THIEVES have stolen thousands of pounds' worth of rare Saxon silver coins from the Museum of St Albans, which represent the rich history and heritage of the district.

St Albans District Council has said the 30 coins were taken from a locked display cabinet in the Medieval Gallery at the Hatfield Road museum.

It is thought the locks on the cabinet were broken before the coins, estimated to have an insurance value in the region of £12,000, were taken.

The council says the theft occured on or around the weekend of Saturday, January 7.

A sixth or seventh century silver hand pin, discovered in excavations at St Albans Abbey, were also taken from the same case.

The coins were part of a hoard of Saxon silver coins found at the Abbey Orchard in St Albans in 1969 during an excavation by the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society, within the area of the monastic buildings attached to the Abbey, prior to the construction of Abbey Primary School.

The museum understands that the coins, buried during a troubled period towards the end of the ninth century, were likely to be the life savings of one individual, who had hoped to return and recover them when the threat of attack had lessened.

The coin hoard contained a selection of Saxon pence and half pence coins. The council says the pence coins are all of the Lunette type because the moneyer's name appears on and between the two half moon shaped ornaments on the reverse.

The one half penny is of the London monogram reverse type.

Richard Shwe, head of community services at the district council, said: "The loss of these items is a blow for the museum, and indeed for local people. They are part of the heritage of St Albans."

The council has closed the upstairs gallery at the museum while police investigate the thefts. The council has also commissioned a security review of its museums.

Anyone with information can telephone the police non-emergency number 101.