"Wiltshire's Story in 100 objects" collects county-wide treasures & visual history - and that amazing silver Cup

Written by Tony Millett.

The Lacock Cup in its glass caseThe Lacock Cup in its glass caseThe main treasure in the current exhibition at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes - Wiltshire's Story in 100 Objects - is the featured Lacock Cup.  And it truly is the most amazing object - glorious workmanship from the distant past.

The Cup is now owned jointly by the British Museum and the Wiltshire Museum - make sure to see it in this exhibition before it goes back to London.  It is described as one of the most significant pieces of secular English medieval silver.

It had been used as a communion chalice at St Cyriac's Church in Lacock until the church needed to raise money for repairs.  After a legal challenge to the proposed sale from a local resident, it went for £1.3million.  

Two replicas have been made - one for the church and one for the Wiltshire Museum when the original is not displayed there.   The one on display in this exhibition is the real thing.  

When the Rector of St Cyriac's spoke at the official opening of the exhibition, he told how people in Lacock missed 'their Cup' and that there were still people in the village who remembered taking communion from the Cup.

The exhibition - inspired by the British Museum/BBC's Story of the World in a 100 Objects - is the result of a close partnership between the county's museums.  Beyond the Cup, there is a host of intriguing and rare objects from 25 Wiltshire museums and galleries that tell the county's story in very different ways.  

Loans for the exhibition have been made for two years so the exhibition can tour the county.  And in some ways the exhibition is as much about the county's museums and galleries as about its history.

The exhibits have been divided into ten themes - from beliefs and ideas, through rule and rulers, to food and farming.   The variety of objects is breath taking - each one, with its succinct caption - needing time to place it in its period and context.

Marlborough - which so far has no proper museum or gallery - is represented by two Civil War lead bullets dating from the siege of 1642 that were later extracted from the walls of St Mary's Church.  Though somewhat more tangentially connected, there are two other important Marlborough items.

Civil War bullets from St Mary's Church wallsCivil War bullets from St Mary's Church walls  The cut halfpenny minted in Marlborough is on the leftThe cut halfpenny minted in Marlborough is on the left

There is Michael Ayrton's well-known portrait of William Golding - Nobel Laureate and Marlborough's best known novelist.  And there is a minute 'Silver cut halfpenny of Matilda, 1139-1148'.   This was minted in Marlborough - when the castle was still in royal hands.  The tiny, rather bent half coin was not found in Marlborough but in Box.

Other eye-catching objects covering a huge span of time include:  a pack of cards telling soldiers using Salisbury Plain how to behave (1990-200).  A Neolithic flint knife found at Windmill Hill near Avebury (c3650-3550BC.)   The early twentieth century works sign for Scout Motors - Salisbury's once-but-then-bankrupt motor vehicle manufacturer.  


And a crotal bell made in about 1800 in Aldbourne.  Attached to animals and carts since early medieval days, these bells had an iron ball inside the case which sounded whenever it was moved - a necessary early warning system especially after dark.

The exhibition is open until July 16: Mondays-Saturdays 10.00am to 5.00pm - Sundays 12noon to 4.00pm.  The Museum's normal admission prices apply.