Norfolk in 20 treasures
PUBLISHED: 10:00 21 September 2020
A mammoth, a hoard of gold jewellery, exquisite paintings and the much-patched clothes of a farm worker; discover Norfolk through some of the fascinating objects in its museums
There are many ways of telling the story of a place – from a century-by century whirl through its greatest moments to a tour of its top buildings or most significant sons and daughters. Here we take 20 treasures – and a journey from prehistory to today. Each object is part of the amazing collections looked after by Norfolk Museums Service, whose curators have helped choose the treasures and explain their significance.
1 The West Runton mammoth is the oldest and largest mammoth ever found in Britain, and the most complete Steppe mammoth found anywhere in the world. It would have stood four metres high at the shoulder 700,000 years ago. It was found in the cliffs at West Runton, near Cromer, in 1990. Norwich Castle and Cromer.
2 The Happisburgh hand-axe revolutionised our knowledge of early humans. The flint was discovered in 2000 and dated to be between 550,000 and 700,000 years old - at least 100,000 years earlier than humans were believed to have lived here. Thirteen years later 800,000-year-old footprints were discovered on the same stretch of beach - the oldest human footprints ever discovered outside Africa. Norwich Castle.
3 Grimes Graves red deer antler picks. Remarkable pits in heathland in Thetford Forest are evidence of the largest known prehistoric flint mine in Europe. These tools made from antlers would have been used to dig flint from one of around 400 deep shafts more than 5,000 years ago. Norwich Castle.
4 Seahenge. Four thousand years ago, in 2049BC, to be precise, members of a Bronze Age tribe cut down a huge oak and placed the stump upside-down at the centre of a circle of another 55 oak posts, perhaps to hold the dead body of a very high status person. The circle, preserved in peat and eventually engulfed by the sea, was rediscovered at Holme, near Hunstanton, in 1998, making international headlines. Lynn Museum.
5 The Snettisham hoard, including a magnificent gold torc, might have been royal treasure and in 2003 was ranked fourth in a list of British archaeological finds. It dates back to the first century BC. Norwich Castle.
6 Iceni coins. A hoard of 338 silver Iceni coins were found in the remains of Roman pot at Honingham. Dated between 25 and 61 AD, they span the life of Iceni leader Boudicca, who led an uprising against the Roman invaders which destroyed Roman Colchester and London before she was defeated.
7 Winfarthing pendant. The gold pendant, inlaid with garnets, is one of the most beautiful pieces of Anglo Saxon jewellery ever found. Dating from the 7th century AD it was discovered on farmland near the Norfolk village and voted newly acquired museum artwork of the year. Norwich Castle.
8 Stained glass roundels. There would have originally have been 12 circular stained glass pictures, showing farm work for each month of the year. They were made in Norwich in the early 16th century, probably by the Strangers, or immigrants, from across the North Sea, and are extremely rare survivals of medieval art. They were probably made for the house of Norwich mayor Thomas Pykerell, on Rosemary Lane, St Mary’s Plaine, and were later moved to Brandiston Hall, Cawston. Eight still exist, with the four in Norwich showing tree pruning, a gardener sheltering from a hail storm, grape harvesting and a king feasting. Norwich Castle.
9 The Ashwellthorpe Triptych is an altarpiece showing the seven sorrows of the virgin Mary, commissioned by the Knyvett family of Ashwellthorpe around 1520. It is not only a stunning work of art but also reveals the wealth of Norfolk’s aristocracy at the time. On either side of the painting of Mary are Christopher and Catherine Knyvet, accompanied by St Christopher and St Catherine. Norwich Castle.
10 Samson. Wooden statues of Samson and Hercules were commissioned in 1647 to guard the entrance to the Tombland home of the mayor of Norwich. Hercules was replaced by a replica in the 19th century but Samson endured to preside over 20th century clubbers queuing for the Samson and Hercules. Eventually he too succumbed to decay and both statues were replaced by copies and taken into the care of the Norwich Museums Service. Museum of Norwich.
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11 Farm labourer’s clothes. A pached pair of trousers and cotton jacket, from the early 18th century, were found stuffed up a chimney in Toft Monks, near Beccles. Because poor labourers’ clothing was worn until it fell apart and then cut for patches, survivals from this period are extremely rare. Gressenhall Museum.
12 French tricolor. This huge flag was captured from a French ship during the 1800 Battle of the Nile by a fleet commanded by Lord Horatio Nelson. Norwich Castle.
13 Thomas Paine’s death mask. International philosopher, writer, political thinker and revolutionary Thomas Paine was born in Thetford in 1737 and played an important part in the American and French revolutions. Ancient House Museum, Thetford.
14 Norwich River: Afternoon was painted by John Crome between 1812 and 1819 and represents both the importance of the Norwich School of Artists and of waterways in the history of Norfolk. Norwich Castle.
15 The Dutch Fair by George Vincent. This 1821 painting of the annual herring fair at Great Yarmouth shows Norfolk’s close links to continental Europe. The herring curing process, responsible for much of Yarmouth’s prosperity, was invented by the Dutch and huge quantities of herring were processed at Yarmouth – with almost 80 million landed on a single day in 1907. Elizabethan House Museum, Yarmouth.
16 A Norwich shawl. Norwich was an important centre of textile manufacture from medieval times. When its colourful woollen worstead cloth became less popular, Norfolk weavers turned to making patterned silk and wool shawls. During the 1840s there were at least 28 shawl manufacturers in Norwich and in a single year one company made 39,000 shawls. A Norwich shawl became the fashion must-have not just in Britain but around the world. Norwich Castle.
17 First World War casualty book. The tragedy of the 1914-19 war is represented by this unique book detailing illness, injury and death for more than 15,000 soldiers of the Norfolk Regiment. No other regiment has such a record. Norwich Castle.
18 Aeroplane wing. Modern industry and commerce is represented by part of the first commercial plane made entirely of metal. It was made by Boulton and Paul in Norwich in 1919.
19 Nature collectors. Collectors of everything from ancient Egyptian treasures to animals form the basis of many museums. Margaret Fountaine was a Norfolk butterfly collector and illustrator who travelled the world and published many papers on her work. She bred many of her butterflies and her collection of 22,000 was given to Norwich Castle Museum when she died in 1940, with instructions that it should not be opened until 1978, when 12 volumes of diaries were found, detailing a career which took her to 60 countries on six continents. Norwich Castle.
20 The Friends of Norwich Museums tapestry. The newest treasure, Norfolk’s sequel to the Bayeux Tapestry, is still being created by a team of embroiderers across Norfolk, to tell the story of the early years of the Norwich Castle in 18 vibrant metres of battle-lines bristling with spears, boats dancing across water, and strutting animals.
For up to date opening information on which Norfolk Museums Service sites are open visit museums.norfolk.gov.uk and for more about individual objects visit norfolkmuseumscollections.org