The Wenlok Jug, which has been stolen from Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton

Wenlok Jug stolen from Luton museum

Rebecca Atkinson, 15.05.2012
Rare medieval jug stolen over weekend
The Wenlok Jug, a rare example of metalwork dating from the 15th century, has been stolen from a high-security display case at the Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton.  

The bronze medieval jug was subject to an export bar in 2005 after it went for auction at Sotheby's and was nearly sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Luton Museums Service raised the £750,000 needed to keep the jug in the UK through a national fundraising campaign and had financial support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, the Headley Trust, the Friends of Luton Museums and others.

The jug, which is inscribed with the words My Lord Wenlock, was taken from its case on Saturday 12 May between 11pm and 11.25pm. It measures 31.5cm in height and weighs 6.1kgs.

Karen Perkins, director of Luton Museums, said: “This is an extremely serious and upsetting situation. The Wenlok Jug is a nationally significant medieval object, which came close to being lost to the UK when it went up for sale with Sotheby’s in May 2005.

“We are extremely proud that the Wenlok Jug is part of the collections at Stockwood Discovery Centre and are working extremely closely with police and investigators to do all we can to recover it.”

Bedfordshire Police have launched an investigation and have visited the scene to complete a forensic examination. The officer in charge of the investigation, detective constable Tracy Hall, said she is keen to speak to anyone who has information about the whereabouts of the jug or anyone who may have information about those responsible for the burglary.

The theft follows a number of high-profile burglaries from museums. In April, two Chinese artifacts were stolen from Durham University’s Oriental Museum. The 18th-century jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain figurine were later recovered and four men were charged with the break-in.

Also last month, 18 Chinese artworks were stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge after four people broke into the museum.

Other thefts this year include stone-age axes from the Yorkshire Museum, a number of Lord Nelson artefacts from Norwich Castle Museum, and two statues of Buddha from Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

At the same time, museums have been forced to remove some objects from display because of a spate of rhino horn thefts.


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MA Member, MP Subscriber
18.05.2012, 16:29
It is a real tragedy when local museums lose these icons as anyone who works in a local museum knows how important they are. However, hiding objects away in vaults is not a solution because we all lose out.

Objects are being stolen because there is a huge market out there for stolen heritage treasures, starting with well known online auction sites and moving further and further through the grey and into the black markets.

Everybody is increasingly aware of the financial value of our heritage and unfortunately that has its negative consequences. The value of this jug was well known for obvious reasons.

There may be a link between museum cuts and crime in museums if it means fewer attendants or faulty security equipment, but as this crime happened late on a Saturday night and took just twenty-five minutes, it seems unlikely changes in police and museum spending are really to blame. It is not as if the police were diligently patrolling round museum sites in the age of Gordon's great munificence!

What is required is more security awareness by us all as we all know how easy it is to fall into slack habits. This is a matter of leadership, priorities and training - none of which are particularly costly compared to the alternatives.

Perhaps leaders in the sector could get together, with others, to come up with some actions museums as a whole could take to help tackle this problem.
17.05.2012, 16:40
Karen Schousboe

The theft of the Wenlok Jug also raises serious questions about the curatorial handling of such national treasures. Might it be that security measures were moved aside to make the jug "popular"? And the museum popular in the eyes of the City Council?
Director, Osprey Heritage Management Ltd
MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
16.05.2012, 18:23
I watched with some interest the address given by the Home Secretary Theresa May to the Police federation conference in Bournemouth earlier today, with the banner “20% cuts are criminal” on the wall behind her. I cannot help but feel that there is a strong link between what the police forces across England and Wales are facing, the cuts in spending across the museums sector and the number of crimes that are taking place at museums and galleries.

Let us hope that the police pull out all the stops and get this important item back home soon. It is incredibly upsetting that it has been stolen and I am sure this is an extremely painful time for the staff at the gallery.

The number and frequency of crimes is very worrying and this raises a question as to who has a handle on the national situation regarding offences against museums and galleries. I doubt that the police have such an assessment. One important factor in being able to address patterns of offending is to look at the intelligence surrounding that offending. Has anybody any knowledge of whether this is being looked at by anyone?

John Minary. Director, Osprey Heritage Management Ltd.