Beds, Herts & Bucks

Wrest Park English Heritage national archaeological store to open

Wrest Park Archaeologi​cal Collection​s Store Image copyright Darren Harber/English Heritage
Image caption More than 153,000 artefacts are held floor-to-ceiling at the Wrest Park Archaeologi​cal Collection​s Store

Prehistoric antlers, parts of Roman bridges and a 19th Century beam from a London hospital are among thousands of items due on public view next month.

The new national archaeological collections store at Wrest Park in Silsoe, Bedfordshire, will offer guided tours in June, English Heritage said.

The purpose-built store cost nearly £2m and holds more than 153,000 artefacts spanning more than 2,000 years.

A spokeswoman said it was "proud" items not usually displayed would be seen.

Image copyright English Heritage
Image caption The "most unusual" items are five 19th Century carved bell jacks, standing 8ft (2.5m) tall, rescued from the roof of Columbia Road flower market in London, English Heritage said

The artefacts, which make up a third of the organisation's total stored collection, include a variety of items from buckles, brooches and coins to fireplaces and doors.

All had previously been held in five leased buildings around the country, English Heritage said.

Curators, museum technicians and archaeologists have checked, documented, repacked and managed the movement of 83 lorry loads of items over the past two and a half years to the central location.

Now recorded on a database, the artefacts are being held floor-to-ceiling at the 15,650 sq ft (1,450 sq m) site, which visitors can tour with a conservationist from June on the first Monday of every month.

Image copyright English Heritage
Image caption The store contains archaeological pieces unearthed at sites including the Elizabethan Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire
Image copyright Darren Harbar/English Heritage
Image caption A 27ft (8.5m) long cast-iron floor joist made by Bramah & Co in 1832, found at the North Wing of St George's Hospital at Hyde Park Corner, is described as an "exceptional piece of technological casting"

The archaeological pieces come from sites including Wroxeter Roman site and Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire, Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire, and Essex's Hill Hall and Audley End House.

More than 6,000 objects from 17th to 19th Century London houses, including nearly 1,000 wallpapers, are also stored.

The oldest objects come from Neolithic flint mine Grimes Graves in Norfolk, and the tallest is an 11ft (3.5m) high tower for changing light bulbs in Covent Garden.

Image copyright Darren Harbar/English Heritage
Image caption Neolithic antlers found at Grimes Graves in Norfolk are amongst the oldest items in the collection
Image copyright Darren Harbar/English Heritage
Image caption The largest number of items - 24,637 - come from the Roman City of Wroxeter in Shropshire including this pin, pictured with a green glass seal from Kirby Hall

The guided tours of the £1.86m site will also demonstrate how English Heritage cares for the objects.

Curator Charlotte Newman said: "We are really excited to show visitors behind the scenes in the store and give them a chance to see our collections not normally on display."

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Media captionBethan Stanley, from English Heritage, gave the BBC's Robert Hall a sneak preview

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