Last Tuesday I visited the Staffordshire Hoard exhibit at Stafford Guild Hall gallery. In 2009 a treasure hunter armed with a metal detector found a vast number (3500) of items of gold and silver in a field nearÂ LichfieldÂ inÂ Staffordshire, England. This hoard is the single largest collection of items from the Anglo Saxon period – even larger than Sutton Hoo the great burial treasure of King Redwald of East Anglia. The treasures were purchased for the nation and money provided to preserve, research and exhibit them.
This year the items went on display in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as well as in Stafford. Later in the summer they will be shown inÂ LichfieldÂ Cathedral and Tamworth Castle (Tamworth was the ancient capital of Mercia the Anglo Saxon Kingdom wherein the treasures were found). Last week I popped along to take a look.
You have to book in to see the exhibit but it is free to do so. You get a 45 minute timed slot to look around. That is adequate time as it is only a small display. What you get is first a small area describing the finding of the hoard, a bit about 7th century Mercia and speculation of the nature of the hoard. You learn that at this time Mercia stood on the front line between the Anglo Saxon lands and the Vikings who were pushing down from Northumbria or raiding along the Trent. Â So Â was the hoard the treasures of the Mercian King or a warlord? Was it Viking loot from a raid? How did it end up buried in a field? No one knows as yet. What was thought interesting is is contains no feminine items (combs, broaches etc) but mainly is either religious items or that of a military nature (bits of swords etc).
Then you can pick up and try theÂ weightÂ of certain replica items – two shields, a sword and a seax and three helmets.
FinallyÂ you enter theÂ displayÂ area. There are two areas. In each there are three small glass pyramids with treasure items on 4 sides. There are maybe 3 to 6 items per side – so a total of around 100 items. Many items are small – parts of a sword, a piece of a helmet etc. There are no large items really so if you are hoping to see a huge pile of treasure youÂ wouldÂ beÂ disappointed. It is better to see this as an opportunity to get a feel for the quality of the workmanship and also how elaborate the items could be. The main impression I got was the skill of the craftsmen. Some of the detail is incredible with fine threads of gold and silver woven or jewels are being mounted onÂ beautifulÂ mounts.
In the museum there is a well made video showing something of the Saxons, who they were and how they made some items. A gift shop sells postcards of the items and some replica items BUT not as many as I would have hoped.
Is it worth the visit? Yes if you are close by and are interested in the period. Â It is not a large display however and I hope that in time a larger display would expand on what is after all only a start – it is only 2 years since this hoard was found.
My own Dark Age Novel, The Amber Treasure is in part about the theft of two great treasures – a set of rareÂ jewelleryÂ and a sword.