A major part of history was given pride of place in The Atkinson on Sunday 13 October. The Crossens Canoe is was suspended in The Atkinson between the library and the main building becoming a permanent feature of the building and bringing the collections to life for all visitors to admire.
The canoe arrived at The Atkinson on Sunday morning on a flat bed truck and was installed on a purpose built cradle which will hangs 4 metres off the ground. The canoe can be seen from all floors of the Atkinson, allowing visitors to view this ancient exhibit from a range of different angles.
The canoe was found on 22 April 1899 in a field near Crossens by Peter Brookfield (local farmer) whilst he was ploughing his field. Peter Brookfield sent for Reverend William Bulpit, a keen local historian, who identified the canoe as having an early age and being of interest.
It was first displayed in the Conservatory at the Botanic Gardens in Churchtown and then it moved to the Victoria Schools of Science and Art in Southport (now The Atkinson) until 1907 when it was loaned to Liverpool Museum until 1March 1946, when it was returned to the Botanic Gardens Museum where it remained until its closure in 2011.
Stephen Whittle, The Atkinson’s Museums and Galleries Manager said:
“The canoe is a fascinating and still very enigmatic object. It dates from a time that we know very little about and it raises all sorts of interesting questions about the people who were living on the edge of Martin Mere 1500 years ago. Hopefully by bringing it back to such a public location it will prompt further interest and investigation into its origins and use.”
The canoe is one of 11 found in the area over time but most were allowed to decay. The field where it was found lay near the northern shore of the former lake known as Martin Mere. Martin Mere was the largest lake in England before it was drained in the 18th and 19th centuries ad had a diameter of 2 miles and a circumference of 18 miles!
There are legends that connect Martin Mere with King Arthur and Lancelot of the Lake. It was supposedly the place where King Arthur was given Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake. At the end of the legends, Martin Mere is the water into which Bedivere eventually hurls the great sword on the wishes of the dying Arthur.
Lancelot’s mother came to Lancashire to escape her enemies in France and whilst attempting to save her husband’s life, she left baby Lancelot by the lake. The nymph Vivian adopted Lancelot and vanished into the lake with him. When he appears at Lancelot’s court aged 18 he is knighted ‘Lancelot of the Lake’.
In 1996 a sample of the canoe was sent off for radiocarbon dating, dated to AD 535. Radiocarbon dating was carried out by the School of Biological and Earth Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University and Beta Analytical Incorporation Radiocarbon Dating Services in Miami. The date of AD 535 is very interesting as it places the canoe at the very end of the Roman period but at a time considered too early for the Anglo-Saxon settlement in the region. It shows that whoever was living here at that time was exploiting the wetlands in and around Martin Mere.