Warrior Treasures: meet Henry Yallop, lead curator of the exhibition

In just a week’s time, a selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. The Royal Armouries is therefore running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. Today we hear from Henry Yallop, Lead Curator of the exhibition and Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons at The Royal Armouries.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

IMG_3519 - FWW YEP Photocall - 110714 - FWW YEP Photocall - 120714We are now very close to opening of our exciting summer exhibition Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.  The marvellous new exhibition space will bring visitors face to face with one of the most important discoveries of early Anglo-Saxon material culture; which in addition to being hugely important to historians and archaeologists is comprised of exquisitely crafted objects of outstanding beauty.

I truly believe this is going to appeal to a wide range of visitors for a whole host of reasons. If you already have an interest in the early medieval period, or are a regular visitor to our National Collection of Arms & Armour and are interested in historic weapons, then I am sure you are already planning to come.  However, you don’t need to be a military history enthusiast to enjoy this particular exhibition. Those with a passion for jewellery and the decorative arts will be impressed by the craftsmanship and artistic quality of these stunning objects. I am sure many others will be coming to our Leeds site for the first time; drawn by the lure of gold, our interpretation of an Anglo-Saxon mead hall and our varied series of events.  Whatever your interest or age, I urge you not to miss the opportunity view this fascinating part of Britain’s cultural heritage.

If you’re thinking ‘what does Staffordshire Hoard have to do with me?’ I answer with this; the hoard has both national and local relevance. The hoard is from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, which at the time of its burial (650-675 AD) was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in what later would be known as England.  At various points as its power waxed and waned, Mercia contained large parts of modern day Yorkshire.  In addition, the objects that comprise the hoard came from a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign.

K328
K328 – Cloisonné bird with garnets, probably from a hilt grip © Birmingham Museums Trust

The hoard’s discovery is not just something that will interest archaeologists but is of universal appeal: unearthing buried treasure of international importance is a story I defy anyone not to be excited by!  The objects themselves really are unique in terms of their number, quality and condition.  You don’t have to be especially interested in swords to be awed by the Hoard.  When considered as standalone art objects each hilt plate, pommel cap or sword pyramid is a breath-taking object, crafted from the finest of materials by the most skilled of hands. Yet these objects fitted together to be beautiful, yet crucial functional parts of weapons of the 7th century AD, which brings an additional level of appreciation to them. Ornate, prized possessions of the elite these objects certain were, but a warrior elite who wore these weapons and used them in war.  Despite the absence of blades in the hoard many of the hilt fittings show signs of use.  These were parts of quite literally cutting edge weapon systems; not simply status symbols for ceremonial use.

K108_K699
K108 and K699 – Pair of collars from a sword hilt decorated with fine gold filigree wires © Birmingham Museums Trust

The decorative arts, craftsmanship of the highest standard using precious materials often went hand in hand with arms and armour, but can be a forgotten part of the subject. In any period the most masterful of crafts people applied their skills to the creation and adornment of high status arms and armour. Even unadorned swords, due to the materials and complex processes involved in their creation would have been the rare objects owned only by the few; yet the richly decorated weapon fittings of the Staffordshire Hoard speak of the very highest ranks of these warrior elites.

K1497
K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse © Birmingham Museums Trust

For me, it is a great privilege to be involved in this project.The Staffordshire Hoard was not only an amazing discovery due to the materials and age of the objects, but also their purpose.  Unusually for a hoard it is mainly comprised of military equipment, specifically hilt fittings from swords. As someone fascinated by the early medieval period, and whose ‘day job’ is as Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons this exhibition presents a special combination. At the Royal Armouries we have 18,000 edged weapons from all periods and places, but of course relatively few survive from the early Anglo-Saxon period. As such, the hoard which contains the parts of over 100 swords, including hitherto unknown forms, is of huge significance to our knowledge of arms and armour of the period and of great interest to the National Museum of Arms & Armour. What has previously been discovered in terms of Anglo-Saxon weapons typically come from grave goods, and the arrival of the Staffordshire Hoard has enabled us to showcase one such group which the Royal Armouries generously has on long term loan from the owners. The Wollaston warrior is a high status warrior grave, which like the Staffordshire Hoard came from the Anglian kingdom of Mercia and is 7th century in date, which will also be available to view in the exhibition space.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.