Costumes for the Exhibition

It was no small challenge beingasked to create two costumes for a museum, let alone Anglo Saxon historical replicas. Before this point, my experience as a costume maker had been limited to theatre and a fantasy based web television series, none of which required any degree of historical accuracy.

 After emails were exchanged and an initial meeting attended, I began to research, and quickly ran into stumbling blocks; the majority of widely available research either contained information that was 300-400 years too early, or contained dress features that were found after 1066 and the conquest of the Normans, which introduced the longer, bell  leeves, laced fastenings and tighter fit that we are more familiar with today.

In a relatively short turnaround time, my task had just become much harder.

I contacted a friend of mine, the thoroughly wonderful Nicole Kipar of, a Mecca of all things related to costume knowledge and with particular experience in creating accurate costumes from this period. We narrowed down the period to 1010-1086, and I bombarded her with all sorts of questions, ranging from the ridiculous to the obscure. I genuinely believe that this project would not have been a success without her.

I feel the need to preface the next paragraph with a warning. I'm just slightly/quite a lot/absolutely obsessed with fabrics. Of any kind.

 So it was with great reluctance that I began trawling the Internet for 100% woollens and linens, ensuring that they fit my colours of blues, whites and yellows (chosen because there was a lot of discussion about colours, accuracy of shades, archeological findings, the use of natural dyes over 1000 years ago, and modern reproductions-essentially a completely separate blog post). With great difficulty I bypassed silks, chiffons and organza, all my weaknesses, and ordered a lovely authentic blue wool (that is absolutely not denim, no matter how much it looks like it!) and a thick white linen, that I defy anyone to have 100% success ironing.

 And so the sewing began.

 I think it's fair to say that I'm not a fan of the construction phase; when everything is cut and partly constructed, it doesn't yet resemble what I've designed or researched, and my sewing machine is pitching a fit ove  thread tension, I don't really (at all) take any progress pictures. Instead I'm inhaling chocolate at alarming rate and shouting at my machine, because we all know that shouting at inanimate
machinery fixes everything. Then it all comes together, I've finished seams, it's hemmed, and I've grabbed my sister as soon as she has walked in from work to be an unwitting model (she's used to it) and I can think about embellishment. A quick debate with dress historians and tablet braid was agreed as the most appropriate form, again, keeping to my colour scheme, and using 100% wool threads, or as close to providing it met all other criteria. I fully recommend Nancy Devlin, who produces wonderful braids and weaves, all taken  from documented patterns, using as accurate materials as possible and with authentic methods. I was particularly touched by the handwritten note that accompanied my order.

Just like that, it was all over The costumes have been delivered, and a mannequin is on its way easy for set up. I've deliberately kept this post vague, and there are no pictures to go with it, because, quite frankly, if you want to see anything, you need to come to the exhibition.

 Special Exhibition at Ely Museum- Aedwyn's Brooch: The Mystery of Sutton Silver runs from 18th July-18th October 2015.    

Flyer for forthcoming Exhibition

ªdwenÔÇÖs brooch A5 flyer 100615.pdf

Exhibition begins 18th July

The Sutton Silver project has been racing ahead. Soon it will be time to open our  exhibition: Ædwen’s Brooch: The mystery of Sutton’s Silver. Come along and see it from 18th July to 18th October at Ely Museum.

The Working Group have done an excellent job researching a large breadth of topics related to the brooch, from the lives of Anglo Saxon women to the complexities of Viking Art, the changing landscape and the uses of runes. We’ve written text, selected images and planned events. And we’ve learned a lot along the way. From the perspective of Ely Museum, this has been a fantastic new way of working – collaborating on every aspect of the project, from what to display to which stories to tell, what kinds of events to hold and how to promote them. It’s been sufficiently innovative that Sara, our Assistant Curator, has been to speak at a national conference for independent museums to discuss our project.

So keep your eyes peeled for our shiny red leaflets and check out our range of events, from Viking boats made of recycled materials to silver jewellery making workshops and a talk by an expert from the British Museum.

British Museum visit

We travelled down from Ely on the train. I have to say that the thought of visiting the inner sanctum of the British Museum was not just
exciting but also a dream come true! I've visited the Museum on several occasions but this time I was to go through one of the large wooden double doors which are generally locked against me. The BM is an easy walk from King's Cross and the new roof at King’s Cross is reminiscent of the rotunda at the BM. The rotunda roof creates this astonishing space in the inner courtyard - I have been known to visit the BM for a lunchtime snack just so I can sit in that fantastic area....

We secured our tickets for the Exhibition (more later) and then went into the new Anglo-Saxon gallery -  Room 41 Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery - very recently opened. There, on display, is much of the Sutton Hoo burial treasure alongside Late Roman mosaics, a copper alloy necklace from the Baltic region, oval brooches and silver hoards, including some items which had never before been displayed. You can walk round the objects and get close enough to see the intricate decoration and exquisite workmanship. The gold glows in the subdued lighting and the garnets shine as they did they were set into the metalwork. And arranged around the walls in cabinets are artefacts from across Europe, the mundane and the magnificent.

Then, at the appointed time, we pressed the intercom on the door. One leaf of the large double wooden door in Room 2 swung open and we were admitted. We were led down a corridor of other doors, where the only sound was that of our feet and the welcoming words of our host, and into a book lined room which overlooked an area of grass and out towards Montague Street. Several other people were
working at computers and studying files and books. No-one looked up; we were not out of the ordinary, just other scholars come to study. There on the green topped table was a rectangular wooden tray in which was the object we had come to see. The Sutton Brooch of Ædwynn.

It was larger than I had imagined; it is about 6 inches across. There was a green file also, the acquisition file, in which were a variety of documents. And a box of gloves... I was going to be able to pick up brooch, draw it, take photos of it, measure it, record it. And read through the 1951 correspondence between Rupert Bruce-Mitford of the British Museum and Hector O'Connor the owner of the brooch who was offering it for sale.

I hardly dared breathe as I put on a pair of gloves and picked up the brooch. I didn't sit down at that stage; somehow I felt that would have been inappropriate. I held the brooch up to the light, gently turned it over and looked at the broken mount on the reverse. One or two of the bosses were loose and they rattled ominously; I was ever so slightly nervous anyway but I wasn't going to be the person who damaged it. But there was no likelihood of that. It had survived 1000 years or so and unless I dropped it it wasn't going to break!

We looked at the crudely engraved beasts and snake-like creatures and foliate design on the front, the inscription and the triquetras on the back and the runic script (which cannot be translated) on what remains of the mount, damaged long ago. We saw the intricacy of the workmanship, the nature of its making and the areas of damage. We examined its dents and folds and imagined its history from its
commissioning to its being deposited in a lead box. We could only speculate on how it had come into the hands of an Irish collector who lived in Paris and where it had been since its discovered in a field in 1694.

Elie and I spent a happy hour or so looking at it, drawing and taking notes in this studious book lined room.

And then we went to the Viking exhibition. The initial galleries were rather cramped and it was difficult to see some of the objects clearly due to the press of people and the subdued lighting. The smaller pieces were lost except if you were fortunate enough to find yourself immediately in front of the cabinet. But then we were led up a ramp and round a corner.... And into the main gallery where the ship known as Roskilde 6, (part excavated ship remains, part reconstruction) was the main display. The ship is 37m long and about 20% of it remains. It is set into a stainless steel cradle which acts as support and also reconstructs the whole. The effect was
astonishing. You viewed the ship from above and along its length. The prow was immediately in front of you. It was amazing and I stood there as long as I could. I became aware that I recognised the voice emanating from the display. Dr Ian Tait, Curator of the Shetland
Museum, Lerwick, was describing Viking ships and ship building. I have heard him speak on one of my many trips to Shetland to visit a good friend of mine, Dr Val Turner, the Area Archaeologist, and contributor to the Exhibition.

The ship on display, Roskilde 6, is thought to date from about 1025 which is much the same date as the Sutton Brooch - a happy
coincidence for us.

The main gallery was extraordinary as it contrasted so much with the initial galleries. Items large and small - a replica of the Jellinge stone painted as it would have been when first carved, coins, jewellery, the weathervane from Heggen church, weapons, ship building tools, silver hoards and a myriad of other objects secular and sacred - filled the cabinets and were displayed to excellent effect in the
bright and airy space.

And then we went into the shop. Now you may think a shop is a shop, full of things displayed in such a way that you are tempted to buy. Well yes... but.... One of the first books I picked up was one about Runes and on the back the words 'Ædwynn owns me, may
the Lord own her. May the Lord curse him who takes me from her, unless she gives me voluntarily'. I had to buy it! 'Runes' by Martin Findell has the translation of the inscription of the reverse of the Sutton Brooch on its back cover. Now how's that for coincidence?!

My passion for Viking and Anglo-Saxon art has roots deep in my past. I have been copying and painting their designs for several decades, trying to understand the methodology and creating designs of my own. I have always felt that the centuries that have
been dubbed the Dark Ages were far from that. In that period between the Roman civilisation of Europe and the coming of
William I Britain thrived. There is little below-ground archaeology as wooden houses do not survive well and the Anglo-Saxons had an oral tradition rather than a written one. So historians in the 19th and first half of the 20th century when archaeological excavation was coming into its own tended to write them off as barbarians without a culture.

But if that were the case, if the people of Britain and the countries on the eastern side of the North Sea were uncultured, barbaric and lacking in a sense of self there would not have been time to allow men and women the opportunity to make exquisite jewellery, sword mounts, strap ends, armour, illuminated manuscripts, drinking cups, and ships with carved prows and keels. There would not have been the spare capacity for trading ideas, exploration and art designs. We may not have much written history from this period but we do have objects, hundreds of objects, that testify to their skill and ingenuity, their trading ability and commerce.

But more of that in a later post.

Sutton School

As a key part of the Sutton Silver project to host Aedwen’s Brooch in an exhibition at Ely Museum, we were keen to include residents of Sutton in the decision making processes. We gathered a Working Group to plan, design and write the exhibition, which was made up of residents with various backgrounds and a common interest in the project.
We were also keen to get young people involved, and as such I approached Sutton school about being involved in the exhibition and project.

It was great to have an excellent discussion with the Head and Deputy Head and other teachers at Sutton school at the end of last term. They were excited about the project and by the end of the meeting there were plans for every year group to be involved.

Yrs 5 and 6 were interested in the inscription and the curse on the brooch and will be working on A/S riddles, stories and curses as part of their literacy work. Their work will contribute to the exhibition.

Years 3 and 4 will be looking at the fantastic designs (zoomorphic/gripping beast/?) on the brooch and creating artwork for the exhibition.

Years 1 and 2 may be interested in making miniature clay brooches, which could also be exhibited at the Museum.

Ms Gilbert (Head) is planning to create a mini-exhibition of the children’s work in school, perhaps at May half term.

Welcome to the website for the exhibition
Ædwen’s Brooch: The Mystery of Sutton’s Silver

Ædwen’s Brooch is a Late Anglo-Saxon silver disc brooch with Viking influences which is in the collection of the British Museum. It was discovered in Sutton, near Ely, in 1694 along with some coins, some rings and other items. It then disappeared from record until the brooch, without the other items, resurfaced in the 1950s and was acquired by the British Museum.

Ædwen’s brooch is going to be on loan to Ely Museum in summer 2015 as part of a project with residents of Sutton to put on an exhibition: Ædwen’s Brooch: The Mystery of Sutton’s Silver.

Why do we call it Ædwen’s Brooch?

The silver brooch has two inscriptions on the back, one in old English and one in symbols that look like runes. Nobody has worked out what the rune-like symbols mean, but the English inscriptions, when translated into modern English, says: Ædwen owns me, may the Lord own her. May the
Lord curse him who takes me from her, unless she gives me of her own free will.

How do we know how old the brooch is?

The shape of the brooch is very typical of an Anglo-Saxon disc brooch, but the design on the front, which shows stylized animals, is similar to the Viking Ringerike style. This combination is unusual and suggests Scandinavian cultural influences, although the brooch is British. The coins found with the brooch are dated to the period of William the Conqueror, which suggests that the brooch was made in late Anglo-Saxon England and buried not long afterwards.


When is the exhibition?

The exhibition, featuring Ædwen’s brooch on loan from the British Museum, will be at Ely Museum from mid July to mid October 2015. There will also be a series of events taking place both at Ely Museum and in Sutton itself.


How can I get involved?

The exhibition is being put together by a group of people from Sutton along with staff from Ely Museum. Sutton primary school is also
producing work on the themes in the exhibition. There will be a number of events taking place at the museum and in Sutton. If you are interested in finding out more, please call the museum on 01353 666655 or email

Silver disc brooch of Ædwen

Anglo-Scandinavian, first half of 11th century AD
From Sutton, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire

Inscribed with a curse

A hoard of objects, which included coins, gold rings and this brooch, was discovered during the ploughing of a field in 1694. The objects disappeared, but the brooch was rediscovered in a private collection in 1951 when it was bought by the British Museum.The brooch is made from a hammered sheet of silver. The engraved decoration is based around four overlapping circles forming flower-like motifs. At the centre of these flowers are conical raised bosses, one of which is now missing. Within the circles are different animals, some four-legged, others like snakes, surrounded by stylized plant ornament in an English version of the Ringerike style.There is an inscription in Old English around the edge on the back. Uniquely, it tells us who owned the brooch. The inscription may be translated as: 'Ædwen owns me, may the Lord own her. May the Lord curse him who takes me from her, unless she gives me of her own free will'.The back of the brooch is also decorated and has a fragment of silver strip attached, onto which the fixings for the missing pin were mounted. This strip is engraved with seven imitation Anglo-Saxon runes which cannot be read. The nature of the damage may indicate that the brooch was torn quickly and with some force from clothing and then buried, perhaps at a time of danger.The bold but simple decoration, the size of the brooch and the inscription suggest that its owner was a woman of some status.


Sutton Silver Brooch
Silver disc brooch of Ædwen

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