Builder discovers treasure during Holy Island house renovation

A routine building job on Holy Island turned into an exciting discovery for Northumberland builder, Richard Mason

Richard Mason and his father Tom, from Rothbury, who discovered a jar containing ancient coins, while working on Holy Island
Richard Mason and his father Tom, from Rothbury

Builder Richard Mason was suitably underwhelmed when he dug up a grubby-looking pot during a house renovation on Holy Island.

The 38-year-old from Rothbury, in Northumberland, threw the pot in the back of his van and thought no more of it.

The jug was left in Mr Mason’s father’s basement for eight years and then one year before Christmas, Richard decided to clean the jug.

He tipped it up and out fell a pile of gold and silver coins.

The coins come from all over Europe and one of them was found to be a gold scudo, a coin made in Italy in the 1500s.

The scudo comes from a place called Ancona, in central Italy, and is stamped with Pope Clement VII, who famously refused to annul the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon in the 1520s.

It is believed to be the first coin of its type discovered anywhere in the world.

A 15th Century German Bartmann jug and a selection of gold and silver coins uncovered by Richard Mason
A 15th Century German Bartmann jug and gold and silver coins uncovered by Richard Mason

He said: “I was hand digging around a pipe and I heard a clunk. I thought ‘that’s strange’ so I dug around it and exposed a little jug. I pulled the jug out, it was covered in mud and clarts.

“I had a quick look inside it appeared empty – I chucked it in the back of the van.

“Only recently, did I think it was worth giving the jug a little spring clean. I couldn’t believe it when all this gold and silver dropped out.

“I’m absolutely tickled pink. Discovering something this rare doesn’t happen every day and my dad’s been doing this job for years.

“I’ve never really found anything of any value of significance before.”

The collection of coins, which are all dated around the 16th Century, are currently being held by the British Museum.

One of the coins has been identified as a silver thaler, a coin made in Germany in the 1500s.

The thaler was eventually adopted by the early American colonies and later become known as the dollar.

When it goes on show, The British Museum will refer to the collection as “The Mason Hoard”.

“It’s something to tell the grand-bairns about,” said Mr Mason. “I’m honoured to have the family name attributed to such a find.

“My dad is in his 70s and he still works with me on the building sites six days a week.

He volunteers with the local history society and having his name in The British Museum will mean a lot.

“Lindisfarne, or Holy Island as I call it, was a well-used naval base in the 16th Century. It’s not impossible that coins from all over Europe will have landed there.”

In 1963, Alan Short, from Seahouses, found a pile of Elizabethan silver coins in almost the same spot on Holy Island.

Although it was an exciting discovery at the time, it was even more interesting when Mr Mason found himself in the company of Mr Short by sheer coincidence 40 years later.

“We were both working on the same building job,” he said.

“We were both sat eating our sandwiches, when we started to talk about the sorts of things we’d found while working on jobs.

“I said I’d dug up a pot filled with coins on a site at Holy Island that was now in a museum and he said he’d dug up a similar pot in almost the same place 40 years earlier. It’s unbelieveable how small a world it is.”


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