Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

11th November 2013


The Roman helmet is bigger and much more impressive than I ever imagined: It has a powerful  presence. It was dug up in a field about 20 miles from here three years ago by 2 men with a metal detector.  It is almost 2000 years old. I have never seen anything like it before – it is so beautiful it almost hurts to look at it.  I want to put my head inside to feel it, smell it and imagine the Roman who wore it. But of course that is not possible – no one at Tullie House has been allowed to even touch it.

Called The Crosby Garret Helmet after the name of the tiny place in the hills above the Eden Valley where it was found in 2010, it is a ceremonial head piece in copper, zinc and tin. It has a face piece – a mask – which must have been custom-shaped to fit the soldier who stares stolidly ahead through eye sockets with a small open iris in the centre. He would have worn it,not for war, but for equestrian games and ceremonies as protection like a hard hat or crash helmet today.  The face mask folds down on hinges so he would have put the helmet piece on first, then pulled up the mask and secured it with leather straps. There is a griffin on the top and wonderful shell-like whorls around the face resembling curls. Who was he, this curly-headed horseman? I can imagine him galloping along in the games, his highly polished helmet gleaming gold and silver, with yellow plumes streaming out behind him.

Its discovery 3 years ago caused widespread shivers of excitement not least in Tullie House in Carlisle which stands on a section of Hadrians Wall remnants of which you can see in their lovely garden. Perhaps this handsome Roman horseman once rode through this place.

 The helmet was skillfully restored and put up for auction at Christies a few months after its discovery and a campaign was begun to raise funds for the museum to buy it.  An unbelievable pledge of £1.7 million was raised as it was obvious from the international interest shown that it would exceed its estimated price of £200 - £300.  The hammer went down at £2.3 million to an unnamed private buyer who is not allowed to take it out of the UK. The disappointment was felt throughout Cumbria and beyond.

Now the anonymous owner has lent it to Tullie House for 3 months and people are pouring in to see it before it moves on to The British Museum in January. You have until 26th January to see it in Cumbria -  its natural habitat!

In the adjoining section of the gallery there is an exciting exhibition of costume – haute couture by Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies made for Royalty and the twentieth century titled, super rich and famous.   Although I am more of a Mary Quant, Celia Birtwell  woman, there are some highly desirable pieces that could be worn today. I would happily starve myself to wear the printed silk chiffon dark blue evening dress with fish tail. The grey quilted evening dress with bright pink fish tail and a massive fabric flower on the shoulder would not look out of place in Sex and the City. The little black velvet dress made for Tommy Steele’s wife made me smile. Perhaps Zara could do a copy – it would sell like crazy.

These two exhibitions are not unrelated. We can learn so much about a person, a lifestyle or a generation from an article of clothing especially made to measure bespoke tailoring.

* Photographs of the helmet are protected by copyright so I have made a rough sketch - better to see the real thing though!






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