Friday, August 29, 2008

Saxon Burial at Broomfield, Essex

Visiting the church at Broomfield with its prehistoric stones, one set in the wall of the church by the porch, the other two stones outside the wych gate, I became fascinated by the story of the Dragon pond and associated streams that were to be found in this area. Such stories are of course made up of myths but dragons and Saxons are an alliance that warrants a little more study, and a rich princely Saxon burial found here at Broomfield needs at least some notes.
The burial was excavated by Sir Hercules Read in 1894 and some of the finds found there way into the British Museum, one particular interesting find was a pyramidal jewel, and here I will quote from a BM Guide to Anglo-Saxon Antiquities 1923..

Plaited gold wire is also seen on the pyramidal jewel from the richly furnished burial at Broomfield, Essex..... The purpose of such pyramids is at present unknown, but its garnet inlay and the small piece of cell-work associated with it point to a Kewntish origin, which is of interest in view of the paucity of relics from the East Saxon territory. The interment was found 6 or 7 feet below the surface in a line ESE andWNW, and it appeared as if a warrior had been placed in a wooden coffin and burnt on the spot, but the total disappearance of the skeleton has been often noticed in Kent. His sword was recovered, and near the centre of the grave was a bronze pan, 13 inches in diameter, with a pair of drop handles, resting on fabric of two qualities. The vessel contained a cow's horn, two squat vases of blue glass and two wooden cups, turned on the lathe and furnished with rims of gilt bronze. As the pottery of the period outside Kent was hand-made, the use of the lathe may imply contact with the Jutish kingdom, which was then at its zenith.
The grave also contained two wooden buckets with iron mounts, 12 inches in diameter and 10 inches deep, which had been sunk into the floor, and a hemispherical iron cup on a tall stem terminating in four feet. This had a height of over 11 inches and may correspond to the bronzevessel of the Taplow burial. There were in addition a deep cylindrical cauldron of iron holding about 2 gallons, a shield boss with indications of a wooden shield, and a grey wheel-turned vase with impressed chevrons, singularly like one from the King's Field, Faversham...

Saxon burial, found in 1888, in gravel pit behind Clobb's Row.

Workmen digging gravel found remains of a sword, spear and knife 6-7 feet down. The sword's wooden sheath seemed to have been bound with tape-like material. With the sword were a gold pyramid and buckle plate, both set with garnets. the site was excavated in 1894. The northern part of the grave had been cut away.. The grave was curiously formed , dome-shaped and with curious extensions at the corners, and was c.8 feet long. The grave walls were covered with soot or charcoal. At the end of the grave were rows of large flint nodules. Flints and Roman tile fragments were found throughout the fill. A two-handled circular bronze pan was found on the eastern side of the centre of the grave.. It lay on a mass of folded woollen fabric of two qualities and some coarse material, apparently flax (including perhaps reddish tufts from a hairy cloak, of which there are quantities in the BM) and supported by logs of birchwood lying E-W, close together. In the pan were the tips of two cow's horns, two blue glass bowls, two lathe-turned wooden cups with gilt bronze rims. Nearby were two wooden buckets with iron mountings, sunk into the earth. A hemispherical iron cup on a tall stem, with four feet, was found in the middle of the south side of the grave; it was full of a hard, compacted mass of sand. In the south-west corner of the grave was an iron cauldron. At the north end was a sword, spearhead, shield boss and sherds of a wheel- thrown pot, ornamented with an impressed lozenge stamp. Between the pan and the west end of the grave a good deal of very dark matter was found, presumably charcoal, fragments of wood, parts of flat iron bars, angle irons and rivets. No sign of a body, the excavators thought it had been placed in a coffin and then burnt. The finds had no signs of fire damage. Possibly it was a southerly example of a half-burnt burial.
The burial has many similarities to the Taplow, Bucks., burial in its richness and the arrangement of the objects. Both are considered to be 'princely burials'. Finds in the British Museum.

The area in front of the church

This hollowed out dip is large and maybe the quarried gravel pit, the centre is filled with hemp agrimony and horses graze over this large area surrounded by houses.

A small footbridge over a stream? towards the hollow leading from the pond (or? the excavated saxon burial)

To the right deep pond like depression ringed with a small bank

History of church

British History online.....
These vases resemble very closely those found in a rich grave in a barrow atBroomfield, Essex. (fn. 13) Next comes a bronze situla or bucket, 9 in. high, both in form and fabric totally unlike Saxonwork (Pl. XXVIII g). (fn. 14) It was evidently a treasured object, since it has been neatly patched across a crack just below the rim. It remained for Sir Martin (later Lord) Conway to appreciate the true nature and source of the vessel. (fn. 15) He demonstrated beyond question the Coptic workmanship of the piece, showing that the flange at the base was intended to fit into a stand (now, or even at the time of its deposition, wanting), and that it could thus be brought into line with other imported bronze vessels of Coptic origin, like those from Taplow barrow and graves in various Kentish cemeteries. The normal attribution of exotic objects like the above to the 7th century is corroborated by the last piece figured in the original account. This is a fragmentary object of gilt bronze, decorated with studs set with garnet carbuncles, and with plait-ornament, a decorative combination that can claim a similar dating in Anglo-Saxon style. At Broomfield, too, a pyramidal jewelled stud has an edging of pseudo-plait gold filigree that marks work of the same period.

WOOD BUCKET (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
IRON CAULDRON (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
WOOD COFFIN (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
IRON LAMP (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
IRON SHIELD (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
IRON SPEAR (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
IRON SWORD (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 
POTTERY VESSEL (Dated 600AD To 700AD) 

The Arts in Early England 1915

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bank holidays and English fetes

Such a nostalgic trip back into English history are church fetes, they embody all that is good, kind and giving in people who are of the christian faith. So where did this fete take place? It was at Ingatestone in Essex, we had gone to look at the prehistoric stones , and the sight of stalls and a marquee in the church graveyard was a surprise. I bought a corn dolly from a man who was patiently weaving them in a corner, his wife sat at the front of the stall with baskets of them to sell. We sat in the marquee and drank tea and ate homemade cakes, one a little rice krispie chocolate cupcake that fell to pieces, a reminder of all those children's cakes I had baked in the past for parties. A gentle soul talked to us of circle dancing that evening and closing the marquee flaps. Up on the tower a man's head peered over as he let out a rope for a bucket mysteriously being pulled back and forth.
In the church great vases of flowers beautifully arranged, and local paintings on display for sale, the vicar happily walking amongst his flock, ordered a ploughman's lunch in the marquee. Genteel England in all its beautiful old English charm, slowly dying but never gone - for to lose this facet of our world would be like losing a great jewel of the past - a gentle muddle-headed way of past traditions enacted in a church, that once not so long ago, recorded our coming into the world, marriages for life and the final end as the dead were laid to rest in the earth. The small parochial way of life, community and certainty wrapped round the central hearth of the religious church - paganism still quietly lurking in the graveyard with a prehistoric stone that had never been removed.

an explanation about pagan corn dollies....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Windmill Hill

The above illustration is taken from Isobel Smith's leaflet for Windmill Hill and Avebury, a short 

account of Keiller's excavations carried out on the hill between 1925 and 1939.
As can be seen from this old text such finds are thought to be part of the ritual and magic of this Neolithic causewayed camp. They are a fascinating, though poignant, reminder of times long gone. Time moves on, archaeological thought may now see these objects from a different perspective, but the idea that the phallic objects found on site are fertility symbols is still with us.

Simple Quern

Ronald Hutton in his book "The Pagan Religions of the British Isles" lists the various objects that were found in the ditch, apart from animal bones he describes the other finds as
"mysterious cup-shaped chalk objects, puzzling chalk plaques with incised lines, stone discs with shaped edges, chalk phalluses, fifteen pairs of chalk balls, and pieces of shaped chalk with etched vertical lines" he says that these etched chalk objects may represent female forms, but he goes on to argue that the cult of a 'female goddess' is a recent manifestation, and perhaps a different interpretation can be given. The vertical lines could also of course been tally marks, the females, carelessly made statues.

Antler picks

The idea that excarnation may have taken place in these causewayed camps in Neolithic times rather than on platforms near to the great longbarrows is also put forward. Hutton takes his evidence from the fact that the body of a man was found underneath the enclosure, the man had been laid in an open grave apparently until the flesh dropped off.... The West Kennet longbarrow being the 'tomb-shrine' to which the bones were taken, some of the bones at the enclosure represent missing parts of the bones found at West Kennet longbarrow.

Windmill Hill is the great classic causewayed enclosure, with its three lines of bank and ditch, and later bronze age barrows in its centre, and yet not so far away Knap Hill enclosure camp can still be found with its equally dramatic banks.

A camp, a seasonal place for people to gather, have feasts, bring livestock, bring their dead, these camps were communal centres before the time of stone circles, and yet overlapping with the longbarrows.

Knap Hill Causewayed enclosure

Windmill Hill barrow

Windmill hill barrows

Strange pock marked stone

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Land

The Land is a magazine written by three people, who if my suspicions are correct are what I would describe as permaculturists, and have come through the hard graft of self-sufficiency and places like Tinkers Bubble. Yet lo and behold the Simon Fairlie of the magazine is being quoted on Radio 4 as the man who might have the answer to our food problems here in Great Britain.
Intrigued after listening to 'Our Food, Our Future' on Monday morning, made me think where is he and the other contributors on the programme are coming from. Are they going back to a medieval past of open common fields, with meat such as pig and sheep being the mainstay of our meat production and dairy products rich in butter, cheese and milk filling in the gap that would give us our energy. Now this diet of pastries, potatoes, roast meat and puddings is of course thought of as oldfashioned given the 'recieved wisdom' the nutritionists who speak out for vegetables and fruit diet, with a certain amount of carbohydrates in the form of pastas, rice and potatoes.
One argument in favour of a more grain based diet is given in the following article in the Independent as to why we should perhaps go back to a more traditional way of eating local food, well suited to our land and climate.

How will the diehard vegetarians and vegans take to such an argument, the point was raised that vegans are just as guilty of 'carbon miles' because of their need, or at least use, of different grains and nuts from other countries. In all I find it intriguing as new ideas are tossed round, one rich 'city banker' with plenty of farming land, (he did'nt farm it though) put forward the argument that we need to get rid of all 'recreational land' that our love affair with horse-riding takes up, though to be quite honest if we have less oil, maybe we'll need those selfsame horses, for pulling the plough, or trotting to market.
People are of course buying up farm land as the 'new gold' to invest in, this brazen disregard of ethics, land is after all there to produce food for everyone, will perhaps bring about some socialists reforms, which are long overdue as 'The City' seems to run our economy with little regard for the wellbeing of everyone, only that 'fatcats' can make more money, in a world market that is beginning to slide on a very slippery slope.
Whatever, as a person perfectly at home with the idea of 'self-sufficiency', the practise will be a great deal more difficult than a few words, but adaptability is a great human virtue.
The following comes from a book written by Dorothy Hartley's 'Food in England'... in which she describes how to cook the foods that were produced in England, and how seasonalty and preserving were the backbone of the economy of rural England, though not advocating that we should go back to such ways, it does at least show that people were able to exist without the use of fridges, freezers and electricity.

This on Preserving;
The womenfolk had no 'thermos' but used non-conducting wood hoggins for cold drinks taken to the harvest fields, or hot broth to the shepherd's night fold. Grease, salves, or ointments were stored in horns. Lanolin from the sheep, marking raddle (which was a mixture of tallow far and red earth), soft fats, such as the semi-liquid goose grease, could be pushed in at the large end of the horn, tied over with pliant bladder and the tip of the horn sawn off, making a primitive 'drop bottle', very useful for pushing along the shed lines of a sheep fleece, and leaving a trail of lubricant as it went along, or would release some oil on to some farm implement. The littlest lambs and babies were fed through shaped horns or thick quills.
Storing of lemons, oranges and pumpkins, onions etc were done in nets. Dried roots of all sorts were bundled in old linen - walnuts were husked by rolling up and down in a sack and were stored in wet salt........

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reverend A.C.Smith

Today in Bath reference library I took down a map book by this Victorian gentleman, it was entitled if memory serves right A 100 Square Miles Round Avebury, written were all the local names of fields, red and yellow dots which I presume were barrows, but no reference with the map book, this came in the form of another book. Coloured in it was a rather naive but beautiful plan, much better than the Andrew and Dury which is always shown. Googling Reverend Smith I note that he lived very near to Silbury. With that marvellous job that only requires attendance on Sunday our vicar gave himself up to the pleasures of recording the area in which he lived for over 30 years.

By the Rev. A. C. SMITH, M.A.
Read before the Society at Avebury during the annual Meeting at Marlborouth,
September, 1859.

" Unchanged it stands :
it awes the lands
Beneath the clear dark sky ;
But at what time its head sublime
It heavenward reared, and why —
The gods that see all things that be
Can better tell than I."

* as I do, though not quite under its shadow, yet live within sight of Silbury, I feel in some degree locally constituted its guardian, and if I hear of any one impugning its purpose, or in any way speaking disrespectfully of the great mound, I have such a wholesome dread of incurring the wrath of the " genius loci," that I consider myself in duty bound to act in some sort as its champion, and rebut any such accusations to the best of my power. Moreover esteeming it as one of the most remarkable and interesting relics of antiquity in this or any other County, and entertaining a strong belief that it contains the remains of the mighty dead of a very early age, I am very desirous to rescue it from the imputation of having been raised for other than sepulchral purposes, under which it has lain since the year 1849, when Mr. Tucker, who drew up the report of its examination by the Archaeological Institute boldly concluded his paper by announcing the sepulchral theory to be henceforth exploded.......

The following was taken from his book, and gives an account of the Beckhampton Avenue that Stukeley drew on his plan, in the above article Rev.Smith says that the proposed avenue might have been "fanciful", yet in this book he seems quite happy with the idea...

Stukeley's account; "The Beckahampton Avenue goes out of Abury town on the west point, and proceeds by the south side of the church. Two stones lie by the parsonage gate on the right hand. Those opposite to them, on the left hand, in a pasture was taken away in 1702, as marked in the grand plan of Abury. Reuben Horsal remembers three standing in the pasture. One now lies in the floor of the house in the churchyard. A little further one lies in the corner of the next house on the right hand,by the lane turning off to the right of the bridge. Another was broken into pieces, to build that house with it in 1714. Two more lie on the left hand opposite. It then passes he beck south of the bridge. Most of the stones hereabouts have been made use of round the bridge, and the causeway leading to it" (Abury Described - Stukeley)

Rev.Smith says; there is no question that Stukeley is to be believed he most certainly saw, many sarsen stones lying in two, more or less apparent, lines west of the great circle of Abury, moreover he speaks of 10 stones standing in living? memory.....

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Thistles and colour

I have walked past these beautiful purple thistles for several days without photographing them, but they stand as tall as me in some places a glorious defiant act of wildflowers showing their strength. Their rough steely buds and great jagged leaves a good defense, even Moss lifts his leg with delicate care against their roughness.
Its the purple colour that strikes the dyer's eye at first, a good soft natural colour, but it is the silver of the buds that sets the purple to an exquisite tone, dye with an artificial acid dye, and the colour becomes too strong. Elderberry which will also dye a soft purple, has the habit of fading from the wool after a few months.
The original purple dye, used from very early times was the murex snail, great vats of these creatures were left to rot, and the produced a deep blood red dye mixed if I have it right with another 'indigo' type snail to produce the empirical purple so loved by the romans.

These August colours also make a beautiful palette, soft browns and greens, highlighted with the yellow of ragwort.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Stoney Littleton Longbarrow

This barrow situated not too far from Bath is approached along a small winding lane from Wellow, this time of the year nettles and brambles crowd into the narrow space, and it is a bit like driving down a narrow cool corridor with the dappled shade of the trees overhead.
Parking at the little parking space, you go over a small bridge that spans the Wellow Brook,the green weeds in the water stretch and swirl with the current.

Up into the steep sided fields that are normally full of sheep. Moss bounds ahead, freedom at last, though he is good around sheep and will walk sedately past them. We climb the hill in the hot sun, brown butterflies dance around purple thistle flowers. Through the gate, across the stony surface of the barrow's field, this year the farmer has sown wheat golden in the sun ready for harvest. We follow the path, to the place where Moss has to be lifted over the stile into the enclosure that protects the barrow.

It is such a tranquil spot, the fields stretch all around, and I try to envisage it painted as those painters who lived here years ago, and it is so, a toy landscape neatly defined by hedges and fields, trees that form cloud shapes of green. Overhead the sky is as blue as blue can be, scattered white fluffy clouds adding to the 'picturesque' - Little England in full glory.
The barrow itself, a great hump of untidy yellowing grass with ragwort adding a bright note of yellow to the green. Sit quietly, listen to the noise of the wind through the grasses, here dry and crisp on the barrow, with a low moan as it buffets round the corner. The green grass at your feet has a softer tone, and the wheat rustles its seed heads in anticipation of its final end as bread. Grasshoppers chirrup amongst the grasses, dead brown clover heads amongst the still living pink heads, and a scabious echoes the sky.

Death was once here but not today, the cool interior of the barrow, is highlighted by my camera flash, the stones forever stuck out of sight of the sun, elegantly shaped to form the chambers, a small natural prehistoric cathedral amongst the cultivated land that feeds us, nothing has really changed about us humans, we all still need the food of the earth, nourished as it were by the ashes of the dead.
That of course is not quite true, for once a year around the 21st December, the sun is supposed to enter the chamber and touch the back stone, there is, according to something I have read, a notch on the ridge above but at this time of year with everything in full growth nothing is discernable, though I did notice a slight dip in the land....



St.Julian Church from the back;
This church is late and very much 'restored' but its name is interesting, and harks back to earlier saints with the name of Julian, which one I do not know, for there are several all with their stories, maybe it goes back to the Welsh Julian but who knows. No grave yard, just untidy unmown grass surrounds it. It stands high above the ground, and I have read in a history of Wellow, that it may date back to Saxon. On the oppposite hill to the Stoney Littleton barrow is a Roman villa, and there may be a very tenuous connection between the church and the roman period.

Wellow village with Fox and Badger pub;
Wellow is a charming village with pretty cottages, and probably the prices that go with them. A linear village, though modern encroaches from the Bath road, the Wellow Brook runs lower down to the right of the photo, and is crossed by a ford, in fact if you cross the ford and then take the right hand farm track further up the hill, you will eventually walk to the back of the barrow, though far away, it is the only way you can get a clear photo of the barrow in its position on the hill.