Fiona Scott Media Consultanccy

A unique exhibition of rare artefacts which speak to the Anglo Saxon heritage of Malmesbury prepares to open to the public as part of the Athelstan 1100 celebrations in the town (Tuesday 2 July).

Volunteers from the Athelstan Museum have spent months arranging loans from prestigious organisations to collate Athelstan artefacts that have never been brought together on display anywhere in the world.

It means this small Wiltshire museum, already home to an original Turner, is once again punching above its weight in celebrating local heritage of national importance.

Susan Mockler, vice chair of the museum management team, said: “We would like to thank the generosity of the British Library, the Ashmolean Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum for allowing us to loan these items and to Noonans for organising the amazing collection of coins that can be seen alongside the museum’s own Athelstan silver coin.

“This has meant the Athelstan Museum, a volunteer-run organisation, is putting on a once in a lifetime exhibition to celebrate the 1100 anniversary of Athelstan becoming King. We are delighted to have secured these prestigious loans which have not been seen together in one venue ever before.”

The artefacts include: 

  • An important collection of extremely rare coins from the Anglo-Saxon period including some from the time of Athelstan and his grandfather, Alfred the Great. Several of these have been lent to us by Noonans, the famous specialists in antiquarian coins. 
  • An authentic and precious charter signed by Athelstan himself and dating to 939 AD which was the year of his death, loaned by the British Library. Many Anglo-Saxon charters only exist as later medieval copies, but this survives in the form of the original document produced more than 1,000 years ago in the presence of Athelstan and approved by him personally. In this charter he describes himself as ‘king of the English and guardian of all Britain’. 
  • The centrepiece of the exhibition is the so-called ‘Abingdon Sword’ loaned by the Ashmolean Museum. This extremely rare and important iron sword hilt was found near Abingdon in Oxfordshire in 1874. The decoration on the sword hilt indicates this was a high-status weapon dating from the time of Alfred the Great and Athelstan. The sword hilt is one of the most important examples of the late Anglo-Saxon silversmith's art. 
  • Also on display will also be replicas of some of the greatest works of manuscript art produced at this time and linked to Athelstan and Malmesbury. This includes a copy of the earliest surviving version of the charter of Athelstan granting privileges including the town Common to the Burgesses of Malmesbury. 

Volunteer and historian Tony McAleavy said: “The exhibition will show that Malmesbury may be a charming market town today but in the tenth century it was one of the most important places in England.”

There are a range of celebrations and events going on across the town including talks from some of the world’s leading Athelstan scholars.

A donation from entrepreneurs Whit and Kim Hanks who own the nearby Old Bell Hotel and Abbey House helped secure the artefacts – covering some of the costs of vital security and insurance.  Additional funds had to then be raised to meet the strict requirements. These have come from the King Athelstan Memorial Fund and some private donors who are friends of the museum.

Volunteers will be giving extra time over the summer to keep the museum open to welcome an upswell of visitors who are expected to flock to Malmesbury over the coming months.

Chair of Trustees, Sharon Nolan: “We’d like to thank everyone who has made this exhibition possible either by a financial donation or volunteer hours. We are thrilled that this unique event can now be announced and we hope many, many people will travel to see it.” 

The exhibition opens to the public at 10am on Tuesday 2 July and runs until Sunday 29 September. 

* Picture shows Sharon Nolan, Whit Hanks, Kim Hanks & Tony McAleavy in the Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury, Wiltshire

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