Years of finds are put on show at new Swaffham museum

Alex Wright and his collection of Bellarmine and German stoneware in Swaffham - Alex in his museum o

Alex Wright and his collection of Bellarmine and German stoneware in Swaffham - Alex in his museum of pots. Picture: Matthew Usher.

From bottles used to scare off witches, to stoneware dredged up from shipwrecks, the region's latest museum is certainly home to a curious collection of items.

The 'mini' museum has been opened by Alex Wright in an outhouse at his Swaffham home to house his extensive haul of stoneware vessels.

The items are all Bellarmine – the name given to vessels, each featuring a bearded face, produced in Germany throughout the 16th and 17th centuries – or other types of German pottery. The collection features more than 200 complete artefacts and hundreds more fragments, spanning the years from the 13th to the 18th century.

As well as being the region's newest museum, it is also thought to be the only site of its kind in the country.

A keen archaeology enthusiast, Mr Wright began collecting in the 1970s, although his most recent collection comes mainly from the last few years.


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Mr Wright said: 'Stoneware was something I was finding fragments of when I was digging back in the 1970s and I started collecting it from there.

'It is everywhere. Until glass came along in the 18th century, it was the main thing used for liquids.'

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The Germanic areas of Europe developed the technique for stoneware, which was salt glazed, and stoneware vessels became the main drinking and carrying products.

In Britain there was no mass -produced substance which could hold liquid permanently, so thousands of Bellarmine products were imported.

Mr Wright's collection include some items which were recovered from sunken vessels.

Stranger uses include the witch bottles which contained a potion to protect a house from witchcraft and would be placed under doorways.

Mr Wright said: 'Witch bottles are probably the most interesting to the general public. They are found with items to ward against witchcraft.

'There is a recipe of pins, hair, cloth hearts and urine.'

One of his exhibits is a witch bottle which is still intact and has been x-rayed to show its contents.

While Mr Wright does not view his collection from a financial point of view he does sell items from time to time and his highest sale was £36,000.

Each jar is marked with a bearded face and many, dating from later times, featured religious art.

The museum was only recently finished, but has already had its first visitors. Those wishing to attend, should arrange their visit with Mr Wright first.

To find out more, visit www.bellarminemuseum.co.uk, or call 01760 725426.

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