A Somerset treasure

Stepping outside Bath for a story with real county interest!

A very rare Early Medieval brooch, that lay hidden for many centuries, is going on display at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

It comes from a time when the survival of Saxon Wessex was in doubt and Somerset provided a refuge for King Alfred the Great at Athelney. 

Dating from about AD 800 to 900, the large silver and copper alloy disc brooch is well over a thousand years old and is one of the most important single objects ever found in the county.

Brooch before conservation

Conservation work by Pieta Greaves of Drakon Heritage has removed centuries of corrosion and soil deposits to reveal the exceptional quality of its decoration. Interlaced animal and plant designs in bright silver and black ‘niello’ are set against a gilded back panel. The animals represented include wyverns – dragon-like creatures with two legs, wings and long tails, that would later become one of the symbols of Wessex. 

Curator of Archaeology, Amal Khreisheh, said: “Conservation has transformed this fascinating brooch and revealed the intricacies of its design. The fascinating details uncovered include fine scratches on the reverse which may have helped the maker to map out the design.

A tiny contemporary mend on the beaded border suggests that the brooch was cherished by its owner and worn for an extended period of time before it was lost. We’re very excited that we can show the brooch in the county where it was found and share it with people in Somerset and beyond through our programme of events.”

Tom Mayberry, Chief Executive of the South West Heritage Trust said: “In 878 Alfred the Great rallied his forces in Somerset and defeated the invading Danish army. Wessex was secure and the foundations had been laid for the creation of a unified English kingdom. The Cheddar Brooch comes from a time that was a turning point in English history. We’re delighted that this remarkable object is going on display at the Museum of Somerset.”

The brooch was found by Iain Sansome while metal-detecting on farmland near Cheddar, Somerset, in 2020. He reported it through the Portable Antiquities Scheme via his local Finds Liaison Officer, who with the South West Heritage Trust organised a follow-up archaeological excavation of the findspot. The brooch was acquired by the Museum under 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.

The Cheddar Brooch will be on display in the Museum’s ‘Making Somerset’ gallery from Friday 20 October. The Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 am – 5.00 pm and entry is free. A programme of talks and family activities is taking place over the autumn where people can find out more. 

Five days of family activities relating to the Cheddar Brooch will be held in October half term: Saxon Reenactors (Saturday 21 October), Make a Brooch (Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 October) and Be an Archaeologist (Thursday 26 and Friday 27 October).

Amal Khreisheh, Curator of Archaeology, will talk about the Cheddar Brooch on Friday 10 November 2023 as part of The Museum of Somerset’s Talk and Tea programme. Tom Mayberry, Chief Executive, will give an evening talk on ‘King Alfred’s Somerset and the Cheddar Brooch’ on 23 November.

The South West Heritage Trust is working with community partners in Cheddar to develop a programme of activities related to the Cheddar Brooch supported by the Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation scheme. This will culminate in a community event in Cheddar in the spring of 2024 when people will be able to see the brooch in the parish where it was found.

Visit swheritage.org.uk to find out more.