VISITORS to Tamworth Castle this weekend are in for a rare treat with the chance to see some Saxon and Viking artefacts which are on loan from Grosvenor Museum in Chester as part of Tamworth’s Aethelfest celebrations.
The pieces have been loaned to Tamworth Castle as part of the four-day events taking place to celebrate the life of one of the most powerful and influential women in Anglo-Saxon history. Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, took her last breath in Tamworth 1,100 years ago on June 12, 918.
For one weekend only, history lovers will be able to view items from the St John’s Hoard, including silver pennies of Aethelflaed’s brother Edward the Elder, made at her town of Chester, and Viking age pieces from the Eccleston Hoard. They are part of a pop-up exhibition about Aethelflaed by Dr Morn Capper, Lecturer in Archaeological Heritage at the University of Chester, which discusses Aethelflaed’s life and the challenges facing her as a leader.
The items will be on display in Tamworth Castle on Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15 (normal admission times and charges apply). Please see www.tamworthcastle.co.uk for more information.
Aethelfest includes a three-day academic conference which will see academics, scholars and historians from across the world gathering in Tamworth to share ideas and new research about Aethelflaed and her role in Anglo-Saxon England.
The conference is being organised by scholars from Keele University and the Universities of Manchester and Chester universities and it was by working together with regional museums at Chester and Tamworth that Dr Capper was able to bring the pieces to Tamworth to coincide with the event.
Like Tamworth, Chester was an important town in the history of England, having also been fortified and re-founded as a burh by Aethelflaed as she fortified the kingdom of Mercia against invading Vikings from Northumbria and the Irish Sea.
The St John’s Hoard was found during building work at St John’s Church in Chester in 1862. It originally consisted of around 40 coins, but many were kept by workmen. Only four made it into the Grosvenor Museum collections. The hoard was probably buried at the end of Aethelflaed’s life around 917.
Coming to Tamworth are three silver coins of Edward the Elder, brother of Aethelflaed, who succeeded their father Alfred the Great as king of Wessex, and a silver penny of St Peter, made at York. They highlight links between Chester and the prominent Viking kingdom of York at this time.
The Eccleston Hoard, buried on the River Dee, is probably earlier as it includes a Viking silver ingot, a soapstone spindle whorl and a piece of hacksilver, but no coins; evidence of a mixed bullion economy operating in many Viking-held areas in Britain and Ireland.
Dr Capper said: “This conference aims to bring new insights into Aethelflaed’s life and the challenges that faced her in defending Mercia, but also how she negotiated a future with Viking settlers in the Northwest and in the Midlands. They may come in small packages, but these silver hoards suggest that the hard won wealth of individual people or families, whether traders or raiders in Chester and Cheshire, was carefully squirrelled away for the future at times of uncertainty.
“The expulsion of Vikings from Dublin in 902, some of whom settled in Cheshire, and the death of Aethelflaed herself led to times of uncertainty for ordinary people. It is important in helping us understand Aethelflaed’s leadership that we recognise Chester and Tamworth as towns of her frontier, places where her kingdom met with, and was even joined by, other peoples.”
Cllr John Chesworth, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Culture and Operational Services, said: “It’s great to have been able to get these rare pieces on public display for the people of Tamworth and those who will be visiting the area as part of the Aethelfest celebrations. We really appreciate this generous loan from the Grosvenor Museum and our thanks go to those who have worked hard behind the scenes to bring this about.
“Tamworth Castle also has a special Saxon-themed Living History event taking place this weekend, so that, together with the one-off display of the items from Chester, makes it a fantastic time to visit our wonderful ancient monument, and I hope people take advantage of this rare opportunity.
“More Aethelfest activities will take place in the grounds of Tamworth Castle on Saturday (July 14) including a Saxon encampment, Saxon-themed activities for the whole family and the live unveiling of Mercian Mosaic – the town’s largest ever piece of community art – so it will be easy for anyone visiting the castle and its grounds to make a full day of it.”
Details of the full Aethelfest programme can be downloaded at www.aethelfest.co.uk.