Staffordshire's Anglo Saxon treasure must stay in the West Midlands
Oct 23 2009 by Ian Austin, Minister for the West Midlands
Ian Austin wants a permanent home in the West Midlands for the Staffordshire Hoard
People often queued for over three hours, but that did not stop 40,000 visitors flocking to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to take a look at the Staffordshire Hoard. [see the gallery]
History came alive in the West Midlands with the Museum forced to extend opening hours to cope with the rush. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the 1,500 amazing gold, garnet-encrusted pommel caps, sword hilt collars and helmet fragments at first hand knows just what a remarkable find this is.
But now we face an equally historic challenge to ensure that the Staffordshire Hoard remains in the region. We must not let this globally significant find fall into the hands of the traditional keepers of our cultural heritage. The modern Kingdom of Mercia needs to come together to hold onto its hoard.
For what has been so unexpected about this discovery is the new history it opens up for the people of Staffordshire, Birmingham and the Black Country.
Our role in the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War and the Industrial Revolution is well known but what the Staffordshire riches reveal is the political strength and cultural confidence of this kingdom in Anglo-Saxon times.
The quality and quantity of precious metals, the level of craftsmanship, the ferocious Biblical invocation on the band of gold misquoting the Book of Numbers, ‘Rise up, O Lord and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face’ – all this suggests a civilization distinctively different from the Dark Ages caricature.
The hoard confirms not only the economic prosperity around Tamworth and Lichfield in the seventh century, but also a strong degree of Christianity as well as international trade links connecting Mercia to the world.
With some of the precious stones heralding from modern Turkey and Sri Lanka, this suggests a far more sophisticated commercial and social system than once thought.
In the seventh century, it was the West Midlands which stood as the epicentre of England as the great Mercian kings, Penda, Wulfhere and Aethelred, ravaged their way across Northumberland and East Anglia. And what the gold bands and beautifully-designed helmets prove is that such military expansion was backed up by staggering financial resources.
All of which makes it vital that the hoard stays close to home. For, today, we no longer enjoy much of an Anglo-Saxon equilibrium when it comes to the sharing of the national heritage.
In fact, the great cultural behemoths along London’s Museum Mile seem to swallow most of the goods.