Slightly outside our normal prehistoric timescale, a guest post and impassioned plea by Paul Duschner: 

Public museums play a key role in the preservation and teaching of our cultural heritage. They are the only institutions of mass media that allow all members of society direct visual access to archaeological objects. When closed, they leave a void that no glossy magazine or television documentary can fill.

Keeping them open, affordable and well funded is a democratic cause worth fighting for. I would therefore like to ask the readers of this online journal to help in the struggle to preserve Bede’s World Museum in Jarrow, Northumbria by signing an online­ petition, lobbying relevant politicians and considering a donation to the “Save Bede’s World”­ fund.

Anglo-Saxon hall, Bede's World

Anglo-Saxon hall, Bede’s World

The town of Jarrow near Newcastle is home to a historical site of international importance, the remains of an ancient monastery founded in the 7th century. It was here that one of England’s most prominent early intellectuals lived and died; the Venerable Bede (+ 735), author of “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”. The monastery’s ancient chancel has survived intact, complete with its dedication inscription and a reconstructed window of original Anglo ­Saxon glass. In 2011 the site was rightly nominated to become UNESCO­ world heritage.

As at many sites of outstanding historical importance, a museum was founded in 1993. However, on the 12 February its employees and the public were confronted with a bombshell­ announcement. The museum would “cease operation” immediately “due to lack of funds”. From one day to the next 27 jobs were lost, together with an institution that had been made great through years and years of dedicated service from employees, volunteers and members of the public, not to mention considerable financial investments.

While studying medieval history at the LMU in Munich I have twice had the pleasure of doing a work placement at Bede’s World. Those who knew it will confirm, that it was truly a remarkable place to visit, with something to offer for members of all generations. It was the primary place of learning about the Golden Age of Northumbria and home to an important archaeological collection of early medieval coloured glass. It’s outdoor facilities consisted of a reconstructed Anglo ­Saxon farming landscape complete with reconstructed buildings and live animals.

Anglo-Saxon hall, interior, Bede's World

Anglo-Saxon hall, interior, Bede’s World

School­children featured prominently among the museum’s 70,000 annual visitors. It was here they could experience the kind of historical teaching not offered in the classroom: how to grind corn to flower the old­ fashioned way using stone slabs, how to turn wool into thread for weaving and how it feels to walk in a real shirt of chain mail.

The closure of Bede’s World Museum marks a sad day for all of us with an interest in preserving and communicating our cultural heritage. It must not be permanent. Former employees, volunteers and members of the public are once more showing their dedication by rallying to save their museum. The media has started to pay serious attention and there is even celebrity support from the writer and broadcaster Lord Melvyn Bragg. In short: There is hope.

If you are interested in aiding the effort to save Bede’s World, you might consider doing the following:

  1. Join the swiftly growing Facebook ­community “Save Bedes World Museum” to show your support and receive constant news updates.
  2. Sign the online petition “Save Bede’s World” on change.org directed at the South Tyneside Council.
  3. Write a personal letter or e­mail to relevant political decision makers pointing out the necessity of preserving public museums in general and Bede’s World in particular. Recipients could be the South Tyneside Council, the MP and the MEP.
  4. For those able to contribute financially, there is a fundraiser “to help fund the re­opening of Bedes World Museum for the community of Jarrow, it will also be used to help ease the burden of the staff left without pay.”

Thank you very much for your time.

Paul Duschner, Paderborn, Germany

See also:

The museum’s website

Bede’s World: Cash crisis forces closure of Jarrow tourist attraction”, 12.Feb.2016

Bid to save Bede’s World: Funding campaign launched as volunteers stage gathering outside attraction”, 13.Feb.2016

Bede’s World closure: Hundreds take to social media after shock shutting of Jarrow attraction”, 15.Feb.2016

Melvyn Bragg attacks North­South divide as Jarrow museum closes”, 15.Feb.2016

Bede’s World closure: Who was the Venerable Bede and why is he important?”, 16.Feb.2016

 All photos © Paul Duschner