard contains some 1,800 silver coins minted in memory of the St Eadmund, King of the East Angles, who was killed by the Danes in 870 AD, about 850 coins of King Alfred, and fifty of his son and successor, Edward the Elder. There were also just over a thousand coins of European origin, mostly Frankish from mints in Touraine, and a few from further east, including Kufic, or Arabic, and Byzantine coins.

Origin Edit

There are various theories about the origin of the Cuerdale Hoard.

The main theory is that the hoard was buried by the men of Dublin after the Norse were expelled from Dublin in 902. It might however have been a war-chest ready to pay for a reconquest of Dublin. Either way, it was never reclaimed. Dublin was eventually reconquered by Sihtric (Sigtryggr) in 917.

Such a great weight of silver, almost forty kilos, was probably the collected wealth of many persons, rather than one individual. Silver formed the basis of currency in the Viking Age and it was often buried in times of unrest. The latest coins enable us to establish quite accurately when the Cuerdale hoard was buried.

In 1966 Mr M Banks (Numismatic Gazette, December 1966) suggested that the treasure may have been intended to support the English churches in the Danelaw, where they were in serious financial difficulties as a result of the Viking occupation. He also suggested that as so many of the coins were apparently minted in France, they were probably a contribution from Frankish churchmen to their less fortunate co religionists in beleaguered England. Quite how this squares with the undoubted Norse origin of most of the Hoard is hard to say.

Cuerdale and Brunanburh Edit

The Hoard has no connection with the Battle of Brunanburh. However it might suggest a solution to often asked the question "Where was Brunanburh?". Cuerdale lies at the beginning of an overland route to Viking York. There appears to have been a ford to the north bank of the Ribble. The Ribble itself is a highway deep into the Pennines, and close to the ford is the course of a Roman Road from Preston to Ribchester and up into the Pennines. If this was a common route from Dublin to York, it might well be where Olaf's army came in 937, marching eastward into the mountains. Perhaps the battle took place by the banks of the River Brun, which runs fromthe hills to Blackburn?

From the earth to the museum Edit

The hoard was found by workmen in the bank of the River Ribble in 1840. They immediately began to fill their pockets with the silver coins. On the arrival of the bailiff, they were ordered to empty their pockets, but he did allow them to keep one piece each.

The Hoard was declared "treasure trove" at an inquest, and its ownership thus vested in the Duchy of Lancaster. The Duchy gave it to the British Museum, where it remain.

There had long been a legend in the area about "the richest treasure in England", long thought to be a folk-myth.


(Thanks to the British Museum for most of this material.)

Outside sites Edit

Books Edit

E. Roesdahl and D.M. Wilson (eds), From Viking to Crusader: Scand, Nordic Council of Ministers, 22nd Council of Europe Exhibition (Sweden, 1992)

Richard Hobbs, Treasure: Finding our past (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

J. Graham-Campbell, Viking artefacts: a select cat (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

J. Graham-Campbell (ed.), Viking Treasures in the North, Selected papers from the Vikings of the Irish Sea Conference (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, 1992)

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