The Amber Cup

One of our society’s founding principles is to care for the history of the town and its surroundings. That doesn’t just mean the old buildings of Hove and Portslade but its artefacts too.

When you mention our historic past, certain buildings spring to mind - the 16th century Hangleton Manor and its dovecote, St Helen’s church Hangleton (late Saxon/early Norman), Portslade Old Manor (a Scheduled Ancient Monument dating from Norman times) and nearby St Nicholas church. Portslade Old Village also has old cottages built in the traditional vernacular material of flint, with lovely clay tiled roofs and other grander houses dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. West Blatchington Windmill also survives from the early 1800s. Now step back another thousand years, two thousand years…

You are standing near the sea looking at a long barrow, a burial mound 180 paces in circumference…

That sacred monument was still in place in 1821, when the Rev J Skinner sketched it and noted 'a Danish place of interment'.

Today it would have the protection of English Heritage, but in 1856 it wasn’t valued and was simply holding up the building of Palmeira Avenue. Fortunately, archaeology had been taken up by some enlightened individuals and the mound was excavated before being flattened. They found an ancient coffin hewn from a single tree trunk which miraculously preserved the priceless objects within. Chief of these was an artefact now prized as 'Hove’s Amber Cup', of national importance. (Another amber cup has been found in Dorset, but in fragments.)

Photo of the amber cup; brownish orange with a single loop handle and showing many marks and chips

When Hove Town Hall burnt down in 1966, Hove Museum had to be used as offices for the town hall staff until a replacement could be built, and the Amber Cup was moved to Brighton Museum for the duration.

Last year it was revealed that the cup had been removed from Hove Museum and put into storage. This was bad news and, in September, I voiced my disquiet to the Councillor and Chief Officer concerned. A few weeks later I was delighted to be told that money had been found to provide a new secure cabinet at Hove Museum. At opening time, on Tuesday 15 December, I was on the Museum doorstep on behalf of the Society to celebrate its return and to meet up with the Argus photographer, who took a rather clever photograph of the cup with my reflected image next to it.

The cup dates from the Bronze Age, so is approximately 3,200 years old, and suggests trade links with the Baltic. Also displayed in the cabinet are the other items found in the coffin: a double-headed axe head (one side sharpened for cutting, the other for hammering), a dagger and a whetstone. The cabinet is on the first floor landing. The museum has a good lift for easy access and is open daily except Mondays and Sunday mornings. Press the button next to the cabinet to illuminate the cup.

I recommend that you make an early visit as the Amber Cup will be transferred to the British Museum from February 13 for a major exhibition in conjunction with the BBC entitled 'The History of the World'. It should be returned to Hove Museum at the end of the year - you can rely on me to keep a very close eye on the situation! It is no exaggeration to say that the Amber Cup is Hove’s 'jewel in the crown' and its presence at the British Museum during 2010 will showcase our priceless treasure.

Elaine Evans - Publicity & Heritage