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Photo gallery: Cockley Cley auction brings end to heritage site’s saga

PUBLISHED: 09:26 16 October 2014 | UPDATED: 09:26 16 October 2014

Items up for sale at the auction at the Iceni Centre at Cockley Cley, after the museum was closed down. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Items up for sale at the auction at the Iceni Centre at Cockley Cley, after the museum was closed down. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

It was supposed to be one of the region’s top tourist attractions, and a celebration of our prehistoric past.

But despite greatest of efforts and highest of hopes, the crowds did not quite follow in the numbers necessary, and with takings falling just 70p on one day, the Iceni Village, near Swaffham, closed down.

And an auction of its rare artefacts and exhibits has now brought the saga’s final chapter to a close.

An attempt to revive the Iceni Village, just south of Swaffham, failed within three months after it was reopened under a new guise and a new name, the Iceni Centre.

Owners had hoped the refurbishment programme, which did away with the mock Iceni village and put a skeleton of a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age giant at the heart of the display, would help the attraction double its visitor numbers from 10,000 to 20,000. But they soon conceded defeat, admitting they took just 70 pence one day.

Items up for sale at the auction at the Iceni Centre at Cockley Cley, after the museum was closed down. Picture: Matthew Usher.Items up for sale at the auction at the Iceni Centre at Cockley Cley, after the museum was closed down. Picture: Matthew Usher.

In a bid to claw back some of the money lost, owner Sir Samuel Roberts commissioned auctioneer Barry Hawkins from Downham Market to sell off all of the objects on the site, except for a few family heirlooms.

Saturday’s auction saw old fashioned carriages, worth up to £4,000, go under the hammer, together with a 19th-century steam engine and farm machinery. More than 200 people attended.

Sir Samuel, who lives at nearby Cockley Cley Hall, said: “Now the Iceni Centre has closed, it was good to get something positive out of it and to pay for some of the losses of closing it.

“We will now use the site as a centre for people who want to use it for parties and occasions, it’s a facility for the village which can be used as a community hall, for art displays and pottery workshops.”

History of the Iceni Village

The museum complex was founded by Sir Samuel Roberts’ father, also Sir Samuel Roberts, in 1975 after he had become interested in the history of the area.

Over the years, it became a mock Iceni Village – and what was described as an “inaccurate historic attraction”.

In April, under the first phase of improvements, it was renamed the Iceni Centre and had reverted back to Sir Samuel’s father’s original conception: a place where people can discover real historical artefacts from Breckland.

As well as the Cockley Cley giant, the Iceni Centre was home to historic carriages, carts and agricultural equipment, an intricate model of the Battle of Waterloo, an Elizabethan cottage and a Saxon church.

It closed in July due to a lack of visitor numbers.

Are you trying to boost tourism in Breckland? Email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk.

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