At least put helmet on show in Cumbria

Date: Monday 11th October 2010

THERE were contrasting reactions as the gavel fell at more than £2 million when the Crosby Garrett Helmet was auctioned in London on Thursday, delivering a blow to the hopes of campaigners in the county who wanted to keep the Roman artefact in Cumbria but bringing unforeseen riches to the finder and the Eden owner of the land on which it was discovered.

The helmet, found by an unemployed graduate from the North East on land which has been the same family’s possession for generations, had a guide price of up to £300,000 and the landowner understandably says he is flabbergasted at the thought of acquiring an equal share of the purchase price. By a strange quirk of fate, the helmet was discovered in a field where some of the farmer’s animals were culled during the height of the food and mouth disease outbreak nine years ago — from despair to delight.

The focus has now turned on how it might be possible to keep the artefact in the county in which it was found after 2,000 years. Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, who launched his own campaign to raise funds in an effort to secure the helmet for a special Roman display to be housed at Tullie House Museum at Carlisle, wants an immediate ban on the export of the helmet to give supporters more time to come up with further backing, while there are calls for the law to be altered so that national treasures, of which the helmet is undoubtedly one, cannot disappear from public view into personal collections.

Cash flooded in from many sources in support of the keep the helmet in Cumbria campaign, with the National Heritage Memorial Fund pledging £1 million, but would its purchase have been value for money? Distinctive images of the helmet have appeared all over the world so, having seen and read about in the media, would people still be tempted to travel to Carlisle for a closer look? Or will some other stunning historical discovery emerge to deflect attention from the Crosby Garrett sensation?

However, this is a once in a lifetime discovery and the helmet’s natural home is in Cumbria. It is unlikely that the law can be changed in time to come to the rescue, so the best hope lies in persuading the purchaser to loan it to Tullie House to put on display at the centrepiece of its new Roman heritage gallery. Museum supporters have been extremely generous in recent weeks; let us hope the helmet’s new owner can be as equally magnanimous.