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April 2016 


Notes on lectures taken by Mary Harris


The lectures represent the state of knowledge and interpretation in Spring 2016.

Dr Ros Faith

Ros Faith studied modern history at Oxford and then gained her PhD at Leicester, which was in the 1960s the foremost university for local history research. Since then she has had a distinguished academic career in London and Oxford, and currently lectures in Cambridge. 

Among her publications are English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship  and Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming.

WHY SETTLE IN A RIVER VALLEY                                                                                        

Dr Ros Faith, Oxford University

Emphasis on the importance of local studies - Interpretations have to work on a local scale.


Examples drawn from:     Upper Thames, Eynsham and Sutton Courtenay

                Lower Deben Valley, Suffolk


View held in the 1980s: The Anglo-Saxon early settlement showed their search for easily worked soils eg. the gravel terraces of the Thames valley. However, this reflects too great a concentration on arable - the landscape was used for multiple purposes. The whole farming system is important. 

Easily worked soils were not the priority - Saxons seem to have been able to cultivate any type of soil if they wished to. What was more important was access to pasture and fodder. They made a great deal of use of wood-pasture and using leaf fodder. The early settlers preferred valleys because of their lush pasture. NB Rivers in AS times were very braided and usually flooded naturally in winter.


Considering the organisation of the land: Political units thought in terms of top-down. The land seems to have been organised in small shires, often minster territories, each of which had its own pasture resources. Could this be the origin of Sherfield English, the shire field? AS rulers were not interested in the organisation of agriculture only in the control of resources. In Wessex the travelling royal court was supported by local food rents.



Settled in the Bronze Age

Battle there in 571 AD

early Saxon Minster

In Domesday Book a large amount of meadow is recorded.


Sutton Courenay:

Grubenhausen found by Leeds but also a large 7th century timber Hall.


Deben Valley:

Rendlesham Saxon Palace

Sutton Hoo burial ground



Each Household had a dwelling, enclosure and resources of land - the extent of this would be known locally. 

Larger groups have a different perspective. -Ingas and -ing names are usually attached to the name of an individual who led the larger group. The larger group would have 'use' rights to common pasture, downs, fens etc. It has been suggested that these common rights preserve ancient democratic rights but this is not proven.

The reeves of Dartmoor were laid out in the late Bronze Age. Hundreds and co-axial fields were also laid out on a large scale  - by whose authority? [Pete Herring] The governance of Dartmoor was vested in a customary authority that all accepted. This is now the Duchy of Cornwall but the authority may go back to British origins.



For the political authorities the display of their wealth and power was important. Archaeological evidence shows the consumption of large amounts of meat, especially cattle on AS royal sites.

At Yeavering there is a corral and drove way, needed for catering, but also giving a clear visual display. There are parallels here with South African cattle and kraals. The delivery of tribute was highly visible.

Rendlesham is now being excavated and may well show similar arrangements. Rendlesham certainly has the lushest grazing of the Deben Valley.

Eynsham Abbey is listed with 200a meadow in Domesday Book. It is a place of authority with a large grazing area.



River valleys supported both rich and poor. The upper Thames settlement at Yarnton in the 7th century used the gravel terraces and grasslands. Animals can only be kept through the winter if there is enough fodder. Therefore the hay crop was crucial and rights of grazing were organised in stints. The difference between rich and poor was that the rich could accumulate winter fodder and thus keep more livestock through the winter to enlarge their herds/flocks.


The Work of the Hundred Court

Most of the business of the Hundred court was about cattle eg tracing strays. There is a reference to filling a hoof print with wax - was this to trace a stray or to identify an individual animal. Cattle rustling was common and marking of cattle was important. OE word for property, 'feoh' means cattle. Cattle, wealth and power go together.

The Hundred system is recorded in 10th century legislation but it is clear that by that time it was already up and running. Thus it must date from at least the 9th century.


Dexter cattle are a modern breed, improved Kerry cattle, but they are about the same size as Anglo-Saxon oxen. Manuscript illustrations show the relative size of men and oxen. Cattle were multicoloured and would have been easy to recognise by their markings.


[Sue Oosthuizen] Considers the origins of commons to be possibly prehistoric. Co-axial fields may relate to drove ways to commons.


'Dic' ditch is a very common AS word. This suggests that there was a good deal of digging of ditches for drainage. There is some evidence of lining drains with brushwood. Understanding of water management developed very early.

Professor David Hinton

Professor David Hinton is an Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton and continues to play an active role in the Department since his retirement. He began his career in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where he was in charge of the medieval collections, before coming to Southampton to teach courses on the archaeology of the Middle Ages. He is  currently the President of the Royal Archaeological Institute, and serve on various committees concerned with archaeology at national and local level.



                    Prof. David Hinton, Southampton University

Importance of water and river valleys for transport.


There has been a rise of about 1 metre in sea level since Roman times and this has altered river patterns.


Christchurch harbour - the sandbank makes it difficult to enter the river valley. The Avon has been less used than theTest. 

[Ann Cole] records no place names linked to water transport in the Avon Valley.


Anglo-Saxon ships had a shallow draft. The half size reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship called the 'Sea Wolf' was sailed up the Avon to Breamore. Shallow draft vessels do not need wharfs but can be beached on the shore. However, travelling down river is easy but it is difficult to get up-river by paddles or oars. 

Dugout boats dated by Carbon-14 to the late Saxon period have been found in Poole and Portsmouth harbours. A log boat was also found in the cemetery at Snape. 

Food stuffs needed transporting. Cattle and sheep could be driven but hens, eggs, and honey need to be carried.


The New Forest was important to both Avon and Test Valleys. New Forest is not rich farming land. The lower Avon valley is sands and gravels like the New Forest.


In the 1970s no AS cemeteries were known in the Avon Valley. It was thought that the area was either still British or empty. There was occupation in the Iron Age and Roman periods - Rockbourne Roman Villa went out of use only in 5th century but the usage changed in the last period. It seems to have been a large estate. Could there be continuity with small shire and hundreds? The Iron Age hill fort at Whitsbury was reoccupied in the C4thAD and after. Sherds of post Roman pottery were found and evidence that the defences were refurbished. 

Breamore Saxon church is close to the R Avon.


In the 1980s new methods of searching were used. 

Field Walking survey of the Avon Valley found 5th, and C6-8th century pot sherds revealing a greater presence of Saxons. There were some examples of Roman and organic tempered ware from 5th century..

Geophysics and LIDAR came into use. (NB When fields are ploughed flat in modern times LIDAR will show nothing).

This has revealed sunken featured buildings, and posthole buildings. In Ibsley quarry Bronze Age material, Roman ditches, and 1 Saxon sunken featured building have been found.

Metal detecting. The quantity of new material is impressive including many 7-9th century coins but few in the Avon Valley (and none in the Lower Test Valley)

Breamore burials:     Byzantine pails

            Glass bowl possibly from Kent

            Buckle - European origin

            Square headed brooches similar to those from Kent and the Isle of Wight.

            Small weight probably to weigh coins as part of trade process.

These burials were in a unique position, close to the river. Most AS burials are higher on the gravel terraces. This cemetery was only in use for a short time and only contained rich graves.

Chalton Plantation cemetery:

This is in a more usual position between the gravels and the chalk. There is a mixture of many ordinary graves with a few rich ones and the cemetery was in use for a long period. 

Bargate cemetery, Christchurch:

Excavated by Jervis. Late 6-7th century graves.


Breamore Church - Breamore was a very important late Saxon royal estate in Domesday Book linked to Rockbourne. There ought o be a large AS Hall somewhere in the grounds of Breamore House but nothing found yet.



The only charter for lands in the Avon Valley is for Ringwood. It was a large estate at 22 hides.


Domesday Book

Description suggests dispersed settlements and the archaeology confirms this.

DBk Charford - 2 estates similar to 2 19th century parishes. The long, thin nature of these 2 parishes suggests they were seeking mixed resources from the hay meadows close to the Avon to higher ground for arable and for rough grazing. This suggests they were farming only for subsistence and their render.


Each river valley is different and unique in its own way.


3000 new sites have been found in the New Forest area in the last few years and many Iron Age and Roman sites have proved to also have Saxon material.


Note - metal detecting is banned within the New Forest therefore no finds are reported! 

Emma Anderson


Emma is Assistant Archaeology Officer at Southampton City Council’s archaeology unit where she has served for more than ten years.

Apart from learning a great deal about the evolution of Southampton, a city whose medieval past is underrated by the city fathers, Emma has supervised a number of large excavations, as well as being responsible for a range of post-excavation duties back in the office.  Her qualifications include a Master’s degree in maritime archaeology, which is presumably relevant to understanding estuarine rivers, but not, we hope, to this part of Test valley. 

Emma was thrown into the conference at short notice, when Andy Russel found he could not come, so we are very grateful to her for agreeing to speak at rather short notice.


                        Emma Anderson, Southampton Arch Unit


Hamwic lasted for 300 years and had a population at its height of c.2000, comparable with Medieval Hamton.

Clausentum - Roman site, primarily military but may also have had a trade function.


19th century housing development in Northam revealed underlying archaeology but it was thought to be Roman. 


Six Dials site:

1970s and 1980s Six Dials road scheme led to large scale excavation and the finding of the Saxon town with its streets, cemeteries, houses, pits, and wells. The settlement was well-planned, with its streets well gravelled and maintained. The town was possibly founded by Ine c.700 AD 

Animal bones show most of the meat was from older animals but was very plentiful. The area south of the settlement was marsh in the Middle Ages but was pasture land in Saxon times. (Sea level has risen about 1 metre since Roman times.)


St Mary's Stadium site:

7th century burials were rich, with gold pendants and swords. Were they aristocratic warriors or wealthy merchants? 

Small early cemeteries N-S axis of town. One central female burial with other women buried around her dates from 650-710AD, contemporary with St Mary's Stadium. but with different burial practices. Does this show different ethnic groups? Associated pottery was stamped ware pre 650AD.


Industry and Trade:

Blacksmith's shop on N edge of town.

Pottery shows cross channel trade. Did the pots come in as containers or as vessels in their own right? Were these foreign pots brought by foreign merchants for their own use?

2,000 fragments of glass. (Monkwearmouth and Jarrow only produced 57 fragments in total!)

Glass suggests high status users. There may be some evidence of glass working in St Mary's Stadium area - this is to be analysed.

Bronze, brass, and gun metal was worked. Small crucibles for small pieces. There is some silver and gold and evidence of mercury/gold amalgam.

Bone - much working especially of red deer antler, cattle bones etc. One Hamwic comb was found in  France. One bone comb,made in S Germany, was found at Hamwic.

Coins: Type 49 sceattas minted in Hamwic. Dies have been found for the moustached man and pecking bird types. 


Ecclesiastical Role:

St Mary's Minster may be older than the trading settlement. Excavations near the church NE and S have found no evidence of monastic occupation, all evidence is very similar to the material found at Six Dials. - Skeleton from 700s, mid Saxon pits, bones, copper textiles and glass fragments.  By 13th century the land S of the church was certainly church land.

Dedications in the early church were to St Mary and St Nicholas and it has been suggested that the dedications to St Nicholas at Millbrook and N Stoneham and to St Mary at S Stoneham are relics of the relationship with the minster church.


Feeding Hamwic:

The population of c.2,000 would have needed a great deal of food to sustain them working in craft work rather than agriculture. Were there food rents levied for the king allocated to the town? Cattle bones are plentiful and there was enough pasture locally to feed them; pigs from wooded areas and sheep from the Downs. 20 mile radius from Romsey to Wickham probably provided most of the necessary food. There is little evidence of goods from Hamwic being returned to the hinterland.

Local pottery in use in Hamwic 50% contains chalk.

Iron smelting was carried out in Romsey and the iron probably brought to Hamwic for working.



Distribution of coins minted in Hamwic shows a surprising Westerly bias with few found in the direction of Winchester etc. This is the same pattern of trade shown by the wine for wool trade of the Middle Ages. Could the Saxon trade be in the same commodities? Wine would leave little trace if carried in barrels. A barrel stave made of wood from the Upper Rhine has been found in Hamwic.


By 900 AD Hamwic was declining, possibly as a result of Viking raids and threats of raids. There does seem to be a time gap before the town on the western side, Hamton, begins to flourish.


It seems that the population of Hamwic was prosperous and affluent but they do not seem to be closely linked to royalty. It would be interesting to compare this with the situation in other wics eg Ipswich.

Ann Cole

Ann Cole has worked on placenames and landscape with John Blair and Margaret Gelling. Her own thesis has been published as The Place-Name Evidence for a Routeway Network in Early Medieval England. 



                                Ann Cole, Oxford University

Test 30 miles long; Thames 230 miles long.

The Test rises in Polhampton, 'the settlement of the people by the pool'. 

It flows past Quidhampton, ' the settlement of the people of the muddy place'



Characteristics of 'bournes' 

1) Water is clear, base is gravel and sand with very little mud only on the sides.

2) The plants have much of their foliage under the water.

3) The flow varies with the seasons.



'hyse' means 'young men' or  'hos' means 'tendrils'.  Phalaris arundinacea, reed canary grass, looks like mermaids' hair in the spring when it first grows and this is most likely to be the reference at Hurstbourne.














Later in the year this develops stronger stems and throws up a flowering spike and no longer looks like tendrils.



Brooks flow over clays, they have muddy water and the bottom is seldom visible. They are too opaque for submerged aquatic plants. They often flood after heavy rain as the water runs of clay fields and into the brook.

Brook, North of Michelmersh, is on the junction of chalk and clay. Sometimes chalk streams can look muddy if the valley is wide and the stream brings and dumps fine particles. 



Forton. 'Ford settlement' The Anglo-Saxons

used 'ford' to mean a causeway or a causeway and ford. These are often fords over small tributaries rather than the main river. Usually the place name is formed by describing the ford eg Sandford, Shifford, Duxford, Oxford, Swinford. Forton is unusual. There are only 7 examples of this formation and always where an important road crosses the river.





Houghton Drayton (The manor which belonged to St Swithuns at Houghton) near Horsebridge.


Horsebridge probably derives from 'hos', Phalaris arundinacea, trailing water reeds  rather then from 'horse'



'ey' means island or dry point in a marsh.

There are 3 examples of 'burh' + 'ey' on the Thames. Fortified islands.


'Gewaed' 'gelad' these refer to difficult river crossings. At Cricklade about 1 mile of the Roman road was under water in 1947 floods. This suggests a potentially lengthy and difficult crossing. Some 'gewaed' s are tidal presenting crossings that can only be made at certain stages of the tide.

Wade at Nursling is a crossing of the Blackwater [but this is where we (LTVAS) think the main channel of the Test was until the 10th century. We need to consider the significance of this and discover how far up the river it was tidal.] 



Hythe means landing place. eg Hythe on Southampton Water. There are many hythes along the Thames but none up the Test. does this mean the Test was not used for navigation?


Ea - tun  means 'river village' eg Eton. There is a cluster of them on the Upper Thames, Upper Wye and Upper Severn. They seem to be transhipment points. The Ea-tun was tasked with keeping the river clear of vegetation etc.


Were rivers barriers in Saxon times?

The Test does not seem to have been much of a barrier, there were many crossing places. On the Thames the main concern seems to be with defence.


Were rivers highways?

Test - apparently not much, the only 'hythe' is on Southampton Water. 


'Lacu' in OE means a backwater or slow flowing stream in valley bottom. Around Romsey we have the Fishlake and the Tadburn Lake. 

Barton Stacey.jpg


Draeg means 'dragging'. It occurs in Drayton, Draycott etc These usually occur near Roman roads and in one of 3 situations:

  1. up a long steep hill where help is needed to get up or often down as well. 

  2. Muddy ground where loads had to be dragged.

  3. Where there are floods. It may be necessary to use rafts to get loads over flooded fields and the river.

Examples: Drayton Park,  Barton Stacey 

Dr Nick Stoodley

Nick Stoodley was awarded his PhD from the University of Reading and is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Winchester. His research interests concern the archaeology of early Anglo-Saxon England, with a particular interest in the region of Wessex. He has published monographs on Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and contributed papers on aspects of the period’s mortuary ritual to edited volumes. He is the lead archaeologist for the community-based Meon Valley Archaeology and Heritage Group, investigating settlement patterns in this Hampshire valley.



Dr Nick Stoodley

The Saxons in the Meon Valley project is now at the stage of collating its overall results.

Much of the investigation was done using geophysics - magnetometry, resistivity and metal detectors around the villages where saxon settlement was expected. 




Early Saxon pottery and post holes are cut into the Roman building. Some possible 'sunken feature buildings' and pits. Is there continuity from Roman to Saxon? Early 5th century artifacts and some sub-Roman activity after Roman shows little if any gap in occupation. Geophysics suggests an octagonal feature near A32 which is to be excavated by Tony King. ( This has turned out to be a shrine). Geophysics also suggests prehistoric features.


West Meon    Bronze Age ring ditch and Anglo-Saxon cemetery 


Most of the early Saxon material in the Meon Valley is found in association with Roman sites.


Current settlements seem regularly spaced and match Domesday villages.


No early Saxon material has been found in the lower Meon valley South of Soberton.


Itchen and Test

Saxon and Roman material often found together - Twyford, Twyford Down, Winchester, Headbourne Worthy, Abbots Worthy, Itchen Abbas - Roman, early 5th century Anglo Saxon, Saxon.

Barton Stacey 5th and 6th century and late Roman enclosure.

Test Valley - Chilbolton Roman and Saxon.  Stockbridge, Kings Somborne - Roman, Anglo-Saxon material at the school, cemetery, 

Nether Wallop and Broughton - Roman and early Saxon. 


Roman sites exist in the lower Test and Itchen valleys. There is no early Saxon material in the lower sections of the valleys.


Settlement concentrates on the light chalk soils. Early Saxons 5th and 6th centuries avoided the more fertile but poorly draining clay soil.


Late 7th century - settlement reached Hampshire basin. 

Meon c.700 Meon Minster church

Itchen     Hamwic    Middle Saxon, early burials at St Mary's, St Mary's Church.

Test        Romsey    Middle Saxon iron working and earliest burials at the Abbey. Royal estate and possible                            minster church. 


Early Saxon settlement was not South of the edges of the chalk. Roman settlements are further South. The Romans had heavy ploughs and worked the heavy land into the late Roman period. It seems as though the early Saxons did not have heavy ploughs and only move south later when they develop them.


Linguistic evidence for native survival:

Place names from Latin show natives surviving into Saxon times. 

'funta'          in Funtley and Mottisfont   refering to a watering place of some significance.

'ora'             from Chichester to Langstone refers to a gravelly beach where ships could berth.

'wicam'        RomanoBritish site of significance. 

'portus'        port


Maybe there were too many natives in the lower valleys for early Saxon settlement. ! 


7th century Anglo-Saxon settlement reached the lower river valleys. 

Local economic factors     need for more land

Regional                           need to control the coast and international trade network which was important to the                                                rulers of Wessex.


Web address of a similar talk, 'Surveying for Saxons' by Nick Stoodley with pictures:

Map Meon Valley.jpg


1. Roman sites

2. Early Saxon and later settlements

3. Cultural identity. Bede refers to this area and the Meonwara as Jutish, however, archaeological artifacts seem to be mostly Saxon in type.


Sites with early Saxon archaeology often also had Roman finds especially late Roman.


Shavards Farm, Meonstoke  Gable end of aisled Roman building had fallen flat - now in British Museum.

Dr Sue Harrington


Dr Sue Harrington  is an early-medieval archaeologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer at University College, London. From 2006-2009 she was the research assistant on the Leverhulme Trust funded project 'Beyond the Tribal Hidage: Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in southern England AD 400-750’. 

Her publications include Kingdom and People of Sussex.



                                Dr Sue Harrington 


Study - Beyond the Tribal Hidage 2006-9


Anglo-Saxon Kent Electronic Database Early AS Census of S Britain.

3,400 mapped locations

28,000 artifacts

Date ranges    to 575



Distribution mostly on the chalk.

Trackways, Roman roads, and rivers.


Heavy weighting to East Sussex

    Jutlandish bow brooch   near Meon Valley

    Saxon saucer brooch

    early 5th century supporting arm brooches

    5th century quoit brooch buckle


Wherwell nuns had shears buried with them. Were these for clipping hair or textile working?


Lecturer was unwell and the lecture was unfinished.

Jamie Cameron 

Jamie grew up in the Romsey area and studied archaeology at Cambridge University. His interests lie in method development and the application of photogrammetry to the 3D recording of archaeological materials. By 2015 he was working in Oxford at the Radio Carbon dating lab. Together with Frank Green he got permission to test the sample of hair from the burial found in Romsey Abbey in the 19th century. 


Frank Green

Frank has worked in Hampshire for nearly 45 years. He was field archaeologist for the Test Valley to 2006 and then became the New Forest National Park archaeologist. His interests include archaeobotany. He is a member of  the Diocese of Winchester Advisory Committee for the care of Churches.



                            Frank Green and Jamie Cameron


Findings on Radio 4 and Radio Solent.

Archaeological context of burial - In 1839 excavation for a grave within Romsey Abbey found a lead coffin with a wood lining. Within the coffin was an oak pillow and a head of hair. The coffin was sold for scrap and the wood lining was cut up and sold as mementoes. The hair was placed in a sealed case and is on show in Romsey church.

The burial was in front of the Abbess's door in what was then the south porticus of the late Saxon Church. The location is slightly wrong in the monograph on the Abbey excavations.

An account of the finding was recorded by Charles Spence 1840 and in the Gentleman's Magazine  1840.

The coffin was not aligned E-W as the present church or the late Saxon church. Its alignment matches that of burials to the North of the church thought to be significantly earlier than the late Saxon church. Dating this burial might have helped date these other burials.

There were other similar burials at Romsey recorded by John Latham.


Jamie Cameron

July 2015 permission was gained to open the case and do scientific testing of the hair. 

Tests proposed:

1. Carbon14 dating of the hair

2. Carbon14 dating of the oak

3. Stable isotope analysis

4. Dark residue sample - mass spectrometry.



DATE The hair dates to the late Saxon period

95%  accuracy    895-1123AD

70% accuracy    965-1045AD

The date of the oak pillow matches this.


The diet of the individual had a very high fish content. This would fit with a member of a monastic community.


This turns out to be pine resin - Could this have been used in funerary ritual? or was it hair styling?


Further research:     The samples can be used to try to determine the sex of the individual.

            GPR of the Abbey church floor might locate other burials.


Report on the study: Cameron, J., Devièse, T. and Green, F. (2017) Scientific analysis of a preserved head of hair at Romsey Abbey, UK. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 13: 265-271. 


Further notes:


The burial most likely dates from the 10th or 11th centuries and there was already then a church existing on the site, aligned (roughly) E-W. This suggests that the odd alignment of this coffin must have been an error or a later movement rather than a deliberate different alignment. The fact that it matches the alignment of some early burials outside the Abbey church must be a coincidence.


Queen Balthild was buried at the Chelles. Her hair is preserved in a long plait. [Barbara Yorke]


In 1839 the vicar had said that the new grave could not be used if other 'bodies' were found. Did the grave excavator deliberately neglect to report any skeletal material because of this? or had all the bones decayed naturally?

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