Coins offer up clues to the past

The late Tom Cook, whose College Gateway Bookshop in Silent Street was such a splendid place to browse, used to say that the man who found five pound notes in the gutter was not lucky, but always looking there in expectation.

These days it is the metal detectorists who make the best discoveries, and those who prospect responsibly note locations accurately and report significant finds to the right authorities.

Two recent brass finds on the Nacton shore are unlikely to be related, but each in its way is most interesting.

In 1808 Covent Garden Theatre was completely destroyed after a production of Sheridan’s popular but artistically worthless melodrama Pizarro.

It is thought that a piece of burning wadding shot from a cannon wedged itself in the scenery but took several hours to set it alight. The roof caved in at 6am with the loss of 22 men struggling with too little water to save the building.

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By September 18, 1809 the New Covent Theatre was ready to open its doors, and admission was by token. The one found (‘BPS’) admitted its owner to a Box on the Princes’ Side, George III and his troublesome sons always facing each other. A token labelled ‘PKS’ would be for the Pit on the King’s Side.

The more decorative label for a gift to Lord Alfred Paget from the Duc de Brabant has a place for a pin on the back, so it could mark a presentation case of champagne or claret.

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Paget (1816-88), fourth son of the first marquess of Anglesey, soldier and courtier, was for 42 years Chief Equerry and Clerk Marshal to the Queen. He had a house in Grosvenor Place, and at some time occupied Melford Hall. He was an enthusiastic yachtsman, which suggests that the empty case with its label may have been cast overboard in the Orwell.

Two other Suffolk discoveries were made too late for those who might most have appreciated them.

For many years the antiquary and numismatist James Conder dealt in habadashery and snuff in the timber framed house at the corner of White Hart (now St Lawrence) Lane and the Buttermarket.

In 1863, 40 years after Conder died, aged 61, the house was demolished in road widening, the magnificent corner post going to the museum.

An earthen pot was found under the doorstep containing several hundred silver pennies of the reign of Aethelred II (ca 978-1016), all in fine condition from several mints including Ipswich.

How Conder would have loved to have found this himself, but it was at least 10 feet underground.

In 1879 in Sudbourne church, not long after the death of the Rev. John Maynard, the rector and another coin expert, a larger hoard was found during the replacement of box pews with benches.

The implication was that Maynard would not have agreed to the changes, and so missed the exciting find.

Most of the coins were of the reign of King Henry II, but some of his father’s, and a few of King John’s. Some of them were from the Ipswich Mint.

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