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Potteries Museum in bid to save Britain’s earliest Iron Age gold

a photo of bent golden jewellery

© Staffordshire County Council

A fundraising campaign has been launched to save ancient jewellery believed to be the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain

The four intricate artefacts that make up the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs first captured the public imagination – and global media – when they were unveiled for the first time at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in February. They went on to attract 21,000 visitors in just one month.

The valuable torcs, which experts believe may be Britain’s earliest examples of Iron Age gold have now been valued at £325,000 by a panel from the Treasure Valuation Committee, and the museum is embarking on a three-month campaign to raise the money so that they can be kept on public display.

Consisting of three necklaces and a bracelet, the torcs are thought to date back to 400BC and might have originally come from the continent, possibly Germany or France, and would have been worn by important women in society.

The artefacts were discovered in Leek last Christmas, and archaeologists from the city council in Stoke and Staffordshire County Council supported site investigations on the land.

a photo of a golden twisted armlet

© Staffordshire County Council

a photo of twisted golden jewellery

© Staffordshire County Council

a photo of twisted golden jewellery

© Staffordshire County Council

Declared treasure at an inquest hearing in February they have been carefully examined by experts at the British Museum where the panel of treasure registrars had the difficult task of putting a value on ancient items never before seen in this country.

Describing the beautiful gold torcs as a “find of international importance”, Julia Farley, the British Museum’s curator of British and European Iron Age collections said: “At almost 2,400 years old, they are probably the earliest Iron Age gold objects ever found in Britain. The decoration on the delicate bracelet is also some of the earliest Celtic art from these islands.

“Nothing like this hoard has ever been found in Britain before”

“The style suggests they might have been made on the continent and imported into Britain. We don’t know exactly who would have worn them, but in France and Germany similar pieces of jewellery have been found in the graves of powerful and important women.”

The torcs, which are currently on display in Room 2 at the British Museum, were certainly well worn by the time they were buried in the ground and close inspection reveals how the gold on the ends has been polished away as they lay against the neck of their wearer.

“Nothing like this hoard has ever been found in Britain before,” added Farley. “I very much hope that this incredible find can be acquired by the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, where it can be displayed for everyone to see, close to where it was carefully buried on a hilltop, thousands of years ago.”

a photo of twisted golden wire work jewelry held in the gloved hand of a curator

© Staffordshire County Council

a photo of the trumpet ends golden jewelry

© Staffordshire County Council

a photo of twisted golden jewelry

© Staffordshire County Council

Now Stoke-on-Trent City Council, in partnership with the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery – which is leading the public fundraising campaign on behalf of the museum – has until December 5 to meet the valuation price, or risk the artefacts potentially being separated out and sold to private bidders.

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, and its friends organisation, do however have a track record of leading fundraising campaigns to save important treasures. The Staffordshire Hoard – the largest and most valuable collection of Anglo Saxon treasure ever discovered, and the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase, made by Josiah Wedgwood himself on the opening day of his Etruria pottery works in 1769 have both been saved after successful campaigns to raise the cash to keep them in Staffordshire.

Residents, businesses and organisations are once again being urged to step forward and show their support for the latest effort to keep locally important treasures on display in the area. But with only a limited time to raise the money Chairman of the Friends of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery Ian Lawley admits the fundraising challenge ahead of them is a big one.

“We will work tirelessly to meet it,” he said. “As a registered charity, we are able to apply for gift aid and have potential access to funding streams that aren’t available to big organisations. We want to see this exquisite treasure back on public display, so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

a photo of the fluted ends golden jewelry

© Staffordshire County Council

a photo of twisted golden jewellery

© Staffordshire County Council

a photo of twisted golden jewellery

© Staffordshire County Council

Museum visitors can show their support for the Leekfrith Torcs fundraising campaign at donation boxes inside the museum, or online via www.stokemuseums.org.uk/leekfrithtorcs.

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The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Travel back in time and discover the history of the the Potteries, including the world's greatest collection of Staffordshire ceramics. See Reginald Mitchell's World War 2 Spitfire and all sorts of art and craft. Enjoy a light lunch or afternoon snack in our relaxing Café Museum and browse in The…