Anglo-Saxon exhibition on first King of all England

Objects more than a millennia old have gone on display at a Wiltshire museum to celebrate the life of the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan 1,100 years after he came to the throne.

Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury has put on display artefacts loaned from the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum for the Athelstan 1100 exhibition.

A manuscript from the time, a Saxon sword hilt and also medieval items from the V&A formed part of the display.

The site said it had updated security and put extra volunteers on the rota.

Athelstan was the first king of all England and ruled from 924 until his death in 939 after which he was buried in Malmesbury.

An old sword hilt in a glass case, most of blade has gone and it's mostly rusty
The sword hilt has been loaned by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford [BBC]
A replica of an old sword, with golden decoration on the handle
The sword replica next the hilt gives and idea of what it might once have looked like [BBC]

Museum trustee Maria Marsh's favourite object was the sword replica, displayed in a case next to the original sword hilt loaned by Oxford's famous Ashmolean Museum.

She said: "It's [the original] so rare, but it has these little animals.

"If you come into the museum look at them, you can see the little animal figures.

"There are snakes, dragons and what looks like a dog."

Maria Marsh looks into the camera, wearing a T-shirt and hairband
Trustee Maria Marsh said the exhibition took over a year to organise [BBC]

The British Library has loaned a charter from 939 for the exhibition which mentions him giving land to his subjects.

It is written in Latin on one side and Old English on the other.

At over 1,000 years old, the document comes specially framed and the museum has had to lower the lighting to protect it.

Large frame with old small piece of paper with handwriting on a wall
A charter from the time of King Athelstan more than 1,000 years old has been loaned by the British Library [BBC]

Two medieval objects - used to make wax seals - are also in a cabinet, borrowed from the V&A.

Despite being from centuries later, the 1400s, they depict King Athelstan and show that even after 500 years he remained important to people, especially the priory where the seals came from.

"They still remembered and they respected him. Even after all the Norman stuff, they came back to him" said Ms Marsh.

There are also Anglo-Saxon coins, archaeological artefacts and metal detecting finds.

These range from an intricately carved bit of bone the size of a postage stamp through to a buckle.

One of the coins shows King Athelstan himself and was bought by the museum in 2023.

Local schoolchildren have created pictures of what the King might have looked like, with some taking on the magnificent blonde tresses he was said to have had.

Frankie in the museum wearing a black woolly hat and yellow shirt
Frankie Chisholm, 20, joined recently as a volunteer and will be helping out [BBC]

Extra volunteers have been drafted in for the exhibition.

20 year old history student Frankie Chisholm is one of them: "I want to work in the museum sector and I also get to see what happens when things are loaned to other museums."

"When I was younger and I absolutely loved wandering around here."

There are a series of other events on in Malmesbury over the summer for Athelstan 1100.

The exhibition - Athelstan 1100 - runs until 30 September.

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