Picture gallery: Saffron Walden Museum launch appeal in bid to bring local heritage home to roost

Anglo-Saxon Gold Ring, 580-650 AD: The bezel with an engraved figure is holding a cross-headed staff

Anglo-Saxon Gold Ring, 580-650 AD: The bezel with an engraved figure is holding a cross-headed staff and a small bird of prey, and a larger bird of prey in typical early Anglo-Saxon style above the figure. - Credit: Archant

SAFFRON Walden Museum Society is launching an urgent public appeal for donations to help secure up to five archaeological treasures for the district.

Foremost of these is a unique Anglo-Saxon gold ring which has been puzzling experts and was featured on ITV last summer.

The find is a large gold ring engraved with a naked but belted figure and birds of prey, in a style characteristic of Anglo-Saxon art from the ‘age of Sutton Hoo’. The ring is highly decorated and it is clearly a very high-status piece, possibly royal.

Leading experts in Anglo-Saxon archaeology have been debating the meaning of the symbols, which combine late Roman-Christian and pagan north-European images. It dates to around 580-650AD, the period which saw the rise of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the gradual spread of Christianity, following St Augustine’s mission to Kent in 597 AD. Kent, Essex and East Anglia were all separate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at this time.

Tony Watson, chairman of the Saffron Walden Museum Society, said: “This is an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the archaeology displays with quality finds, ones which residents, visitors and researchers will want to see and study for generations to come.

“We have the chance to bring a really special object of regional and national significance home to north-west Essex where it was found. It is the most amazing find and has much to tell us about the royal authority and the adoption of Christianity in a formative period of England’s history.”

The museum society also hopes to secure two other Anglo-Saxon treasures from Uttlesford district – one an unusual silver mount ending in animal heads with beady glass eyes and oval ears; the other a silver tag finely decorated with four little animals somersaulting round its centre – both dating to the 9th century.

Most Read

Another find which the museum hopes to acquire is a couple of gold coins, which are the earliest found in the district so far. These ‘Gallo-Belgic staters’ came from northern France in the mid 1st century BC, about 100 years before Caesar’s expeditions to Britain, and only a handful of similar staters are known from south-east Britain.

The fifth treasure is a much later gold ring from the Tudor or Jacobean period, engraved with the symbols of Christ’s passion, which suggests that the owner may have been Catholic. It is a discrete statement of personal faith during the troubled times of the Reformation and its aftermath.

To secure all these treasures, the museum society needs to raise a total of about £60,000 by December. It is hoped that most of this will come from grants, but at least £7,500 of local funding is needed.

Plans are already underway for a new showcase in the archaeology gallery to display a number of small treasure finds acquired over the past few years, as well as anticipated additions.

Donations to Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd and offers of sponsorship or assistance with fund-raising are welcomed. Contact Saffron Walden Museum, Museum Street, Saffron Walden (01799 510333) for information.

All the finds have been made by metal-detectorists in Uttlesford district since 2011 and have been declared treasure under the Treasure Act (1996). Treasure is Crown property but local museums have the opportunity to purchase treasure from their collecting area and the Crown pays the finder and landowner a reward.