Blood, sweat and gold
PUBLISHED: 14:22 14 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:22 14 November 2016
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council's Brandon Country Park, delves into the heart of Suffolk to seek out legends of martyred kings and tales of lost treasures at Hoxne
The story goes like this. It was November 20 in the year 869. The invading Vikings had just been victorious at the Battle of Thetford. An Anglo-Saxon soldier had escaped the battle. He found a hiding place under a short bridge above a shallow brook. He cowered low in the damp, cold and dark. From above came the sounds of joy. A couple and their entourage were making their way to church to get married. At the bridge they stopped. His spurs caught a ray of sunlight. He’d been seen. The Viking invaders were alerted and Edmund, the Anglo Saxon King of the East Angles, was captured.
The story doesn’t end there of course, but to discover more I’ve travelled to Hoxne. The village nestles along a slope leading down to the very same stream where King Edmund had hidden over 1,000 years before. I stand on the bridge and peer about. There’s no glint of metal today, just the shine of the still, metallic black surface of the shallow stream known as the Goldbrook.
The brook runs beside Hoxne, a village bookended by a church and a pub. Behind the bridge stands St Edmund Hall. Built exactly 1,000 years after Edmund’s capture it serves as the village hall and a children’s nursery. High up is a stone carving. It depicts Edmund in hiding, sword and shield in hand, the wedding party above him.
Hoxne (pronounced ‘Hoxen’) is full of mystery and surprises. Having parked at the hall, and crossed Goldbrook Bridge, I’ve made my way to the village centre. On the village green is a carved wooden covered seat and an information panel tells of Bullock Fairs held here in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the top of the green a path runs between properties to emerge opposite the Church of St Peter and St Paul.
Inside, the church is slightly musty. Above the pews are the faint colours of 15th century murals. At the far end, beyond the pulpit, a long bench sits alone, on one end a broken carving. I can just make out the shape of a wolf protecting a king’s head. Along the north aisle there are information panels and here the full story of King Edmund comes together.
On that fateful November day, captured by the Vikings, Edmund was ordered to renounce his Christian faith. He refused, so he was tied to an oak tree and shot with arrows. To prevent a Christian burial, his head was removed and thrown into the forest. His followers searched for his remains and heard what sounded like “Here, here, here” from the woods. They followed the sounds and discovered a wolf, sitting, its forelegs outstretched, and between them the head of King Edmund. His remains were placed in a wooden chapel and then eventually placed in what is now Bury St Edmunds.
There’s another story told in the church. It also takes place in November, this time on November 16, 1992. A metal detector was helping a farmer find some tools lost in a field. He swung his detector back and forth until a beep stopped him. He dug down and unearthed Roman treasure. The discovery was staggering, nearly 15,000 gold and silver coins and over 200 other objects. It made national headlines.
I head out to see the place where the treasure was discovered. a rather flat, nondescript field. It’s a picture of emptiness, but on that late November night in 1992, this was anything but empty. The Hoxne Hoard dates from the 5th century, but no one knows for sure how it ended up in a field in Suffolk. Perhaps it was a family treasure trove, placed here as invading forces forced people out of their homes, but never reclaimed. We’ll never know the full story.
My walk continues southwards, looping along country roads beyond Hoxne and I soon reach the hamlet of Hoxne Cross Street. I need to make a short detour.
A short flight of wooden steps leads off the pavement. It rises to a view of a green field freshly planted with sugar beet. Beyond are the rounded shapes of oak trees. A wooden finger post points to the centre of the field. I can just make out the faintest of paths and walk on.
In the centre stands a small monument, surrounded by nettles and guarded by four white wooden posts. There’s an inscription: Saint Edmund the Martyr AD 870 Oak Tree Fell Aug 1843 By Its Own Weight’. This was once the site of a 1,000-year-old oak tree. When it fell over, the farmer cut it up and found, deep in its trunk, arrowheads.
Could this have been the very same tree where King Edmund was tied and shot? We’ll never know for sure. But it makes a great story and adds to the mysteries that surround Hoxne