Goldhords in Surrey: a horde of names, any hoards of gold?

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This post originally trailed the above day workshop held at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology on 22nd June 2016. The event was organised by all-round good egg Murray Andrews, a fellow IoA PhD researcher and late of Medieval Bayton parish. I’m pretty certain the first time I got in touch with Murray was about a brilliant blog post he wrote on a cryptic 17th-century Worcestershire parish register entry that he’d turned up: “It ye ghold yt was found was buryed“. It made me think of Surrey instances of the place- or field-name Goldhord (or riffs upon it), literally “gold/treasure hoard”. I had a quick search of the usual reference works and shared what I found with Murray, then let the matter be. The upcoming workshop was the inspiration for working up my original list into a blog post, testing the distribution of the names against Portable Antiquities Scheme data.

Let’s begin with the minor place-names and field-names in Surrey from OE goldhord/ME gōldhord noted in The Place-Names of Surrey (PNS), to which I’ve added another, making a surprisingly high county total of seven. In order of attestation, they are:

  1. Goldsworth in Woking < la Goldhord(e) 1229- (PNS, 157)
  2. Goldenlands in Dorking < ?Goldhordland 1403 (PNS, 275)
  3. Goldhord ?1408 (lost) in Ewell (shown just to the right of centre of this map of early 15th-century Ewell)
  4. Goldhurd 1548 (lost) in Shere (PNS, 157)
  5. Goldwhurd 1610- (lost) in ?Titsey (PNS, 338; ‘Various neolithic finds have been made in the neighbourhood and it may be that some treasure was once found here’)
  6. Goldhorde (Field) in Chiddingfold < Golden-hoard 1798, Gold Hord 1842 (Gardner 1924, 3; PNS, 389-90)
  7. Goldhard Farm in Godstone (No early forms given in PNS, 321, only the comment ‘It is on a Roman road’) is perhaps the same as Golards Farm deep in the Surrey Weald south of Newchapel, and apparently to be associated with Gold Hoards Wood 1748.

(Another, admittedly very dubious, name is Golding’s Copse in Abinger < Goldens lande c.1570? (PNS, 263); this may well be a reference to a one-time owner/holder of the land, or perhaps to the perceived golden quality of its soils.)

In medieval literature, the term was a popular one. A simple search of the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus turns up no fewer than 157 results for goldhord, while the Middle English Dictionary (in subsection 2d of the entry for gōld) quotes a further eight instances spanning the period circa 1175-1500. So what do these names mean? Bosworth Toller’s dictionary entry for OE goldhord, based upon literary rather than toponymic attestations, gave two meanings: ‘A treasure, treasury’ (MED supplies only the former for ME gōldhord). He supplied many more instances of OE gold used in texts, but did not adequately distinguish whether this meant gold as the precious metal element or as a more abstract signifier of riches or payment. The additional entries under gold give a much better sense of the range of meanings: treasure, form of wealth, ornament, material, and payment. For OE hord, he gave the partly overlapping ‘hoard, treasure’. The diverse possibilities for gold set out by Bosworth Toller are refined by the Thesaurus of Old English, which advances what boil down to three basic senses: a metal, treasure/wealth, and coinage/money.

The general sense emerging from the above is of literary goldhord/gōldhord is much as PNS posited regarding its meaning in place-names: ‘The gold hoard or treasure’ (PNS, 157) or ‘Land where some treasure was once found’ (PNS, 275; this is paraphrased by Field 1989, 90). PNS speculated at several points on what lay behind the names, doing so at greatest length in the Introduction (xviii):

“The compound gold-hord which occurs three or four times in the county does not necessarily refer to treasure buried by Britons at the time of the Saxon invasions, but an examination of the sites shows that all except Goldsworth are at no great distance from old roads or tracks.”

The whole fifth-century chaos idea is indeed a weak one, particularly in terms of trying to explain all such names. What I’m interested in here, particularly in light of Murray’s post and its focus on the possible discovery of golden artefacts as the stimulus for a record in a local source, be it a parish register or place-name, is to see if data from PAS might be able to help account for them. 

Acquiring the data is a straightforward task: All artefacts & coins ➔ County of origin = Surrey ➔ Material = Gold. This generates a total of 198 results, from a total county population of 10818 available search results, as of 15th June 2016. (The numbers are a little higher with researcher-level access, but I’m a man of the people so I’ll keep it public.) In other words, artefacts recorded as being made of gold make up a less than 2% of the Surrey total. Within these, 157 (or not far off 80%) are ascribed to the Iron Age; a substantial proportion are duplicates of entries from the Celtic Coin Index.

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Iron Age gold stater of Verica, 20-40 CE, from Dorking parish (PAS Unique ID SUR-9945337). Image used on a CC BY 2.0 licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

The next highest number are objects attributed a post-medieval date (23), which are probably too late to be of relevance to Goldhord name coinages. Save for one unidentified small, plain lump of sheet gold, the remaining artefacts are of no little interest. There are nine Medieval artefacts: 5 finger-rings, 3 coins, and a beautiful jewelled pin-head found during the recent excavations at Woking Palace. Almost all are late medieval: the earliest of the rings, from Shere (shown below), at least is dated to the period 1175-1300, whereas the earliest coin belongs to the years 1363-69 (SUR-BAB296). This is relevant, at least to an extent, given Goldsworth first appears on record in the early 13th century, but some of the other names may have been formed later in the Middle English period.

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Medieval gold finger-ring from Shere parish; the bezel originally held a precious stone (PAS Unique ID SUR-FB85D0). Used on a CC BY 2.0 licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

Numbers of artefacts from other PAS periods are much more scarce. The search yields three Early Medieval results, yet there are issues even with this small number. One is a disc pendant (SUR-883362) that came to light at a Surrey car-boot sale, but probably was not originally found in the county. A second is a pale gold Pada coin found at Pyrford (SUR-075EF5); the gold content in such coins is very low and for this reason the main material of a comparable coin from Dorking is given as silver (SUR-2CF753). By contrast, the third find, a Merovingian tremissis from Titsey parish, is one instantly recognisable as being made of gold because its gold content is much higher.

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Reverse of what is in reality a tiny Merovingian tremissis, possibly struck in Orleans, found in Titsey parish (PAS Unique ID KENT-33C0D2). Image used on a CC BY 2.0 licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

There are three Roman gold artefacts, all later fourth-century solidi, including a very worn one from Godstone (PAS-67A4E1 – unfortunately there’s no photo). Lastly, the Bronze Age is represented by two penannular rings from below the North Downs scarp at Betchworth (SUR-8F221C) and Reigate (SUR-B78614). By picking out the entries relevant to parishes containing Goldhord names (and I must underscore that I’ve kept this to parish level, rather than pursuing congruences between recorded artefacts provenances and the names), I’ve produced the following table:

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NOTE: A gold coin of 1471 has been found in Ewell parish (SUR-7358F0), but this post-dates what would seem to be the earliest attestation of the nearby Goldhord field-name. I’ve also left out the Woking Palace pin-head for the same reason.

What the table shows is that 5 out of 7 parishes are the provenance of at least one gold artefact entered in the PAS database. Remember this is a PAS-only survey; scouring the likes of the Historic Environment Record may very well fill in some of the gaps. Another point that must be made is that without going through the PAS data and finding out the total number of Surrey parishes from which gold artefacts are recorded, it’s probably not wise to place a huge amount of emphasis on the above proportion. All the same, proceeding on the assumption that none of them represents a modern loss or deliberate disposal of a long-curated item, it does demonstrate that there was the possibility for “ancient” gold objects to be found in these places and inspire the creation of Goldhord  names. Obviously this was all without the aid of metal detectors, but it must be remembered that these were more hands-dirty days when most people in rural areas were directly involved in agriculture.

Even so, is this really any more convincing as a universal explanation than British ‘treasure’ concealment in the expectation of Saxon invaders? Does it not still beg the question of what is “golden” about these names? After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Antiquarian accounts provide some good context for the Chiddingfold example, and suggest it may be better not to interpret Goldhords too literally. It was first discussed by Rev. James Douglas in his 1798 Nenia Britannica, who made the following valuable record (quoted by Gardner 1924, 3; bold formatting my addition):

“I opened a very large barrow, at a place called Gostrode, and traditionally preserved by the country people under the name of Golden-hoard, from a conception, by its artificial structure, of its containing a treasure: the only treasures found were the remains of a skeleton, and brown vessel of unbaked clay, usually placed in our large barrows […] Near the skeleton were some trifling fragments of corroded brass, probably the remains of a clasp or buckle.”

Here, if Douglas’ local informants are to be trusted, we find local tradition regarding the possibility of treasure being found rather than the actual discovery of any artefacts, golden or otherwise. Douglas notes that the barrow had been repeatedly ploughed in recent years but, unless it being ‘considerably depressed’ (see Gardner 1924, 3) has more than one implication, there’s no sense that it had already been plundered. Prehistoric worked flints but no metalwork were reported in the vicinity of the barrow in the 1920s, when the field-name is rendered as ‘Goldhorde Field’ and ‘Goldhorde field’ (Halahan 1925.) The stimulus for the field-name was hence the existence of a round barrow, its recognition as such, and the (mis)understanding that monuments of its kind contained “treasure” – a trope that stretches far back in time.

Surrey’s Goldhord place-names and field-names stand for encounters between the inhabitants of a place and the material remains of a past they understood in terms of time-out-of-mind folklore. Golden artefacts could be found in the fields and woodlands of medieval Surrey, but people were far more likely to discover other types of “treasure”. Non-gold coins, other metal artefacts, even prehistoric flints: all seem to have had the power to spark the imaginations of those who found or heard about them. So too the potential to find ancient riches. Consequently, a Goldhord name is best interpreted as indicative of a site of what we’d now class as archaeological significance, be it an above-ground feature or a find-spot, for which there was no explanation in the direct memory of the local community for how it came to be there, but a ready-made (and long-standing) vernacular term for characterising it.

SEPTEMBER 2016 UPDATE: I’ve found evidence of another Goldhord name, this time from the north-east of the county. It occurs as a locative byname found in three variant forms in Surrey-related entries to the Feet of Fines: Richard de la Goldhord concerning to property in Wimbledon in 1294-95, Richard and Alice atte Goldhorde in Battersea in 1310, and Richard and Alice del Goldhord in Wimbledon again in 1311 (Lewis 1894, 63, 74, 76). The trio presumably pertain to the same man – and also woman in two cases – and represent an interesting range of ways of forming the byname. What is much harder to ascertain is whether the name stems from a local Goldhord place-name, as opposed to one brought from elsewhere, and if it does then from which parish? Battersea and Wimbledon were adjoining parishes, so it can be cautiously suggested that it lay in their vicinity, but without further, place-specific testimony further speculation is not possible and the name has not been integrated with the above analysis.

REFERENCES (hyperlinked when available online for free)

Field, John, English Field Names: A Dictionary (Gloucester & Wolfeboro, NH: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989).

Gardner, Eric, ‘Bronze Age Urns of Surrey’, Surrey Archaeological Collections [SyAC], 35 (1924), 1-40.

Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Surrey, English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: University Press, 1934).

Holohan, Brenda C., ‘Chiddingfold. Find of flints’, SyAC, 36 (1925), 122.

Lewis, Frank. B., ed., Pedes Finium; or, Fines Relating to the County of Surrey, Surrey Archaeological Society Extra Volume, 1 (Guilford: Surrey Archaeological Society, 1894).


About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Coins, Conference, Field-names, Folklore, Landscape, Middle English, Numismatics, Old English, Place-Names, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Surrey and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Goldhords in Surrey: a horde of names, any hoards of gold?

  1. Thanks for the heads up and thought-provoking lunchtime read! Looking forwards to having you there.

    I suppose to some extent this is a chicken-and-egg question. Clearly medieval and early modern people had no fewer preconceptions about where you might find treasure than modern people do; the monks of Bolbonne accused of sorcery by Benedict XII had been searching for treasure in an ‘enchanted mound’, and a perusal through the metal-detecting literature will give the latter-day treasure hunter dozens of purported hotspots to search around. This begs the question of what these preconceptions were rooted in, and then we pretty much end up back where we started – either reports of “actual” historic finds discovered in such places, or instead contemporary expectations of where you would bury your own treasures. The latter are a lot more interesting for thinking about how people – past or present – conceive the function and character of the ‘treasure’ which, at least in high/later medieval literature, is a lot less ‘material’ than we take it for (c.f. Bon and Guerreau-Jalabert 2008, 96-7); the former is ultimately unknowable, precisely because it’s so ephemeral.

    For instance, just 23 records made pre-1750 describe what are clearly finds of hoards deposited c.973-1544, but to take this as remotely representative of the *actual* body of finds would be daft; while ostensibly royal privilege, the legal implementation of Treasure Trove was more often conducted very sloppily at the manor level, and a lot presumably slipped through the cracks. In such cases toponymy might be the only way we ever learn of the missing treasures. I suppose the problem is underlined by the wonderfully-named ‘Moneybury Hill’ on the Chilterns at Ringshall (Herts.; a great hiking route just off the Ridgeway, incidentally, and the neighbouring village of Aldbury hosts a mean squad of morris-men), which has yielded at least three separate Roman coin hoards since 1870. Does its name, which predates the first recorded discovery, in fact attest to an earlier discovery of the same character as the latter ones? Clearly we can never really know, but the subsequent finds might point that way. Should we then be surprised that Douglas’ ‘Golden-hoard’ yielded no gold? After all, if the place name attests to a historic discovery of *actual* gold (whether accidental or targeted – barrow diggers are recorded in Devon as early as 1324), then any traces of it might well have been removed long before he and his men rolled up spade in hand. The ‘country people’ might well expect to find treasure in artificial-looking mounds because others – possibly their own predecessors – had done so before…

    In any case, folklore and treasure have some curious intersections. Reporting on his visit to Brackley (Northants.), Leland recounts that at least one of its three ‘goodly crossis of stone’ had been ‘throwne doune…by theves that sowght for treaswre’. Johannes Dillinger suggests this may relate to now-unrecorded Reformation-era rumours about buried monastic treasures, but my own research is bringing up a number of late medieval hoards buried in or near to fields whose nineteenth-century names include ‘cross’ (or Welsh ‘croes’) elements, in most cases located nowhere near crossroads. If these names, as Nicola Whyte suggests, record the sites of since-vanished freestanding crosses, Leland’s treasure hunters might not be responding to speculative gossip, but instead be searching in exactly the places that they expected their contemporaries to bury treasure. No obvious answers yet, but I think more archival rummagings are in order!

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