It’s the treasure that unearthed the dramatic history of 7th Century England and the world of its warrior elite. Ten years ago on 5 July 2009, the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered in a farmer’s field near Lichfield.
Still the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered, the Staffordshire Hoard has been seen by over four million people at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery (PMAG) and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) since it was discovered, and by many more at travelling exhibitions as far reaching as Washington DC.
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary, last Friday, the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery launched a revamped Staffordshire Hoard exhibition, with several star objects returning to the gallery for the first time in years.
The returning treasure includes a stunning original cheek piece from the famous Staffordshire Hoard Helmet. An iconic pectoral cross, a stunning pommel cap, and other pieces of the helmet will also be back in the exhibition.
The museum will also celebrate the anniversary by holding a Staffordshire Hoard Garnets and Gold Festival throughout July, with several exciting events including re-enactments, demonstrations, birds of prey presentations and talks. For more information, please visit: www.stokemuseums.org.uk/pmag.
When the Staffordshire Hoard was first discovered, it took some months for the field work to be completed and for the first pieces to go on public display. The response was huge, and queues formed outside PMAG and BMAG as thousands of people gathered to get a glimpse of the tiny scale and exquisite craftsmanship of the pieces. The first temporary display at BMAG in September 2009 saw over 40,000 people visiting in the first three weeks, and the display at PMAG the following February quickly became the most successful exhibition ever held at the museum, with around 55,000 people visiting in the first three weeks of public display.
A decade on the Anglo-Saxon find continues to bring crowds to the two museums which care for the Hoard on behalf of joint owners Birmingham City Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
In November 2018 the museums revealed two replicas of The Staffordshire Hoard Helmet – a high-status helmet which approximately a third of the fragments in the Staffordshire Hoard come from. The replicas of the magnificent helmet brought renewed interest to the Hoard, proving to be a hit with schoolchildren, tourists and residents in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent alike.
There are around 4,000 fragments and artefacts within the Staffordshire Hoard and they were crafted between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries AD and buried between 650-675 AD. They combine to a total of 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. Although fragmented and damaged when found, there is nothing comparable in terms of content and quantity in the UK or mainland Europe.
While one of the great mysteries of the Hoard is who buried it in a Staffordshire field, experts believe that the precious materials and stunning craftsmanship of the artefacts mean that it would have belonged to high status individuals and elite armies fighting for ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
Significant items include a selection of Christian objects – the great cross, the pectoral cross, and the Biblical inscription – which are some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon church objects ever discovered. A replica of the great cross, which was made locally in the Jewellery Quarter, in Birmingham was presented to the Pope as a gift from the people of Birmingham, before he carried out mass in Cofton Park in 2010 as part of his state visit. In the same year, the Prince of Wales became the first Royal to handle the treasure in 1,400 years during a visit to PMAG.
Toby Watley, Director of Collections at Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “Ten years on since its discovery, the Staffordshire Hoard remains one of our most popular galleries and continues to fascinate and inspire visitors here at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, and on tours.
“The public’s interest goes beyond the museum displays; the Staffordshire Hoard has become part of the region’s shared history. From the queues that formed when the first pieces went on display, to the reveal of the replica helmets last year, the collection has captured the public’s imagination and showed the impact that museum objects can have.
“With the research still to be revealed, the Staffordshire Hoard will continue to bring history to life and inspire generations to come.”
Councillor Jayne Francis, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Culture at Birmingham City Council, said: “The Staffordshire Hoard put Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on the map globally when it was first put on display in 2009. These fantastic treasures have unearthed secrets about how our ancestors lived which then captured the world’s imagination – and the Staffordshire Hoard continues to draw visitors to Birmingham from far and wide.”
Councillor Lorraine Beardmore, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for sport, culture and leisure, said: “This stunning treasure continues to change our perceptions and improve our understanding of ancient Britain. In just 10 years, the efforts of a dedicated team of archaeologists, curators and Anglo-Saxon experts have made huge strides to catalogue, preserve and research these wonderful, delicate ancient artefacts.
“This work has been taking place at the same time as exhibitions of the treasure have been packing museums throughout the region – over what was once the kingdom of Mercia – as well as at the British Museum and other museums across the country and internationally.
“A big part of our work has been to ensure that these unparalleled items remain on permanent public display and are as accessible as possible. A huge public fundraising effort contributed to saving this treasure for the nation, and PMAG and BMAG have worked hard to ensure that museum visitors are able to see the treasure. Both museums have completely revamped gallery spaces to accommodate permanent displays of the Hoard, with dedicated exhibitions, and at PMAG, a refreshed gallery is opening to mark the tenth anniversary. Both partners will continue to work to display these treasures in the best possible way; we want people to be able to continue to be amazed and inspired by the Staffordshire Hoard for generations to come.”
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “This Hoard was an astonishing discovery in 2009 and over the past 10 years the research we helped to fund has allowed us to learn just what our ancestors were capable of. Although there are still many secrets around the circumstances of the hoard’s burial, the range of fascinating objects discovered has given us an extraordinary insight into Saxon craftsmanship and culture. We are delighted that so many millions of people have been able to see the intriguing artefacts for themselves and the revamped exhibition will mean many more can learn about the discovery and life in England over 1,300 years ago”
The collection was acquired with donations from members of the public following a campaign led by the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art. The acquisition was also generously supported by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Birmingham City Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Wartski, and many other trusts and foundations, and corporate philanthropy.
From 2014 to 2017, the Staffordshire Hoard was studied as part of the major research project on the treasure funded by Historic England and the museums which care for the collection, which will be revealed later this year. Barbican Research Associates conducted the research, and the Society of Antiquaries of London is the publisher.
The Staffordshire Hoard is on permanent display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.
Find out more at: birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/highlights/staffordshire-hoard and staffordshirehoard.org.uk.