Recent news of the Prime Minister’s disregard for his Greek counterpart in the matter of the Elgin Marbles rekindles thoughts of some of our own antiquities, currently languishing in some remote museum — the Roseberry Hoard.
In 1826, with George IV perched on the throne and the Stockton and Darlington Railway a mere twelve-months old, Aireyholme Farm, encompassing Roseberry Topping, is in the hands of George Jackson from Stokesley. Jackson orders one of his agricultural labourers to clear rocks and unruly vegetation on the slope below the summerhouse, paving the way for ploughing and the expansion of his cultivated land.
In the cranny of a rocky outcrop, the labourer catches a glimmer and unearths a trove of bronze artifacts — what is now known as the Roseberry Hoard. Jackson, sensing their worth but harbouring no interest in antiquities, stashes them away. Reports suggest the hoard includes approximately twenty items — axe heads, gouges, a two-piece mould, and a curved knife — since dated to the waning days of the Bronze Age, around 700 BC.
Such hoards are not uncommon, with Yorkshire alone documenting around 40 out of over 100 scattered throughout Britain and Ireland. The speculation is that the hoard was concealed for safekeeping but never retrieved, possibly due to the advent of a new technology — iron. Perhaps the bronze smith, potentially an itinerant artisan, met an untimely demise before passing on his knowledge.
An alternative interpretation posits that the hoard was buried ritually, either as a commemoration or an offering to supernatural entities.
After several years, Jackson bequeathed the hoard to one William Nicholson of Egglescliffe, who eventually sold nine pieces to Thomas Bateman of Derbyshire. Bateman was amassing an antiquities collection, which, upon his demise, was acquired by the Sheffield Museum. The whereabouts of the missing pieces remain a mystery. And that is why the remains of the Roseberry Hoard find themselves today in the bosom of the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. Or so it was in 2013 when a detailed analysis was carried out1Fregni, E. Giovanna. “The Roseberry Topping Hoard “. The University of Sheffield. 2013.; a recent search of their website drew a blank. Perhaps it gathers dust in the recesses of their basement and is not on display.
Locally, we have to make do with a replica set of the hoard, residing in the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough, assuming that still graces its halls. I must say that I empathise with the passion the Greeks harbour for their Elgin Marbles.
While I refrain from drawing any parallels between the Roseberry Hoard and the Elgin Marbles, a universal accord seems the best way forward, one that repatriates all archaeological finds to their nations of origin while crafting a meticulously negotiated framework for lending. This way, museums worldwide can showcase an array of artifacts they otherwise couldn’t, rectifying historical injustices.
The precise location of the discovery site of the Roseberry Hoard remains uncertain, yet, envisioning the workman’s efforts that he was enclosing the land below the summerhouse, I guess it to be along the fence line near to that tree.
- 1Fregni, E. Giovanna. “The Roseberry Topping Hoard “. The University of Sheffield. 2013.