Last Saturday one of Luton’s most prized possessions - a rare medieval jug, one of just three in the world - was dramatically stolen from its high-security case at Stockwood Discovery Centre. Reporter SOPHIE SCOTT looks at its significance to the town.
It could be a tale from a Hollywood movie.
A well-built man vaults a sixfoot fence, smashes a glass entrance door with a, presumably, stolen drain cover and then uses it to crack through 13.4mm of glass.
He grabs a 6kg bronze jug, throws it over the fence into a hedge, clambers after it and then disappears into the black night.
One has to wonder as to the reasons behind the theft. Did he know its significance and worth? Or was it just a chance smash-and- grab?
The jug itself is a huge part of Luton’s history and the tale of how the museum acquired it is just as interesting.
Seven years ago, New York’s Metropolitan Museum was desperate to get a hold of the artefact, willing to hand over £750,000 to get it, but Luton Borough Council’s museums service wanted to keep it in the town - but didn’t have the money to save it as it was more than 300 times the museum’s annual acquisition budget.
That was until then Culture Minister David Lammy prevented its export and gave time for the necessary fundraising to happen.
The story goes that large donations from the Friends of Luton and the Arts Fund, among others, were added to by Lutonians - some giving just £5 each.
Finally in 2006 enough money was raised and it was secured for the town. It was a David and Goliath moment.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, director of Museums Karen Perkins said: “This is probably the highest value object in our collection and it is increasingly significant nationally.
“I think the most important thing about this jug is that it is one of only three in the world, the other two are at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum, but this is the only one that is attributable to a named person.”
Wrapped around the jug’s circumference are the words ‘My Lord Wenlok’. This is a clear reference to the Wenlok family of Luton, who lived in the area in the late 1300s-1400.
It could either refer to John Wenlock, who lived near the town and had large estates across the county, and who held different royal offices, was an MP and speaker of the House of Commons.
He was allegedly killed fighting for the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury during the War of the Roses, in 1471.
Curators at the museum think it is more likely that it was John, but the jug could have belonged to his great-uncle William, who died in 1391 and is buried in St Mary’s Church and was the Canon of the King’s Chapel, Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedral, and Archdeacon of Rochester and Master of Farley, a hospital for the poor in Luton.
Karen Perkins continued: “The jug would have been like a statement of your importance.
“I very much doubt it was used as a utensil, but it would have been placed on the table at gatherings as a centrepiece and as a way of saying ‘look at me and how important I am’ and ‘this is me’.
“We use the replica of the jug to get schoolchildren to think the same thing. It is a great learning tool.
“Lord Wenlok would have been a nobleman and would have known or served the King.
“Because this is the only one that can be linked to a person it gives us such a background to the story. It goes from being a very old jug to a very old jug with a story.”
If you know anything about the jug’s whereabouts, call Bedfordshire Police on 101.
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