A metal detectorist has described the ‘once in a lifetime’ experience of discovering a hoard of prehistoric gold coins on private land.

Stephen Eldridge, 68, is a retired carer living in Bovingdon and, in his later life, has become quite the amateur metal detectorist.

He credits the hobby – often engaged to help people recover their lost valuables – for acquainting him with a landowner in Ashley Green, on whose land he found 12 prehistoric gold coins which were sold to a private buyer in an auction on Thursday, September 28, for £30,350.

Watford Observer: Stephen EldridgeStephen Eldridge (Image: Stephen Eldridge)

Stephen discovered the first coin – a ‘defaced’ stater, described on Spink auctioneer’s website as “extremely rare” – in November 2019, before finding a further 11 artefacts over the following months.

“I made friends with the landowner after he called me up asking if I could help to find a lady’s wedding ring in his grounds – it turned out the ring was in her glove compartment, but it’s worked out pretty well for me now!

“I wasn’t sure what they were at first, but finding out that it was the biggest hoard of stater coins that's ever been found in the country was a great feeling.

Watford Observer: The goldThe gold (Image: Stephen Eldridge)

“It wasn’t even the money that had me excited – I’m just happy that I’m able to contribute to history and handle these coins that were probably once used by a Celtic warrior.”

The auctioning off of the coins was a long process, Stephen said, because of the involvement of the British Museum, whose experts wanted to analyse the artefacts in depth – more evidence that the large nature of the hoard beggared belief.

“The first thing I heard from the auctioneers at Spinx was that they didn’t believe what I had found and I think the people at the British Museum underestimated what it would sell for.

Watford Observer: Gold coinGold coin (Image: Stephen Eldridge)

“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime find. You never expect anything like this, and I just love metal detecting, being among wildlife and finding other bits and pieces like axe heads, hammered coins and gold rings." 

The auction sum will be split between Stephen and the landowner, with the 68-year-old planning to spend his cut on a couple of holidays, as well as, less enjoyably, paying off a few bills.

Watford Observer: Stephen EldridgeStephen Eldridge (Image: Stephen Eldridge)

“It was exciting to be at the auction house and see the number going up – but I think I would have been happy with whatever we got.

“I just love the history of it. I doubt I’ll ever find anything else that’s as valuable, but I can’t believe it happened once. Metal detecting is a great hobby!”