Ancient jewellery believed to be the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain is back on permanent display in Stoke-on-Trent from today (May 25).
Four exquisite artefacts that make up the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs can now be seen at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery after a successful campaign to raise the £325,000 needed to buy them.
Donations from members of the public and major support from funding bodies as well as trusts and local businesses flooded in following the launch of the campaign, and the fundraising target was reached in December last year. Grants received included up to £165,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF); £80,000 from Art Fund; £40,000 from Arts Council England and managed by the Victoria and Albert Museum; £25,000 from The Headley Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts; and £10,000 from The Goldsmiths’ Company Charity.
The four torcs are jewellery consisting of three necklaces and a bracelet. Experts believe they date back to around 400BC. They are continental in style, possibly imported from Germany or France, and would have been worn by wealthy, important members of society – probably women.
The artefacts were discovered by two metal detectorists in a farmer’s field near Leek, Staffordshire Moorlands, in December 2016. The find was reported to the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme based at Birmingham Museum. Archaeologists from Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire County Council supported site investigations on the land.
The torcs were carefully examined by experts at the British Museum and declared treasure at an inquest hearing in February last year. They were then put before the national independent Treasure Valuation Committee, where a panel of experts had the difficult task of placing a value on ancient items never before seen in this country.
The ancient treasure captured the public imagination – and global media – when they were unveiled for the first time at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, located in the city centre, in February last year. They went on to attract 21,000 visitors in just one month, and were also viewed by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall when they visited the city in November.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council, in partnership with the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery – which led the public fundraising campaign on behalf of the museum – had until January 5 to meet the valuation price, or risk the artefacts potentially being separated out and sold to private bidders.
The torcs will be in their permanent home at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery from today.
Councillor Anthony Munday, the city council’s cabinet member for greener city, development and leisure, said: “I’m delighted that the Leekfrith Torcs will be back on display at the museum – just in time for the bank holiday weekend and half-term break, so families will have lots of opportunities to come and see them.
“These treasures have captured the public imagination and we are extremely grateful to all members of the public and museum visitors who supported the campaign. We are also incredibly grateful for the major support from funding bodies as well as trusts and local businesses that ensured we reached our target in time.
“I’d also like to express my immense gratitude to the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery as well as to the team at the museum, who have worked tirelessly towards this very important cause.
“You can’t quite grasp how exquisite these pieces of jewellery are until you see them in person, so I’d urge everyone who is able to, to go along to the museum and take a look – you won’t be disappointed.”
Chairman of the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery Ian Lawley said: “We are thrilled to see the torcs displayed where they belong, in the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
“Once again we would like to thank everyone who responded to our fundraising appeal. It was the generosity of the public that made it possible for these wonderful treasures to come home.”
Art Fund and the NHMF supported the campaign with grants of £80,000 and up to £165,000.
Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said: “These ancient and beautiful torcs have captured the imagination of museum-goers around the country. We’re so pleased that our grant has enabled this treasure to be preserved and displayed for everyone to enjoy for many years to come.”
Sir Peter Luff, chair of NHMF, said: “The Leekfrith Torcs are absolutely exquisite. The trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund had the privilege of seeing up close the craftsmanship of these mysterious pieces of jewellery pulled from the Staffordshire soil. They offer so much insight into a period of our history we know little about and we felt it imperative they should be saved so everyone has the opportunity to see them.”
For all media enquiries please contact the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232265.