Multimillion-pound Anglo-Saxon venue opens in Northumberland
The north east of England has a new attraction to add to its array of cultural venues. Ad Gefrin, meaning “at the hill of the goats” in Old Welsh, opens to the public this Saturday and offers an immersive Anglo-Saxon experience, a compact museum, restaurant and whisky distillery.
Totalling £16m, the privately funded development aims to “level up” the town of Wooler, half-an-hour’s drive from Berwick-upon-Tweed near the Scottish border.
The venue tells the story of the nearby Anglo-Saxon site of Yeavering Bell, first excavated in the 1960s, which archaeologists continue to research as key to our understanding of the period.
Chris Ferguson, the director of visitor experience, described the site as being “in dialogue” with the other major Anglo-Saxon site of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. “But that tells the story of death, while we tell the story of Anglo-Saxon life,” he said.
Yeavering Bell was a site of “peripatetic kingship”, said Sarah Semple, the head of archaeology at Durham University, who is leading new excavations at the site this year. Peripatetic kingship was the Anglo-Saxon model of charismatic leadership, where a monarch would travel from site to site seasonally, moving on once resources had been exhausted.
King Edwin of Northumbria, who reigned 616-633, was the first king to convert to Christianity. It is only because the scribe and holy man, the Venerable Bede, tells the story of the faith that we know of the site and its history.
Edwin married a Christian Kentish princess, Aethelburg, who brought her bishop Paulinus to the north. Bede tells of 36 days of baptisms that took place, which are known to have happened at the Yeavering Bell site.
The remains of the standard bearer of King Edwin have been found on site and a recreation of the standard has been made for the museum element of Ad Gefrin.
Visitors enter a recreation of the main hall with a throne at one end and a video wall with actors playing Anglo-Saxon characters at the other. They then enter an exhibition space telling the story of Yeavering, King Edwin and Aethelburg and the people that supported their visits to the area.
With long-term loans from the British Museum, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and key objects from the Yeavering excavations, Ad Gefrin moves one step further in creating a more complete picture of life in Anglo-Saxon times.
Co-founder Eileen Ferguson hopes the site will bring jobs and help regenerate the town of Wooler, Northumberland. The site comprises a whisky distillery (the first single malt will be ready in three years) and a restaurant, and has already brought 60 jobs to local people.
Ad Gefrin is a key addition to the already-rich cultural offer of Northumberland, including Jarrow Hall, which tells the story of the Venerable Bede.
Book your early bird place at Conference 2023
10% off until 31 March 2023
This year’s Museums Association annual conference will take place in Newcastle-Gateshead and will incorporate free entry to a selection of local venues on the third day, 9 November.