It all started a long time before Lance and Andy and their dreams of finding treasure in a lonely field touched our hearts in the BBC TV comedy Detectorists, but their whimsical story has renewed interest in the hobby, as members of the Congleton and District Metal Detecting Club explain

'When you get that signal you wonder what might it be. It's like Christmas every time'

Membership of the Congleton and District Metal Detecting Club was dwindling until Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones struck TV gold with their BAFTA-winning BBC series Detectorists.

The gentle comedy tracking the lives, loves and metal-detecting ambitions of unlikely friends Andy (Crook) and Lance (Jones), ran from 2014 to 2017, with Christmas specials in 2015 and 2022.

Great British Life: Detectorists Lance and Andy (Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook) in the BBC series. Detectorists Lance and Andy (Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook) in the BBC series. (Image: BBC)

The drama, which can be watched on BBC iPlayer, has raised the fortunes of detecting clubs across the country, not least in the countryside around Congleton.

Treasurer Mark Wayman says: 'Mackenzie Crook who wrote the series is a real detectorist. The equipment they use in the show is top of the range. It's very realistic, but funny as well.

'It's a great series and has sparked a lot of interest. There are a lot more people doing it now and it is surprising how many are joining in.

'Our membership has snowballed recently and is up to 50 members. Not many years ago we were looking at getting only six or seven to a club dig. We have had to close our club to new members – farmers don't want too many people on their land at the same time.'

Great British Life: Congleton and District Metal Detecting Group on a dig near Tegg's Nose. Congleton and District Metal Detecting Group on a dig near Tegg's Nose. (Image: Kurt Thomas)

Mark, who is 70 and lives in Congleton, started detecting in the 1980s. After a break of 20 or so years, he got back into it in the early 2000s and hasn't stopped. In fact, he has just invested in a new top-of-the-range detector, prices of which range from £1,400 to £1,700.

The dream of many detectorists, he admits, is to find genuine treasure and make a fortune.

'There is a chance you are going to find something really important,' says Mark. 'I've seen somebody dig up a hoard of 200 silver Roman coins at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere.'

However, most of the day-to-day discoveries are on a smaller scale, certainly in his experience. He says: 'Most people are happy to find Victorian pennies and most love finding medieval hammered coins. You don't get many Roman finds around here but there are a lot of Elizabeth I silver coins found in this area.

'I found two gold coins in the past three years. One was from about 300 years ago – a George I half guinea. And last year I found a Victorian half-sovereign.'

Great British Life: Steve Deakes and Mark Wayman on the hunt for buried treasure. Steve Deakes and Mark Wayman on the hunt for buried treasure. (Image: Kurt Thomas)

Not surprisingly, strict rules govern the finding of historic metal items. Under the Treasure Act, detectorists have to report anything that could be treasure to their local Finds Liaison Officer, usually based at a local museum or university. These are mainly objects, other than a single coin, whose weight is at least ten per cent gold or silver and at least 300 years old,

Either the detectorist or the Finds Liaison Officer will alert the area's coroner, within 14 days of its discovery, who will determine what happens next.

If it is declared treasure, the find will be offered for sale to a museum at a price set by an independent board of experts, with the money split equally between the finder and the landowner.

There is an unlimited fine and a prison sentence for not reporting treasure.

So falling foul of the law can cost dear, and Mark relays a cautionary tale from Herefordshire.

Great British Life: A detectorist's best friend. A detectorist's best friend. (Image: Kurt Thomas)

'Two people found a hoard of Viking artefacts and thought it would be a good idea to sell them on Ebay... they ended up in jail.'

His story refers to two metal detectorists who unearthed a stash of gold jewellery, silver ingots and coins buried more than 1,000 years ago by a Viking warrior. The find, which went unreported, is estimated to have been worth £12 million. The detectorists, who did not have permission to scout on the land, received hefty prison terms.

Detectorists make agreements with local farmers to survey their land, often paying a small fee. At the Congleton club, many landowners have waived their fees over the years and members have instead donated it to the North West Air Ambulance.

Not all important finds have monetary value, as Congleton detectorists know only too well. Back in 2018, former club chairman, the late Rick Firth, dug up its most significant discovery at Swettenham – a rare sword dating back to the late Bronze Age.

Great British Life: The Swettenham Sword is now at Congleton Museum. The Swettenham Sword is now at Congleton Museum. (Image: Congleton Museum)

Mark says: 'Rick got a signal and found five bits of a Bronze Age sword. It was incredibly important – the only one ever found in Cheshire. The only bit missing was its tip. It is the most important find by anybody in our group.'

The Swettenham sword was donated to the Congleton Museum, where it is on show to visitors.

As for Mark, he plans to keep going, whatever the season or weather. 'You can find things anywhere. You never know what the next signal is going to turn up. That's the excitement of it; that's what keeps you going.'



Congleton and District detectorists reveal what keeps them going, come rain or shine...

Name: Steve Deakes

Age: 65

Lives: Macclesfield

Occupation: Retired fireman and secretary of Congleton and District Metal Detecting Club

Background: Steve started metal detecting five years ago, inspired by his friend Mark Wayman, the club treasurer

'I really enjoy it. I don't fish, but it must be a bit like that – people sit looking at a lake all day and occasionally something happens. Metal detecting is so relaxing and there are so many facets to it. You can do your research before you go somewhere new and then there is the mystery of getting a signal and digging it up. About 99 times out of 100 it is just junk, but if you do find something you get a buzz.

'You must have all-weather gear. Unlike the TV show where the detectorists go out on sunny days, the best time of the year is in autumn and winter. In summer you have animals in the fields and crops up to your waist.'

Best find: 'This year I found two gold rings, so did a little gold dance. It took Mark 30 years to find gold!. I like coins, they have a definite date. I found an Elizabeth I hammered coin. They used to clip bits off silver coins and a forger would make a new one out of the clippings.'

Dream find: 'I'm into my history so would love to find something of historic significance. On one of my first digs, my friend Rick Frith dug up a Bronze Age sword. I was having my lunch and watched him pull out something like a 12-inch ruler. By the look on his face, he knew what it was. I didn't have a clue and was just eating my sandwich wondering what all the fuss was about. Then between us, we managed to find other bits of it. It is now in Congleton Museum.'

Great British Life: A Charles 1 shilling found by John Pemberton. A Charles 1 shilling found by John Pemberton. (Image: John Pemberton)

Name: John Pemberton

Age: 57

Lives: Moston, Sandbach

Occupation: Retired accountant

Background: John took up metal detecting just over a year ago. As a former rugby player and now a rugby referee he was looking for a new hobby; something active but not too strenuous. He is also interested in local history, is a coin collector, and a volunteer at the Congleton Museum.

'I am loving metal detecting. I haven't found anything of great value but you always find things that have a little bit of history to them. You can research the item then take it to the monthly meeting to show and share it with everyone else.'

Best find: 'As a coin collector it is nice to find a decent coin. I have a Charles I shilling from 1633 – that was a nice find. On our dig at Meg Lane at Sutton I found a medieval spindle whorl, which women used to spin thread into yarn. I registered that with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is a voluntary scheme and allows anything of historic interest (that falls outside the Treasure Act) to be registered. It builds up a picture of what is being found in the UK. It is everybody's history to be shared.'

Dream find: 'Anything that has historic interest.'

Great British Life: Fiona Cooley's favourite button found at a dig. Fiona Cooley's favourite button found at a dig. (Image: Fiona Cooley)

Name: Fiona Cooley

Age: 41

Lives: Congleton

Occupation: Editor and mum to Mallory, four

Background: As fans of TV's Detectorists, Fiona arranged a metal detecting taster day for herself and her husband Andy and she ended up getting the bug.

'It was absolutely like Detectorists and I was really pleased. We were out in the fields, in nature, surrounded by lots of friendly people. When you get that signal you wonder what might it be. It's like Christmas every time.

'Besides the physical boost of metal detecting, the hobby can be a boon for mental health too, particularly for men who sometimes struggle to talk. It's very calming – the point is to engage with history and be patient. Not everybody finds a hoard when they first go out.'

Best find: 'I haven't found anything magnificent but I did dig up a George III cartwheel penny, which is a really large coin. I love buttons coming up too. Some are really pretty and I'd love to know more about them and who wore them.'

Dream find: 'I'd love to find a spindle whorl, party because I crochet and do yarn crafts. I'd really love to find something from Viking or Anglo-Saxon times, but given where I currently detect and the frequency of when I get out I am unlikely to find these things. I'm planning to go to a couple of bigger digs further afield where there is more history in the ground.'