One man’s discovery of a piece of bone and pot in a Lincolnshire field nearly 60 years ago led to the excavation of one of the most remarkable pagan Anglo-Saxon cemeteries ever found in Britain.
And now, for the first time ever, the 250-strong collection of rare and mysterious antiquities, along with records and research which give an insight into how the earliest Englishmen and women lived, is to be sold. It is hoped the collection will be bought by a museum and preserved for the nation.
Gordon Taylor, from Cleethorpes, was the man who came across the fragment of femur bone in 1962. He went on to lead an excavation of the important burial site at Welbeck Hill in the parish of Irby-on-Humber, Lincolnshire. The dig made national headlines and captivated scholars around the world.
More and more antiquities, dating back to 450 to 625 AD, were gradually unearthed from 72 mainly female graves – including tweezers, scissors, jewellery, amber & pottery beads and a girdle-hanger, which resembled keys and symbolised women controlling the home.
Such was the fascination with the 1,500-year-old cemetery, students and archaeologists from the UK and overseas volunteered their services, both at the dig and to examine items.
Now hundreds of objects from the site including a great square-headed gilt brooch with cloth attached, scissors, tweezers, cruciform brooches, pots, knives, a spear head with attachment for a pennant, skeleton, skull and bracteates (pendants) incorporating runic characters from the early Teutonic alphabet are to be sold by private treaty by Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers with bids invited by June 1. The guide price is £50,000-£80,000.
Mr Taylor died two years ago at the age of 88 leaving his collection behind in his home. The antiquities were found before treasure trove rules came into being, hence he was able to keep it. Now his wife Muriel Taylor, 88, has put the entire collection up for sale.
Mrs Taylor, from Cleethorpes, said: “It’s so important to me that this collection stays together. I would like it to be preserved in a museum. It’s my late husband’s life work and a crucial part of England’s Anglo-Saxon history.”
She explained how it all began: “Gordon used to enjoy field walking and, one day in 1962, came across a piece of femur bone and a fragment of Anglo-Saxon pottery on the surface. He consulted the farmer who owned the land to gain permission to dig. That was the start of a 17-year excavation.”
In an article for Grimsby Archaeological Society, Gordon Taylor wrote: “The early Anglo-Saxons burned or buried valuable personal possessions with their dead… Welbeck Hill has yielded finds of great importance including pottery, metalwork, jewellery, textiles wood and other organic specimen… These objects were made and used by some of the first Englishmen.”
For Gordon, a history teacher, it was a labour of love. He spent most of his spare time excavating the site and researching the finds, which came in thick and fast.
“He hadn’t studied archaeology before but was so excited about it,” said Mrs Taylor. “He was very, very busy with it all, documenting each find.
“Welbeck Hill was Gordon’s life. He did very well, considering he left school at 14 and didn’t pass his 11-plus. He was self-taught and eventually became a history teacher. His research was very thorough and academic which is shown in the extensive research and meticulous recordings relating to the 72 excavated graves.”
Countless hours were spent at Welbeck Hill by the father-of-four. Gordon’s son, Geoff Taylor, remembers joining his dad at the dig – and finding an important pot.
“A picture of me at the site when I was ten years old was published in the paper,” he smiled.
Hansons’ antiquities expert James Brenchley said: “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the objects of a carefully and professionally excavated site of early British historical artefacts.”
“This memorial collection of Anglo-Saxon material was part of a 5th – 6th century cemetery three miles from Laceby in Lincolnshire.
“Welbeck Hill has thousands of years of history starting with a Bronze Age settlement as early as 2000 BC. There was also a possible Roman signal station nearby with evidence of Roman pottery being found. Lastly, we come to the Anglo-Saxon settlement which occurred as early as 450 AD with invaders from Scandinavia.
“This amazing collection of Anglo-Saxon objects includes important finds which help us to understand Anglo-Saxon life with burials taking place over a 200-year period. The material is extremely well documented with diary entries and photographs of the excavation.”
To find out more or to arrange to view the Anglo-Saxon Collection, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A free private viewing of The Anglo-Saxon Collection will be held on Tuesday, April 23, 5.30pm-7pm, at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. If you would like to attend, contact Rachael Morley. Please email: [email protected]