The Cheddar brooch after conservation (Image: South West Heritage)
In a momentous occasion for history enthusiasts and curious visitors alike, the Museum of Somerset in Taunton is set to unveil a remarkable artifact that has lain hidden for centuries—the Early Medieval Cheddar Brooch. This extraordinary discovery, dating back to approximately AD 800 to 900, provides a captivating window into a pivotal era in English history, when the fate of Saxon Wessex hung in the balance, and Somerset offered refuge to none other than King Alfred the Great himself.
The Cheddar Brooch, a large silver and copper alloy disc brooch, has emerged from obscurity thanks to the efforts of a dedicated metal detectorist, Iain Sansome, who unearthed it on farmland near Cheddar, Somerset, in 2020. This remarkable find, one of the most important single objects ever discovered in the county, has since undergone meticulous conservation work by Pieta Greaves of Drakon Heritage.
The brooch, which is well over a thousand years old, has been carefully restored to reveal its exceptional craftsmanship and intricate design. The decoration on the brooch features interlaced animal and plant motifs in bright silver and black “niello,” set against a gilded background. Among the depicted creatures are wyverns, dragon-like beings with two legs, wings, and long tails, which would later become symbols of Wessex.
Amal Khreisheh, Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Somerset, commented on the fascinating details uncovered during the conservation process, including fine scratches on the reverse side that may have been used by the maker to outline the design. Additionally, a tiny contemporary mend on the beaded border suggests that the brooch was cherished and worn for an extended period before being lost to history.
Tom Mayberry, Chief Executive of the South West Heritage Trust, highlighted the historical significance of the Cheddar Brooch, explaining that it hails from a time that marked a turning point in English history. In 878, King Alfred the Great rallied his forces in Somerset and successfully defeated an invading Danish army, securing Wessex and laying the foundations for a unified English kingdom.
The Cheddar brooch before conservation (Image: South West Heritage)
The acquisition of the Cheddar Brooch was made possible through the Treasure Act 1996, with generous support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Art Fund, and the Friends of the Museum of Somerset. Leanne Manfredi of the Victoria and Albert Museum praised the acquisition, emphasizing the long-term benefit it would bring to audiences.
The Cheddar Brooch will be prominently displayed in the museum’s ‘Making Somerset’ gallery, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in its historical significance. The museum, open from Tuesday to Saturday, offers free entry, making this ancient treasure accessible to all. In addition to viewing the brooch, visitors can participate in a range of talks and family activities over the autumn season, shedding light on the brooch’s historical context.
As part of its commitment to community engagement, the South West Heritage Trust is collaborating with partners in Cheddar to develop a series of activities related to the Cheddar Brooch. This initiative will culminate in a community event in Cheddar in the spring of 2024, offering local residents and history enthusiasts the opportunity to see the brooch in the parish where it was discovered.
The unveiling of the Cheddar Brooch is a testament to the enduring allure of history and the dedication of individuals and organizations committed to preserving and sharing the rich cultural heritage of Somerset. As this remarkable artifact takes its place in the spotlight, it promises to captivate the imaginations of all who come to witness it, connecting the present with a pivotal moment in England’s past. Don’t miss the chance to embark on a journey through time and explore the legacy of the Early Medieval Cheddar Brooch at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.