Rare and never before seen Anglo-Saxon objects from the British Museum and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust collections return home to the North East

● A rare and elaborate glass beaker, shield boss and great square headed brooch will be highlights of a new visitor experience opening in February 2023

● As Sutton Hoo revealed the richness of the Anglo-Saxons in death, these objects will tell the story of a Royal Court and the lives that defined the Golden Age of Northumbria

Anglo-Saxon treasures will return to Ad Gefrin, a new cultural experience opening in February 2023. The objects will form part of a new visitor experience curated to tell the untold story of the 7th century Royal Court at Ad Gefrin.

Anglo-Saxon Square-Headed Brooch with gold-gilt decoration on the front and silver plating on the back. The headplate has an outer border of zoomorphic ornamentation surrounding a panel of scroll-work. Originally the brooch was set with eleven garnets of which only six remain. In the centre is an oval carnelian from a Roman seal ring depicting Cupid milking a goat. C.590-620 AD. O/A Dim: length 211 x 88.5mm

One of the 20th century’s most remarkable archaeological finds: The Great Hall of Ad Gefrin (now known as Yeavering) – the Summer Palace of the kings and queens of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, was discovered through aerial photography in 1949; excavated between 1953-1962, and reveals the fascinating history of the people that lived and travelled there from across Europe.

Kings were celebrated for their generosity; women could own property and were equal in the eyes of the law, diversity was embraced, and there was the expectation that new friends and visitors would give, not take away. Some thirteen centuries later, this focus on people, as much as place, could not be more relevant. The importance of hospitality, cultural exchange and kinship endure.

Silver Wrist Clasp, Courtesy of the British Museum

Beyond being a royal palace, and Great Hall, Yeavering’s significance includes the finding of a unique wooden grandstand for the assembly of people. This period is on the cusp of written history, so the works of Bede are relied on heavily to understand how people lived in and around the court. Ad Gefrin will be sowing this story for the first time in a dedicated museum.

Ad Gefrin is the vision of the local Ferguson family, who have been living and working in Northumberland for four generations. Their ambition is to create a destination showcase in Wooler, Northumberland, celebrating the best of Northumbria’s heritage and culture. Ad Gefrin will marry the aesthetic of the great halls of the Northumbrian kings with an immersive and modern visitor experience to bring to life the peoples who lived here over 1300 years ago.

An Anglo-Saxon shield boss, or umbo; 6th-century AD, with a flattened apex adorned with cast bronze gilt ornament with zoomorphic design. Around the rim are five bronze gilt cast plates terminated at either end by a boar’s head with open mouth and in the centre an interlaced knot pattern; in between the plates are five silver-gilt rivets. The circular bronze ornament on the apex is 54 mm in diameter, the ornaments being 74 mm overall length and about 20 mm wide, the five rivets are approx 20mm wide. The overall Rim diameter is approximately 120mm. Bidford-on-Avon, Grave 182.

Objects such as the Castle Eden Claw Beaker, a highlight of the British Museum’s early medieval collections, will return to the North East for the first time in 32 years. It is one of the best-preserved pieces of Anglo-Saxon glasswork to survive and demonstrates the status associated with feasting in this period.

The objects have been chosen in collaboration between Dr. Chris Ferguson, Director of Visitor Experience at Ad Gefrin and Dr. Sue Brunning, Curator of European Early Medieval Collections at the British Museum, to showcase the world of the inhabitants of Early Medieval Yeavering. These include a Pseudo Roman Coin Pendant, Silver Wrist Clasp and high-quality Replica of The Franks Casket from the British Museum showing the quality and craftsmanship of the Northumbrian Golden Age.

Pseudo Roman Coin Pendant, Courtesy of the British Museum

Other key objects including a Great Square Headed Brooch and Shield Boss are being loaned from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust who are delighted to establish a partnership with Ad Gefrin to enable the display of objects in the context of the Anglo-Saxon Golden Age and accessible to a wider public. With both partnerships in place, Ad Gefrin will be displaying treasures from the Anglo Saxon period to new audiences.

Commenting on objects to be loaned to Ad Gefrin, Director of Visitor Experience, Dr Chris Ferguson says:

“We are delighted to announce the partnerships with the British Museum and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The return of those objects originating from Northumbria and the historical context provided by all the loans will illuminate the intricate craftsmanship and richness of the culture to be found in the royal court at Yeavering –the jewellery, ceramics, weaponry and art on display were sumptuous – truly a ‘golden age of Northumbria’. As the extraordinary discovery of

Sutton Hoo unveiled the riches buried in death for the people of this time – the story of Yeavering, to be told at Ad Gefrin, reveals the riches found in life.”

Maria Bojanowska, Dorset Foundation Head of National Programmes at the British Museum says: “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase these rare Anglo Saxon objects in Northumbria, where they originated. The Castle Eden Claw Beaker is a highlight of our early medieval collections and it is hugely exciting to see it return to the North East for the first time in 32 years. We are delighted to be collaborating with the Ad Gefrin Visitor Experience and look forward to bringing these objects to a new audience, facilitating new perspectives and ideas.”

Rosalyn Sklar, Curator, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust says: “The finds on loan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust represent two Anglo-Saxon burial sites in Stratford-upon-Avon and nearby Bidford-on-Avon (Warwickshire), part of the historic kingdom of Mercia. These collections are of national importance and are rarely seen by the public which makes the collaboration with Ad Gefrin so important. Our great square-headed brooch with inset Roman intaglio is perhaps unique amongst Anglo-Saxon finds.”

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