Record Details

NHER Number:11110
Type of record:Monument
Name:Early Saxon cemetery, potentially Saxon earthwork enclosure and possible moot site

Summary

In the mid 19th century a number of Early Saxon pottery urns were uncovered at this site, reportedly during the levelling of several earthwork mounds that had lain to the north and west of All Saints' Church (NHER 11118). Another largely complete, decorated urn was found within the churchyard itself in 1906. These discoveries strongly suggest that this was the site of an Early Saxon cemetery that was potentially associated with a number of barrow monuments. It is reported that numerous Roman coins and a number of Roman 'urns' were also found here although the latter must be regarded as potentially misidentified Saxon vessels.
Several antiquarian sources record that All Saints' Church had also been surround by a substantial oval enclosure, this being regarded as the remains of a Saxon camp of some kind. The hundred court of Earsham half Hundred was apparently held within this enclosure, adding to the impression that this had also been a location of some considerable significance during the later Saxon period.

Images - none

Location

Grid Reference:TM 3259 8888
Map Sheet:TM38NW
Parish:EARSHAM, SOUTH NORFOLK, NORFOLK

Full description

According to various 19th-century sources All Saints' Church (NHER 11118) was once surrounded by a substantial earthwork enclosure of possible Saxon date. During the 19th and early-20th centuries a number of what appear to have been Early Saxon cremation burials were disturbed on land to the west and north of the church, all of which had probably lain within the bounds of the large enclosure. These burials were reportedly associated with a number of earthwork mounds, none of which survive.

THE POSSIBLE 'SAXON' ENCLOSURE

The first known reference to this enclosure is by Tom Martin, who in around 1740 made note of "…large and remarkable fortifications" around the church (S1). In (S2) Blomefield states that the church stands "…on an older encampment, which, by its oval form, seems to have been a work of the Danes or Saxons". The enclosure was subsequently referred to as a 'Danish encampment' in (S3).

Reference is also made in (S4) to "an encampment near the church, upon which the hundred court was formerly held". If this information is correct it would suggest that this site had potentially been a significant meeting place (moot) since Late Saxon times. This is certainly consistent with what else we know about the early history of Earsham, which was clearly already a significant settlement at the time of the conquest. Earsham was part of the half Hundred of Earsham and the name of a hundred was usually that of its meeting-place (S5). The Manor of Earsham was also the "chief manor of the hundred" (S2) and is recorded in Domesday as having been held by Stigand the Archbishop prior to the conquest, after which this substantial holding passed to the King.

In 1855 it was recorded that the earthworks of the camp referred to by Blomefield had been "levelled with the last few years" (S6), although there is potentially for confusion here with the earthwork mounds that also appear to have been present near the church (see below). It is though certainly clear that no obvious traces of the enclosure survive and there is little cartographic evidence for its size or position. An enclosure map of 1812 (S7) is however of some interest as the church is shown to be encircled by a roughly oval area of former common land which could potentially indicate the former extent of the earthwork enclosure. This former common land included the field to the north of the church, land to the west (up to the lane that runs to the west of The Willow) and a triangular block of land between Church Road and School Road. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey 6" and 25" maps mark the field to the north of the church as "Saxon Camp (Site of)" and this note remained on several subsequent editions (although it was subsequently amended to "Earthworks (Site of)" and, at some later point, to "Anglo-Saxon Burial Ground").

POSSIBLE TUMULI, EARLY SAXON BURIALS AND OTHER RECORDED ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES

It appears that the land surrounding the church had also contained a number of earthwork mounds, which, according to (S8) were known locally as the 'Church Hills'. It is also suggested in (S9) that they were referred to as the 'Camp Hills' in old deeds. It is stated in (S8) that, along with the enclosure noted above, these features formed "…a remarkable system of earthworks with several adjacent tumuli". The author had however not seen the earthworks himself before they were levelled, although they had apparently been examined by B. B. Woodward, who regarded them "..to have been a temple rather than a camp" (this obviously must be treated with considerable caution). Woodward's own, earlier account of the site recorded in (S9) suggests that he regarded these "tumuli and hillocks" as the reason that Blomefield and others believed there to have been a Saxon camp at the site. On balance, however, it would seem that the descriptions of 'remarkable fortifications' and an 'oval encampment' cannot be explained by the presence of earthwork mounds alone.

The following is a summary of the archaeological discoveries known to have been made at the site between the mid 19th century and the early 20th century.

Around 1850. Stray Find.
As noted above (S6) makes reference to the levelling of "the earthworks of a camp" a few years prior to 1955. There is reference to the discovery of a 'Roman urn' but not other discoveries are mentioned apart from an "immense bride-bit" that had apparently also been found at this site.

In December 1859 an "Anglo-Saxon urn" from this site was exhibited at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries by B. B. Woodward, where, according to (S9), it was described as having been found "…with seven or eight others in removing some small hillocks in a field to the north of Evesham [sic] Church...". It was believed to be the only urn that had survived. It was also noted that "...three or four large tumuli..." had also been removed "…at the west end of the church in an adjacent meadow..." but no artefacts were recovered. Several "Roman funeral urns" had however apparently also been found "…on the north side of the churchyard, and partly within in…". These are presumably the "…cinerary urns of the Roman period…" noted in (S7) that Woodward had apparently described having been found "…near the churchyard gate". It is unclear whether these vessels were indeed Roman, or (perhaps more likely) additional Early Saxon cremation urns.

A stamped urn from the site is illustrated in (S8) and correctly identified as "indisputably Anglo-Saxon". This vessel was at Earsham Hall and believed to be the urn identified as Roman in (S6). It is presumably the "...fine Anglo-Saxon urn found in an earth-mound near the church at Earsham..." that King had exhibited at a meeting of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology in October 1861 (S10). Also exhibited at the same time was a "horse's bit of unusual power, found when removing another mound at the same spot". This must be the "immense bridle-bit" referred to in (S6). It is also noted in (S8) that the site had produced "numerous Roman coins".

The discoveries at this site are also mentioned in (S11) and (S12) and the site is amongst those noted in (S13). The pot illustrated in (S7) is also described in (S14), which notes that it had been acquired by the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
See (S15)-(S17) for additional summaries of the 19th-century discoveries at this site as well as various list of relevant sources.

1906. Stray Find.
Found in churchyard:
Early Saxon pottery urn with stamped decoration.
Information from (S13). Described and figured in (S14).
Subsequently donated to Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 1944.37).

Record amended and expanded following review of available sources.
P. Watkins (HES), 30 July 2018.

SUBSEQUENT OBSERVATIONS

August 1934. Field Observation.
Visited by R. R. Clarke.
No trace of any earthworks. Extensive gravel workings, nothing in any of the sections.
Information from (S17).
Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 30 July 2018.

July 1976. Field Observation.
Visit by A. Lawson (NAU):
No sign of mounds in graveyard or in adjacent orchard. Gravel pit in field to north side of road. Site of destroyed mounds?
Compiled by A. Lawson (NAU), 1 July 1976. Information from (S17).
Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 30 July 2018.

July 1980. Field Observation.
Visit by E. Rose (NAU):
The area north-east of the church marked as 'Anglo-Saxon burial ground' by the Ordnance Survey has many earthworks in pasture, but several of these are semi-circular banks resembling some recent industrial process, and probably date from after the destruction of the earthworks. Plot between fork of roads has had a modern bungalow built on it. Section west of the church is now an extension to the graveyard; no earthworks visible. There is a dyke on south side of the churchyard but no traces of a bank there.
Compiled by E. Rose (NAU), 3 July 1980. Information from (S17).
Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 30 July 2018.

November 2014. Watching Brief.
Monitoring of groundworks associated with construction of new residential dwelling at Kingsbridge, Church Road.
Several quarry pits of probable post-medieval date were the only archaeologically significant features observed.
See report (S18) and NHER 61668 for further details.
P. Watkins (HES), 30 July 2018.

Monument Types

  • BARROW? (Unknown date)
  • EARTHWORK (Unknown date)
  • FINDSPOT (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • BARROW? (Early Saxon - 411 AD? to 650 AD?)
  • CREMATION CEMETERY (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • EARTHWORK (Late Saxon - 851 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • ENCLOSURE (Late Saxon - 851 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • MOOT (Late Saxon - 851 AD? to 1065 AD?)

Associated Finds

  • BRIDLE FITTING (Undated)
  • COIN (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • COIN (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • POT (Roman - 43 AD? to 409 AD?)
  • POT (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • POT (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • POT (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • POT (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)

Protected Status - none

Sources and further reading

---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Publication: Forrer, R. 1896. Die Stiebugel. p 67.
---Serial: Woodward. 1829. Correspondence. Vol III. Vol III, f20.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Bronze Age. Earsham.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
<S1>Documentary Source: Martin, T. c. 1700-1799. Collections of Church Notes. Norfolk Records Office. c. 1740.
<S2>Serial: Blomefield, F.. 1805-1810. An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk.. Volume Unknown.
<S3>Article in Serial: Woodward, S. 1831. A descriptive Outline of the Roman remains in Norfolk, by Samuel Woodward, Esq., in a Letter to Hudson Gurney, esq. V.P., F.R.S., accompanied by a Map of the County. Archaeologia. Vol XXIII pp 358-373. p 367.
<S4>Article in Serial: Gomme, G. L. 1884. Open-air Hundred Courts in Norfolk. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol IX pp 62-67. p 67.
<S5>Unpublished Document: Brookes, S. and Baker, J. 2011. A Checklist for Identifying Early Medieval Meeting-Places.
<S6>Article in Serial: Chester, G. J.. 1855. A Brief Sketch of the Antiquities of the Valleys of the Waveney and Yare. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol IV pp 310-316. p 313.
<S7>Map: Barnes, R. 1812. A Map of the Parish of Earsham in the County of Norfolk (Enclosure Map). 1 inch: 6 chains.
<S8>Article in Serial: King, S. W. 1864. Notes on a Roman Kiln and Urns, Found at Hedenham, near Bungay. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol VI pp 149-160. pp 153-154.
<S9>Article in Serial: 1859. Thursday, December 8th, 1859. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries London. Vol I (2nd series) pp 26-38. p 29.
<S10>Article in Serial: 1863. Meetings of the Institute. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History. Vol III pp 394-421. pp 414-415.
<S11>Monograph: Bryant, T. H. 1899. Hundred of Earsham. The Churches of Norfolk. Vol III. p 1.
<S12>Monograph: 1901. The Victoria History of Norfolk. The Victoria History of the Counties of England. Vol 1. p 335.
<S13>Article in Serial: Clarke, R. R. 1940. Norfolk in the Dark Ages, 400-800 A.D., Part II. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XXVII Pt II pp 215-249. p 220.
<S14>Article in Serial: Clarke, R. R. and Myres, J. N. L. 1939. Norfolk in the Dark Ages, 400-800 A.D., Part I. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XXVII, Pt II pp 163- 214. pp 196-197; Pl 5.
<S15>Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Roman. Earsham.
<S16>Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Early Saxon. Earsham.
<S17>Collection: Norfolk Historic Environment Record Staff. 1975-[2000]. HER Record Notes. Norfolk Historic Environment Service.
<S18>Unpublished Contractor Report: Newman, J. 2014. Land North of Kingsbridge, Church Road, Earsham, Norfolk. Archaeological Monitoring Report. John Newman Archaeological Services.

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