We take a closer look at some of the objects saved with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which awards grants to protect and ensure public access to the UK’s most important heritage
From 1980 to the present day, NHMF has helped to save more than 1,300 items from over 300 organisations, working in tandem with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and other grant-giving organisations including the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Art Fund.
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These items range across literary and archival heritage, treasure and archaeology, art and decorative art, land, industrial, maritime and transport heritage and music.
Westlothiana Lizziae, National Museums Scotland
This 345-million-year-old fossil named Westlothiana became famous as ‘Lizzie’ because its appearance is so lizard-like.
It was initially thought to be the oldest known reptile and its discovery launched an international scientific debate over whether the fossil was a reptile-like amphibian that laid its eggs in water or a true reptile.
The debate has not been settled yet but, at the very least, ‘Lizzie’ is very closely related to the first amniotes, which were the first animals able to reproduce on land because their eggs had an outer protective layer or ‘shell’.
Ely Gold Torc, Ely Museum
The spectacular Ely Bronze Age gold torc dates to the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1300-1100 BC, and was found by a metal detectorist in a ploughed field near Ely in East Cambridgeshire. It is much larger than usual examples and is made of 730g of almost pure gold.
With the help of the NHMF the torc now resides at Ely Museum where the speculation about its use and function continues.
Bronze Age experts are in general agreement that workmanship on the extraordinarily large 126cm torque is “astonishing” and there has been much speculation about its use. These range from being worn over thick clothing, or used to ornament a sacrificial animal or statue to being worn by pregnant women as a form of protection.
Mary Rose, Mary Rose Trust
England’s most famous shipwreck – possibly the most famous shipwreck in the world – Henry VIII’s warship has resided at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard since its dramatic recovery from the bed of the Solent in 1982.
After a short successful 35-year career in the Tudor Navy the heavily ladened ship famously sank in July 1545 – before the eyes of the monarch watching from Southsea Castle – as it engaged the French invasion fleet during the Battle of the Solent. Its contents and crew remained on the seabed for the next 438 years.
Now displayed in a state-of-the-art museum, a visit to the Mary Rose offers a dizzying time-capsule of objects cleverly displayed within the eyeline of the dramatic remains of the hull where they once resided in Tudor times.
Staffordshire Hoard, BMAG and Potteries Museum
Numbering approximately 4,000 fragments and artefacts crafted between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries AD, the Staffordshire Hoard contains a total of 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets.
Buried somewhere between 650-675 AD, it was unearthed in a farmer’s field near Lichfield on July 5 2009, and remains is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered anywhere in Europe.
Around a third of the artefacts come from what was once a spectacular high status helmet, which has now been recreated at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery where displays, together with a display at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent, continue to change our perceptions and improve our understanding of Anglo Saxon Britain.
Macclesfield Psalter, Fitzwilliam Museum
Knights in mortal combat with giant snails are, apparently, commonplace in medieval manuscripts. This example comes from the small but remarkable Macclesfield Psalter, which is filled with rich and beautiful illustrations as well as strange and fascinating grotesques in the margins.
Originally produced for a high-status patron in East Anglia, probably Norwich, between 1330 and 1340, the book was discovered on the shelves in the library of the Earls of Macclesfield of Shirburn Castle in the early 2000’s.
Experts believe it to be the work of several accomplished artists and assistants, and is representative of a distinct East-Anglian manuscript tradition, that combines religious scenes illustrating the psalms themselves with depictions of animals and contemporary life as well as fanciful creatures, imaginary hybrids and bawdy or obscene motifs.
Many of these marginal depictions may seem strange to modern viewers, but to medieval audiences they functioned as aide memoires, helping the reader navigate the text, as well as illustrations of the psalms or ideas within them. The visual schema also borrowed motifs from other oral, textual, and visual sources, such as religious plays, secular romances, and fables that entertained courtly audiences and townsfolk alike.
Apart from the Hebrew biblical story of Doeg, wielding a gigantic sword to behead the high priest, Achimelech, we see here a bas-de-page scene of a snail and knight in combat, a squirrel, and a man tumbling from a tree. It is thought the snail motif conveyed multiple messages, ranging from comments on nationality, gender, sexuality and social status.
Funding from NHMF helped to save this item from export.
Viotti Stradarvi, Royal Academy of Music
The ‘Viotti-ex-Bruce’, a violin made in 1709 by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, was acquired by the Royal Academy of Music in 2005, as part of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This was supported by a generous contribution from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, other institutions, and individual benefactors.
This superbly preserved 311 year old violin is named after its celebrated former owner, Giovanni Battista Viotti, a composer and influential violinist, and the Bruce family who owned it before it came to the Academy. It plays a unique role in the Royal Academy’s instrument collection, which includes over 400 instruments, all of which are kept in playing condition.
Considered to be one of the greatest Stradivari violins in existence, the ‘Viotti-ex-Bruce’ is on display in the Strings Gallery within the Academy’s Museum in Marylebone, London. The violin is a fine example of Stradivari’s ‘golden period’ instruments. Stradivari was 65 years old in 1709, sharing his innovative and thriving workshop with his two sons, Francesco and Omobono.
Maple wood, as is tradition, is used for the one-piece back, the rib structure and the scroll. The front is made of spruce and willow was chosen for the supportive inner rib-structure. The translucent varnish, with its rich texture and red pigments, highlights the striking choice of wood. This violin offers great insight into the way the great Cremonese masters made their beautiful instruments and inspired and influenced generations of makers throughout Europe.
Charlotte Brontë’s Young Men’s Magazine, Brontë Parsonage Museum
Charlotte Brontë and her brother Branwell were enthusiastic miniature magazine makers, and this little book measuring just 36 mm by 55 mm, contains over 4,000 words written in miniscule script.
All four Brontë children loved to create fictional kingdoms and characters for Branwell’s collection of 12 toy soldiers given to him by his father for his ninth birthday. The original series created by Charlotte and Branwell was inspired by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine with each issue containing a list of contents, short stories, poetry and advertisements.
On 18th November 2019 the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, acquired this unpublished miniature manuscript by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) at auction in Paris with help from the NHMF and others.
Part of the second series of The Young Men’s Magazines, produced by Charlotte in 1830, the series originally consisted of six magazines: four of these were already part of the museum’s collection and a fifth was part of the Law collection, its present location unknown.
Shackleton sledge and flag, Scott Polar Research Institute and National Maritime Museum
This 11 ft sledge and sledging flag are rare survivors from Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod) to reach the Geographic South Pole.
The expedition is famous for being the first to reach within 100 miles of the South Pole in 1909, for locating the South Magnetic Pole, and scaling the active volcano Mount Erebus. Although the Southern Party were the first to reach within 100 miles of the South Pole – the nearest convergence on the Pole at that date, they turned back short of their goal because they would have died, having already stretched their rations to the limits.
It became a race against time to return safely. As Shackleton said to his wife Emily, ‘I thought you’d rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.’
Shackleton commissioned a range of sledge sizes for the expedition. This sledge, one of the eleven-foot versions that he found more versatile, was based on an Inuit design pulled by one of four ponies accompanying Shackleton’s party. As each pony was put down along the outward journey, the sledges were abandoned as depot markers. However, the remaining sledge they had man-hauled towards the Pole finally fell apart as they returned to the expedition hut and was swapped at the first available depot.
The sledge will re-join its partner, Shackleton’s sledging flag from the same expedition, in the collections of the Scott Polar Research Institute and the sledge is being cared for by the National Maritime Museum.
The Flying Scotsman, National Railway Museum
Built in 1923 at Doncaster Works at a cost of £7,944, the most famous of the Sir Nigel Gresley-designed A-1 class locomotives entered service as the first of the most powerful class of locomotives of the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) as loco number 1472.
By 1924, when it was selected to appear at the British Empire Exhibition in London, the elegant locomotive had been renumbered 4472—and given the name ‘Flying Scotsman’ after the daily 10.00 London to Edinburgh rail service which started in 1862. In 1934 the Scotsman became the first locomotive to officially reach 100mph on a special test run.
Today the Flying Scotsman is under the care of the National Railway Museum who acquired it in 2004 after a major fundraising campaign boosted by a £1.8 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Its restoration was also completed with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £275,000.
Shaw’s Moonrocket – Heritage Fairground Trust
Billed as the ultimate thrill ride of the 1930s, as rides go the brilliantly titled Moonrocket still packs a punch as a thrill-ride today. Delivered to John Shaw of Lancashire in 1939 today it is the last complete and operational Moonrocket of its kind.
In its home at the Fairground Heritage Trust in Devon, riders can still sit in its small rocket-shaped cars that swing out when going round. At the same time the central dome and the figure on it rotate the other way – which messes with your head and makes it seem a lot faster than its sixteen revolutions per minute.
Having acquired various space age designs and additions over its long life, the Moonrocket was still touring the fun fares in the 1970s, before eventually retiring in 1982. It was then bought and restored in the 1990s and appeared at various events before being acquired by the Trust, with help from the NHMF in time for their 2017 season.
Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, Art Fund
More than 25 years after his death, Prospect Cottage continues to be a site of pilgrimage for people from all over the world who come to be inspired by its stark beauty and Derek Jarman’s legacy.
Jarman purchased Prospect Cottage in 1986, and it quickly became a source of inspiration and a creative hub where his parallel artistic practices and collaborators came together.
Today the clapboard shack in the shadow of the Dungeness nuclear power station is regarded as the most complete distillation of his pioneering creativity across film, art, writing and gardening: from his 1990 film The Garden starring Tilda Swinton, to his journal, Modern Nature, to poetry etched in the glass, to driftwood sculptures and the remarkable garden he created on the shingle beach.
The cottage and its contents were sold following the death in 2018 of Keith Collins, Jarman’s close companion in his final years, to whom he bequeathed the cottage. After a major fundraising campaign led by the Art Fund and supported by the NHMF, it was acquired in April 2020 with a permanent public programme and the conservation and maintenance of the building, its collection, its contents and its renowned garden in development.
Find out more about the work of the National Heritage Memorial Fund at www.nhmf.org.uk