THE fate of a Roman helmet found in a field near Crosby Garrett will be sealed on Thursday when it goes under the hammer at Christie’s auction house in London.

Tensions will be running high for staff at Tullie House museum in Carlisle who are bidding to keep it in Cumbria so it can become the centrepiece of their Roman Frontier Gallery exhibition.

Valued at £300,000, the extremely rare bronze relic with adjoining facemask could fetch much more when it appears as Lot 176 at around 1.30pm.

Head of collections for the musuem Andrew McKay said the response to their public financial appeal ‘Keep it in Cumbria’ had been fantastic but the auction’s outcome was still an unknown.

“We’re bidding against private collectors so there’s a huge risk that we might just be blown out the water by a very wealthy person.

"People have put their heart and soul into this and they are giving us the best possible shot at bringing it back to Cumbria.

"I am tense and nervous, but quietly confident,” he said.

The museum needed to raise £80,000 of public money to ‘unlock’ larger grants from the Arts Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

And today they reached their target when the public’s £42,000 was matched pound-for-pound by an anonymous benefactor and a last minute pledge of £5000 by Cumbria County Council.

Mr McKay said: “It’s absolutely fantastic news. We’re very grateful to everyone who has donated money to the campaign and it puts us in a very good position.”

“All the money the public have raised so far has been fantastic and will help up ‘unlock’ money from major funding authorities like the Arts Fund.

"I’d like to see a last minute push though as our anonymous benefactor is willing to match pound for pound anything the public raises up to £50,000,” he said.

A professional auction strategist will work alongside Mr McKay to give him the best possible chance of winning the auction which is likely to include bidders from all over Europe.

Tourism bosses estimate the helmet could bring £3million into the county if it were to go on permanent display at the museum.

Eric Robson, Chairman of Cumbria Tourism, said: “An aquisition of this calibre held in the city could make Carlisle unmissable in 2011.

"If the city can secure it there is a real opportunity to create a Mona Lisa effect where visitors coming to Cumbria won’t want to leave the county without having visited Carlisle to see it.”

The helmet was found by a young metal detector in a field near Crosby Garrett in May and is one of only three ever found in the UK.

Experts think its face would have been polished white and its hair painted gold and used by an elite Roman horseman as a show of strength and to strike fear into native Britons.

* Westmorland Gazette readers can follow the auction live online on Thursday with reporter Kate Proctor who is at Christies with the Tullie House team. Click on the link below for the live updates.