Historic gold unicorn ring buried for nearly 400 years found near Milton Keynes

Stunning signet ring from the 17th century could sell for 'a small fortune'

By Hannah Richardson
Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 3:46 pm

A buried treasure, lost for nearly 400 years, could sell for a five-figure sum at auction after being discovered by a metal detectorist near Milton Keynes.

The impressive 17th-century gold signet ring was discovered on farmland at Thornton, near Milton Keynes, in 2018.

Engravings on the ring, which weighs more than 20g, indicate that it belonged to a member of a noble family.

The reverse shows a coat of arms

Such is its historical significance and pedigree that it is being auctioned with a guide price of £10,000-£12,000.

Historical experts at Hansons Auctioneers, in Derbyshire, say the ring has been expertly crafted so that the bezel swivels to reveal an engraved unicorn’s head - which is the crest of the Curwen family of Workington, in Cumbria.

The other side shows the family coat of arms charged with a crescent.

This indicates that the ring belonged to Thomas Curwen, second son of Sir Henry Curwen MP (1581-1623).

The unicorn image

Thomas Curwen was born in 1602 and inherited the family estate following the death of his elder brother, Sir Patricius Curwen, 1st Baronet, in 1664.

The estate included the 15th-century Workington Hall, where Mary, Queen of Scots sought refuge in 1568 in the immediate aftermath of her defeat to Elizabeth I at the Battle of Langside.

The unicorn head crest is an echo of early Curwen family links to Galloway, Scotland.

Gateposts at Workington Hall are surmounted by carved stone unicorns’ heads.

The two faces of the 17th-century signet ring

Thomas, who never married, died on February 24 1672, and was buried at Workington.

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “The ring had travelled far from its ancestral home but we will never know how and why.

"It was discovered in 2018 by a metal detectorist on farmland at Thornton in Buckinghamshire, and could realise a small fortune at auction.

“Finds like this are fascinating - we’re thrilled to be offering an object with such historical pedigree.

The bezel swivels to reveal both images

"Not only is it a stunning item of jewellery, it’s an important family heirloom and a fascinating piece of Cumbria’s local history.”

The ring, which has been examined by experts at the British Museum and reported as ‘treasure’, will be auctioned off to the highest bidder and proceeds from the sale will be shared with the owner of the land where the ring was found.

The unicorn ring is being offered in Hansons’ Historical Coins and Antiquities auction tomorrow, Thursday, December 9, =at Etwall Auction Centre, Derbyshire.

To find out more, email [email protected]