Adorn: A Volunteer’s View

15 Nov 2019

Tom Harffey, Adorn Volunteer

The Adorn exhibition is an eye-opening, incredible collection of ancient jewellery, mostly found in the local area. We as humans have always been intelligent and skillful, and it truly is both a showcase and a timeline of the talent and creativity of our ancestors. No matter what people adorn themselves with, behind each individual piece, no matter how big or small or important or insignificant, there’s a story to tell. I love to share stories with visitors and it’s heart-warming to hear about the jewellery that they own and why it’s so special to them.

I met a really nice visitor when volunteering a few weeks ago and we had a lovely chat whilst doing a lap of the room. Maybe it was the shape of the Anglo Saxon gold – the round brooches with beautiful garnet – but they reminded her of medals and of the Olympics. She was telling me her sister was in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. It was very interesting to her that bronze, silver and gold are awarded as trophies in all kinds of sporting competitions. Most fascinating was how it’s the gold medal for whoever’s number one. It’s the top prize, a great gift, symbolising that somebody is the very best and how all throughout history it’s always been special in that way.



We agreed that if we ever won a gold medal we’d both adorn ourselves with it from time to time, to remind yourself of the journey, just like the way people for thousands of years have proudly worn their rings, medals and torcs.

The Materials and Making display cabinet blew that visitor’s mind and was her favourite part. She loved to see how good we’ve always been at making things. She asked me if it was true that blacksmiths have been crafting metal limbs for a long time. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I believe the Roman bronze prosthetic leg found in Capua is one of the oldest. Prosthetic arms made of iron have been used for quite literally hundreds of years – there’s actually one in a museum in London.



To her, the exhibition was a great example of the human story, because it proves we often make the impossible totally possible with our curiosity, intelligence, artistic talent, imagination and sheer handiness.


Tom is part of the Adorn Volunteer team at Colchester Castle. The group play a key role, welcoming visitors, sharing further details about the displays and keeping watch over the objects. If you would like to join them, simply head to our Volunteer website for more information.


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