A Weekend in Winchester

A few weeks ago I went to visit one of my uni friends in the stunning city of Winchester.

We walked round it for a solid three and a half hours. I hadn’t brought the correct shoes for this, and so my feet were pretty tender by the end! I also took twelve billion photos (about 60 or 70 in reality) which was probably to be expected because if there was ever a city with a lot of history in plain sight, it was Winchester!

I’m therefore splitting my trip up into two posts today and tomorrow (making the “weekend” part of this post both my experience of doing it and yours in reading it! Yes, I think I’m clever right now) otherwise we’d all be drowning in photos.

Before I get down into the pictures, humour me in my place-name obsession. If you want to skip this, click here.


As a settlement, Winchester has existed for a very long time indeed. There are several Iron Age hillforts around the city. I visited one, called St Catherine’s Hill, which you can see on this image:

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Source: http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/MagicMap.aspx

I only took one photo of my climb unfortunately, and it is an uninspiring one of the way down.

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After the Roman invasion, this place became known as Venta Belgarum. This is a pretty interesting name because Venta isn’t Roman. It’s pre-Celtic. Did the Romans usually continue pre-existing names? I know very little about Roman Britain.

The Belgares were the Celtic tribe in the area at the time. My place-names dictionary only has “Venta” as the earliest recording, so was Belgares something descriptive added later?

Ah, add it all to my list of things which need further investigation.

So yes, the earliest form of this in my dictionary is “Ouenta” from about 150 CE. Then the Anglo-Saxon invasion happened, and the next recorded name is “Uintancaestir” in about 730. I have briefly mentioned this “caster/cester/chester etc” Anglo-Saxon name form before. It’s a very specific name which they gave to settlements that used to be Roman. This time they even kept the Roman name (more or less)!

My meanderings through history are over.

Onto the pictures!

The first place that we went to was the Great Hall. We had a really excellent tour; however I didn’t take notes or make recordings so I’ll be backing up what I remember from the photographs with judicious googling.

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This is the famous Round Table of Winchester. It was made between 1250–1280 but only painted by Henry VII in the early 1500s. Our guide explained which I’m not sure is 100% true but is 100% hilarious: in the intervening 300 years, people forgot how the table had been made, and what had started as merely a homage to the Arthurian legends became considered the actual legendary table itself.

(It was absolutely huge, that photo can’t really do it justice. It would have filled most of the top half of the room!)

Here you can see underneath the table to the left (as you’re looking at it) is a male figure and to the right is a female figure. This showed the side that the king and queen sat on, when this was used for its original royal hall purpose.

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Over the years the Great Hall was used as a courthouse quite a lot, and this was where the prisoners would go – presumably just until they were sentenced? Can’t remember. It’s a really small hole. Creepy.

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That faint white area in amongst the stones is a remnant of the original  13th century wall.

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I spent a very long time looking at this. This is a massive painting on the back wall of the hall. I’ve forgotten what the names actually were – were they MPs? Argh, I forget. However, for me the much more interesting thing was watching the progression of surnames.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, before surnames were inherited they existed as descriptive bynames. So, John Johnsson, John the Baker, John from Winchester, John the Short. Etc. All throughout this side of the wall, the earliest side, you have names like:

“1337 Robertus de Popham” (and roughly 20 years later in 1353, presumably a relative, Johannes de Popham)

This is a locative byname, showing either where he was from or where he was in charge of if he was an important person.  Five seconds of googling and you can see here that Popham was a tiny hamlet near Winchester (first documented 903 CE!), and that both Robert and John were members of the manor family.

These types are most common on the early wall, but you do get unmarked surnames which could have been hereditary (I’d have to do some serious digging to find this out), such as

“1349 Rogerus Normound” or “1345 Richard’s Fromound”

By the very bottom of the early wall in 1381, both names in that year are unmarked (Thomas Wortyne and Johannes Sandes) and as far as I remember from thereon in no-one has a “de” name. So I am hesitantly and on zero proof suggesting that this is an interesting and accidental view of surnames switching from descriptive to hereditary.

So we’re done in the Great Hall now; moving on!

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Text reads: In pre-historic times, the Itchen flowed in two main channels in the centre of the river valley, near the Cathedral. Following the foundation of the Roman town, about 70AD, this new artificial channel was created. This both reduced the chance of flooding in the town centre and provided an eastern defensive moat. In the medieval period, the river was nearly twice as wide as today.

Following along similar ancient lines, this is an actual piece of the Roman wall. Two thousand years old. I got chills.

Next we went to Wolvesey Castle. Most of the remains are from the 12th century. It is hands down the coolest set of ruins I’ve ever been in because the walls are so intact that it retains the sense of size and scale.

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And finally to finish this tour we will positively zoom up the timeline to have a look at the house which Jane Austen died in!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed looking at all the photographs! See you again soon.

A Weekend in Winchester

Redcar and the royal burial

Over the weekend I visited the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar to check out the Anglo-Saxon exhibit they have there. This is the first time my trip had involved an actual official exhibition, and it was definitely a more detailed experience.

The geographically astute among you are probably noticing that Redcar is an exceedingly long way away from Huntingdonshire. Unless you’re American or from another large country, in which case you probably don’t think that anywhere in Britain is very far away from the rest of it.

I got there because I went up to Darlington to visit a friend. Because she has done Nanowrimo (except properly with a novel) several times, she was sympathetic to my constant search for these daily posts, and so off we tootled to the coast. After she’d patiently stood around while I took photographs of literally everything I could see, including using her height to take better photos, we went to the seaside and got chips and ice-cream. Best trip ever is what I’m saying.

As I said up there, this was a proper museum exhibit. This means that I wasn’t just taking photos of small pieces of buildings, or of things displayed in one small room. This covered the whole second floor; multiple rooms, multiple rooms. Even the gift shop was excellent, since they sold an extremely detailed guide for only £3, written by the same person who’d written … dun dun dun … THE ACTUAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL REPORT.

WHICH THEY ALSO SOLD.

(Please remember my complete thing for original sources.)

But yeah, so what I mean is that there was a lot of information there. It was exciting. Basic story: they were excavating an area expecting it to be full of Iron Age. They did find some of that, but they also found something completely unexpected: a luxurious royal burial and small cemetery in a 7th century Anglo-Saxon settlement.

You should all go, but in lieu of that, here is my little tour:

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This is the exterior of the museum itself. It’s a Grade II* listed building, I think, and is quite impressive all by itself.

In I went, into the reception area and gift shop where the very nice people behind the desk directed us to the only exhibition I cared about:

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Into the first room!

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I intend to discuss this kind of thing more in this last week of daily blogging: the international nature of high status Anglo-Saxon life. I know the images aren’t clear: the caption is “Trade links across the world in Saxon Times” and some examples from the close-up map are ivory from Africa, garnets from beyond the edge of the map (Middle East? China?? Not sure) and amber from the Baltic. This room also had a detailed timeline and a map of the broad areas of the main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

In the second room you could watch a little living history-esque film about the Anglo-Saxon “princess” who is the undisputed star of this exhibition.

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She was buried in a bed, which as you will later on was a very rare type of burial. Mock-up of it here:

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In the next two rooms, you had these ever so slightly creepy models showing what houses and farms would have looked like at the time.

The next room had a number of Anglo-Saxon games, and a quern stone for grinding flour.

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Text: “This diorama is a not to scale representation of the Royal Saxon settlement excavated at modern day Street House. It shows the unusual layout of the cemetery (including the bed burial structure), the people and buildings of the settlement itself, and a small ship lying on the beach at nearby Skinningrove, as her crew trade goods with the local inhabitants.”

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tldr; The excavated cemetery is unique in the Anglo-Saxon world. It was only used for a short time, and was focused on grave 42 (bed burial) with many beautiful golden pendants also being found there.

Here you can see the remnants of the burial bed, which meant that the archaeologists and researchers could figure outwit the bed would have looked like. Unusually for a bed burial it was apparently a previously-used bed, and not one built for the occasion.

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And here are the most impressive of the grave goods:

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If you can’t see the text, it basically says that all the jewellery here was very rare and unusual, and this specific example is of Iron Age coins being used as part of a necklace. These were already antiques for the Anglo-Saxons, being at least 600 years old at the time, so would have been a brilliant status piece and probably very expensive, same as antiques today.

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And acknowledgements of the huge amount of hard work that this exhibition has clearly taken:

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Thanks for reading!

Redcar and the royal burial

The Round Church

Ok, and building number 2 from my trip into Cambridge this weekend! This is the Round Church, actually called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Exterior! The round bit at the front is the earliest bit:

“… built in about 1130 by the ‘fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre’. They were evidently influenced by the Round Church in Jerusalem; this church, called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.”

The church website

After paying my £2.50 entry free (in Cambridge that’s less than most of the ice-creams!) I had a nice chat with the volunteer who handed me a summary leaflet of the place. I’ve scanned it in for you, since it saves me trying and failing to explain through the pictures, or worse just plagiarising the words.

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Ok, so you’ve definitely seen the outside now! I stood right up against a wall to take the longer shots successfully, got some very odd looks!

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As you can see, the floor here was too large; I couldn’t get a decent shot of it. But hopefully this woeful snippet gives you an idea of what we’re looking at. This used to be all there was of the church, just this tiny round building. For an idea: the round area was crossable in about four stretching steps on my tiny 27 inch legs.  I’m not surprised that according to its website this church only operated as a chapel for passersby until it was expanded sometime in the 13th century. It couldn’t fit anyone else in!

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Here we have a sadly slightly blurry picture of the ceiling of the round bit. (According to the PDF this bit is called the nave.)

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Here you can see the original Norman big thick chunky stone pillars and low rounded arches. No wonder they were good at castles; they knew how to build big bulky stone things! I can’t 100% remember where I was standing to take this, but I’m pretty certain that in the centre you can see the choir room and to the left is the north aisle, also called the scriptorium.

I can transcribe this image if anyone asks, but it basically just says that a scriptorium means “a place for writing”, found in medieval European monasteries. Then it goes on about the University of Cambridge, and says (relevant info at last!) that when this church was just a wayfarers’ chapel it was manned by a priest from the Hospital of St Johns. It goes on to say, in very pretty words, that the church offers this space to the scholars and graduates of the University to allow them a space to study away from the “pressure-driven, isolating and even dehumanising” academic experience.

Fun fact: I didn’t see that there was a rope barrier at shin level barring entry into this room and nearly either fell over or knocked over the barrier, I’m not sure which would have happened first …

So this room was added later, though I can’t quite work out when? The roof is 14th/15th century apparently and is an excellent example of a tie-beam ceiling, including cute carved angels!

And then there was also the choir, added sometime after the 13th century, and the south aisle, which I think was added as part of a 19th century restoration.

I found the purely Norman bits of this the most interesting – both because of how strikingly castle-like the pillars seemed to me, but also because I had never been in a round church before. According to Wikipedia there are only four left in use in England, since most other churches were built in a cross shape. I did a quick google and came up with this blog post about them and a few websites.

The Temple Church

The Holy Sepulchre

Do have a look if you liked this round church! Maybe I’ll go and see the Northampton one sometime.

Well, thanks for flipping through another quick photo tour with me! I’ll be back tomorrow with probably a more text-heavy piece.

The Round Church

St Benet’s Church

Surprise surprise, I didn’t get two posts up today. I’m not even sure if I’ll finish this one by bedtime or whether I’ll be trying to finish it while eating breakfast. It’s partly because I watched Arrival, and partly because it took me nearly half an hour to work out how to transfer only 17 photos from my phone to the computer. For flip’s sake.

So this is a post-in-progress, please feel free to bookmark it to read tomorrow when it might be better.

On this gloriously sunny day I went into Cambridge and had a quick wander around St Benet’s Church.  You should check out the website, they have a whole section of the architecture which, as previously stated, I really need to start learning about. Thanks to its Anglo-Saxon tower, this church is the oldest building in the entire county!

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[Sign] “The ancient parish church is an Anglo-Saxon foundation dating from around 1020, when Canute (sic) was King of England. It is dedicated to St Benedict and has been a place of Christian worship for nearly a thousand years.”

The rest of it is all very modern ecclesiastical information, let me know if you want it transcribed too!

I got pictures of all the relevant Anglo-Saxon stuff! Diagram here:

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Here’s the “magnificent Saxon arch”:

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I was very happy that this photo came out ok. A bit of a weird angle, oops, but on the whole everything is included and it’s not blurry! I tried to get a better view of the little window  above the arch, but I don’t think it improves matters much:

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Crouched animals. Apparently these are lions … ok, I’m leaving animal identifying to the experts, definitely, but … really?

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“Distinctive horizontal and vertical stones at the corners” (sorry the right and lefts are the wrong way around here):

And the exterior of the tower. It was genuinely a spine-chilling moment looking up at it from that angle and realising that someone stood here nearly a thousand years ago would have seen basically the same thing.

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There were some slightly less old but very cool things. The 19th century stained glass was pretty:

Then, to go back to the excellent guidelines (I do love it when these places make my life easier):

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I got a decent picture of item 3 here, the 14th century arched recesses which possibly show Middle Eastern influence. Remember folks, anyone who tries to tell you that medieval people lived their whole lives in one village and never went anywhere are generalising and grossly unaware of history!

This was my favourite: a medieval coffin lid! I remember reading that it was 13th century, but I can’t find any photos I took of any signs saying that, so take that with your usual sodium dosage:

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Then there was this mystery door, which was inside the room with the Anglo-Saxon arch,  and cannot be more than 5 foot 5 five tall. I should have taken a selfie to show you the scale. (I’m 5 foot one and a bit.) Quite incredible. It is a weird, tiny door. Any church-y people know its purpose??

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And last then, a shot from the outside. I picked a truly fantastic day to do this, weather-wise, but it made seeing enough to take this photo really difficult as the blazing sun was, as you might be able to tell, just to the right of the tower.

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So thus ends the whistlestop tour of the oldest building in Cambridgeshire! I really enjoyed this one – the last time I got chills like that was when I went into the crypt at Hexam Abbey (read about that here). Just every now and again I step back from the camera and realise how old these places are. How many years they’ve been standing there, how many people they’ve seen pass by.

Thanks for reading, all! I did visit one other building today, but it was younger (those pesky Normans) and anyway, there are probably enough photos here for now. I’ll show you the other one tomorrow!

St Benet’s Church

Saxon Tower of St Michael

In the same situation as my visit to Hexam Abbey, I was in Oxford visiting friends (actually some of the group as before too) and happened upon this gem in the middle of the city. My friends can now attest I am magnetically attracted to signs with “Saxon” written on them.

(Also to bookshops but that’s another problem entirely.)

The website for the tower suggests that this is the second-oldest building in Oxford, with a date of about 1040-50. So much of Oxford seems ancient anyway, especially since we’d been around a few colleges too, that to go inside something that much older than its surroundings was quite impressive.

So without further ado, let’s start the tooouuuuur …

You entered the tower, as opposed to the rest of the church, through the gift shop. Which is a hilariously blatant bit of fundraising, I love it. Sadly I didn’t buy anything there, though I really wanted some of the fake stained glass. Here’s the sign at the bottom of the spiralling tower steps, telling you what to expect as you climb:

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Next, I climbed to the bit which various signs told me might be the nave? I don’t know churches; I really need to get this sorted if they will insist on being the only surviving Anglo-Saxon structures for me to “oooh” over. So looking out from that I got a picture of the gorgeous church. It gives you a good sense of how high up we already were!

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That second picture shows you the material of the tower: rough stone. It has, of course, been repaired and restored over the years, as detailed by various signs on the way up. Below is some information (and a photo-of-a-photo) that I took of an Anglo-Saxon remnant in the wall just behind where I was stood for the above photo. You might have to squint at the photo to see the arched doorway referenced, sorry!

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So fifteen minutes later when I had walked about ten steps (interest is not conducive to speed) I finally came upon the little display area, where they keep old documents and other artefacts. I tried my best to take legible photos of signs!

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I love old keys, ok? Massive hulking 3D chunks of metal. Much cooler than the tiny things we open our doors with today, or the buttons we press to get into our cars. Although I do appreciate they are harder to actually use. Form over function, that’s me.

We also saw a chest like this with multiple locks and key-holders in one of the Oxford colleges – the name escapes me right now. The one that doubled as the Harry Potter infirmary?! I’d never really put any thought into how belongings and valuables were kept secure for large administrations before. Shame on me.

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I’ll just give you the first bit of the sign there. This is from 1612, (top left corner) and it’s basically a record of some property transactions.

A Charter, which is an exemplification of a chancery decree. Endorsed (given at the request of Thomas Flexney Esq.,). It is on four sheets of parchment, sealed with the great seal in white wax. 

This next set is the earliest set on display, and I was very sad that I couldn’t read them. Ah well, at least we can see old handwriting …

Sign for exhibit Church Warden's Accounts

I don’t quite know where this next one fits: I think it might be a header to the church warden accounts but it looks later … anyway, here it is.

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That’s actually come out much clearer than I thought it would, but I’ll give you the text as best I can anyway – modernised spelling:

“The [UNKNOWN-possibly books?] of the parish Church of St Michael at the North Gate of the City of Oxford, wherein are contained diverse gifts and legacies [UNKNOWN-possibly unto?] the said parish Church and Parishioners given & bequeathed.”

I left the display room after that. There was an entire silverware section I have no photos of, but time is precious and I am slow. On the way up I passed by numerous signs detailing the restoration process in the tower. It was an amazing tale, but I was running out of phone charge! Had to reserve it for the really interesting stuff like:

 

I do apologise for the blurry door. And the sign glare. The modern white sign) reads:

This is a door through which Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, known as the Oxford Martyrs, were led to the[sic] deaths. It was the entrance to their cell, originally located in the ‘Bocardo Prison’, which was constructed over the North Gate of the city and could be entered through this tower.”

These martyrs were Protestants who were executed by the order of Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary”. You can see a little more about them here and here (and, of course, on many other sites that you can probably find more quickly than me).

On the last stretch before coming out onto the roof, I saw the bells mentioned earlier: both the 19th century chiming mechanism (sadly broken at the time) and the huge bells 17th century bells themselves. Unfortunately they were too big for me to get an adequate photograph of them within the confines of the tower. They aren’t allowed to be rung any more, only chimed, as it is feared they might damage the tower.

And a quick view from the top!

Since I was limited for time by my travel arrangements (public transport, everybody … ) I sadly didn’t get a chance to look at any of these bits:

“After the tower, the earliest surviving parts of the church are the chancel, the eastern part of the south aisle (nearest the altar), and the south door, all dating from the 13th century.

The east window of the chancel contains four panels of high quality stained glass dating from the 13th century; it is some of the earliest stained glass in Oxford.”

http://www.smng.org.uk/wp/about/our-history/

Hopefully I’ll go back there at some point to stay there all day (ahem) to see my friends again.

Thanks for reading! Hope you found the photographs interesting!

 

Saxon Tower of St Michael

Hexham Abbey

Ok, so Christmas kind of derailed the blogging plan, oops! So I thought I’d kickstart myself with an easy post about a trip I made with friends a couple of months ago to an amazing place called Hexham Abbey.

We happened across the abbey completely by chance – looking for something to do and thought we’d have a peek. I was completely taken aback by how much exciting (to me) material we found!

To quote their website directly, “There has been a church on this site for more than 1,300 years, since Queen Etheldreda made a grant of lands to Wilfrid, Bishop of York c.674.”

7th century Anglo-Saxon church? Sign me up! Due to me not really specialising in Anglo Saxons and Old English until the third year of my undergraduate degree, I didn’t go to see as many Anglo-Saxon ruins, remnants or artefacts as I’d have liked. We did go to the ruins of St Paul’s Monastery at Jarrow, where Bede resided (we also went to Bede’s World and Lindisfarne, which I’d both 100% recommend).

During my postgraduate degree at Nottingham we went to lots of churches all over Cumberland, but that was looking more for viking artefacts, or the even more interesting Anglo-Norse artefacts. The place I really remember from that journey (other than the horizontal rain once we reached our overnight accommodation …) was St Mary’s Church in Gosforth, both because the Gosforth Cross is such an important monument … and because my assigned presentation  for the trip was on the Fishing Stone. Maybe I’ll do a blog post on that one day. Oh, and the Silverdale hoard too.

So yes, despite loving this era of history and going to university not half an hour away, I had never been inside Hexham Abbey before.

There were three areas of interest. Firstly, inside the main body of the abbey there were lots of Anglo-Saxon artefacts, objects and structures, e.g.:

Secondly, down some exceeding steep steps, there was an unaltered (well, lighting added) Anglo-Saxon crypt made entirely out of Roman stone.

SO. COOL.

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Source: Hexham Abbey Site

For a lot  more information than we found out while we were there, check out their article about the crypt. The article mentions, near the end, a silver plaque from Hexham which is now in the British Museum, and in case anyone is interested it’s this one detailed here.

The third section of the abbey, where we probably spent the longest, is their new exhibition The Big Story. Not only are there many interesting artefacts on the walls, and an amazing chalice centrepiece, the exhibition has bucketloads of interactive 21st century ways to engage with the Abbey’s past. Great for children, and for people like my friends who were probably getting slightly fed up of me taking ten thousand pictures of bits of stone from marginally different angles. So me and my friends dressed up in ecclesiastical robes and hats and raced each other to correctly trace calligraphy with a stylus (I came second). Here are just a few of the exhibits you can see:

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Then, just to finish off a very enjoyable trip, we went to the cafe. My food was utterly delicious.

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Hope you enjoyed this blog post, and that you feel inspired to pop into the abbey (or Bede’s World or Lindisfarne!) if you’re ever in the North-East.

Hexham Abbey