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Thetford metal detectorist finds medieval bishop’s seal which could collect £1,500 at auction





A medieval bishop’s seal from William the Conqueror's reign which was found by a metal detectorist is set to sell for £1,500.

The 1,000-year-old copper alloy seal matrix features a bull being attacked by a lion.

It bears the inscription, WILLEMI DE MARTHAM (seal of William of Martham) who was Bishop of Thetford in 1085.

The ancient seal, seen with its wax imprint, belonged to Norfolk’s Bishop of Thetford in 1085. Picture: Nathan Pynn
The ancient seal, seen with its wax imprint, belonged to Norfolk’s Bishop of Thetford in 1085. Picture: Nathan Pynn

Researchers discovered he was the son of Robert Sire de Belfou, who fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The seal is part of a collection amassed by a late metal detectorist who spent 40 years digging up treasure around the UK.

It is expected to sell for £1,500 but could fetch far more when it goes under the hammer at Hanson’s Auctioneers on January 30.

The valuable seal was spotted amid a vast collection of metal detecting finds accumulated by a metal detectorist from Thetford. Picture: Nathan Pynn
The valuable seal was spotted amid a vast collection of metal detecting finds accumulated by a metal detectorist from Thetford. Picture: Nathan Pynn

A spokesperson for the auction house, which is owned by Bargain Hunt star Charles Hanson, said: “Items like this are rarely unearthed so they’re desirable.

“A previous clergy seal belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury achieved £5,600 at Hansons but this new find pre-dates that by 300 years.

“It’s circa 1085, the time when the Bishop of Thetford was granted Martham, a village in Norfolk.

“This was during the time of William the Conquer who died in 1087.

The wax imprint of the seal, made by its late owner and found with the seal. Picture: Nathan Pynn
The wax imprint of the seal, made by its late owner and found with the seal. Picture: Nathan Pynn

“It could surprise us under the hammer because bishop’s seals simply don't come up often.

“It’s a scarce historical treasure and we owe its discovery to one man’s historical passion.

“It’s part of a lifetime collection of more than 1,000 objects amassed over 40 years by a metal detectorist from Thetford.

“Sadly, he has passed away. His wife is parting with his finds to ensure they live on as mementos of history.

“They include hammered medieval coins and numerous ancient artefacts. It’s taken months to sort and catalogue hundreds of items.

“His passions in life were nature, wildlife and metal detecting. He loved anything ancient.

“He had a particular interest in the Saxon era and medieval seals.

“He enjoyed researching the objects he found and developed a deep knowledge of history.

“The seal must have been one of his most prized possessions.

“It sparked a research trail which revealed there was a Bishop of Thetford, William Beaufoe.

“Both Martham, in Norfolk and Gunton, in Suffolk, were granted to Beaufoe by William the Conqueror (1066-1087).

“When Beaufoe died in about 1091 he gave Martham, with many other manors, to his priory at Thetford.

“The connections to Norfolk run deep. The surname Beaufoe originates from the county.

“William de Beaufou, a Norman Baron, Bishop of Thetford and Chancellor to the Conqueror, was recorded in the Domesday Book census of 1086.

“It’s an exceptional find from an exceptional collection, a lasting legacy of a man with a true passion for history.”