Triple helping of historic treasures for South Tyneside Exhibitions

British Museum and British Library loan gems and jewellery including Earl's ring possibly lost at Britain's bloodiest battle

A triple helping of historical treasures has arrived on Tyneside from London.

The British Museum and British Library have loaned an array of items for three special exhibitions in South Tyneside.

The Banners of the North display, featuring Middle Ages objects from the British Museum with links to the region, opens at Bede’s World in Jarrow on Friday evening.

The earliest surviving copy, from the 14th Century, of the Bishop of Durham’s 1183 Boldon Book is on show from Thursday at South Shields Museum.

Also on Thursday, star Roman finds including a shield boss found near the mouth of the Tyne in 1866 and on loan from the British Museum are on display in the Glory of Rome exhibition at Arbeia fort in South Shields.

The Jarrow exhibition features a gold signet ring which may have been worn by Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland, when he was killed at the Wars of the Roses Battle of Towton in Yorkshire in 1461.

The battle was the bloodiest ever fought in England, with death toll estimates ranging from 28,000 to 40,000.

The exhibits, several of which have never been on public display, are extra special for exhibition curator Georgina Ascroft.

Georgina, 25, who has spent part of her Future Curators training programme at the British Museum, grew up in Jarrow.

She went to St Matthew’s Primary School in the town and then St Joseph’s Comprehensive in Hebburn before studying history at Oxford University and a Masters in museum studies at Newcastle University.

She said: “Museums are my passion. The British Museum is there for the nation to help people feel ownership of their heritage.”

She said the exhibition would help show how the region played a key role in the formation of England in the Middle Ages.

“This was where it was all happening, from the formation of the English-Scottish border to the major battles and powerful families such as the Percys and the Nevilles.”

The Towton ring features a lion, which was the symbol of the Percies.

In an interview with Bede’s World’s Hive community radio, the Duke of Northumberland said that there was “some debate” over whether the ring was owned by Henry Percy.

 

He said: “It is certainly possible. It was a particularly horrible battle.”

Other items include a seal matrix from 1437 when the bishopric of Durham fell vacant for that year on the death of Bishop Langley.

The seal would have been used to authorise taxes, laws, writs and documents.

“It is really rare for a temporary seal to survive,” said Georgina.

A finger ring and a pendant showing St George are also on show from the 15th Century at a time when the saint was gaining prominence in England.

“The pendant is tiny - the size of a fingernail - and would have held a relic of St George behind a piece of rock crystal,” said Georgina.

Also featured is a 15th Century pilgrim’s badge. In the North East, Durham, Lindisfarne and Jarrow would have been places of pilgrimage.

“Pilgrims would have touched the shrine of a saint to charge the badge with spiritual power, which couild then be taken back home or to the local church,” said Georgina.

Coins from the reigns of Edward I, Edward IV and the Scottish King Alexander III, which were found during excavations at Jarrow led by Durham University’s Professor Rosemary Cramp are also part of the exhibition, running until September 29.

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