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York treasures go on show at the British Museum in London
York Museums Trust chief executive Janet Barnes pictured alongside the Anglo-Saxon York Helmet, at an exhibition Of Treasures From Medieval York at the British Museum in London. Pictures: Susannah Ireland/York Museums Trust
YOU may well have seen the York Helmet, if you’ve been to the Yorkshire Museum. You’ve probably seen the Middleham Jewel and the Ormside Bowl, too.
But not the way you’ll be able to see them if you head down to London in the next few months.
In the cramped surroundings of the York museum, it was easy to walk straight past these stunning objects without really noticing them.
Now they have been given pride of place in a special display at the British Museum, however, they can be appreciated in their full glory.
The Treasures of Medieval York: England’s Other Capital is a stunning testament to the power, prestige and wealth of York in the middle ages.
Jonathan Williams, the British Museum’s keeper of prehistory and Europe, was in raptures. “I would kill to get that object in my collection,” he said, gazing at the York Helmet – an iron and brass warrior’s helmet dating from about 750 AD. “Look at the condition of it! It is extraordinary. Any collection in the world would love to have that.”
He was equally taken with the Vale of York Hoard and the Middleham Jewel. But what really caught his attention was a piece of tatty-looking woollen cloth taking pride of place in a magnificent display cabinet.
It was a piece of authentic woollen fabric from Viking York – perfectly preserved for centuries in waterlogged ground.
The British Museum is home to some of the most famous ancient artefacts in the world – everything from the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin marbles.
“But we’ve never had anything like this!” Mr Williams said. “This brings home the way ordinary life was lived in medieval times in a way that finery and jewels don’t.”
It is the temporary closure of the Yorkshire Museum for a £2 million revamp, and a unique partnership with the British Museum, that has made this exhibition possible.
But all these objects will be back in York in plenty of time for the reopening of the Yorkshire Museum on August 1 – Yorkshire Day. It promises to be quite an occasion.