UK museum news Spring 2022

The latest on acquisitions, exhibitions, and key decisions.

Silverdale Hoard comes to York

Artefacts from one of the largest Viking hoards ever discovered in the UK have gone on display at the JORVIK Viking Centre in York for a year-long exhibition.

Image: Lancashire County Museum Service.

The Silverdale Hoard, buried in Lancashire c.AD 900, was discovered by a metal-detectorist in 2011 (see CA 264). Its c.200 components include arm rings, finger rings, and fragments of brooches; hacksilver and ingots; and coins spanning the Viking world from Northumbria to Baghdad – as well as a single coin issued by a previously unknown (and presumably short-lived) Viking ruler in northern England called Harthacnut. The items had been placed inside a lead container and are thought to have been used as bullion.

Key artefacts, loaned by Lancashire County Museum Service, are now displayed in dedicated cases in JORVIK’s artefacts gallery, until February 2023.

The York Helmet will also be on display in the gallery, just a few metres from where it was discovered in 1982, until 10 March, on loan from York Museums Trust. For more information, see jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk

Chatham’s revamped ropery reopens

Chatham Historic Dockyard’s popular Rope Walk is set to reopen this month following a transformation that has doubled the space’s visitor capacity and updated its displays.

Rope has been made at Chatham for over 400 years, but today the Kent site is the last of the original four Royal Navy ropeyards still in operation. The Ropery gallery, which is dedicated to the history of this industry, has now been expanded with support from the DCMS Wolfson Museums & Galleries Improvements Fund and the Garfield Weston Culture Fund, in collaboration with the Nottingham-based creative studio, Lima.

As well as showcasing Chatham’s role in rope production, the gallery will now feature an extensive collection of rope-making tools – some recently acquired from the now-closed Museum of Knots and Sailor’s Ropework in Ipswich – as well as telling stories about the importance of rope around the world. There are also new immersive films, interpretive graphics, and hands-on aspects.

Visitors can also see an exhibition – transferred from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – that explores the archaeology of the 18th-century wreck of HMS Invincible. Watch out for a feature on this in CA later in the spring, and see www.thedockyard.co.uk for more details.

Samurai cats in Cambridge

A late-19th-century woodblock print depicting sword-wielding cats dressed as samurai is among the items currently on show at Cambridge University Library in a newly opened exhibition.

Image: University of Cambridge.

The library is home to one of the most important collections of Japanese material outside of Japan, and some of these c.130,000 items have now gone on public display for the first time as part of Samurai: History and Legend, which explores the historic roots of the samurai, their literary image, and their social and cultural roles.

Highlights of the exhibition include a 7m-long scroll of the Lotus Sutra, an important Buddhist scripture, with text handwritten in pure gold on paper decorated with indigo and precious metals, as well as a book entitled Neko no shibai (‘cat theatre’), which features colourful images of cats in costume. The displays also include helmets, a manuscript describing flower-arranging techniques that was one of the first Japanese texts to reach British shores c.1626; a board game that is themed around the life of a medieval warrior; and sketches by Hokusai, one of Japan’s most celebrated artists.

The exhibition is free and runs until 28 May. For more information, see www.cam.ac.uk/stories/Samurai

New exhibitions


Roman Army Museum, Greenhead
Until 31 October

The Lost Fort

Arbeia, South Shields Roman Fort
28 March – 2 October

Hidden Masterpieces

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
9 March – 5 June

Last chance to see

Melancholy: a new anatomy

The Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
Until 20 March

Laughing Matters: the state of a nation

Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Until 29 March

Cromwell’s Navy

The Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon
Until 3 April