When you think of Essex, what springs to mind? The bright orange glows of the TOWIE cast? Or possibly nineties sitcom Birds of a Feather? I’m sure there’s more than a few of you out there who could tell me a dozen “Essex girl” jokes but trust me I’ve head them all – and they’re both unfunny and untrue. Well, mostly, anyway. I would know, I’m an Essex lad born and raised.
If the first thing that popped into your head was ‘vajazzle’ then you get half a point. Whilst I’m not exploring the concept of gluing shiny bits to one’s nether-regions, I am exploring Essex’s historical penchant for a bit of – for lack of a better word – bling.
What you might not expect from a county famed for it’s perma-tanned reputation is an incredible Saxon burial. A suspected Royal Tomb at that. Unearthed in 2003 as part of a road-widening plan, the Prittlewell Prince was discovered in Priory Park, near the seaside town of Southend. Ten years later, the Southend Central Museum is staging an exhibition looking at the King of Bling (as he was dubbed on Time Team) and his treasure.
The King of Bling
Although “King of Bling” would have been a much catchier name for this exhibition than “Princely Treasures”, the latter has a dignity that reflects the status of the deceased prince (or maybe King?) and the importance of the find.
Although the dig discovered a vast hoard of treasure, only a small handful of it was on display. The main focus was on the golden artefacts adorning the Prittlewell Prince (all 5 of them) such as the tiny golden crosses placed over his eyes and his belt. There were also some (about 5) nice pots on display.
Can it really be a full blown exhibition with just ten things? Maybe the London Museums have spoiled me, but I was hoping for a few more, well, things. More than that, it would have been wonderful for the museum to really go to town and make a massive statement along the lines of “LOOK! THIS AMAZING STUFF WAS FOUND HERE!”
Alas. The exhibition seemed to be used as a trailer for a future museum, but not the kind of trailer that shows all the good stuff up front. I can understand this, but considering that Southend Museum has some incredible Saxon items in its permanent collection anyway it could have been so much more.
Not just an odd assortment of Saxon items at that, but related items found very near to the Prittlewell Prince. Possibly from some Prittlewell Princesses (although the museum only tells us they were “high status females”). There’s even a little map showing how very close they were (geographically at least, I’m not sure if they all knew each other).
When I visited the exhibition I was the only one in there. The quite atmosphere in the museum really helped me to reflect on the objects and concentrate on what the museum was telling us about their historic importance, not just to the local area but in the wider narrative of Early Christianity.
It would have been nicer if a member of staff wasn’t fielding telephone enquiries the entire time I was there, pausing briefly to say “No photos.” When I replied saying “Sorry, I didn’t realise – there weren’t any signs saying that photography wasn’t allowed,” the answer I received was a robotic “We ask that visitors don’t take pictures of the exhibition,” before the man returned to his computer.
That’s it. No explanation as to why. No further communication at all (have I mentioned I was the only visitor there?). If you don’t take the opportunity to talk to visitors, or even provide them with some signage, then how can you expect them to know the rules?
I hope they’ll allow photography in the new museum if and when it’s open.