Anglo-Saxons in Berkshire

Blog from 31st October SASHA meeting
Dr David Peacock gave the group an interesting talk on the Anglo-Saxons in Berkshire. This blog gives an outline of the talk.
The Anglo-Saxon period was the time between when the Romans retreated from Britain around 410AD to the invasion of William the Conqueror. The changes were gradual over the country not an abrupt change either when the Romans withdrew or when the Normans arrived.
In Anglo-Saxon times the areas of importance in Berkshire were concentrated around the rivers Kennet, Lambourn and Pang and the major population areas so far identified were Welford, Lambourn and Silchester . The place in Berkshire which has had some major archaeological finds is East Shefford. The construction of a railway in 1889 cut into an Anglo-Saxon cemetery with at least 46 burials and many finds. Unfortunately the notes made by the historians of the time have been lost along with all the skeleton remains. There were many grave objects found of pottery, coins, jewellery, knives and glass which showed the international connections still existed in these Anglo-Saxon times which produced objects of skill and beauty. These artefacts were scooped up by the learned men and a large amount found its way over time into the collections of the British, Ashmolean and Newbury Museums. There was another archaeological dig there in 1912 to find the extent of the cemetery and more graves and grave goods were found. However, to date, no attempt has been made to find the Anglo-Saxon settlement that must have existed in East Shefford. The objects have never been shown together and the extent and diversity of the finds has not been acknowledged.
Place names are a good indication of where the Anglo-Saxons lived but unfortunately for SASHA neither Stockcross nor Newbury has such a pedigree. It seems the first known mention of Stockcross was in 1547. Margaret Gelling wrote several books using her researches into ancient charters. These charters although largely written in Latin when it comes to describing boundaries charters, mainly reverted to the Anglo-Saxon names.an example is the Abingdon Abbey charter , the original of which is lost but a 12th century copy remains. Local people would have been able to walk the boundaries of an estate using landmarks and old place names to establish the margins.
The coming of Christianity from 597AD and its gradual spread across the country left its mark in Anglo-Saxons graveyards as the Pagan tradition of burial of goods largely disappeared, this has made the dating of later burials more difficult. Berkshire was in the area known as Wessex , there are some places in the landscape that have been identified as Anglo-Saxon. Lowbury Hill was both a Roman temple and the site of an important Anglo-Saxon burial containing a spear, shield and bronze hanging bowl. There is a burial mound near East Hendred called Cuckhamsley Hill. It is now an open horseshoe shape probably because the farmer had hollowed out the middle making archaeological finds impossible. A name identified with this mound is Cwickhelm who was a sub king in 636AD. The site of the Battle of Ashdown where King Ethelred and his brother later to be Alfred the Great beat the Danes is a subject of much debate. The biography of Alfred, by his contemporary Asser, has been used to propose the site of the battle to be on the downs above Compton. Of course Berkshire has many connections with King Alfred from the burgs he set up like Wallingford to the estates such as Lambourn which were mentioned in his will.
Watermills were introduced by Anglo-Saxons and spread in great abundance everywhere along the rivers of Berkshire as elsewhere in the country. They changed over the centuries from processing wool, wheat or paper but still remained in the local economy. There are several local churches that have been a distinctive Anglo-Saxon style of brickwork on the corners called “long and short work” . St Swithin’s church at Wickham is mostly a Victorian rebuild but has an old Saxon tower with this style of brickwork. There is also what could be a first floor entrance, looking now like a blocked window, which means it could have been an Anglo-Saxon watch tower as well as a church tower. Boxford church also has this brickwork, in recent renovations a very rare wooden frame and shutter window was found buried in the wall.

Some places to look for information about Anglo-Saxon times
Archaeology in Berkshire – Harold Peake
Historical Atlas of Berkshire

Or using the computer
Portable Antiquities scheme
West Berkshire Environmental Record – via heritage gateway