Yearbook 2009

Ashwell yearbook 2009 museum report

By Peter Greener

Ashwell Village Museum

 

For the Ashwell Yearbook 2009

 

 

On the 28th February a coach party organised by Ashwell Museum descended on the British Museum to see the recently discovered Ashwell Hoard which is now on permanent display in Gallery 49, The Weston Gallery of Roman Britain. The gallery has just been refurbished and ‘our’ hoard is given a prominent place at its centre.

 

The entire find has now been conserved revealing not only a collection of gold and silver plaques, jewellery and a silver statuette that are all beautiful in their own right but also evidence of a previously unknown goddess, Senuna, and the people who devoted these gifts to her.

 

We were privileged to have a special talk by Dr Ralph Jackson of the British Museum who has been in charge of the research into the hoard. We are grateful to him for repeating it three times so we could all gather around the cabinet. However his expertise and enthusiasm did not wane all day and the last group were entertained and informed as much as the first.

 

We heard howsomething traumatic happened near Ashwell in the late 3rd or early fourth century when the priest in charge of the Senuna temple decided it was necessary to conceal some of the treasures in his possession. He chose the most valuable offerings and packed them neatly in a cloth bag with the silver statue of the goddess on top. Under the cover of darkness he deposited them carefully in a shallow hole in the ground meaning to come back at a safer time to recover them. For some reason this never happened and it was not until September 2002 that Alan Meek working a field with the North Herts Charity Detectors Group came across something unusual.

 

The subsequent research has revealed much and posed many questions about ritual life in this province of the Roman Empire.  We know that many people, Romans and locals, came to give vows and very precious objects to the goddess Senuna. The gold plaques are unique, there are more silver plaques than have been found elsewhere in Britain, the silver statuette is one of the largest found and the jewellery has been made specifically reusing old revered gems. Moreover it is also the only such temple hoard to have been found in context and this has prompted archaeological work to be carried out at the site.

 

Speculation will go on for many years on the importance of Ashwell as a pilgrimage site in the Roman period and for us it would be nice to know how this connects into the later development of the village. To decide for yourself go and see the stunning display in the British Museum.

 

This seemed to start up a theme of coach trips throughout the year. In June we visited the Whitehall Roman Villa Project at Nether Heyford to see a community run archaeological dig in action. After that the Friends organisation took over and ran a trip to the Hadrian Exhibition at the British Museum and a tour of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

 

In January Howard Guard the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire visited us, in all his finery, on a tour of all the museums in the county. I think he was impressed, as although it was late in the day he stayed long after his allotted time.

 

The British Legion recently held a dinner to commemorate the end of the First World War and asked us what we had in our archives to help them. The photographs and information enabled them to create a document about each person who served in that war. This is just the sort of thing the museum collects for and it has started something that will be a permanent memory that we can add to as more facts come to light.

 

An enterprising charity shop rang up saying they had a watercolour of ‘The Six Bells and the Church, Ashwell’ and would we like it? It proved to be by Lillian Taylor, a local artist, and a worthwhile addition to the collection.

Most of out best art works are watercolours so unfortunately they could not be included in the Hertfordshire volume of the Public Catalogue Foundation, which has just been published. This impressive book documents all the oil paintings in public ownership in the county. Our contribution although not extensive comes at the start of the book. There is a copy to consult in the museum.

 

Late in the year I was rung up by Royston Museum and asked if I would like the Ashwell items from the archives of the Royston Crow of course I said yes and went over to pick up a carry bag full of photographs dating back to the 1960’s. They are very interesting as they show people and events and they usually have the date and identification on the back. Look out for an exhibition of them.

 

 

All this could not be accomplished without the team of volunteers and the Friends who form the heart of the museum and keep it clean and running throughout the year. There are work groups on Monday evenings and Thursday afternoons when we document, display and preserve the collection. These are the best times to catch me if you have any queries or want to see something special from the archives or photograph collection.

 

The main worry of the year has been the shortfall in regular income to cover the running costs, mainly heating, lighting, insurance and security, which have increased at an unprecedented pace. At present the income from admissions is less than half these costs and without the funds provided by the Ashwell At Home we would be in a dire position. As a small measure to combat this new admission charges have come into effect in 2009: For children up to 11- Free, 11 to 16 years -50p, Adults - £1.50

 

Peter Greener

Honorary Curator

peter.greener@care4free.net

Ashwell 742956

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