Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 16:58 UK

City's rush to see gold exhibits

Sitala Peek
BBC News, Birmingham

People queueing in front of Birmingham Central Library
Visitors like the display being held in the Midlands where the gold was found

A colourful line of miniature rucksacks zig-zagged across Chamberlain Square to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Had Meadows Primary School planned their trip after hearing about the Staffordshire hoard on Thursday?

"Oh, no, we're here to meet a Roman centurion, we're having a tour," one of the teachers said.

The discovery of more than 1,500 pieces of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver, buried in a field in Staffordshire, is surely the most significant historical find in these children's young lives.

"I'm not sure we will have time to see it.

"It does seem a shame to miss it, but we've got to stick to our schedule," she said.

'Must see'

There were plenty of other people, however, who were determined to be among the first to glimpse the gold and silver hoard that went on public display earlier.

People inside the exhibition of Anglo-Saxon gold at Birmigham Museum
The exhibition attracted more people than museum officials had expected

Angela Green, from Wirral, Merseyside, was visiting Birmingham for a National Housing Federation conference.

She and two of her colleagues were meant to be attending the morning session, but had decided to give it a miss to see the exhibition instead.

"I can't imagine what it will be like. It's probably something out of this world.

"When I heard about it on the news I just had to come and see it," the Medieval history enthusiast said.

Recession respite

Further back in the queue, tool-setter Robert Johnson said it would be the first time he had set foot in a museum.

Mr Johnson was "trying to make the most" of his days off since his employer in Tyseley, east Birmingham, went down to a four-day week at the start of the year.

"I watch that Time Team archaeology programme on the telly and thought I'd come down," he said.

Christine Tooth from Erdington, north Birmingham, said for her the appeal was that it was, "just an ordinary person, like you or me, who found it. Not an archaeologist or anyone special, just some guy with a metal detector in a field".

A garnet inlaid decorative gold item
The craftsmanship in the Anglo Saxon items impressed modern day jewellers

She had come to get out of the way while builders did some work on her house.

"It's so nice that it's on display in the Midlands. These things always go off down to London. You feel you're under time pressure at exhibits in London and you'd probably have to pay."

Museum curator David Symons said Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was in talks with Staffordshire County Council and Stoke Museums about a three-way partnership to keep the artefacts on permanent display in the Midlands.

At present it belongs to the British Museum, which is administering the treasure for the Crown.

Delayed opening

When the exhibition opened, half an hour later than advertised, a long queue had formed across the square and around the Central Library.

People remarked that it was "terribly British" and impromptu conversations were struck up.

"They were a bunch of looters and hoarders weren't they," one man volunteered.

"Good job really", another added, "otherwise they would never have found this booty and we wouldn't be waiting here today."

A steward apologised for the delay, which she said was due to boxes being moved to make more space for visitors.

A garnet-inlaid decorative gold item
The collection is owned by the British Museum on behalf of the Crown

Apparently museum staff had not expected the hoard to attract so many and had made a late decision to change exhibition rooms to accommodate more people.

"You can go in now babs," one of the stewards said - an invitation you are unlikely to hear in London.

The exhibition consisted of several glossy information boards and four glass display cabinets, predominantly filled with gold-filigree sword and dagger hilts, many encrusted with garnets.

John Welsh, a jeweller from Rednall in Birmingham, said: "It's just staggering.

"I expected it to be a lot cruder because it's so old, but not at all.

"They almost look as though they could be modern, some of the filigree designs.

"I'd love to know how they set the garnets in the gold. I thought that was only something modern people knew how to do, but maybe not."

Many exhibits were caked in mud, which gave them an air of only recently having been dug out of the ground.

"It was fantastic. The best thing I'll probably see in my life. Well worth it," Angela Green said as she left to join fellow delegates at the National Housing Federation conference in the International Convention Centre.

The Staffordshire gold hoard exhibition runs at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, until October 13.



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24 Sep 09 |  Staffordshire

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