Ad Gefrin Museum and Distillery Mark Anglo-Saxon Heritage

Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum & Distillery © Sally Ann Norman

A new museum and whisky distillery reveal the untold story of Northumbria’s Anglo-Saxon Golden Age and celebrate timeless hospitality. The Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum and Whisky Distillery, Wooler, Northumberland, opens on 25th March 2023.

The largely untold story of a Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon royal court is unveiled with the opening of Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum on 25th March in Wooler, Northumberland. Many Anglo-Saxon archaeological treasures, some returning to the North-East for the first time in decades, are displayed at the museum alongside an immersive film experience recreating the court’s great hall and bringing its occupants to life.

Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum & Distillery, featuring objects from The British Museum – © Sally Ann Norman

The 7th-century palace, known as Ad Gefrin, was rebuilt by Anglo-Saxon King Edwin in 616AD, who travelled from the south of England to rule as the first king of a united Northumbria stretching from the Humber to the Forth. Two subsequent kings, Oswald and Oswiu, also ruled at Ad Gefrin, one of a handful of royal residences in a vast northern kingdom that blended Britons and Anglo-Saxon settlers. For a century, the palace became the stage for key events in early northern English history, and central to our understanding of the history of religion in the British Isles. This was the site of the first mass conversions to Christianity as recounted by the Venerable Bede in his renowned contemporary account of the era – The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731AD) – that Queen Æthelburh’s bishop, Paulinus, spent 36 days baptising people ‘from morning to night’ from across the region in the River Glen.


The site was discovered at Yeavering in the Cheviot Hills, a few miles from the museum, in 1949, and is considered to be a major archaeological find of the 20th century. It was archaeologist Kenneth St Joseph, who pioneered the use of aerial photography in archaeological research, flying from nearby Milfield Airfield that led to its discovery. The excavation began in 1953, led by archaeologist Brian Hope-Taylor, revealing the huge complex of large timber halls and a distinctive wooden grandstand. The evidence of the wooden grandstand – unique to this period in western Europe – suggests that there may have been something different about the Kingdom of Northumbria – a need for a place of assembly, debate, and bringing people together much more akin to Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

Replica of the Franks Casket in Ad Gefrin museum, courtesy of The British Museum

The unearthing of the site at Yeavering indicated a place of great power and influence that drew people from as far away as North Africa, Europe, and Scandinavia facilitating the exchange of creativity, religion, and language. It was also a place of bitter bloodshed as the Northumbrian kingdom struggled for control with Mercia in the south. The site was abandoned around 670AD and moved to nearby Maelmin. Today, the site is under the guardianship and management of the Gefrin Trust who are working closely with Ad Gefrin.

Research on the site continues, led by Professor Sarah Semple at the archaeology department at Durham University, and modern techniques have shown there to be further buildings yet to be excavated.

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The collection on display at Ad Gefrin includes not only items found on the site of the palace, but also jewellery, ceramics and weaponry found across the north-east and other areas of England that together illuminate the richness of life within the Anglo-Saxon court through intricate craftsmanship and artistry.


The Castle Eden claw beaker, found in Durham in 1775, is among the museum’s highlights. Loaned by the British Museum, it represents one of the most well-preserved pieces of Anglo-Saxon glasswork to survive. Also among significant loans from the British Museum are a pseudo Roman coin pendant, silver wrist clasp and replica of the Franks Casket – a small box made of whale-bone depicting scenes from Roman, Jewish, Christian and Germanic tradition. Another significant lender is The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, with stand-out pieces including a square-headed brooch and the Bidford shield boss.

The Castle Eden Claw beaker arrives at Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum & Distillery – courtesy of The British Museum

The display also includes a penannular brooch found in Wooler and bought by the British Museum in 1928. It will go on display to the public for the first time after nearly a century located in London.

The unique business model created by Ad Gefrin has established a symbiotic relationship between the cultural offer and the whisky distillery. Whilst the footfall of visitors will more than secure the success of the business in the early years, it is the international commercial success of Ad Gefrin Single Malt Whisky that will ultimately secure both for the long term. Nor is the pairing arbitrary, as both take their inspiration and values from the timeless hospitality of the Anglo-Saxon royal court – perhaps creating a new golden age for Northumbria. Ad Gefrin Single Malt Whisky will mature from 2025 onwards.

Chris Ferguson, Director of Visitor Experience, said: “I am incredibly proud that we’ve been able to work with so many people to bring the story of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria to life for people today; and to do so with the incredible collection from Yeavering, and outstanding loans from national collections. The finished Museum is testament to the power, splendour and extraordinary culture of Northumbria’s Golden Age”.

The Distillery, Ad Gefrin © Sally Ann Norman

Two sides of the same coin, Ad Gefrin’s museum and its distillery – home to the first Northumbrian English Single Malt Whisky, and the county’s first (legal) whisky distillery in 200 years – will celebrate and showcase the unique heritage, ancient hospitality and contemporary crafts, arts and produce of Northumbria, rediscovering the splendour of a Golden Age that has a parallel in today’s rich culture in the region.

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