Major new UK exhibition to feature rare warrior treasure finds from Northamptonshire

Warrior treasures from Wollaston
Warrior treasures from Wollaston

A major new UK exhibition will be featuring rare warrior treasure finds from Northamptonshire and a new sculpture from Brackley-based Stuart Makin . . .

The early Saxon Northamptonshire Wollaston Warrior group is featuring in a major new exhibition now on at the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds alongside spectacular items from the Staffordshire Hoard collection. The items within the Wollaston Warrior group are Anglo-Saxon burial goods from the grave of an elite warrior, probably from the late seventh century. The contents of the grave included an exceptionally rare helmet and a sword – both denoting the high status of their owner.

The Wollaston Warrior’s grave was first discovered by archaeologists in 1997 in a gravel pit operated by Pioneer Aggregates just outside the town of Wollaston in the east of Northamptonshire. Alongside the scarce remains of the warrior, a young man probably in his 20s at the time his death, this seventh century Anglo-Saxon grave contained a helmet, a sword, knife, three iron buckles, a dress hook and a copper alloy hanging bowl, with one surviving decorative mount. The ‘Pioneer’ helmet was only the fourth Anglo-Saxon helmet to be recovered in England at the time of its discovery. The helmet is adorned with a simple boar crest at the top and would once have had two cheek plates, of which only one remains. Given their rarity, the burial remains are of great historical and archaeological significance.

Claudia Rogers, PhD placement student at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, who was undertaking research on the Wollaston grave goods for the exhibition, said: “The burial goods indicate that the grave belonged to a male of high status. The hanging bowl was made from one sheet of bronze, requiring the talents of a highly-skilled craftsman. The bowl would have originally been suspended from three hooks and decorated with escutcheons. This bowl certainly reflects the standing of the Wollaston Warrior, although it remains unclear what uses the bowl had.”

Northamptonshire-based artist and blacksmith, Stuart Makin, was awarded a commission by the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds to create a sculptural response to the spectacular items which will be on display in the exhibition, Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard, which runs until October. The commission was to create a sculptural response to the spectacular items and was supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Stuart’s work, a large scale metal sculpture of around 2.5 metres, has been inspired by the intricate detail of the smal, yet highly decorated, Anglo-Saxon objects in the exhibition. The exhibition highlights around 100 items from the Staffordshire Hoard and is the first time UK visitors will have the opportunity to view such a large number of items from this extraordinary collection outside the West Midlands, where it was discovered. Some of the objects have never been on show before.

Stuart said: “I am incredibly excited to be working on this project with the Royal Armouries. Ever since the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered I have been intrigued with the phenomenal skill of the ancient craftsmen who made the pieces. This fascinating new exhibition at the Royal Armouries has given me the opportunity to combine two of my great passions, those of Anglo-Saxon history and creating beautiful things from metal.”

Stuart has built a reputation in designing and creating beautiful metalwork pieces. He uses hot forged metal, manipulated by hammer and anvil, drawing on techniques that have been developed over thousands of years. He tempers these traditional techniques with modern metalworking practices and machinery, such as power hammers and welding machines, to produce remarkable creative pieces.

The Staffordshire Hoard is considered to be one of the most outstanding Anglo-Saxon finds since the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial in Suffolk in 1939. The hoard was discovered in July 2009 and is made up of around 4,000 fragments weighing more than 6kg. The secrets of the hoard are still being uncovered through painstaking research and on-going conservation, but most of the collection consists of fittings from weaponry.

The rest of the Warrior Treasures exhibition focuses on fittings from weapons found within the Staffordshire Hoard collection. It tells the story of their discovery, providing a fascinating glimpse into the warrior culture of a period in Anglo-Saxon history. These fittings were stripped from swords and seaxes (single-edged knives), and are thought to represent the equipment of defeated armies from unknown battles during the first half of the seventh century. The fittings are intricately decorated with gold, silver and semi-precious gems, and represent the finest quality Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship.

The Wollaston Warrior Group is in the care of the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds from private lenders. The Staffordshire Hoard treasure is owned by Birmingham City Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council and cared for on their behalf by Birmingham Museums Trust and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. It is currently undergoing one of the UK’s largest archaeological research projects, conducted by Barbican Research Associates on behalf of the owners and Historic England, who fund the project.

Entry to the exhibition is free and further details can be found at the Royal Armouries website at http://warrior-treasures.uk

More information about Stuart Makin can be found at www.ironforgeddesigns.co.uk or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ironforgeddesigns/