Today I was back in the City of Stoke-on-Trent doing some of the legacy work from my five weeks work there co-ordinating the recent by-election campaign for the Liberal Democrats.

In the hour after doing some work and meeting an old friend I popped to the Potteries Museum - it was something that I have done many times before. But every time I go I realise that I should go more often. There in the museum, almost casual, very Stoke-on-Trent, is the product of this City over the last four hundred years. I say four hundred because it is now clear that the emergence of the Industrial Revolution was preceded by years of tradition, experiment and development in the ways and wares of porcelain and pottery.

And the smorgesboard, scale, size, beauty and diversity of those outcomes of that skill, knowledge, practise and more is a sight for any eyes. The names of Doulton, Wedgwood, and Spode are just three that are household names. Here you will see the worlds finest and most of it, yes, from Stoke-on-Trent.

But now this feast of colour, range and charm is underlaid by something much more revelatory. Much more challenging, much more incredible.. for there in the Potteries Museum is a sample of the Staffordshire Hoard.  This is is a discovery of a hidden buried hoard of Saxon era gold and precious metals and gems that has challenged and transformed out understanding of history.

The Staffordshire Hoard has, finally done what Sutton Hoo failed to, it has ended the notion of the Dark Ages. The Staffordshire Hoard has uncovered the skill, beauty, advanced technology and appreciation of Saxon and Viking England. The Staffordshire Hoard has revealed a world of gold and jewels, of status and reputation, of capture and loss, of value and world trade and it has provided it in a quantity never previously known.

Torques, swords, crosses, scabbards - emblazoned with horses, birds, human faces - mostly military uses, others religious, all highly decorated, visual, imaginative - and direct from the legends and annals of Beowolf and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. I have long argued that 1066AD was not starting point of history, but simply the success of Norman propaganda over Saxon stability. In addition I believe that the foundations of England were laid with the accession of King Alfred and the 200 years of stable, developmental and successful rule pursed by his heirs and successors.

Read more of my thoughts on this here http://edfordham.com/index.php/history-projects/saxon-england

The Staffordshire Hoard reveals a world of struggle and of might and of war, yes. But it also strips bare and utterly rejects the notion of the Dark Ages as the lazy, assuming account of Victorian England which fell for the fairy tale enchantment of a medieval ages of chivalry that never existed. In the way that Charles Darwin challenged religion with the age of reason, the Staffordshire Hoard has demolished the evidence-base of the idea of a Dark Age and revealed it to be the era of optimism, skill and ambition that it clearly was. And yes, it is in Staffordshire, and my very special city of Stoke-on-Trent.

And so if you like the City of Stoke, are curious and responsive to its charms and drawn by the stories of history then get yourself to the Potteries Museum. You will see a wealth, a depth and a scale of English history that is overlaid and complemented by the world of Scandanavia, of Russia and even of China and the Far East. Even better, you will see it through beauty, skill and through the marvels of the trade routes of history.  It was probably the best hour I have spent for a long time. I strongly recommend it.