Viking: Rediscover the Legend exhibition at The Atkinson in Southport

York Helmet by Anthony Chappel-Ross, York Museums Trust

York Helmet by Anthony Chappel-Ross, York Museums Trust - Credit: Archant

The Vikings are coming. But don’t panic – this major exhibition sets out to show that these Norse invaders weren’t just mad axemen.

The Gilling Sword, which will be on show at The Atkinson, Southport

The Gilling Sword, which will be on show at The Atkinson, Southport - Credit: Archant

It has been described as Viking ‘bling’ and is it is likely to shake our belief that the Vikings were a blood-thirsty band of invaders only interested in rape and pillage.

Perceptions created by Hollywood film makers and generations of novelists are about to be challenged by a major exhibition of national importance being staged in Lancashire.

Visitors from across the country are expected to visit the biggest exhibition of Viking culture ever held in the north west. The Atkinson in Southport will stage ‘Viking: Rediscover the Legend’ from March 31 to July 7. It’s a major coup as the museum is one of a small number of UK venues selected to house this unique display of treasures.

Almost 600 of the finest objects from the British Museum and the Yorkshire Museum will form the centre-piece of the exhibition alongside ground-breaking research by archaeologists and new discoveries by metal detectorists.

Items from the Cuerdale Hoard, found by the Ribble

Items from the Cuerdale Hoard, found by the Ribble - Credit: Archant

Pieces from the Cuerdale Hoard will be a significant part of the display. This 8,600 item treasure trove of silver, found on the banks of the River Ribble near Preston in 1840, is now the property of the British Museum.

Key elements will be on show in Southport along with items from the Vale of York and Bedale Viking Hoards. It is the first time they will have been on display together.

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One of the themes of the exhibition will highlight the artistic skills of the Vikings and how people always considered to be little more than a warrior race could create such stunning and delicate metalwork.

Michael Wood, the Manchester-born television historian, will be hosting a launch event at the Atkinson. He told Lancashire Life: ‘The Vikings had quite an impact on the north west and the legacy lives on in place names like Ormskirk, Eccles, Toxteth, Skelmesdale and Salford and in a lot of our dialect.

‘The novels by Bernard Cornwell have the Vikings involved in insane levels of violence, quaffing and whoring yet these were people who made items of fabulous beauty and quality. It’s been described as Viking bling.’

Lancashire, and the Ribble Valley in particular, became a well-trod route for Vikings coming across the Irish Sea to reach their headquarters in York. Michael described this as a ‘wild hinterland’ forming a fluid border.

‘But there was no great ethnic hatred towards the Vikings,’ he said. ‘It seems that north of the Humber, the English would rather be ruled by a Viking king than a southern king.

‘Having said that I couldn’t pretend the Vikings were easy going. Writers reported the terrible destruction of the monasteries and the widespread plundering. But when they made treaties they tended to stick to them.’ Among Michael’s ‘must see’ items on show will be one of the Lewis chessmen, The York helmet found during excavation work in Coppergate, The Gilling Sword, found near Richmond by a schoolboy, the Raven Penny, a coin of the Viking Olaf Guthfrithson’s reign, and the Seal of Snarrus, which once belonged to a tax collector.

Stephen Whittle, principal manager at the Atkinson, said: ‘It’s wonderful that The Atkinson has been chosen to host the biggest ever exhibition of Viking culture ever seen in the north west. Not only does it include some of the most iconic Viking artefacts from the British Museum and York Museum Trust, it brings together hoards and major finds of objects from all over the region.

‘We expect this exhibition to attract visitors from all over Britain to see this rare and unique collection in one place. It’s a nationally significant event for the economy and for education.’