A METAL detectorist has returned an 18-carat gold ring to its 19th-century owner’s great-great-great-great niece.

Geoff Smith usually finds fishing weights, coins, and keys on Lancing beach, along with the odd lost iPhone.

But earlier this month, the 51-year-old from Sompting stumbled across a gold ring sparkling in the sand.

“I didn’t even have to use my metal detector”, he said. “It was just poking out.”

“At first I thought it was a bit of rubbish. It looked like the metal fitting at the end of a lightbulb, and I was about to chuck it away. It nearly ended up in the bin.

“But then I saw the inscription.”

Engraved on the gold band was a name and a date: Elizabeth Honywood, 29 Sep 1834.

Geoff asked for help on an online metal detecting group. After some digging, it emerged that Elizabeth was born in 1784 and died in 1834 in Horsham. The ring likely commemorates her death, and was probably designed to be mounted on her husband’s cane.

“That’s when the chase began”, Geoff said. He always tries to return precious finds, and the ring was no exception. He said: “It’s a family heirloom. Anything traceable should go back to the relatives.”

He posted on a Horsham Facebook group, where amateur historian Jennie Hartwell helped him trace Elizabeth’s ancestors to a family still living in the town.

On Tuesday night, Geoff met Elizabeth Honywood’s great-great-great-great niece, Amanda Edwards, and returned the ring.

“They were well chuffed”, he said.

Holding the ring in the palm of her hand, and inspecting it with her reading glasses,

Amanda said she was “amazed”. She hopes to exhibit it in a museum.

Geoff said: “I’ve never found anything like this before. It’s a once in a lifetime find – and a once in a lifetime story. I love happy endings.”