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The Staffordshire Hoard

As I mentioned earlier, we went to visit the Staffordshire Hoard this weekend, at a temporary exhibition in the Stoke-on-Trent Potteries Art Gallery and Museum. We had tried the previous weekend, but the queues were three-and-a-half hours long, we were told, so we decided that the easiest way to make the visit was to stay overnight, get up early, and join the queue as early as we could. We were there at 09:05 which wasn’t a moment too soon, as the queue was about to reach the three hour mark. Fortunately the museum staff opened the doors an hour early, and we soon reached the two-hour-wait mark, and then made it inside within a few minutes.

Once inside, however, the queue’s movement slowed down quite considerably, so we were quite pleased when some of the museum volunteers showed up dressed in costume to keep us occupied. King Raedwald was the most gorgeous of all of them, dressed as he was in a full replica of the Sutton Hoo burial armour, including helmet, sword and belt decorations, purse, and various other fittings.

This was a good indication of the sorts of things we were to see when we finally got to see the treasure, for it consists mostly of jewel-inlaid gold armour and decorative pieces, some for weapons, and others for garments. Interspersed with these war-like objects were a few with more religious overtones, although they had been treated less than respectfully, and were freuquently badly damaged.

We finally saw the treasure after a little less than two hours of queueing. The pieces were not very clean. It seems that it is forbidden to attempt their proper conservation until after the ownership has been finally decided. You can still see the mud in the detailed view linked to this image of one of our favourite pieces. This image, like all the others in this post, is linked to a larger version, although this is the only one from a set on Flickr. I encourage you to visit the set and see them for yourself. For an extra treat, make the browser window full-size (use the F11 key), and then view the slideshow.

After we saw them, we went back downstairs to make our donations, so that the Hoard could be kept in the region. You can donate, too, if you think keeping this treasure locally is a worthwhile goal. While we were queueing, more volunteers had arrived to entertain the visitors. I particularly enjoyed the off-duty atmosphere down here. These foot-soldiers were enjoying a comfortable chat, while a man was clearly not sure about being groomed in public.

Not only were there soldiers, but also people demonstrating traditional crafts. This man was making brass or copper plaques, hammering a mould into the plaque through a protective piece of lead. Next to him another man was making small pewter coins. I find this sort of revealing of the life of the more common man at least as interesting as the history of the great people that we normally get, which is why I have concentrated on it here.

And here is the final proof, if needed, that we went. Gillian’s hand has the three stamps that she collected while in the queue. The first was given as soon as we joined the indoor queue. The second as we arrived upstairs, with about an hour-and-a-quarter to go, and the final one as we entered the room where the treasure was laid out in cases. I was pleased that we were allowed to go around the room at our own pace, with just peer pressure to govern how long each person spent at every case. There was usually enough room for about six people at a time to see into the case, looking intently at each piece as they worked their way around the case. I was shocked at how tiny some of the items were, but there were large blow-ups of the more interesting pieces around the walls, which allowed us to get a better view of them, and made it easier to make out their designs.

It was a very good visit. The treasure was fascinating, but so was the effort made to keep an unexpectedly vast number of people from becoming too bored while they waited. We were told that the staff expected to get their 50,000th visitor late that day, or early the next, which doesn’t surprise me, but did surprise them, I think. In fact, over 52,000 visitors saw the Hoard before the exhibition closed, which is wonderful. That’s why, although this weekend ended in a way that I didn’t like, I still think of it as a great success.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Joan Lock | 9 March 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful exhibition that must have been – and the people who were demonstrating some of the crafts must have been a great thing to observe. I envy you – but not what happened to you the next day. Hope you are feeling better now.

  2. icyjumbo | 9 March 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I did enjoy the demonstrations, and chatting to the people doing them. They’re always interesting folks, and keen to talk about something they know well and most people know hardly at all, always a recipe for an engaging conversation.

    Thank you, I’m feeling fine now. The consultant checked me over and couldn’t find anything wrong. That means that he thinks he hasn’t found it, so he wants to do some more tests, this time with the MRI scanner. That is a both fascinating and slightly scary thought, but at least I didn’t have to spend a night in hospital under observation.

  3. sue hawkins | 17 March 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    So jealous of seeing the Hoard!! My Big Thing in college was Medieval Studies (Anglo-Saxon / Viking stuff, specifically), and I always go see the Sutton Hoo materials every time I visit the UK (besides David & Stephanie!). Next trip I’ll have to see The Hoard!

    Loved your post on this topic – all too rare for me!! ;-D

  4. icyjumbo | 17 March 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Glad you liked the post Sue. We too plan to go and see the Sutton Hoo stuff next time we’re in London visiting my in-laws.

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  1. […] as exciting to look at as the Anglo-Saxon gold in the Staffordshire Hoard which Chris and I had a memorable trip to see last year. But I still found it interesting to see, and the museum had gone to a lot of trouble to […]