Stolen 1,000-year-old coin returned to Malmesbury Abbey

This Is Wiltshire: Rev Neill Archer with the returned coin Rev Neill Archer with the returned coin

A tiny 1,000-year-old coin stolen from Malmesbury Abbey has been recovered.

The silver penny, minted in Malmesbury and worth £1,500, was taken from a display case in the abbey in June.

Despite at one point looking like a lost cause an anonymous tip-off helped Wiltshire police arrest a man in Surrey and lead to the return of the coin, which is dated 1042 and has a picture of Edward the Confessor on one side.

Malmesbury Abbey warden Chris Simons has been involved with the story from the beginning.

She said: “Last June a visitor reported that a coin was missing from its locked presentation box.

“At first we assumed someone had put it in the vault for safe keeping but no-one knew where it was.

“We realised it had been stolen when we discovered that if you leaned heavily enough on the case, about half an inch of space opened between the door and the shelving.”

The abbey reported the theft to the police but were told the chances of tracing the coin were extremely slim.

Some months later an anonymous caller rang the abbey bookshop with a tip off.

Dr Simons said: “The caller said his friend had been bragging about stealing the coin and had taken it to the Finds Liaison Officer in Surrey. Apparently he was a metal detecting fanatic and claimed he had found it in a field near Tetbury.”

The Finds Liaison Officer had inspected the coin and researched its history and then after a month had returned it to the ‘finder’.

Dr Simons said: “The coin had received a great deal of interest from the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. “It turns out the coin was worth a lot more than we expected.”

Wiltshire police heard about the alleged discover and went to Surrey and arrested the man, who claimed he couldn’t find the coin.

Police said if he didn’t return it they would press charges.

“He eventually returned the coin and it is now safely back in our vault,” said Dr Simons.

Abbey vicar Neill Archer is delighted. He said: “2009 is a year when we are putting new facilities in the Abbey and repositioning some of our artefacts and museum pieces.

“But we had no intention of repositioning our ancient coin in someone’s back pocket.

“It is a fascinating piece and we are glad it is safely locked in the Abbey.

“We are very grateful to the police for getting it back and we look forward to securely displaying it in the future.”

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