The North Pennines has been the site of many discoveries over the years, with internationally significant finds such as the Heatheryburn Hoard as well as many others of more local significance, like the Frosterley Madonna, a stone head which dates back to the 12th Century. Other more modern items worthy of inclusion in this museum were made in the area, such as the anchor from the ill-fated Titanic, which was made in Wolsingham.
Paul Frodsham, Historic Environment Officer from the AONB Partnership, explained that because of the importance of the objects from the North Pennines, many have been donated to museums across the country from The Great North Museum in Newcastle to the British Museum in London, while others are in private hands or missing.
Paul said: “Most people don’t appreciate the richness of the archaeology we have here, but there have been some incredibly significant finds over the years, all of which have their own fascinating stories to tell. For example, how many people know that the Heathery Burn Hoard of 3,000 year-old late Bronze Age objects, found at Stanhope in Weardale in the 19th century and now largely in storage behind the scenes at the British Museum, contains possibly the earliest evidence for wheeled transport in the country? We wanted a way to showcase such objects, and that’s why the virtual museum was born.”
Paul, who runs the AONB Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, was joined by some very special guests to launch the website on Monday.
Schoolboys Joseph and Aiden Bell, and Sebastian and Luca Alderson, attended the ceremony, which was held at The Weardale Museum in Ireshopeburn, to press the button to make the site live to the public.
The two sets of brothers, from Alston, were responsible for finding one of the museum’s most important treasures – The Kirkhaugh Gold. As part of an Altogether Archaeology dig in June 2014, the boys joined forces with experts and volunteers after becoming excavation enthusiasts through a school project led by Paul. The aim of the dig was to find gold after a similar discovery was made on the same site in the 1930s.
Just a few minutes after joining the dig, the boys found a gold hair-tress ring that dated back to 2,300 BC, one of the earliest metal objects ever found in Britain. It turned out to be the matching tress-ring from the 1930s dig which, astonishingly, was found by Sebastian and Luca’s great-great grandfather.
The original plan was that it would be filled it with 100 objects, but there are well over 50 artefacts already either online or waiting to be added. Paul added: “We said 100 at first but I’m sure we can get up to 200 or even 300. And this is where we want the public to play their part. There must be lots of things out there that we don’t know about so we’d like people to get in touch to suggest items for display.
Paul said: “And the beauty of our museum is that we can include many items that would be unavailable to a ‘real’ museum. For example, Titanic’s anchor is in reality rather inaccessible, and the spiral staircase we uncovered at Westgate Castle is now reburied in the ground. In some cases, we have included old photographs or ancient documents as representative of historic sites or events. With the North Pennines Virtual Museum all such items can be included.”
David Hetherington, from the Weardale Museum, said: “The museum is the smallest museum in the North East but one of the most frequent comments from visitors is that it’s much bigger than they expected from the outside, like Dr Who’s Tardis. And they often leave saying there is so much to that they’ll have to come back. Nevertheless it is very challenging in such a small space to include all that we would want or to bring about the changes that are necessary to attract repeat visits. We’re always looking for innovative ways to grow and this online museum provides the perfect opportunity for us to expand the collection bringing to our visitors some of the most exciting objects from the North Pennines.”
To see the finds visit www.npvm.org.uk. The site will also direct you to how you can suggest items for inclusion.