Would you like a medieval treasure chest for Christmas?

A medieval wooden chest from St Margaret's Church, Norwich

This medieval chest from St Margaret's church Norwich will be on display in the Castle Museum's new medieval gallery Picture: Norfolk Museums Service - Credit: Norfolk Museums Service

Vanishingly few medieval oak chests survive. One, from a Norwich church, still has secrets to reveal - and is available to adopt as a Christmas gift.

The chest is part of Norwich Castle's adopt an object scheme.

When Norwich Castle reopens after the restoration which is returning the keep to its heyday as a Norman royal palace it will have a new gallery. “This space will be a treasure chest full of rare and beautiful objects and one of the largest of these to go on display will, in fact, be an actual chest,” said Norfolk Museums Service curator Agata Gomolka. 

No-one knows exactly when or where it was made but the Castle is launching an appeal for funds to find out more about the wood it is carved from. Tree ring dating might reveal not only when but also where it was carved. 

“This beautiful example of medieval carved furniture comes from the parish church of St Margaret in Norwich and is an exceptionally rare survivor, being one of the few oak chests to survive from late medieval England,” said Agata. “What is especially remarkable is that this ornate wooden chest remains almost entirely intact. It still has its original lid and iron hinges.” 

Inside are two lidded lockers which replaced the original till boxes. 

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“The lockable till boxes would have been used to store small items—to prevent them from getting lost in the vast chest, and to provide additional security,” said Agata. “The chest would have been used to store a whole variety of items, from documents and books to fabrics, jewellery, and bags of money.” 

Only six such chests survive and the chest from St Margaret’s church in Norwich is the smallest, but richly decorated and well-preserved. All have lost their original locks but only the St Margaret’s chest follows the design of the original. “The good condition and preservation of our chest makes it arguably one of the most important examples of this group,” said Agata. “Learning about the past through objects remains a compelling adventure. We are working towards a greater understanding of this remarkable piece of furniture, to learn more about its origin and fortunes.” 

St Margaret's Church in St Benedicts Street, Norwich

St Margaret's Church in St Benedicts Street, Norwich PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

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Dendrochronological, or tree ring, research on some of the other chests has revealed that they were probably all made in a single workshop in northern Germany or Poland, between 1390 and 1420. “All were very likely brought to England through the trade networks of the Hanseatic League,” said Agata. “The results of our investigation will be an important contribution to the study of this wider family of chests - and, by extension, help broaden our knowledge of the artistic and mercantile connections and wealth of 14th and 15th century Norwich. This oak chest from St Margaret’s is a perfect example of how pursuing detailed knowledge about one object can shine light on a wider part of a history of a city, a region, a country.” 

A medieval wooden chest from St Margaret's Church, Norwich

The richly decorated medieval oak chest Picture: Norfolk Museums Service - Credit: Norfolk Museums Service

The chest – and many more stunning medieval objects – are available to adopt at adoptanobject.co.uk Every adoption of artefacts ranging from medieval curiosities to arms and armour or precious jewellery will help to restore the Castle Keep back to its medieval heyday, protecting and sharing Norfolk’s history for generations to come.

The chest will go on display in a new gallery of medieval objects at Norwich Castle Museum, being created in partnership with the British Museum as part of the Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn project. 

It is the latest Norwich Castle 'object of the month,' described and explained by an expert curator.

St Margaret’s church on St Benedict’s, Norwich, is in the care of Norwich Historic Churches Trust and known as St Margaret Church of Art as it regularly hosts art exhibitions. 

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