Monday, 27 January 2014

The Prittlewell Prince, a Few Thoughts on Museums...and More Winter Birds


West Stow

First of all, thanks for all the lovely comments on my last post. There doesn't seem to have been much sun since I took those photos, just heavy rain, a bit of fog and an even more waterlogged garden. So gardening has been placed on hold at the moment - and with no gardening to do last Saturday morning (as planned) I decided to visit a museum instead to see some of the grave goods of the 'Prittlewell Prince'.

This royal burial was discovered a few years ago when archaeologists were excavating a known Anglo-Saxon graveyard in Prittlewell, near Southend, Essex. The grave goods unearthed included a gold belt buckle (below), coins, gold crosses, glass jars, bowls, drinking horns and weapons.  It was one of the richest Anglo-Saxon graves ever discovered.




Although there's no trace left of the body, it's believed that this was the grave of Sabert, king of the East Saxons, who converted to Christianity and died in AD 616. He would have been a contemporary of the High King, Raedwald, who it's believed was buried at Sutton Hoo. After Sabert's death his sons turned back openly to paganism and so Sabert's burial could well be a mixture of their pagan, and the old king's Christian, beliefs.

Bowl from the burial chamber

A few of the grave goods are currently on display in the Southend museum, but I must admit that I was disappointed that there weren't many of the finds on show.  It seems that there are plans to build a grand new Thames Estuary Museum to display everything properly, so I'll have to wait until then, I suppose, to see all the finds together.

My visit to see these finds from Prittlewell follows my trip to the (recreated) Anglo-Saxon village of West Stow, in Suffolk, on a very warm day last November. At that time of year, there was hardly anyone there, so we got to wander around on our own...


It's easy to imagine Anglo-Saxon life at West Stow and I love places like this.  My favourite kind of museums have always been the houses of people from the past (famous or not) where the rooms are displayed as if the occupants have just left them (rather than the old fashioned, rows-of-glass-cabinets museums).

I do like to visit the little museums you find in villages and small towns, though. I'm fascinated by all the local history and local stories and I love some of the quirky items in them (as long as they aren't stuffed animals or birds - I can't bear these). Do you have any of these tiny museums near you? If I can find the time, I'd like to visit more of these this year.

Anyway, back home and outside, it was, of course, the RSPB Garden Birdwatch at the weekend. There have been no surprises here, and there's still a worrying lack of some birds (like Sparrows and Starlings) that we used to have so many of.  But there are some birds we see more of, like the Goldfinches.  We're going to make a new, homemade feeder for them and fill it with nyjer seed...



Meanwhile the Fieldfare, after waiting under the fruit trees, has now dived right into them...



And the Little Egrets I've been watching in the field are now increasing in number.  There are now six of them.  I'm hoping to get a pic of them all together for a future post.

57 comments:

  1. Cracking shot of the fieldfare, well done. Am envious of your goldfinches- we don't have any this year yet, although I think I can hear them.

    That gold buckle is extraordinarily well preserved, as is the cauldron- what beautiful items. I often think the smaller museums are more interesting and engaging than the big ones which I find a bit over-powering- too many things to get round. There is a super one set in an ancient building in Sherborne- well worth a visit if you're ever down that way. http://www.sherbornemuseum.co.uk/ CT :-)

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    1. The nyjer seed always brings the goldfinches in - and so do the teasels (a good reason not to tidy the garden up!)
      Thanks for the info about Sherborne. I'm glad I'm not the only one that often finds the larger museums a bit much. I love the local stories in the smaller ones and feeling much closer to the exhibits.

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  2. Sometimes it is nice to visit somewhere. It looks like you had an interesting time. The weather was awful here yesterday, I'm sure it had an impact on the number of goldfinches I normally have in the garden.

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    1. Visiting the museum was definitely a last minute decision. It made a nice change to do something so unplanned.
      The goldfinches just appear and then vanish altogether here. But I often hear them on the edges of the fields.

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  3. I love little houses like these too
    too bad you couldn't see the good stuff
    I love your birds...our goldfinches are strpey brown
    but in summer they are the cheeriest brightest yellow birds ever
    and their song is a delight as is their chattering when they fight..which is often
    Egrets are terrific to watch
    we won't see them until spring..maybe who knows what with this crazy artic blast we have been having here in Illinois

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    1. Hello Suz. That's interesting about your goldfinches - I'll look them up. So many of our birds here are little and brown, so the goldfinches look very colourful and beautiful amongst them.
      We've heard about the cold weather in the States. So different to here where it's been very mild all winter (and very wet).

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  4. So much to comment on in this post, Wendy. We thought we saw an Egret at Trentham Gardens today as we walked around the lake - just one,pure white and smaller than the herons - one or two people were taking photos and all said it was an Egret. I've been lucky to work in two small town museums over the years (unfortunately they both had huge Victorian collections of stuffed birds) but many other things too and I've always loved that kind of local/social history museum and enjoy seeking them out when on holiday as well as those locally. We visited West Stow in 1990 when I was on a Museum's Diploma Course at Leicester Uni and one of my fellow students worked there. I found it fascinating. I've really enjoyed reading your post:)

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    1. That does sound like an egret, Rosie. They are becoming more common, moving north and inland.
      That's fascinating about your museum work. I've always been interested in the 'behind the scenes' of a museum. The Victorian obsession with shooting and stuffing birds for a collection still seems to haunt today's museums. The Southend museum certainly had its fair share of these.

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  5. I'd agree with you Wendy, I much prefer the type of museum that preserves or recreates life as it once would have been, glass cases leave me cold too.
    We must definitely get a nyjer feeder, there are very few goldfinches here.

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    1. If I'm looking at rows of glass cases it doesn't take long before I can't take any more in. I like to use my imagination and I can't do that when I feel so detached from the objects.
      I'm sure a njyer feeder will draw in your goldfinches!

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  6. Hi Wendy, how astonishing that they discovered the Anglo-Saxon graveyard in Prittlewell just a few years ago! The findings of a graveyard from AD 616 would stir up a storm here in the US where everything is so new in terms of historic artifacts of human beings. Museums? I have to admit that it has been a long time that I have been in one, you inspired me to check out what is exhibited here in San Diego right now. I just love your bird photography! Any ideas why there is a lack of sparrow and starlings? Have a good start into the week!
    Christina

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    1. There have been some incredible finds from the Anglo-Saxon age recently. In the case of Prittlewell, archaeologists began excavating the graveyard because the authorities wanted to build a road over it - so they must have been under a bit of pressure to get all the digging finished.
      A lack of sparrows and starlings here is largely due to intensive farming. So many of the hedges (their cover and food) have been pulled up and there are a lack of insects in heavily sprayed fields.
      Hope you have a good week, too!

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  7. I like visiting little museums too but there are not so many in our country. When we visit England we are always amazed of the rich history, I think there are nowhere in the world so many castles and other historical places to visit.
    Your bird photos are wonderful, love the goldfinch, which is seen here scarcely.

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    1. That's interesting about your own country, Janneke. I think every town probably has a museum of some kind, here - and so do many villages, too. The village museums are generally run by volunteers.
      The goldfinches are definitely doing well here. It's a nice change to have a good news story when so many birds seem to be declining.

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  8. Dear Wendy - I am always amazed at the wonderful artefacts that have turned up in this country over recent years - much of it the results of metal detectors. I do not like the idea of people willy nilly using them but in the right hands that have certainly revealed some astonishing treasures. The gold belt buckle is beautiful - these Anglo Saxon gold articles always seem to have such a rich deep gold colour to them.
    I always admire your bird photos, my camera is not good enough to capture birds unless I am right on top of them by which time it is too late.

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    1. I agree, Rosemary. It has been an incredible few years for finds. I still haven't seen the Staffordshire Hoard but it is on my must-do list for his year. I see a rich colour to the gold, too - and of course the patterns and designs on their jewels are so beautiful.
      I have lots of rejected bird photos - usually blurred!

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  9. The fieldfare image is lovely, we only see them in our garden when it is very cold. We didn't see many birds yesterday the rain kept them away. Sarah x

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    1. Most of the Fieldfares are still out in the trees and hedges here as well and I haven't seen a Redwing up close yet. I think they won't all come in to the garden until it turns really cold here, too.
      Some sunshine makes all the difference to the birds, doesn't it? Suddenly they're everywhere again!

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  10. Beautiful images of the birds-especially the Fieldfare. I hope you get a picture of the little Egrets together-that would be lovely. I often see them from the train as they are along the Teign Estuary. A visit to Torre Abbey is a 'must do' this year-it's been restored, although not a small museum. Brixham Museum is supposed to be great and has won awards recently, it's also on the list for 2014.

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    1. The Little Egrets are still very camera shy, it is quite difficult to approach them in the field. I think any photo will have to be a distant shot.
      It's interesting that you have those museums close to you. I imagine Brixham Museum could be fascinating with all the history and traditions in your town.

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  11. The Anglo Saxon village looks amazing, I'd love to have a wander round there. Prittlewell sounds fascinating as well, I hope you get to see more of the treasures one day. We like the Museum in the Park at Stroud. It's in a 17th century wool merchant's house, and you go round the different rooms to see all sorts of wonderful treasures. We found a lovely little museum on holiday in Ilfracombe a couple of years ago as well. We really like the small museums too, they have some amazing things in them. So much of interest to explore.

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    1. We were very lucky that it was an exceptionally warm day in November for West Stow (I imagine it could be wet and muddy there now!) A school party did turn up - but just as we were leaving. Before then we did have the whole village ourselves.
      I love the sound of the wool merchant's house in Stroud. As we're not too far from a historical wool producing area here there are some lovely old wool merchants houses still standing from the late middle ages.

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  12. Local museums are amazing for telling us how our ancestors lived, yours looks to be very interesting.Our local museum told us that where we live now , used to be a large river, hence the large, smooth pebbles we find when we are digging in the garden.

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    1. That's fascinating about the location of your house. I imagine you see it in the soil, too. Talking with neighbours, there seems to be differences in the soil within our part of the village, which indicates where water has/hasn't been. This is where local museums can be really useful.

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  13. A really interesting post with some great photos. I loved reading about the history and they look great places to visit :)

    My son and I went to see the Anglo Saxon Hoard Exhibition at Birmingham Museum (after the crowds had died down!!!!) and, although the items were wonderful, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more on display and no photos were allowed. There is a quirky little museum near here at Berkswell Village which I must try and visit sometime. The village and church are both fascinating too - I did a blog post some years ago but I will go back this year.

    Your bird photos are great - we still get House Sparrows (but not as many) and I hardly ever see a starling in the garden these days. Like you we get plenty of Goldfinches although again numbers are down this winter.

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    1. Now I really want to see the Staffordshire Hoard, so I hope when I choose to go there's plenty on display. I know that some of the Prittlewell Prince burial has been part of an Anglo-Saxon gold exhibition in Germany and it is bad luck if you choose to visit these museums when the items happen to be off on tour somewhere. No photos were allowed of the Prittlewell Prince items either (apparently for insurance purposes).
      I envy you those House Sparrows. We have had some Starlings over the past year, but not many and they haven't come down onto the ground, just stayed up in the trees.

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  14. I really enjoyed seeing the grave items, and like you I'd rather wander around a house with wares in situ rather than gaze upon cold glass cases. It's good to get a feel for how people lived. The huts really are great, I'd love to see them. I always seek out small museums too, you often find quirky items in them. Oh....what beautiful goldfinch pics, so clear....how DO you manage it. I always end up with a blur! I did enjoy the fieldfare too....now....bring on the egrets I sya! Lovely post, as always a treat.xxx

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    1. I love the sort of items that you would find in a small museum that could never be found in a larger one - like quirky little things local people might donate from their own attics. It is a shame more villages don't have their own museums - such a great way of telling their local stories.
      I'm waiting for some sun to try and catch those egrets. If only it would stop raining! Thanks Dina

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  15. Me too, the museums that show you what life was like for "ordinary" people are wonderful, hence my love of the ironage settlement recreation near here. I remember reading about the Staffordshire Hoard, I always love hearing about finds like that - but Prittlewell?! What a name...

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    1. I would love to visit that iron age settlement! We've not got too many iron age sites and places around here - there's been too much development since (starting with the Romans!)
      After the Prittlewell burial was first discovered we haven't really heard anymore about it. I hadn't thought about the name of Prittlewell because I'm so used to hearing it. It has to be unique!!

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  16. Hello Wendy!! I would love to see the group of egrets together. What a sight that must be. I am going to add some bird feeders to our yard this Spring. Birds are so interesting and I'd like to bring more variety of birds to our home. I think your photos are amazing. I hope Spring arrives early for you. A little sunshine feels so good. Thank you for your visits and kind words - I appreciate them a lot. ~ Stacy

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    1. I'd like to add some more bird feeders, too and bring in a greater variety of birds - I'll probably do this by trying out some new areas for them.
      I'm really looking forward to spring now, but I think we have a few more weeks of cold weather yet.

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  17. I get exhausted going round big museums. The smaller the better but lots of them!

    That Fieldfare is great - I've seen very few this year; disappointing after the HUGE flocks here last year. Like CT, no Goldfinches for us sadly. They're SO exotic looking. Here comes February already!

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    1. The large museums can be too much, can't they? Ideally, I'd see a bit and come back and do the rest, except it's a problem finding the time to do this.
      That is a shame about the Fieldfares where you are. Perhaps because it's milder they haven't come so far south. And I love to see the Goldfinches - so colourful.

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  18. I love these recreated villages too - it sort of makes history come alive doesn't it. The grave goods are wonderful - hard to believe just how old they are. Great photos of the birds - our feeders are too far away from the house to get any decent shots but we did get a fair amount of birds on them for the bird count - not as many as last year though - I don't think the rain helped.

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    1. I can't wait to see the other grave goods, now. It does seem a shame that they're not all on display somewhere at the moment.
      I suppose the RSPB will have to take into account the rain when it looks at the results. A weekend of sunshine would have really brought the birds out into the open.

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  19. If ever you're up that far North, try Bede's World at Jarrow, South Tyneside (http://www.bedesworld.co.uk), with much to see, including an Anglo-Saxon farm; a strangely tranquil place, considering its location!

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    1. Hello Rachel. I've long wanted to explore that area of the country (including going up to Lindisfarne) so this sounds perfect for me. I shall have look at this website now - thanks so much for letting me know about it.

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  20. I'd not heard about the plans for that museum Wendy, so thanks for that. As for the Goldfinches, did you know that the male Goldfinch is the only bird that can extract the seeds from the teasel heads? We either have none locally, or they didn't like our feeder, as when we put up a nyger seed feeder they were conspicuous by their absence!
    Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve is one of the best places I know for seeing Little Egrets - there are usually masses of them there. MSPB Minsmere also has good numbers.

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    1. This was the first I'd heard about the museum, Robyn and I've no idea when it will be open - so it could be years away.
      I didn't know about the Goldfinch and the teasel - what a fascinating fact! That is a shame that you don't have any near you.
      I must get to Rainham Marshes. I know there's so much to see there.

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  21. Apologies - typo, that should of course have said RSPB Minsmere!

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  22. Great post,would love looking round that museum..
    The garden birds were quiet on Sunday as it was raining, but I can say we still have lots of Sparrows, 15+ even on a quiet day and there can be more Starlings. I have two Carrion Crows that come in daily and pull the feeders of the stands to get at the food...we have put them on in different places but they still manage to get them off, we like to watch them working out how to get the food..

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    1. I wish I could see that number of Sparrows and Starlings here. I wonder when the Sparrows stopped coming here - it couldn't have been that long ago.
      I imagine that watching those crows is fascinating - I can't say I'll ever warm to crows but I have to admire their intelligence. It is interesting that you have a pair (working in a team?!) as well.

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  23. That looks a fantastic museum and reminds me of one I visited down in Sussex (or somewhere down there) a few years ago. I always think it fascinating to think about the daily lives of these Anglo-Saxon settlers and the marvelously intricate artworks and crafts that these people produced really show just how skilled these people were !

    Love the birds pics too, the Fieldfare shot is perfect :-)

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    1. I think so much of Anglo-Saxon life is fascinating; from their art and beautiful jewels to their poetry. We had a good look at the huts in the village, and we even noticed a wooden door latch design that we might try and replicate at home (although I'm not sure if this was a genuine Anglo-Saxon design or a more modern one that someone thought looked good in the recreated village!)

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  24. Sounds like you had an interesting visit, I love those smaller museums.
    Amazing pictures of the fieldfare, a lovely bird to see at this time of year.

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    1. It was fascinating seeing the Anglo Saxon objects - the belt buckle in particular is an amazing item. So beautiful.
      The fieldfares have certainly settled around here. I'll miss their calls when they go in the spring

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  25. This is fascinating - I haven't hear of Prittlewell before. I know what you mean about reconstructed buildings and villages - I love looking out of their windows! Small village and town museums are wonderful; usually a glorious eclectic collection. The village next to ours which is next to the site of the first battle of the Civil War are beginning to make a museum. It sounds a lovely idea as their theme will be how the battle affected the village.

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    1. Your local museum sounds as though it will be such an interesting place to visit. It's fascinating that they've chosen one significant moment in their local history to focus on. It is the eclectic collections in the small museums I love - you can have items next to each that a 'professional' curator probably wouldn't touch, but they are also so personal with such a local story.

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  26. Lovely goldfinch and fieldfare images! Starling numbers are definitely down here compared to last year but still lots of house sparrows. I think those thatched oldy worldy buildings are delightful! I would rather like to live in one!

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    1. That's interesting about your own birds, Lou. Lucky you having all those sparrows! The thatched huts certainly have character - a bit smokey, though! But I have always like the idea of a thatched roof, even though fire etc must be a concern.

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  27. Me encantan las fotografías, son geniales. Ha estado un regalo el visitar tu bloc, te invito visitar el mio y si te gusta espero que te hagas seguidora.
    Elracodeldetall.blogspot.com

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    1. Hello Julia and thanks for visiting. You have some lovely photos on your own blog, too. Such colourful and pretty furnishings!

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  28. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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    1. Hello Andrew and thanks for your comment!

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