Controversy Erupts Over Mildenhall Treasure
A community in England is demanding that one of Britain’s finest treasure finds, famously written about by Roald Dahl, be renamed. It is angered that the treasure is called after a neighboring community. The row is over the naming rights to the ‘Mildenhall Treasure’, which is an extraordinary hoard of Roman-era silverware. The world-famous British Museum has stepped in to resolve the controversy.
The row is over the correct name of the Mildenhall Treasure. This treasure was found in Suffolk in England during WWII. It was named after the local parish Mildenhall. However, the parishioners of West Row believe that the treasure should be named after their district. West Row only became a parish in 2019 and now locals are demanding that the treasure be renamed to reflect where it was found.
Part of the 34-piece Mildenhall Treasure collection at the British Museum. (I, Estel / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Claiming and naming a treasure
The BBC quotes a local West Row councilor, John Smith, as saying the people of the parish ‘felt slighted’ by the fact that the treasure is named after Mildenhall. They are particularly aggrieved that West Row has not received any recognition despite it being found there. Councilor Smith also went on to claim that:
‘Everyone here is connected with the treasure in some way. It is who we are and it will never make sense until the right name is in place’.
The treasure was found in 1942 by a local man George Butcher, a plowman. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it was unearthed during ‘the plowing of a field at West Row, 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of Mildenhall’. Butcher alerted his boss Sydney Ford, an agricultural engineer, to the find, which they believed to be pewter because the objects were so black. He took the treasure home and placed some of the valuables on his mantlepiece.
Some reject this story and claim that the hoard was looted abroad and brought back to Britain and planted in Suffolk in secret, in order to cover-up what was a criminal offence.
The great plate of Bacchus in the Mildenhall Treasure; taken in the British Museum. (I, Estel / CC BY-SA 3.0)
It was only after the war that someone told Ford that the pewter was actually silver and he reported the discovery to the relevant authorities. According to the Mildenhall and District Museum, the ‘hoard was declared Treasure Trove on July 1st 1946 and became Crown property’. Both Ford and Butcher received a substantial cash reward.
The treasure trove was given to the British Museum in London, where it has become very popular and replicas can be seen at the Mildenhall and District Museum. The treasure dates to the 4 th century AD, when most of Britain was part of the Roman Empire. It was found not far from some Roman ruins. It is believed that the treasure was buried during the 3 rd Century Crisis when the Roman Empire was beset by barbarian invaders and internal problems. The likelihood is that the owners buried it for safekeeping and, for reasons unknown, were never able to retrieve it.
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Detail of imagery on the great Mildenhall dish. (Jon Himoff / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Treasure owned by Christians
The Mildenhall Treasure consists of 34 pieces of silver tableware. It includes plates, dishes, spoons, and bowls. The most important piece in the collection is the so-called ‘Great Dish’, that weighs 18 pounds (8.2 kg) and is 2 feet in diameter. According to the Mildenhall and District Museum, ‘Its finely executed reliefs show a band of dancing, drunken revellers including Hercules, Pan, and Bacchus, the god of wine’. In the centre of the ‘Great Dish’ is the face of the Roman or Greek God of the Sea.
Two small silver plates also have reliefs of Bacchus and Pan similar to the Great Dish. There are also six flanged bowls, which have ornate reliefs and a covered bowl. Some of the motifs on the tableware indicate the probable identity of the owners. Some of the spoons have the Christian Chi-Rho symbol and may have been Christening gifts.
One of a pair of silver dishes from the Mildenhall Treasure; decorated with figures of Pan, a nymph and other mythological creatures, all in relief; ring foot on underside; inscribed 'EVATTPLOY' on the base. (British Museum / CC0)
Controversy over name
In response to the calls of the West Hall campaigners the British Museum’s Richard Hobbs, a curator, stated that the name was correct and that such finds are "invariably named after the local parish in which they are discovered" according to the BBC. He also notes that the coroner who declared the treasure to be the property of the Crown stated that it was found in Mildenhall.
At the time, the find was made in the old parish of Mildenhall. The British Museum did not play a part in naming the silver tableware. Mr Hobbs stated that in his ‘view this remains the most logical way to describe it since it's the name of the parish in which the discovery was made’ reports the BBC.
This is rejected by Councilor Smith and others in West Hall. They want it to be named after their parish so that the area’s rich Roman heritage can be promoted and celebrated. Campaigners for West Hall have promised to continue to fight to rename the treasure and it seems likely that the controversy will continue.
Top image: Close up of the marvelous design of the Great Dish of the Mildenhall Treasure. Source: Ian
By Ed Whelan