A pristine 400-year-old gold seal ring found by a metal detectorist in the Peak District could sell for tens of thousands of pounds at auction later this week.
The high carat gold ring, which is set with a blue-tinted Chalcedony gemstone carved with the initials ‘GL’ and three candles, dates back to somewhere between 1600 and 1650.
Seal rings were commonly engraved with initials or a family crest and were used as a portable means to stamp hot wax to seal an envelope or sign a document.
The ring was discovered by a 64-year-old retired fishmonger from North Derbyshire in the grounds of Castern Hall, a Grade II listed manor house, near Ilam in Staffordshire’s Manifold Valley.
Experts believe the initials on the ring refer to its former owner Geoffrey Lowe, a 17th century ancestor of the Hurt family that currently occupies Castern Hall.
The stunning object is due to be sold by Hansons Auctioneers’ Historica Auction, which runs from Thursday to Friday this week, with an estimate of between £25,000 and £30,000 with a starting price of £15,000.
The 400-year-old gold ring is set to fetch £30,000 at auction after being unearthed by a fishmonger. The ring – which is set with a purple-blue Chalcedony gemstone carved with the initials ‘GL’ and three candles – is set to fetch up to £30,000 on Thursday. Pictured with a red wax imprint
‘We suspect the ring may have been buried on purpose as it was found hidden under a large round stone, making it buried treasure, rather than a ring that simply fell off someone’s finger,’ said Adam Staples, a valuer at Hansons.
‘There are legends about buried treasure at Castern Hall and it could be that the ring was left there on purpose hundreds of years ago.
‘The ring itself is an astonishing size. It’s too big for my thumb but may have been worn over a glove.’
The stunning object was discovered in the grounds of Castern Hall, also known as Casterne Hall, in February 2018 and it’s been at the British Museum for most of the time since.
The house, with 182 acres, was recently put on the market by current owner Charles Hurt and family as ‘it’s no longer financially viable to keep the place’ due to Covid, despite the fact it’s been in the family for six centuries.
Castern Hall in the Peak District. The house was substantially featured in Agatha Christie’s Poirot in the episode ‘The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge’ as well as a 1999 episode of Jonathan Creek
Castern Hall, also known as Casterne Hall, is a privately owned 18th-century country house in the Manifold Valley, near Ilam, Staffordshire, England
The retired fishmonger who found the ring, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been metal detecting for more than 40 years.
‘This is the best and most important find I’ve ever made,’ he said.
‘I got a strong signal and started digging down but hit a large, round flat stone. When I lifted it up, I found the mammoth gemstone.
‘It would have been made for an extremely wealthy and sizeable man because the ring itself is unusually large.’
The stunning high carat gold jewellery was discovered by a metal detectorist in the grounds of a Grade II-listed Georgian manor house in the Peak District in 2018
Mystery still surrounds how the ring came to be buried underneath a large stone – but is thought to have been deliberately hidden hundreds of years ago
Castern Hall, which has appeared on TV in episodes of Peaky Blinders, Poirot and Jonathan Creek, has been home to the Hurt family since the 16th century.
Current owner Charles Hurt said: ‘In 1671 my direct ancestors Nicholas Hurt and Elizabeth Lowe married, linking the estates of Castern and Alderwasley in Derbyshire.
‘The Lowes and their ancestors had been given Alderwasley by the King in the 13th century. So, one obvious candidate for the ‘L’ on the ring is Lowe.’
Family records have identified the ring’s owner as possibly being Geoffrey Lowe, who died in 1637 and was buried in the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Denby, Derbyshire.
The church houses an impressive alabaster memorial to the Lowe family, who have been squires of the church since the 15th century.
‘One theory is that the ring was passed down to Elizabeth by her uncle John Lowe, who she nursed on his deathbed and was hidden during a dispute over John’s will following his death in 1690,’ said Staples.
Pictured, the Lowe family tree. Family records have identified the ring’s owner as possibly being Geoffrey Lowe, who died in 1637
Pictured, Hansons valuer Adam Staples. The delightful ring will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, which is in Etwall, Derbyshire
‘The legends of buried treasure were sparked because vicious family disputes began to rage within minutes of the death of John Lowe.
‘Elizabeth inherited the Alderwasley estate from John but had to fight her other uncles in court before she could live there.
‘It’s thought the ring and other valuables were moved to Castern and hidden whilst the matter was being settled.
‘I’ve done a huge amount of research, with help from the Hurt family, to try to work out who the ring belonged to. It’s a rather mysterious but wonderful find.’
Hansons’ Historica auction, which will include artefacts, antiquities, coins and banknotes, runs from Thursday to Friday (February 25 to 26) this week.
The ring will be offered in day one of the Historica auction, on Thursday.
‘It is lot 103 in the sale and should be up around 12:00 to 12:30 (dependent on how quickly we move through the other lots,’ said Staples.
Many of Britain’s stately homes are in crisis as public tours banned
Noel Coward may have sung ‘The stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand, to prove the upper classes have still the upper hand’ – but that was in 1938, and today they are yet another casualty of coronavirus.
While the landed owners of such magnificent historic piles might not receive – nor expect – much sympathy for their plight in a pandemic that has affected so many, the financial impact of the lockdown has been substantial.
Caroline and Charles Hurt try to stay ‘unsentimental’ over the sale of a property that’s been in the family for six centuries
Public tours have been banned and essential revenues from the use of the properties as wedding venues or film sets has all-but dried up.
Matters have been exacerbated by the fall-out from revelations that some estates were built on proceeds from the slave trade.
‘This year has been a total washout,’ says James Probert of the Historic Houses Association, which represents 1,500 properties, around half of which normally operate public commercial ventures from gift shops to holiday accommodation.
As a result of the crisis, many properties have been put up for sale.
Typical of those badly hit is the Casterne Hall estate in the Peak District. The house, with 182 acres, has been put on the market by Charles Hurt, who says: ‘My family has owned the estate since the 1400s but it’s no longer financially viable to keep the place going. The coronavirus restrictions were the final nail in the coffin.’
He and his wife Caroline had been dependent on the income generated from special events and from renting the house out for weekend parties. The Grade II*-listed 18th Century property high above the Manifold Valley has been used for several TV period dramas, including Peaky Blinders and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.