Campaign To Bring Tamworth Torc Home To New Museum

By Caroline Lewis | 08 September 2006
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Shows a photograph of a hole in the ground in which is buried several gold necklaces.

Torcs similar to the one found in Tamworth in 1943. © British Museum

The grandson of a man who unearthed a golden neck torc in Tamworth 63 years ago is campaigning for it to be brought back to the town.

The 2000-year-old torc was discovered as Sidney Bates dug a drainage system at Glascote Boatworks in 1943. When it was declared Treasure Trove more than 25 years later, however, the necklace went to Birmingham Museum as Tamworth had nowhere secure enough to display it.

Now Councillor Lee Bates, Sidney’s grandson, is calling for the Iron Age torc to be returned to the town where it was found, following plans for a new museum where it could be a centrepiece.

“My granddad found it in 1943 when he was working on a new marina,” explained Cllr Bates. “He thought it was a coffin handle. He thought, ‘That’s a nice piece of metal,’ and took it home and polished it up, not knowing its real value. It then sat in a box in the wardrobe for 25 years. My dad and his brothers and sisters remember playing with it.”

“It wasn’t until my nan was watching a news programme on the subject that she realised what it was,” he said. That was in 1968.

photo of two men holding a banner that says Bring back the Tamworth Torc standing either side of a street sign with the title Treasure Close on it

Cllr Lee Bates (left) and his father, Steve Bates (right) on location at one of the roads named in honour of Sidney Bates' 1943 find. Courtesy Lee Bates

The golden torc was taken to the British Museum and went through the process of the Treasure Act, being dated to the time of Boudicca, who was killed in battle nearby. The piece of jewellery, which consists of the equivalent to about 70 gold coins, would have belonged to a very rich Celtic tribal chief. It was declared Treasure in 1970, and Sidney and Grace Bates were rewarded with £7,000.

However, as the ancient necklace could not go on display in its home town it was taken to Birmingham Museum, where it has remained on display ever since.

The recent development of a new Heritage Trust independent of Tamworth Borough Council means that funding may be available in the future to create a new museum with facilities to display not only the torc, but a host of other items from the vicinity that are currently kept elsewhere.

photo of a high street

Market Street, where the proposed museum may be situated if the Heritage Trust secure funding. © J Stott

“There’s a lot of heritage out there that belongs to Tamworth,” continued Cllr Bates, “and we’d like to store it all in one building. For example, there’s the Tamworth Scroll, currently based in Oxford – there’s a similar scenario with that.”

Tamworth was once the capital of Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia and was situated at the hub of the Industrial Revolution’s canal network. Victorian prime minister Sir Robert Peel served as the town’s MP from 1830 until his death in 1850. It was here that he unveiled his Tamworth Manifesto in 1834, creating what is now the modern Conservative Party.

Cllr Bates’ campaign has obtained a petition of 500 signatures to be presented to the council in favour of the return of the Torc – which will also demonstrate the public backing of the museum, plans for which are in their infancy.

Council Leader Jeremy Oates is fully behind the plans for a new museum, which would occupy a building in Market Street as an annexe to Tamworth Castle and the tourist information office.

“Tamworth Council is owned by the borough council,” explained Cllr Oates. “We’re putting the running of it into the hands of a Heritage Trust, which will be able to apply for funding that the authority isn’t able to access. We’ve started the process off and they’ve had their first meeting.”

photo of a shop front with the sign Tamworth Information Centre

The museum may adjoin the tourist information centre. Courtesy Lee Bates

In good time, the trust will apply for money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A sizeable award would make a new museum viable, which could feature more items like the Tamworth Torc.

Although it may be some time before the torc is returned to its old home, the campaign has had a positive impact on people’s knowledge of local history.

“There’s so much reference to the Torc in the town, but many people didn’t realise where it came from,” said Cllr Bates, “so it’s been a bit of an education campaign, too.”

“We’ve got Torc High School named after it, Treasure Close, Roman Way, Torc Close – but people didn’t know why they were named that.”

“It’s quite an important piece of Tamworth history.”

“I’m quite hopeful,” he said of the campaign. “It all depends on how successful the applications for funding are.”

Jo Sands, Business Development Manager for Tamworth Council, added: “The Heritage Trust have wanted a museum for a long time. It would be a fantastic coup for them if they could have the torc back.”

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