Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Birmingham and the kings of bling

If I wrote a 'Things to do before I'm 50' list, I not sure that 'Go to Birmingham' would have been on it, but when I said that for my birthday treat I'd like to do just that I realised (and I'm ashamed to admit this) I'd never been there before.

Walking around the historic Jewellery Quarter you get the message in big bold type - this is the UK capital of bling . . . we're talking serious sparkle here and not just for the girls, there's lots of serious heavy duty bling for sale.

But, as we assured the man outside the diamond shop, we weren't in Birmingham to buy rocks; we were here to join this queue . . .

. . . to get a glimpe of some very special boys' bling . . . warriors' bling over 1200 years old . . . in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Cliff and I had stood in a few queues over the years: the Vatican (very wet); the Alhambra (very hot); the Reichstag (very very cold). This queue was very English - polite, reserved, well informed by a lovely lady with a megaphone who told us where the toilets were and how much longer we would have to queue. Just across the square was a convenient branch of Greggs, so we could get a cup of tea and a mince pie (yes, that's right, October 3rd my first mince pie of the season!). And just when we were getting a little bit bored, along came some Morris Men to entertain us . . .

. . . just look at the swanky gear these boys are wearing!!!

After nearly two hours it was our turn to look at The Staffordshire Hoard - well, not all of it, about sixty of the 1500 fragments unearthed from a Midlands field a few weeks ago. If you can't get to Birmingham next week and can't wait three or more years, there's a very good web site dedicated to the archaeological find of the century.

Here's a sneeky look at just one of the stunning gold and garnet pieces (I've borrowed it from the official web site). This is part of the hilt of a dagger, it's about the size of a matchbox and is decorated with the most beautiful inlay work made of shaped and polished blood red garnets set in gold with engraved gold foil under the gems so they sparkle more - even with the mud from the field still sticking it.

So, who left a pile of gold lying around in a field? Perhaps we'll never know . . . or just maybe . . .

He fell beneath his shield,
in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear
he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.
So the dead king fell . . .

They took his breast mail, and also his neck-torque,
and punier warriors plundered the slain
when the carnage ended.

The captain saw treasure in abundance
but carried no spoils from those quarters
except for the head and the inlaid sword-hilt
embossed with jewels . . .

now that they were left
masters of the blood-soaked battleground.
One warrior stripped the other,
looted Ongentheow's iron mail coat,
his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too,
and carried the graith to King Hygelac;
he accepted the prize, promised fairly
that reward would come, and kept his word.

These are quotes from Beowulf, the dramatic epic Anglo-Saxon poem in this recent translation by Seamus Heaney. Once a poem for the serious study of the roots of the English language, it's dramatic descriptions of brave warriors, battles and the burial of a heroic chief were considered a Saxon poet's fantasy on myths of olden times. Then the finds at Sutton Hoo showed us that the burial described in the poem was was no imaginary scene - it was reality in seventh century Suffolk. Now, perhaps, the warriors who stride through the stanzas of Beowulf wearing 'gem-crusted' gear were like the ones who fell on the battlefields of seventh century Staffordshire and had their riches stripped from their bodies - perhaps to present to a King in return for great rewards . . . but the plundered gold and blood red gems were left buried in a field . . . for over a twelve hundred years . . . until this summer.


  1. i love being taken on virtual trips through your countryside and townships. lovely post. thank you.

  2. I don't 'fess up often, but I'm a Brummie. The morris dancers are just one reason why I left! In fact I was born less than half a mile away from where the hoard was found, to think it was lying there all the time while I played above, should have taken my bucket and spade.

  3. Oh my goodness, I didn't realise the hoard was on display. It must have been wonderful to view it, and impossible to imagine how the person finding it must have felt!

    My Tiny Small was born in October and I celebrated with mince pies - I'd been on a very low GI diet throughout the pregnancy and was craving pure sugar once I was finally allowed to eat it!

  4. How wonderful to see some of these artefacts in person. I hope this will finally put to rest the phrase which drives me nuts - Dark Ages, although the home page of the hoard website does not help. They were not dark, this was a vibrant time with a richness of culture that we have barely an understanding of.

    PS: belatedly, happy birthday!

  5. I goggled at the hoard on the television. How great to have seen it in 'the flesh'.

    I was taken around the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter by a friend who lives there now. Bling indeed, but lovely to see.

  6. What a lovely birthday treat! And I had no idea the hoard was on show, so thank you for that. LOVE that you ate a mince pie in October, I'm only just beginning to get to like them, so I think it'll be a few more years before I'm craving them in early autumn.

    I'm just off to look up train times to Brum ... THANK YOU


  7. SOOOOOOO jealous. I really want to see that hoard.(I am a closet Brummie too-my wedding ring was made by a jeweller in the Jewellery Quarter. No bling at all on it)

  8. I used to live in Birmingham and I always felt it didn't deserve it#s reputation... I liked it a lot... for a city. I would so love to see that hoard though! Wow!

  9. Another thought came to me. My mum, when she was young in the '30's, worked as a secretary in the Brum Jewellery Quarter and had the job of carrying 24 carat gold bullion bars between office and out-workers, through the streets, one bar in each hand. The ingots weighed about 2 kilos each and they where carried quite openly around the district. Nobody ever thought this risky. Definitely a more trusting age.


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