The country went through considerable change during this time. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the economic and social structure of Britain was changed forever. It became a series of warring tribes, fighting both between themselves and with invaders from Germany and Scandinavia. Anglo-Saxon kingdoms eventually grew, only to be shaken again by the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Normans transformed England, perhaps most strikingly through the great stone buildings that can still be seen across the country today. The economy boomed in the comparatively peaceful years that followed, enabling arts and crafts to flourish.
Advances in technology have had an enormous impact on the way modern goods are produced, but in some ways very little has changed. A number of the tools on display in this exhibition are modern, but their form and function has remained virtually the same for hundreds of years. If a medieval and a modern craftsman were to swap toolboxes, they would likely be able to recognise and use the contents without too much difficulty.
Many of the most magnificent artworks of the Medieval period were made for religious houses. This was partly because the Church had immense power and wealth and partly because creating beautiful objects from precious materials was seen as a way of venerating God through art.
Spice traders invented legends to protect their sources and keep prices high. Cinnamon was thought to be obtained by knocking the nests of the cinnamon bird to the ground. Pepper trees were said to be guarded by fearsome snakes, which could only be driven off by setting fire to the trees.
Under Roman rule, a network of towns and cities acted as centres of trade and production. When they left, many of these places declined and some were abandoned altogether. Without the large markets they had been used to, specialist craft workers had to make major changes to their working practices.
Hammerbeam roofs were developed in the 1300s as a way of spanning large buildings without the need for central supports. The weight of the roof is directed down through the roof beams and outwards to the walls. Many were highly decorated, making them impressive feats of both engineering and art.
When the mounds at Sutton Hoo were excavated in 1939, they revealed the remains of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial. The grave is thought to have been that of Raedwald, King of East Anglia, and is to this day one of the richest and most important discoveries in Europe.
The Medieval Crafts exhibition is on now, until 2021, closing date tbc.