Monday, June 10, 2019

Buried Treasure

Buried Treasure. What a great name for a book.  Oh, yes. The mystery, the intrigue...the riches.Who among us wouldn't rather unearth a hidden treasure than win a lottery? Marry rich? Or write a New York Times Best Seller? Well, okay then--forget that last example. 

Today, author Gilli Allan shares her family's folklore regarding a genuine, historic treasure and introduces us to her most recent novel, BURIED TREASURE.

I've read Allan's previous novels and love her writing. Her style is unique, free from genre constraints. Her plots are always compelling. Her characters, to die for. 

Take it away, Gilli!

Author, Gilli Allen
Not many people dig up treasure, but my uncle did …. or did he?

My childish imagination was very inspired by the idea of archaeology – the closest science there is to treasure-hunting.  I was probably influenced by the fact that my great uncle, Sydney Ford, ‘discovered’ the hoard of Roman silver tableware, named the Mildenhall Treasure, on his Suffolk farm during WW2.

I put discovered in inverted commas because on more recent investigation, the story is a lot less straightforward than uncle Syd ever admitted to.

I admit to plundering Syd’s story when I began to write BURIED TREASURE, a book with an archaeological theme.  In his account (which I heard from his own lips), he was driving the tractor and plough which turned up the hoard from one of his fields. He took it home and cleaned it up. At the time, he thought it was pewter.  He tried to declare the find and took a piece to London - to the British Museum - to show them and ask their advice.
Reputed treasure-finder, Sydney Ford

However, because it was war-time the British Museum was closed, so he kept it. What else could he do?  At Christmas he kept his fruit and nuts in the great dish. But a nosy neighbour tipped off the police and the hoard was taken away from him after the war, so he never got any credit for finding it, nor any recompense.

This was his story and of course we all believed it.

In more recent years I’ve learned more about the ‘official account’.  It was not Sydney but his farm worker, Gordon Butcher, who turned up the treasure. It wasn’t even found on my uncle’s farm at all, but on neighbouring land that he was looking after. He was unable or unwilling to be clear about the specific location where it was unearthed, the account changing every time he was interviewed on the subject.  
Ford's Great Great-nephew, Tom Williams, poses with the Mildenhall Treasure

Partly because of this vagueness, there has even been doubt cast over the fact the hoard originated in the Mildenhall area at all.  Roman villas have been found around that location, but nothing of sufficient grandeur to have owned such a service has ever been excavated in the environs.

Other suggestions I’ve read, linked to the previous point, is that it was stolen (from whom or from where?) and had been hidden by twentieth century villains or by airman flying from Italy into the airfield at Mildenhall during the war.

The treasure wasn’t snatched from him unexpectedly, as Syd would have it later. He did know in advance he was going to be relieved of his fruit bowl and the rest, apparently, and (because he knew they were coming) rumour has it he was able to keep back a cache of coins or some other choice artifact from the hoard.

Declared 'treasure trove', the Mildenhall Treasure can now be seen in the British Museum.  Contrary to Uncle Syd’s claim, he was recompensed - £2,000 divided between Sydney and his ploughman, Mr Butcher – but he never did get any credit.You won’t see his name attached to the treasure at the British Museum.    

Great Uncle Syd, was a favourite. We always loved seeing him.  He was mischievous and rascally and had a definite twinkle in his eye which, looking back, I suspect was something to do with the fact he knew he was fibbing. But when I was young, I took on board the story as he recounted it. Of course it was true.  Now, though?  I can quite believe him capable of a degree of roguery, but I don’t suppose we will ever know the real story; Syd is long gone and unable to provide any answers.   



Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again.

But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve.

Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems. 
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood - a hobby pursued throughout her teenage years. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.

After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as a commercial artist, and only began writing again when she became a mother.

Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.

She is published by Accent Press and each of her books, TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL has won a ‘Chill with a Book’ award.

Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams (pictured above with the Mildenhall Treasure), is also a writer. His most recent work, published by William Collins, is ‘Viking Britain’.

Connect with Gilli Allen and her books through the following links:   (@gilliallan)



Gilli Allan said...

Thank you so much for having me, Eileen. I enjoyed telling Syd Ford's story. I just wish there was a more satisfying conclusion that neatly tied all the ends. Even my grandfather's sister, my Aunty Ethel, probably didn't know the truth. As it was a post-war second marriage for both of them, I daresay Syd kept his secrets close to his chest.

And by the way, I'm an Allan not an Allen. An easy mistake to make but mine is the Scottish spelling! gxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Eileen Schuh: said...

I apologize for spelling your name wrong. I didn't know Allan was the Scottish spelling. I've corrected my errors.

Thank you for guesting on Magic of the Muses.

Lizzie Lamb said...

Great story. Very well written and one if the very few blog posts I’ve read to the end. I took my class of primary school to the BM every year to see various ‘treasures’. They loved it. Great work and good luck with the new novel.

Eileen Schuh: said...

Thank you for visiting Magic of the Muses, Lizzie. Your kind comments are appreciated. I'm with you on wishing Allan lots of luck with her new novel.

Gilli Allan said...

I'm honoured Lizzie. Glad to have held your attention! Hope the book is as successful. The BM is a brilliant place. Son has worked there on and off, and we had the chance to go the pre-opening gala of the VIKINGS LIFE and LEGEND exhibition which he helped curate. We've even been quizzed by an expert on the Mildenhall Treasure to see if we could throw any more light on the story. We couldn't! gx

Eileen Schuh: said...

For those not in the know, the BM that the ladies are talking about is the British Museum, where the Mildenhall Treasure is on display.