Aladdin’s Cave of ancient artefacts opens to the public

Bottle from Kirby Hall, at Wrest Park, Silsoe. Credit: English Heritage.
Bottle from Kirby Hall, at Wrest Park, Silsoe. Credit: English Heritage.

A warehouse filled with historical artefacts dating back 2,000 years is being opened to the public.

Organised tours of the ‘Aladdin’s cave’ at Wrest Park, Silsoe, will be available to visitors from next month.

Wrest Park

Wrest Park

A spokesman for the English Heritage property said tours will be an opportunity to “journey through history in one location, discovering collections as varied as pre-historic antlers and Roman bridges to Victorian banisters and roof beams”.

The treasure trove - a third of English Heritage’s total stored collection - contains archaeological pieces unearthed at sites around the country, including Wroxeter Roman Site, Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire and Elizabethan Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire.

The store is also now home to more than 6,000 objects from London houses, which map the capital’s architecture from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Part of this collection includes nearly 1,000 wallpapers. The wallpapers, in particular, have found their ideal home, for Wrest Park boasts its own rare wall coverings in the De Grey family mansion.

Re-purposed from floor to ceiling, the archaeological collections store at Wrest Park houses the artefacts in improved conditions in one central location.

It took two-and-a-half years to check, pack and move the 80 lorry loads of items to Bedfordshire, which ranged from the small; buckles, brooches and coins, to fireplaces, doors, and even an enormous crane used for changing street light bulbs in Covent Garden.

Tour highlights you may see include a collection from Kirby Hall in Corby, containing items such as fragments of 17th-century painted window glass, which Sir Christopher Hatton designed to impress Queen Elizabeth I; glass seals from wine bottles; clay pipes with intriguing designs, and ornate clips and buckles that used to be sewn into garments.

Larger objects such as bell jacks from the roof of Colombia Market based on 16th century tradesmen towering at almost 8 feet, can be seen lining up amongst the enormous shelves of architectural history as guides and volunteers lead visitors round the store.

A team of volunteers are now also playing a vital role, leading tours, helping with documentation and assisting with essential tasks such as monitoring bug traps, surface-cleaning of objects or repacking new finds as the collection continues to grow with objects from excavations at English Heritage sites.

English Heritage 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.”

Tours are operating on the first Monday of every month from June 2, 2014.

Visitors can combine a day out at Wrest Park with a visit to the store for just an extra £3 per person. A tour can be booked on the day on a first-come, first-served basis or can be pre-booked by calling reception on 01525 860000.