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Museum appeals for cash to secure silver coin which links England's last Saxon king with Bishop's Stortford

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Harold II penny (8460477)
Harold II penny (8460477)

An intriguing link with Bishop's Stortford's Anglo Saxon heritage is one of four buried treasures that historians want to secure for Saffron Walden Museum.

The silver penny of Harold II, rumoured to be buried under the floor of St Michael's Church in Windhill, is rare because he ruled for less than a year. The coin was found in the Ugley area.

Harold Godwinson, or Harold II, was the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England.

He succeeded Edward the Confessor and reigned from January 6, 1066, until his death at the Battle of Hastings, fighting the Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror.

His mistress or common-law wife was the first Saxon owner of the Manor of Esterteferd (Stortford), Eddeva Pulchrima. She was a renowned beauty, sometimes called Edith the Fair or Edith 'Swan-neck'.

The couple had children before he made a politically expedient marriage to Ealdgyth, widow of the Welsh king, Gruffydd.

His final resting place - after he was killed by an arrow through the eye - remains a bone of contention.

Edith is said to have identified what was left of his body and taken the remains to Hertfordshire for burial. The abbey he founded at Waltham claims to be the site she chose, but modern investigations have revealed no trace.

Other historians believe he was taken to Bishop's Stortford and buried in the original Saxon Chruch in Windhill and is still under the floor of St Michael's. Legend says that after her death in 1086, she joined him.

After Rev Francis Rhodes became the vicar in 1850, a vault containing three pudding stone coffins of early Norman origin was discovered and although one was opened and found to contain a male skeleton, it has never been proved conclusively that they contain the remains of King Harold, his wife and his mistress.

Permission for further modern-day investigations to settle the mystery has so far been denied.

Reliquary pendant (8460473)
Reliquary pendant (8460473)

A rare medieval pendant found in Farnham is also one of the treasures that historians want to safeguard. The gold 'reliquary' in the shape of a cross, made to contain a tiny relic associated with a saint, dates from the 14th or 15th century and was unearthed close to Bishop's Stortford.

It would have had real religious significance to its wealthy owner.

Posy ring (8460475)
Posy ring (8460475)

The museum also hopes to acquire a 300-year-old posy ring, and a Bronze Age gold-plated ring which is 3,000 years old.

Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd, which is a charity, needs to raise at least £1,000 urgently as match funding for grants.

Chairman Tony Watson said: "We have only a short amount of time to raise over £10,000 in total needed to secure all four objects. We hope to raise much of this from grants but need local matching funding. Every £1 which is raised locally can generate up to £5 in grants, so every little counts."

Carolyn Wingfield, the museum's curator, added: "It is a really exciting chance to acquire rare objects like the reliquary pendant and Harold II penny. All the objects are significant pieces for the district which we would love to display for local communities, visitors and researchers."

All four objects were found and reported by local detectorists, and the reliquary pendant and rings were declared to be treasure under the Treasure Act.

The gold Posy Ring, from Lindsell, dates from around 1650-1700 and has a secret message engraved inside the hoop "Remember me in hope AT". It is thought to be either a mourning ring, to commemorate a family member who had died, or a betrothal ring, a token of a loved one.

Bronze Age ring (8460479)
Bronze Age ring (8460479)

The Bronze Age ring also has its secrets. Although gold on the outside, its core is bronze. It was also found in the Lindsell area and could have been worn in the ear or nose, or possibly attached to clothing.

The Museum Society has launched a crowd-funding page – visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/saffron-walden-museum – or contact Saffron Walden Museum on 01799 51033 for more information

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