Exhibition uncovers mystery of Saxon Princess

Roger Dalladay at the Saxon Princess exhibition at Whitby Museum''w131704a
Roger Dalladay at the Saxon Princess exhibition at Whitby Museum''w131704a
Have your say

The story of Whitby’s own Saxon princess, St Hilda of Whitby, who founded the first abbey on the East Cliff in 657, is known by many people throughout the world.

However, imagine the shock when, a few years ago, a second Saxon princess was found, buried at Street House in Loftus by Teesside archaeologist Doctor Steve Sherlock who dug her up while looking for iron age finds.

Now a new exhibition at Whitby Museum on loan from Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar pours light on the mysterious princess.

The Whitby exhibition features the replicas of some of the things that Dr Sherlock found when he carried out the excavation as well as some rarely seen finds from the 1920s excavations at Hilda’s abbey.

Exhibits include a dagger, a beautiful replica of the garnet jewel found buried with the princess as well as a film about the archeological dig.

Roger Dalladay, a curator at the museum said: “How did he know it was a princess? There was no body, no DNA, only the enduring objects that made up the burial – the iron fixings of a wooden bed which was the most splendid bed in the north, and jewellery which a modern celeb would envy, made of gold, garnets from India, and curious stones. No one short of a royal would possess such riches.

“Near her waist lay the items a Saxon woman would hang from her girdle, symbols of her housewifery: keys, sewing gadgets and a lifter for raising the latch on her closed door.

“The princess lay in the centre of a rectangle of 54 pairs of other graves, men and women, some also buried with objects from daily life like a typical Anglo-Saxon one-edged sword.”

History does not tell us who the Saxon Princess was.

She and her people must be from Hilda’s day because they are a mix of pagan and Christian burials, what you’d expect from a time when the country was starting to become Christian.

Roger added: “Was she the daughter of a local chieftain serving the king of Northumbria? Too grand.

“Was she the widow of a recently defeated enemy, kept away from home and dying in exile? Was she the king’s daughter, kept away from court because she was in disgrace? Was she related to our Hilda? We shall never know.

“All we can do is look at the chunky coloured beads, and beautifully crafted gold jewellery which adorned a feisty young woman in life and were left to comfort her in death.”

The Saxon Princess Exhibition runs at Whitby Museum until 16 June. On Saturday 11 May, Dr Sherlock will give a lecture at 2.15pm in the Normanby Room.