Luton's £750,000 Wenlock Jug Takes Pride Of Place At Museum

By Richard Moss | 23 May 2006
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a photograph of a bronze jug with a fluted mouth and crest on it

The Wenlock Jug goes on display in Luton on Friday May 26, 2006 © Luton Museums

The Wenlock Jug, an English Royal medieval jug dramatically acquired by Luton Museum earlier this year, is to finally go on display at Wardown Park Museum in Luton on Friday May 26 2006.

The bronze jug was almost sold to New York’s Metropolitan Museum for £750,000 but was export-stopped in October 2005 by culture minister David Lammy - in order to provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the jug in the United Kingdom.

After a hard fought campaign to raise the necessary £750,000 Luton Borough Council’s Museums Service managed to buy the jug, which has strong local connections, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of several key organisations and donations from many individuals.

a close up photograph of a medieval coat of arms

The jug bears several royal coats of arms. © Luton Museums

“The Wenlock Jug may have gone walkabout for several hundred years but I’m delighted it’s finally coming home and going on display in Luton for everyone to enjoy,” said Cllr David Franks, leader of Luton Borough Council.

Decorated with coats of arms, including the royal arms used between 1340 and 1405, the jug bears the inscription My Lord Wenlock.

It is thought the jug was made for either William Wenlock, who died in 1391 and was canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Archdeacon of Rochester and a canon of King’s Chapel, Westminster, or his great-nephew John, the first Lord Wenlock, who was a major figure in the fifteenth century serving every king from Henry V to Edward IV. Both had strong connections with Luton.

Luton Museums Service was given just a matter of months to raise the cash for the jug and a campaign began with support from the Friends of Luton Museums who offered £15,000 to the appeal.

a close up photograph of a medieval royal crown

Several medieval crowns are also visible on the jug. © Luton Museums

This was followed by a pledge of £137,500 from the Art Fund, after which many individuals came forward from both Luton and beyond to offer their support, followed by offers from the Headley Trust and The Worshipful Company of Founders.

The final amount, which was 300 times the museum’s normal annual acquisitions budget, was clinched when the National Heritage Memorial Fund offered a huge £562,000. Now the Pilgrim Trust and Headley Trust have helped to ensure the jug can be displayed in public for visitors to enjoy by supporting the purchase of a high security case for the object.

“I’d like to say a very big thank you to all the organisations and individuals whose donations made its return possible,” added Cllr Franks.

Virtually unknown until its recent sale, the jug has given scholars an important opportunity to research medieval metalworking skills.

a photograph of lettering embossed on the side of a bronze jug

Will the real Lord Wenlock please reveal himself? © Luton Museums

A collaborative project has been underway over the past month between the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Luton Museums Service to learn more about the jug’s origins.

Comparisons with similar examples at the British Museum and V&A have been made together with non-invasive x-radiography and x-ray fluorescence treatment.

It is hoped that findings from this project will reveal the identity of the Lord Wenlock on the Luton jug, since this would indicate its date and its relationship to the other royal jugs.

Regardless of the outcome of this process, the jug is guaranteed pride of place at the Wardown Park Museum on Friday.

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