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Fight on to keep Crosby Garrett Roman helmet in Britain

A Cumbrian MP has called for an export ban on a £2 million Roman helmet found in Cumbria, throwing open the possibility that Tullie House could still acquire the artefact.

Rory Stewart photo
Rory Stewart

Related: Hopes high Crosby Garrett Roman helmet will go on display in Cumbria

The museum lost out on the Roman cavalry parade helmet, found in a field near Crosby Garrett south of Appleby in May, in a high-profile auction in London on Thursday.

But if its buyer wants to take the piece abroad, the government could impose an export ban, potentially giving the Carlisle museum another route to buying it.

Now, Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart has demanded an export ban is introduced, and said: “Cumbrians have shown both their immense generosity and sincere appreciation of this exceptional antiquity, and I know that this is a blow to their hopes to see the helmet installed in Tullie House’s new Roman Frontiers gallery.

“But we must not be downcast, and look to the bodies that exist to protect finds such as these from leaving the country never to be seen again.

“We must lobby hard to retain it here, where it has lain undisturbed for 2,000 years, and find time to try and match the price. If anything, today’s result has spurred me on to make this happen, and I will actively work for as long as it takes to secure its future here in the UK.”

Tullie House had put together a seven figure bid for the artefact, including a £1m contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund, in the hope of keeping it in Carlisle.

Other contributions included £5,000 from Cumbria County Council, £50,000 from an anonymous benefactor, an original work by a contemporary Belgian artist, and a substantial pledge from another Cumbrian museum’s Trust.

It was hoped the piece could have a ‘Mona Lisa effect’ on the area’s fortunes, generating millions through tourism.

But on Thursday, a crowd of staff in the museum’s lecture theatre gasped and groaned as a live web feed from the auction at Christie’s in London showed the price of the artefact spiral. It was eventually bought by an anonymous bidder for £2 million.

But Mike Mitchelson, leader of Carlisle City Council which runs Tullie House, says hopes remain high that the helmet will stay in Cumbria.

He said: “If it was a foreign bidder and there is an export ban, and if the opportunity came to match the final price, I would be quite confident that with enough time we would be in a position to match it.

“On two occasions during the auction the bidding eased off and we thought, ‘we are going to be in there, we have got this’.

“The final price was more than I anticipated it would go for, and I thought we would be in a position to secure the helmet.”

The farmer on whose land the helmet said he would have liked it to stay in Cumbria, but Eric Robinson remained tight lipped over whether he will receive any of the money raised from Thursday’s auction.

“It’s quite amazing [that it was worth so much],” he said. “I would have liked it to be kept in Cumbria but I can’t do anything about it.”

Mr Robinson said the man who found it had been coming to his farm for seven years and ‘hit the jackpot’ with this find.

He added: “I saw it when he found it. It looked very special, like it was pretty important.”

Have your say

Can't someone create a replica we could put on display by beating an old iron watering can into shape with a large hammer? I'll supply the can. Can anyone supply a hammer?

It would be nice to have it, but at 2 million pounds? No. We have more important things to spend our money on at the moment.

Posted by Dave Evans on 13 October 2010 at 12:02

I don't know if you really are from the USA John or whether you are just playing let's pretend, but dentistry apart, the cultural aspect of our lives is important too.I just so wanted to see such an exquisite example of our Roman past to be displayed for all to see in the county where it has lain safely for so long.

Posted by Janet Mansfield on 11 October 2010 at 18:24

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