BBC Home > BBC News > England

Farmer's disbelief at gold find

27 October 09 17:27 GMT

The farmer who owns the land where the UK's largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure was found has told how he tried to persuade a metal detecting enthusiast not to bother looking in his field.

Fred Johnson stands to become a millionaire once the haul of gold and silver items found in Staffordshire is valued by the British Museum.

Known as The Staffordshire Hoard, it has been hailed by experts as one of the UK's most important archaeological finds and is thought to be worth "a seven-figure sum".

It was discovered by 55-year-old metal detecting enthusiast Terry Herbert, of Burntwood, Staffordshire, in July.

But Mr Johnson, who bought the land in 1983, told the BBC he was initially sceptical.

'Incredible workmanship'

"I did tell him there was not much point as someone else had been over the field before," he said.

Mr Herbert was very persistent though and he eventually gave him permission to search in the field.

"He came in very excited and said I have found a Saxon hoard. It's better than winning the lottery. I told him not to be so bloody daft," he added.

It was not until archaeologists came in to verify the find that Mr Johnson dared to believe it might be true.

"They asked to put a cabin in the field and a security guard overnight. It was then I started to realise he really had found something.

"I went to have a look and I could see they were bringing up some really fantastic stuff, really incredible workmanship."

Once the value of the hoard has been determined both men will split the proceeds equally.

Mr Johnson said he hoped the money would not change him and said he was keen to keep farming.

"There are plenty of film stars and sportsmen who earn mega money and have frittered it away and ended up bankrupt. Some have even taken their own lives. I do not intend to go down that path."

Mr Johnson, who went twice to see the hoard on display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, said he was moved by the public reaction to it and it was really important to him that it should remain in the West Midlands.

He said he was in awe of the work that went into the 1,500 pieces that were found in the field that he and his late father had ploughed for 25 years.

'Pure luck'

"You have to see it to appreciate the craftsmanship, and without any real tools to speak of.

"When I was young I did a bit of woodwork and considered myself a bit of a craftsman.

"When you get in the field with a tractor and plough you try to do a fair job as a craftsman, in that way I suppose we all are," he added.

Mr Johnson bought the land on a hillside to expand the family farm.

He put the find down to "pure luck" and his habit of ploughing deeper and deeper in the ground.

"My father was always telling me you are ploughing too deep, I went deeper and deeper and brought it up. Some of it was lying on top."

The find has been declared treasure by a coroner and is currently being valued in London.

Related BBC sites