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The Winchester Moot Horn confirmed as 12th century original

The Winchester Moot Horn – one of the most popular objects on display in the City Museum - has recently been the subject of a major academic study. The results have just been published in the prestigious national journal Medieval Archaeology.

The 50cm long bronze horn has long been treasured by the city since it was found in a chest when the Westgate was being cleared in advance of its opening as a museum in 1898. At the time it was hailed as the ancient moot horn of the city used to summon the freemen to assemblies of the ‘Burrough Mote’. Its origins, however, were obscure and, with so little known about it, there were doubts as to the horn’s authenticity. Some even questioned whether it could be a Victorian replica.

Recent work has quashed that theory and shed some light on the object. A sample submitted to Peter Northover for analysis at Oxford University shows the metal of the horn to be leaded gunmetal with relatively low zinc content indicating a 12th century date. This result is compatible with the 12th century date suggested for it on the basis of the style of the four rampant lions and two standing bishops that decorate its mouth. Several towns in England have ancient horns but only Canterbury’s ‘Burghmote Horn’ is likely to be as old as Winchester’s Moot Horn.

The horn can not only be viewed in the City Museum but it can also be heard! Tim Norris, one of the museum’s staff and a well known figure from the University of Winchester’s School of Music, was recorded playing the four true notes that the horn can produce (B below middle C, B an octave above, F# above that, and a top B above that).

In 1927 the horn was used to summon city councillors to a meeting when it was blown atop the Westgate by a soldier: the story goes that it could be heard on St Catherine’s Hill several miles away. Reflecting this tradition, a replica of the horn is blown at the annual mayor-making ceremony each May.

Cllr Patricia Stallard, portfolio holder for heritage, culture and sport, said,

“We are fortunate to have such a wealth of collections – cared for and researched by the City Council’s curators – that help define Winchester’s identity. The sort of solid academic work seen here is fundamental if we are all to understand and really benefit from these treasures.”

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