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.
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.
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:
- Join the swiftly growing Facebook community “Save Bedes World Museum” to show your support and receive constant news updates.
- Sign the online petition “Save Bede’s World” on change.org directed at the South Tyneside Council.
- 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.
- 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
The museum’s website
All photos © Paul Duschner