A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE BRONZE AGE
For the purpose of this section the Bronze Age in southern Britain is considered to cover a period extending from approximately 1800 B.C. to, at the latest, about 500 B.C. There is no evidence that during this period the climatic and general environment of the Thames valley differed from that of the country generally. The decline from the climatic optimum of the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods continued. Barley appears to have been the commonest crop until towards the end of the Bronze Age when barley-growing declined and wheat again became the dominant crop reaching an optimum in the Iron Age. (fn. 1) Stone-working continued into the Bronze Age and many of the worked flints found in Middlesex such as round scrapers and the perforated battle-axes and 'maces' of 'cushion' type probably belong to the Bronze Age rather than to the Neolithic. (fn. 2) Some ground stone axes, such as the two flint examples from the Thames at Brentford, and from the river between Twickenham and Richmond, (fn. 3) show a splaying of the cutting end that imitates the form of early flat bronze axes.
Middlesex does not possess many of the Bronze-Age monuments found, for example, in Wiltshire and Norfolk. A solitary mound on Parliament Hill resembles a Bronze-Age round barrow. (fn. 4) A drawing made in 1725 by William Stukely seems to prove its antiquity. (fn. 5) Stukely also reported another 'barrow' near Brockley Hill, (fn. 6) and there was certainly a Bronze-Age mound at Teddington. (fn. 7) The identifiable burial urns from the Middlesex area are, however, from flat burials or 'urnfields'. (fn. 8)
It has been suggested that the lack of Early and Middle Bronze-Age settlement sites in the Thames Basin and elsewhere is a result of the less settled, perhaps pastoral- nomadic existence of the people. The Wessex culture (fn. 9) (middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.) of the Early Bronze Age is represented in the county and the surrounding area by a few metal finds, but there is in Middlesex no evidence of associated settlements. Of about the same period as the Wessex culture are the earliest forms of collared or 'overhanging rim' urns which recall Neolithic pot types. A few pieces of collared urns, probably of various dates, have come from the Thames at Hammersmith and Mortlake.
The Middle Bronze Age (very approximately 1400-850 B.C.) is a period of 'urn burial' in Britain, but it is not yet possible to assess the urnfields of Middlesex (discussed below) nor, since the Middle Bronze Age is a period of truly insular culture, to relate them with the various urnfield and 'tumulus' cultures. The internal chronology of the Late Bronze Age is also uncertain.
The Beaker people seem to have merged with the rest of the population, for in the Bronze Age their pottery disappeared, a particular class of equipment can no longer be ascribed to them, and their inhumation burial rite was gradually supplanted by cremation. (fn. 10) The people of the earlier Bronze Age still deposited a variety of objects in their graves, notably in Wessex, (fn. 11) but in the later Bronze Age only pottery accompanied the bones. Consequently in Middlesex, where even Early Bronze-Age assemblages are lacking, the archaeological record of the Bronze Age is unusually difficult to interpret. Although the area has yielded a good sequence of bronze implements and a fair amount of pottery, the two groups cannot be satisfactorily correlated, and the succession of pottery types appears to be much more broken than that of bronze implements.
Middlesex has produced surprisingly little pottery of the earlier Bronze Age. Only four or five fragments of collared urns from the Thames at Hammersmith and Mortlake have been clearly identified. Collared or overhanging-rim urns largely succeeded beakers in southern Britain. They are thought to have been derived from Neolithic pottery of the Mortlake-Fengate type, with influence from beakers and other sources. (fn. 12) Presumably, therefore, their origin lies in the late Neolithic-early Beaker period, (fn. 13) but for how long they continued to be made is not known. The single Middlesex fragment placed by Dr. I. H. Longworth in his Primary Series of these urns, which may have come to an end about 1400 B.C., (fn. 14) may be roughly contemporary with bronze daggers like those found in a barrow at Teddington (fn. 15) and in the Thames at Hammersmith (fn. 16) and Bermondsey, (fn. 17) dated to about 1500-1400 B.C. (fn. 18) Some of the plano-convex flint knives, stone battle-axes, bronze awls, and early bronze axes from Middlesex may also have been in use at the same time as the earlier collared urns. (fn. 19) Collared urns, often containing cremated bones, are common in southern Britain, and their scarcity in Middlesex is the more striking in view of the relative abundance of both earlier and later pottery. (fn. 20)
No occupation sites of the collared-urn people have been found in Middlesex, but in other parts of Britain evidence has been interpreted to indicate their hunting, farming, and domestic activities and possibly nomadic habits. (fn. 21)
One Middlesex monument which may have been connected with the collared-urn people was a barrow by Sandy Lane, Teddington. When it was excavated in 1854 the barrow stood 12 ft. 3 in. high and had already been disturbed. All the finds have been lost, but the report of the excavation indicates that the original burial was a cremation accompanied by a bronze dagger and flints. No pottery was found, but the dagger-the only find illustrated (fn. 22)-has been tentatively likened to daggers from Wessex burials of about 1500-1400 B.C., when collared urns were in use. (fn. 23) Apart from the fact that the Parliament Hill barrow yielded poor evidence of a cremation, its date and that of the supposed barrow at Brockley Hill, Stanmore, (fn. 24) is unknown.
A few pieces of miscellaneous Bronze-Age pottery have been found in the Thames; but the one large group of Bronze-Age pottery from Middlesex, numbering some scores of vessels, comes within the category known as Deverel-Rimbury, a term covering a diversity of southern British wares found associated in various combinations. (fn. 25) The three main classes of this pottery are bucket, barrel, and globular urns, together with smaller vessels of finer ware with impressed decoration. Most Middlesex Deverel-Rimbury pots come from the south-west of the county, where they were used as cinerary urns buried in cemeteries at Acton (5), (fn. 26) Littleton (3), (fn. 27) Sunbury (or Ashford) (30-40), (fn. 28) and Yiewsley (at least 12). (fn. 29) The description of some sherds found in the Teddington barrow-'fragments of a very large and rudely formed half-baked urn and pieces of calcined bones' (fn. 30)-suggests the remains of a bucket urn deposited in the barrow as a secondary burial. (fn. 31) Single bucket urns without bones have been found at Brockley Hill, Stanmore, (fn. 32) and in the Thames at Mortlake and Hammersmith. Deverel-Rimbury urns were also reported from the Brent reservoir, Kingsbury, (fn. 33) but these cannot now be traced. No datable objects have been found with any of these urns.
As far as is known, the Middlesex cemeteries were of the flat, barrowless type. (fn. 34) But when Sunbury, the best reported site, was excavated in 1870, some of the urns, most of which had been inverted over the bones, were found to be arranged in a pattern, (fn. 35) and this supports the view that some kind of surface mark for individual burials was used.
Deverel-Rimbury pottery similar to that from Middlesex has been found in great quantities in southern and eastern England. Much of it comes from cemeteries like those in Middlesex, (fn. 36) but some occupation sites have been found, remains from which suggest that Deverel-Rimbury people kept cattle and sheep, cultivated with the plough small, squarish fields, and wove cloth. (fn. 37) No dwelling places have so far been identified in Middlesex but the existence of cemeteries as large as Sunbury suggests a settled rather than a nomadic life. (fn. 38)
The dates and affinities of the Deverel-Rimbury pottery users are uncertain. DeverelRimbury pottery was formerly thought to represent an immigration, from the Netherlands or France, towards the end of the Bronze Age, possibly about 750 B.C. (fn. 39) Recent evidence, however, suggests that Deverel-Rimbury pottery first appeared at an earlier date, perhaps about 1200 B.C., and that some, if not all, of its varieties were indigenous British developments. (fn. 40) Deverel-Rimbury pottery may have had a long life and the rather coarse Middlesex urns may well represent a late stage in the development of the wares. In Middlesex certainly the dramatic contrast between the scarcity of early Bronze-Age pottery and the abundance of Deverel-Rimbury, and the absence of any signs of evolution from earlier to Deverel-Rimbury types, suggest that here the pottery indicates an influx of population.
However Deverel-Rimbury pottery is dated, there seem to be gaps, not echoed in the metalwork, in the Middlesex Bronze-Age pottery sequence. The next recognizable pottery after Deverel-Rimbury probably belongs to the end of the Bronze or the beginning of the Iron Age, perhaps about 550 B.C. Whether this represents a real decline in the use of pottery or whether it is an illusion created by misinterpretation or accident of discovery, is uncertain. The problem is common to much of south-east Britain. In the case of Middlesex it is not known how quickly Deverel-Rimbury pottery reached the county nor for how long the cemeteries were in use. At Yiewsley Iron-Age pottery was found in the same field as Deverel-Rimbury sherds, although this does not necessarily indicate that the two groups were connected. (fn. 41)
|Mill Hill Park (centred TQ. 198797): five bucket urns, one barrel urn (?), all containing burnt bones. Decoration includes finger-tip impressions on rim, cordons with finger-tip impressions and incisions, and rows of knobs belowc rim. Some have repair and other small holes through fabric. (fn. 42)||B.M. 18220.127.116.11-5, 1818.104.22.168|
|Brockley Hill (TQ. 17889340): bucket-urn sherd. (fn. 43)||Hendon Central Libr.(?)|
|Kingsbury, Brent reservoir: 'cinerary vessels of the Ashford type'. (fn. 44)||Unknown|
Ashford or Sunbury Common (centred TQ. 09707045): remains of c. 40 Deverel-Rimbury urns, one or two retaining their cremations. Few bases survive. Most of urns are buckets; a few plain, but many with decoration similar to Ashford pots (above); one has 5 applied semi-circles above a cordon, all with finger-tip impressions; 3 have concave necks; 2 have convex sides.
One appears to be remains of barrel urn with short vertical rib below rim. Two are globular urns, one with unusually coarse decoration.
L.M. A.10976-7 (fn. 45)
|Deverel-Rimbury-type urns found at Sunbury during 18th cent. (fn. 46)||Unknown|
|Littleton reservoir (TQ. 08037040): bucket urn and 2 fragments, with fingertip impressions on rim and applied cordon. Complete urn contains burnt bones. (fn. 47)||L.M. 37.221/1-3|
|WEST DRAYTON & YIEWSLEY|
|Yiewsley, most from Boyer's Gravel-pit (possibly TQ. 07488033 or TQ. 08168014): c. 14 Deverel-Rimbury urns and fragments. c. 11 are bucket-urn types, some plain, others ornamented with finger-impressed cordons, knobs, etc. One has vertical finger-tip grooves; another has an out-turned rim with finger-tip impressions; one is a bipartite urn with shoulder cordon with small knobs; one is a barrel urn with remains of two vertical perforated lugs, probably the survivors of an original four; one is fragment of globular urn.||B.M. 1922.214.171.124-7, 143, 152-61, 163|
|Other pottery, suggesting domestic occupation in late BA or early IA, found in same area. (fn. 48) Neolithic worked flints also reported to have been found associated with some of BA and IA pottery. (fn. 49) Investigation (1953) failed to identify gravel-pits in which pottery was found. (fn. 50)||B.M. 19126.96.36.199-42, 146-50, 162|
|Mortlake: fragment of collared urn, decorated with twisted-cord impressions, in broken vertical lines on collar and in rough herring-bone pattern on wall. End of Primary or beginning of Secondary Series, (fn. 52) perhaps c. 1400 B.C. (fn. 53)||L.M. A.13665 (fn. 51)|
|Fragment of fairly fine ware, with simple rim and close-set, somewhat irregular, horizontal grooves round exterior. Probably BA, but possibly part of beaker. (fn. 54)||L.M. A.13664|
|Two pieces. Possibly BA.||B.M. 1909.5.18.15, 17|
|Collared-urn fragment with vestigial stopped groove. Primary Series, probably not much later than c. 1400 B.C. (fn. 56)||B.M. 18188.8.131.52 (fn. 55)|
|Fragment, apparently of collared urn, decorated on collar with checker pattern of twisted-cord impressions.||B.M. 18184.108.40.206|
|Collared-urn sherd, with twisted-cord impressions round top of rim and in checker pattern on collar. Secondary Series, (fn. 57) probably not earlier than c. 1400 B.C. (fn. 58)||L.M. C.939|
|Collared-urn fragment, with cord impressions obliquely on top of rim and, apparently, in herring-bone and horizontal-line pattern on collar.||G.M. M.Ace1029 (fn. 59)|
|Fragment, apparently of bucket urn, with smoothed, lightly scored surface and narrow cordon with finger-nail/tip impressions.||L.M. A.19480|
|Nr. Ranelagh, opposite Crab Tree: sherds. Possibly BA.||B.M. 1906.7.2.6, 10, 11; 1907.6.19.11|
Small pot of coarse ware with seven remaining lugs. Some pots similar to this,
but with knobs instead of lugs, resembling miniature versions of some bucket
urns, (fn. 61) appear to have come from bucket-urn cemeteries. (fn. 62) Lugs on this pot
recall those on globular urns. (fn. 63)
|B.M. 1904.5.29.1 (fn. 60)|
The exceptional concentration of Bronze-Age metalwork in the Middlesex area, especially from the Thames between Staines and Westminster, is of great importance in tracing the chronology of the British Bronze Age. It is not possible to list all the Middlesex material. The heaviest concentration of finds is from the Thames, and to a lesser extent from the Lea valley, although the number of 'dry land' finds from the area is not insignificant. A noteworthy feature of the Thames finds is that whereas Early and Middle Bronze-Age metal items have often been recovered from the river below Battersea, Late Bronze-Age metalwork has seldom been found in the river below that point. The full significance of this is not yet clear. (fn. 64)
The use of metal in the British Isles first appears with the Beaker immigrants from the Continent who dominated a period probably covering the first three or four centuries of the 2nd millennium B.C., in which only copper implements were used. Of the known copper-implement types of this phase, examples of only broad-tanged rivetedknives and halberds have been found in Middlesex. (fn. 65)
The use of bronze in Britain dates from about the 17th century B.C. The inhabitants of Middlesex possibly obtained their first bronze implements by trade. Flat axes from Middlesex and some grooved daggers may reflect Irish, less certainly Scottish influence, while daggers of the 'Camerton-Snowshill' type reflect or originated from the bronze industries of Wessex which were flourishing in this period. Whether the presence of these and other possible Wessex bronzes in Middlesex was due to trade, population movements, or theft remains obscure. The Wessex industries were also producing tanged and early socketed spearheads (using metal pegs or pins to secure shaft to socket) and cast-flanged axes in the second half of the Early Bronze Age. Although examples of all these types have been found in Middlesex, production of them was less certainly a Wessex monopoly, and it is possible that the cast-flanged axes in particular may have originated elsewhere in eastern England. (fn. 66) It seems likely that bronze-working was starting up in other parts of the south and east during the latter part of the Early Bronze Age, and the earliest bronze-working in Middlesex may date to this period.
The links between Wessex and the Continent and the Mediterranean during this period are well known; (fn. 67) but there is little concrete evidence for the direct links between the Thames valley and the Continent which almost certainly existed at this time. A magnificent pommelled dagger of this period found in the Thames (fn. 68) is, however, of a type with a very wide distribution in Europe. This example has been thought to be an import from Germany.
The Middle Bronze Age, covering, in the south-east, the period from about 1400 B.C. to 900 B.C., was marked by a mainly insular development of the British bronze industries. At first, while the local industries were relatively weak, bronzes continued to be imported from the old-established Irish industries. Bronzes of Irish origin which have been found in Middlesex include socket-looped spearheads with kite-shaped blades, basal-looped spearheads with rounded blades, developed types of flanged axes-at first half-flanged, and later wing-flanged (fn. 69)-and probably some dirks and rapiers. But as local metal-working gathered strength, so the Irish imports probably decreased. A considerable range of metalwork of this period is definitely of south-eastern origin, and some of it at least may have been produced by smiths in Middlesex or elsewhere in the Thames valley. As many as 119 dirks and rapiers, for example, have been found in the county, (fn. 70) while the recovery from the Thames of vast numbers of a type of basal-looped spearhead with a straight-sided blade and truncate base strongly suggests local production. Another spearhead of south-eastern origin which occurs in large numbers in Middlesex is the side-looped type with leaf-shaped blade and loops placed on the side of the socket. (fn. 71) Above all, however, the Middle Bronze Age is the era of the 'palstave', an axe-type introduced into Britain at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, probably from north or north-west Europe. Production of insular British palstave forms soon developed. The type of Middle Bronze-Age palstave commonly found in Middlesex has low flanges and belongs to a south-eastern regional group. Some at least of these also may have been produced locally.
In the latter part of the period there was a considerable revival of links with the Continent, and many bronzes from Middlesex, particularly a range of ornaments found in the Thames, reflect trade with many parts of Europe. A fine decorated pin from the Thames at Wandsworth was imported from Picardy, a ball-headed pin of early Urnfield type probably from Middlesex possibly came originally from France or Germany, while a pin with a corrugated stem from the Thames at Kingston, and a pin with sideloop from London, both (fn. 72) probably came from the same area. From northern Europe came a D-sectioned decorated bracelet which was recovered from the Thames near London, and a twisted torque found in the Thames at Westminster. Early bifid (fn. 73) razors have western French affinities, a medium-winged axe found in the river at Thames Ditton came from Germany or France, and early socketed axes of Taunton or Bishopsland type from northern Europe. Weapons, notably leaf-shaped swords with flanged hilts, were also imported. The earliest British examples of these swords have all come from the Thames between Brentford and Barking, (fn. 74) and were almost certainly imported from the Rhine basin. Upon a few early imports of this type was based the whole complex of native British leaf-shaped sword production in the Late Bronze Age.
These sword imports mark the opening of the final phase of the Middle Bronze Age. Whereas the native rapiers of the Middle Bronze Age were designed as thrusting weapons, the new heavy-bladed swords were primarily slashing weapons. From the Thames area have come large numbers of swords of various intermediate native types, broadly contemporary with the earliest continental imports, and the product of a complex intermingling of native and continental influences. The commonest of these, the Ballintober type, (fn. 75) also occurs in considerable numbers in Ireland, a fact which probably indicates links between the Thames valley and Ireland.
It seems certain that during the Late Bronze-Age metal-working continued to flourish in south-east England, especially in the Thames valley. The smiths of this area, inspired by continental models, seem to have specialized in the production of leaf-shaped swords; at first U-butt types, and, later, various types with V-butts. (fn. 76) Other southeastern bronze types of the first part of this period common in Middlesex and possibly manufactured locally, include a developed palstave type, 'spearshaft ferrules', tongued chapes, and spearheads employing the continental method of rivet-hole fastenings for the shaft rather than loops as in the former Middle Bronze-Age tradition. A further important demarcating factor concerns the practice of using lead intentionally in the bronze alloy, a usage introduced in the early 1st millennium B.C. Implements of the Middle Bronze Age were made of unleaded bronze, while Late Bronze-Age implements were made from this new lead-bronze alloy. (fn. 77)
From the 8th century B.C. onwards the range of bronze types was greater than ever before. The sources for some of the raw metal and for many of the types found in south and east Britain in the final phases of the Late Bronze Age must be sought on the Continent. A great variety of socketed axes and spearheads, and socketed tools such as gouges, chisels, (fn. 78) and hammers has been found in Middlesex. Local manufacture is indicated by the find of a mould for a socketed axe in the hoard from Southall. (fn. 79) Cauldrons are of Irish-British manufacture but based on an ultimately Mediterranean model. One was found in the Thames at Battersea. Hoards of metalwork of western French origin, containing such exotic pieces as winged axes, bronzes, including carp's tongue swords, (fn. 80) of the so-called 'Carp's Tongue' complex from western France, bag-shaped chapes, (fn. 81) and bugle-shaped objects, are very common in the Thames valley. In Middlesex such hoards have been found at Kensington, Hounslow, and Hanwell. A decorated razor from the Thames at Old England suggests contacts between the Thames valley and north Germany. Other material is less certainly from the same area. A considerable quantity of material of continental Hallstatt type, dating to the final phase of the Late Bronze Age, has also been found in Middlesex. Finds include large numbers of Hallstatt bronze swords, winged chapes, crescentic razors, and horse harness plates. Contemporary with these pieces are Middlesex examples of socketed axes from Brittany and of cupheaded and sunflower pins from Scandinavia. All support the view that there were strong links between Middlesex and the Continent right up to the end of the Bronze Age.
It is difficult to account for the presence of so much of the Bronze-Age metalwork, swords, spearheads, and shields, (fn. 82) in the Thames. Accidental loss was undoubtedly a factor, but in many cases the discovery of fine, often unique pieces may indicate offerings to a river deity. (fn. 83)