“The Mildenhall Treasure”

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Plot Description

In a note before the true story, Dahl explains how he read in the newspaper about a “remarkable find of Roman silver.” As true stories of treasure sent “shivers of electricity” through him, he immediately drove to Mildenhall to interview the ploughman involved. The man, Gordon Butcher, consented to tell Dahl what happened and Dahl used that as the basis for his story. After it was published in America, Dahl sent half the money to Butcher.

Spoiler warning! Gordon Butcher woke early on a cold January morning and kissed his wife and children good-bye. He bicycled through the biting wind to the home of Ford, where he left his tractor the day before. His task for the day was to plough up a field belonging to a man named Rolfe, who had hired Ford to do the job. Ford was busy, so he hired Butcher to do it for him. As the field was intended for sugar beets, Butcher had been instructed to plot it very deep, ten or twelve inches. In the afternoon, there was a sudden jolt and the wooden peg that held the plow to the tractor snapped. Butcher climbed down and began to dig away the soil to see what he had struck. He saw a large metal plate. That part of Suffolk was much favored by the Romans, so all the farmers knew of the possibility of Roman treasure being buried on their land. Butcher went to fetch Ford, who knew about this kind of thing. The two men returned to the field and began to dig out the plate. Eventually they pulled thirty-four separate pieces of encrusted ancient metal out of that hole. Ford had an advantage over Butcher, in that he knew the law regarding the finding of silver in Britain. All gold and silver dug from the ground is “Treasure Trove” and automatically property of the Crown. You are legally required to notify the police if you find some, and you will be compensated the market value of the item. But, it is the person who discovers the treasure that gets the reward, not the person who owns the land. As Butcher had been the one hired to do the job, the reward would be his. Ford cunningly managed to suggest to Butcher that the metal was worthless and Butcher allowed him to take it home without a thought. In secret, Ford polished all the pieces and was astonished with their brilliance and beauty. He kept them hidden, though, and four years passed. In 1946, after the War was over, his secret was discovered by a man named Dr. Fawcett, who happened to see one of the spoons that Ford had left sitting on the mantelpiece. The treasure was turned over to the police, who started an investigation. Eventually the finders were declared to be Ford and Butcher, who each received a thousand pounds compensation. Butcher had no idea that “had he been allowed to take the treasure home originally, he would have almost certainly have revealed its existence and would thus have become eligible to receive one hundred per cent of its value, which could have been anything between half a million and a million pounds.”

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