A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1939.
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As a territorial unit Oxfordshire does not receive actual mention until the time of Ethelred the Unready, (fn. 1) though it must have been in being long previously. Its boundaries, apart from that formed by the course of the Thames, are sometimes regarded as artificial and due to the political circumstances of Viking days when it marched on its other borders with London land in the Chilterns, Danish Northamptonshire, and the Lady of Mercia's country in Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. Geographically it is not so unnatural as it appears. It embraces the course of by far the greater part of the principal tributaries on the left bank of the Thames, the Thame, Cherwell, Evenlode, and Windrush; it has a natural boundary along the Oolite escarpment on the north-west, and on the east it reaches to the boundaries of the Northamptonshire forest and to the divide between the Thames and Ouse Valleys. There are some small geographical anomalies, but any artificiality arises from the creation of the shire, when the land between the right bank of the Thames and the crest of the Berkshire Downs was added to Berkshire. For this land in early Saxon times formed an integral part of the core of early Wessex. It was the Mercian conquest of the 8th century with its establishment of a boundary on the Thames that must be held responsible for the eventual shape of the modern county. It follows that any study of Oxfordshire by itself in those times must be somewhat one-sided, since it will omit important material from the Berkshire bank and even from Gloucestershire under the south-east flank of the Cotswolds and up to the line of the Foss Way.
The date of the conquest and initial settlement of the area in question is nowadays a matter of some controversy on which history and archaeology find themselves unable to agree. This disagreement turns on the outstanding problem of the route or routes by which the occupation was effected. On the decision of this point the whole of the chronology of early West Saxon finds must rest. That decision is of vital importance. How vital is indicated by the fact that from the form that it takes there can result a discrepancy in the age of the earliest discoveries of no less than three-quarters of a century.
According to this the invaders, under the leadership of a chieftain with the Celtic-sounding name of Cerdic, landed on the coast of Hampshire (if the identification of Porta and Natanleod and other places can be accepted) about the close of the 5th century (a.d. 495 or 504) and after a long struggle, closely associated with the name of Arthur and lasting half a century, succeeded in capturing Searobyrig (Salisbury) in a.d. 552. Four years later in 556 comes the battle of Beranbyrig, identified with Barbury Rings on the Downs south of Swindon. It is at this point that the Saxons can first have looked down upon their future home. A silence of fifteen years ensues, until in 571 the Chronicle records a campaign of Cuthwulf, Ceawlin's brother, in which after a battle fought at Biedcanford, an unknown site, since equation with Bedford is regarded by philologists as untenable, he is said to have captured Lygeanbyrig (now identified with Limbury near Luton), Aeglesbyrig (Aylesbury), Benesingtun, and Egonesham, the last two of which bring us for the first time to Oxfordshire at Benson near Dorchester, and Eynsham, 5 miles west of Oxford. Thereafter Oxfordshire disappears from the Chronicle once more until the days of Birinus, the apostle of Wessex, his baptism of the West Saxon king Cynegils and establishment as bishop at Dorchester. In the light of history, therefore, it is impossible to conceive of any effectual occupation of the upper Thames Valley, much less of any part of Oxfordshire, before the latter half of the 6th century.
It is here that the disagreement of archaeology with history begins, since the former is confidently assured that the weight of the evidence that it can adduce goes to prove beyond possible refutation that the area in question must have been overrun and settled at a much earlier date. The material on which this evidence is based has mainly been discovered in Berkshire, immediately west of Dorchester, and thus the study of early Saxon Oxfordshire must necessarily be incomplete unless studied side by side with that of contemporary Berkshire north of the Downs. For this the reader must be referred to volume i of the Victoria County History of Berkshire and the Anglo-Saxon chapter in Mr. H. J. E. Peake's Berkshire in Messrs. Methuen's series 'County Archaeologies'.
Archaeology has been fain to seek for another route that would serve better to explain its own observations, the chief of which is the unaccountably meagre traces of archaeological remains between the Thames Valley and the reputed place of landing. The southern route of the invasion regarded as a line of permanent immigration breaks down before all the tests and experience of archaeological research.
(a) The presence of Saxon settlements on the lower reaches of the Thames led Mr. Reginald Smith, who first appreciated the difficulty of the historical account, to suggest that these supplied the antecedents to progress of sea-pirates into the heart of the future England. But the obstruction offered by London was held to be fatal by Sir Laurence Gomme, and the paucity of settlements between Weybridge and Reading also presented difficulties. These could only be explained by supposing that physical conditions prompted the invaders to overpass that stretch of the river, though the great find at Taplow, Bucks., late though it be in date, and other smaller finds, showed that land suitable for the requirements of Anglo-Saxon settlement was not wanting. The route must be regarded as eminently possible.
(b) Taken as a whole, however, the archaeological comparisons and connexions which can be drawn between the discoveries on the lower Thames and those north of Pangbourne Gap are too slight to satisfy the conditions demanded by a stream of steady immigration from the coast to the interior. A second alternative suggestion brings the invaders down from the Wash to the Icknield Way and along it to the valley of the Thames, (fn. 2) where it is shown that there exists a whole chain of typologically early objects ranging from Cambridge shire and Bedfordshire to the upper Thames, and that this intimate connexion is carried on by a long series of parallels down to the 7th century.
Discoveries between Bedfordshire and the Thames are, as at present known, admittedly rather scarce, but this may well be explained by the progress of an invading host which, having reached some point near the western border of modern Buckinghamshire, saw stretching in front the valley of the Thames with the Chilterns and the Berkshire Downs curving away to the horizon on their left flank. In any case the land between Aylesbury and Dorchester was not such as to invite extensive settlement with the wide terraces of the Thames before them.
Attention has frequently been drawn to the significance of place-names ending in -ing as indicative of early Anglo-Saxon settlement, and following up this line of argument Professor Ekwall has deduced that colonization of the upper Thames Valley must be held to have taken place fairly late, since such names—he notes only two, Goring and Filkins in Oxfordshire and none from Berkshire north of the Downs—are extremely scarce in Wessex. (fn. 3) It has, however, been pointed out by Mr. J. N. L. Myres (fn. 4) in connexion with the Ordnance Survey Map of the Dark Ages in Britain (to which is appended a sketch-map showing the distribution of the known -ing names in Anglo-Saxon England) that the criterion loses much of its validity owing to the equal scarcity of such names in the Cambridgeshire region. There early settlement is unquestionable on archaeological grounds and thus the survival of such names in some and their absence in other districts may well be explained by the freedom of the former from the subsequent political disturbance that in the latter may have brought about a wastage of primitive names. If the philological argument holds good, it adds a serious objection to unqualified acceptance of the historical route for the main settlement of the Oxford district, but one thing does emerge, namely, that the local archaeology clearly shows that the names in -ington cannot be passed over in estimating such settlement.
Without, however, begging the question of the route adopted it is desirable first to examine the remains from south Oxfordshire, since these include some of the earliest remains of the period found in this country.
At the eastern boundary of the county on the line of the Icknield Way there stands on Hempton Plain in the parish of Chinnor a twin barrow, 400 yards south of Bledlow Cross. At some date in or shortly before 1899 a labourer getting stone opened out of curiosity one of the mounds, encountering a wall of flints under the turf around its edge. In doing so he must have come upon the burial of a Saxon warrior, to judge from the objects in the possession of Mr. H. Stevens of Hempton, seen and sketched by Mr. Percy Manning, F.S.A. There were two spear-heads, 6½ and 8 in. long, a small javelin-head, 2½ in. long, and a broad U-shaped bronze chape from the scabbard of a sword. The sword itself does not seem to have been preserved. Another spear-head was found on the same farm after a landslip. Yet another warrior's burial is known from the line of the Way. For Skelton speaks of a shield-boss of Saxon type found in the parish of Sydenham 'in the most commanding part of Sydenham Field', evidently a spur of the Chilterns.
Yet nearer the Thames is Ewelme, from which parish Mr. T. H. Powell in 1908 exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries a bronze bowl found in 1903. The place of discovery was a gravel-pit east of Rumbold's Copse by the side of the road from Ewelme to Brightwell Baldwin. From information supplied Mr. Reginald Smith records that it was found along with a remains of a bronzemounted bucket and bones, presumably human. That such buckets are commonly found in Anglo-Saxon graves is enough to establish a burial, apart from the fact that as many as 15 skeletons, apparently without grave-furniture, were exposed at the same spot, lying in narrow graves about 2 ft. deep and in rows 2 to 3 yards apart. Some had the head at the west end of the grave. A small black vase, 3¼ in. high, found a few hundred yards away in another pit, is of a size usually found accompanying an interment. The bronze bowl (Fig. 1), about 3 in. high and 4½ in. in diameter, fully described by Mr. Smith, is of particular interest, both from the point of view of its construction and of its relation to the class of bowls with enamelled escutcheons in Celtic style (fn. 5) that form so striking a feature among the relics of the Anglo-Saxon period. The Ewelme bowl, unlike these, is not beaten up out of one piece of sheet metal, but is built up in five sections, the neck and shoulder in one, three round the belly, and one at the base. The middle register overlaps the other two, and shifting of the plates is prevented by cordons within which impinge the heads of short rivets passed through the edges of the underlying plates. Like the Celtic bowls it has three escutcheons, but these have perforated lugs instead of hooks and are without enamel, as also are the disks affixed both inside and outside the base of the bowl. The bowl seems to have no exact parallel in this country, but is nevertheless regarded by Mr. Smith as a forerunner of the larger Celtic class. It differs so markedly from these in shape and size that its period is not easy to surmise, but that, like the Celtic bowls, it is a piece of loot seized by the invaders seems beyond doubt.
Up to the present day we have no record of a large Saxon cemetery at Dorchester. That such, however, should exist seems beyond question in view of the importance of that place in Saxon times. Nine miles from Oxford on the road to Henley, it is now no more than a large-sized village, but in Saxon days came to occupy, for a time at least, the most important position in Wessex. To invaders penetrating to the Thames, whether along the Berkshire Downs or from the east along the foot of the Chilterns, Wittenham Clumps stand out as a conspicuous landmark, and, if certain finds can be brought into line with these incomers, the Saxons were early attracted to this spot. For it is at Dorchester that some of the earliest relics of the period have come to light. In 1874 the eastern part of the Dyke Hills that cut off the promontory formed by the bend of the Thames at its junction with the Thame was levelled to facilitate agricultural operations. In the summit of one of the embankments two burials were exposed. One of a man with head to south-south-east lay with the legs somewhat flexed, and with him were a large number of bronze fittings (Pl. XXV a), consisting of a large bronze buckle, ribbed tubular and flat plates, rings with circular faceted attachment-plates, strap-tab, and a perforated bone disk. With the other skeleton, which was certainly that of a woman, were a smaller bronze buckle, with projecting horse-heads on the ring and punched decoration on its oblong plate, and a bronze fibula or brooch, and a flat disk of another. The objects found with the man are such as can be closely paralleled from the latest Gallo-Roman graves in north-eastern France at such sites at Vermand, and can thus be dated to the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century. In this country they are to be assigned to the latter, since no examples have been found on Roman sites, while they do occur at others where Anglo-Saxon discoveries have been made (Croydon and Milton-next-Sittingbourne, as also in cemeteries in the Elbe region from which the invaders came). The same holds good for the objects found with the woman. The buckle again has affinities with the contents of the French cemeteries; for the two brooches parallels must be sought in north Germany. The one (Pl. XXV a, lower row) is an early example in the evolution of the cruciform brooch which, though common to all the tribes at first, later comes to be a distinctive feature of districts occupied by what is regarded as the Anglian section of the invaders. It has been assigned by Dr. Haakon Shetelig to the late 4th century, (fn. 6) but again it may be later in this country. A stage but little in advance is represented by a brooch from the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Kempston, Beds. (fn. 7) The disk in turn is the back plate of a brooch-form, known as the applied brooch, built up of thin metal disks, early stages of which are well known in the Elbe region. Though the gap estimated in terms of typological time may appear at first unduly wide between the objects from these burials and the bulk of early objects from Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, there is, as Professor Roeder has held, nothing inherently impossible in the assignment of these burials to members of the invasions rather than to chance foreigners stationed in Britain before the invasions began. In such case, however, they are more reminiscent of what may be termed 'fighting burials', like that at Chinnor (supra, p. 348) or that from Lyneham Barrow (p. 358), than those of the normal settlement.
Later discoveries have also been made at Dorchester, but on no scale commensurate with the eventual importance of the place. Burials are marked on the Ordnance Survey map at Bishop's Court at the north-west edge of the village. To what these refer is not known, but this may be the site of finds now preserved in the British Museum and at Reading. The former, until some years ago in the Guildhall Museum, London, consist of a shield-boss, two spear-heads, and bronze disk-brooches ornamented with engraved circles and possibly assignable to the 5th century, while the latter include a spear-head, a knife, and a pair of large saucer-brooches, nearly 3 in. in diameter (Fig. 2). These belong to a 7th-century class along with others from Ashendon and Stone, Bucks., and from Wheatley and Standlake, Oxon. (pp. 353 and 363), and, like them in point of size rather than in decoration, express the influence exercised on the Saxon workshops by the output of Kentish jewellers. This influence was doubtless fostered by the numerous imports of Kentish jewellery and glass, as well as of continental products traded through Kent, of which examples from the county will be noted in the following pages. One of these, found in Dorchester itself, was exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries in 1776, as recorded in the Minutes of the Society. From the description and the sketch accompanying it, it must have been a pyramidal gold stud of a class well known from Kent; the walls have cloisons inset with garnet slabs of various shapes. Coins found at Dorchester bear the same witness to intercourse with Kent. Such are a muchworn solidus of the emperor Mauricius Tiberius (a.d. 582–602) recalling that attached to a necklace in a 7th-century grave at Sarre, Kent. The coin is engraved by Skelton, and along with it are two others that appear to be slightly later. They are designated 'sceattas', but one at any rate is Merovingian, though the engraving does not allow it to be identified more nearly.
Other chance finds include a spear-head found 1 mile north-north-west of the village near the road to Abingdon and 100 yards from the parish boundary. It is of unusual length; the socket is imperfect, but the blade measures 12 in. It may be compared with one from Fairford. (fn. 8)
The 7th-century finds at Dorchester raise the problem of its position before that time. Apart from the graves in the Dyke Hills, there is no good evidence for early settlement. Most of the evidence indeed comes, as already noted, from the opposite bank of the river at Long Wittenham, Abingdon, Sutton Courtenay, and Frilford. It almost looks as if, like many other Roman sites, Dorchester was at first avoided by the invaders (p. 296), and did not come to its own until Birinus, seeking an untried field, chose to conduct a mission to the Gewissae or West Saxons. The success of his mission was assured when in a.d. 635 Cynegils, King of the West Saxons, sponsored by Oswald of Northumbria, was baptized at Dorchester, an event succeeded within the next three years by the baptism of Cwichelm and Cuthred. It would seem that Birinus deliberately selected for his seat a place with Roman associations. Of its later history something will be said hereafter.
Very little has been found at Benson, one of the places named in connexion with Cuthwulf's campaign of 571. A Saxon spear-head and knife recorded by Mr. T. Colyer, a battle-axe and spear-head, marked on the Ordnance Survey map at a point south-east of the village, and a bone heddle-stick found south of the church, are all that can be reliably assigned to this period. On the eastern border of the county adjoining Thame is the parish of Kingsey, where Saxon remains have come to light, continuing a chain of small Saxon settlements between that point and Aylesbury represented by Ashendon, Dinton, Bishopstone, Stone, and Hartwell over the Buckinghamshire border. In Aylesbury Museum is a neat bronze saucer-brooch decorated with zoomorphic ornament divided into panels by lozenge-shaped bars. (fn. 9) The exact place of discovery is not recorded, but probably it is within the grounds of Tythrop House at the west end of the parish, where in 1859 were found a spear-head and two urns, containing cremated bones and 'made of dark burned clay', 6 in. high and 20 in. in circumference. A copper coin is said to have been found in one of them, but the vases, subsequently reburied in the churchyard, were certainly Saxon. (fn. 10) There are also preserved in Taunton Museum a shield-boss, spear-head, and knife from the same site.
Among the most interesting remains of the period found in Oxfordshire are those from Cuddesdon. While engaged on work in front of the gateway of the Bishop's Palace in 1847, labourers came upon skeletons at a depth of 2 to 3 ft. below the surface of the ground. (fn. 11) The bodies lay upon their faces in a circle, their heads outwards and their legs crossed. No particulars of the association of the objects preserved with the individual bodies are available, and their quality makes it evident that much must have been lost or subsequently allowed to perish, among the latter two swords. The chief relics recorded are firstly two vases of blue glass (Pl. XXVIII h), (fn. 12) both of squat form with short necks. One, 3 in. high and 57/8 in. in diameter, is decorated round the body with three wavy applied threads of the same glass touching one another, while round the kick of the base is a thick, seven-lobed thread, resembling the cusping of a circular window. The other, rather smaller in size, has a fine spiral thread wound round the neck and wavy threads looped up from the base to the top of the body. These vases resemble very closely those found in a rich grave in a barrow at Broomfield, Essex. (fn. 13) Next comes a bronze situla or bucket, 9 in. high, both in form and fabric totally unlike Saxon work (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.
Three-quarters of a mile south-south-east of Wheatley, a village 7 miles along the London road through High Wycombe, on rising ground overlooking the valley of the Thame, is a field known as Castle Hill or Castle Field, at the eastern end of which a Roman villa was discovered in 1845. (fn. 16) About the end of 1882 labourers engaged in removing stone that hindered ploughing operations lighted upon several graves from which they collected spear-heads, a shield-boss, and a bone comb, which were presented to the Ashmolean Museum by Mr. Henry Gale. In January and February, 1883, 15 more graves were opened and their contents recorded by Mr. Gale; in April and May members of the Ashmolean staff excavated 19, and in October 1884 another 12, making 46 in all. Of these the majority were orientated to points of the compass between north and south, principally south, a westerly orientation being quite rare. No actual cases of cremation are recorded, but mention of fragments of urns is made in the diary of the excavations. It is not impossible that urns had been destroyed in agricultural operations, since even the graves, as usual in a limestone site, were for the most part shallow, averaging in depth 1 to 2 ft. at most. Some were even less; one 3½ ft. deep was quite exceptional. The cemetery was not rich; many of the graves were devoid of relics, and apart from the weapons found in the first instance only two more spear-heads came to light. The two richest graves were nos. 27 and 14. (fn. 17) The former yielded a necklace of amber beads, from which depended three carnivor teeth and two 4th-century Roman coins, an earpick, and other objects, including a ring-headed Celtic pin of the Early Iron Age type. In the latter (Pl. XXVI a) was a string of beads of amber, paste, and crystal, some of the amber specimens being of exceptionally large size. Matching these is a pair of huge gilt bronze saucer-brooches, over 3 ins. in diameter, in the decoration of which a medley of unintelligible zoomorphic ornament is combined with a flat central stud of garnet and three undecorated triangles, elements borrowed by the maker from the design of jewelled Kentish brooches. There were also a knife, an iron buckle with triangular plate, and, lastly, a silver pin with a discoid head decorated with an engraved rayed design around a central boss, and with a perforation a little below the head, through which is threaded a large ring of thin wire. Pins with ringed heads are cited by Baldwin Brown (fn. 18) from Anglo Saxon graves in Kent and at Brixworth, Northants., and, as he rightly observes, are 'Celtic rather than Germanic in character'. Many parallels can be found in Ireland. Two graves produced 4th-century Roman vases, possibly, like the ring-headed pin in grave 27, looted from the site of the Roman villa nearby.
An unexpected discovery in this district is a bronze S-shaped brooch with garnet inlay and terminals in the form of birds' heads (Fig. 3). (fn. 19) Though the type is not unknown in this country, it is more at home on the Continent. This Iffley brooch may well be an import from northern France.
The north-east section of the county, lying in the angle formed by the junction of the rivers Cherwell and Ray, is notoriously poor in prehistoric remains. Only under Roman rule was it opened up to some extent by the construction of the road leading from Dorchester across Otmoor to Alchester on the way to Towcester, and from east to west of part of the Akeman Street. In early Saxon times it appears, temporarily at least, to have sunk back almost to the condition of pre-Roman days. Such evidence of settlement as is available comes from spots already known by prehistoric finds, most of them on the line of the ancient track or salt-way, the Portway, along which lie the modern villages on the left bank of the Cherwell.
The first of these sites to call for notice is Oddington on the northern edge of Otmoor, where, about 1815, in making the garden of the rectory, a group of burials, orientated in various directions, was found 1–2 ft. below the surface. At the time weapons found with them were adjudged to be Roman in date, but that they were Saxon scarcely admits of doubt. The usual mention of 'helmets', i.e. shield-bosses, and spear-heads, as well as the shallowness of the graves, accords fully with normal observations in Saxon cemeteries.
At Kirtlington, where the Portway crosses the Akeman Street, a skeleton was found in 1873 and with it two fine fibulae and other remains, but the nature of the brooches is not stated, though recorded as Saxon.
Three miles northward lies the village of Lower Heyford, from which place Professor J. O. Westwood exhibited to the British Archaeological Association in 1846 a collection of Saxon objects found in a barrow. A manuscript account by Mr. C. Richardson, now in the archives of the Ashmolean Museurm, and presented with the objects in 1893 by Miss Swann, Professor Westwood's niece, speaks, however, of an extensive bank, called Harborough Bank, a great part of which was levelled in 1801 at the time of the inclosures. It was found to contain a great number of human bones, of children as well as adults. Also at a few yards' distance, in digging for stone, many more skeletons were found, in supine position and lying east and west, and side by side in a long line, at about 18 in. deep. The objects, according to both accounts, were found with a skeleton a little distance from the rest. By the neck were beads and two circular (disk) brooches. Of two spears the larger lay against the right shoulder, the smaller by the left, and a knife (a short seax) across the left hip. Other objects were a square bronze plate embossed with lines of spots across the diagonals and a 'tubular tag-like ornament', in reality a bronze needle-case.
In 1844 Sir Henry Dryden learnt that remains had been found at Souldern, about 5 miles farther north, in a garden on the west side of a narrow road leading down the hill southwards from the main street. The fullest account is given as an appendix, dated 1845, to W. Wing's Antiquities and History of Steeple Aston. The first discoveries were a burial and an urn. The grave, 3 ft. deep in the limestone, contained the skeleton of an adult, orientated westsouth-west; on the right of the head were a pair of bone objects, 2 in. long, elongated pyramids in form engraved with nine bull's-eye circlets on each face and furnished with an iron rivet (or part of a suspension-ring) through the small end. Dryden's conjecture that they might be ear-pendants may well be correct, unusual though they are, but he was off the mark with bronze bands which he interpreted as mounts of a helmet. These, as Beesley (fn. 20) noted, are portions of the mounts of one of the small buckets so frequent in Anglo-Saxon graves. The Souldern example (now in the Ashmolean Museum), however, is distinguished in having a human face in high relief at the base of the attachment for the handle. (fn. 21) Three small vases, found at the same time and later, served as urns for cremation interments. (fn. 22) Two were decorated, one with large arcades and intervening bosses; the second is a wide, open form less common in association with cremation. From Sir Henry Dryden's account it seems clear that other burials had been exposed previously.
The portion of the county lying west of the Cherwell and north of the Evenlode has not, in spite of the numerous place-names of Saxon type, produced much evidence of early Saxon occupation, and even so most of what is known comes from close to their junction with the Thames or in the valley of the Evenlode itself. At the lower end of this angle lies Oxford itself, but, as of that of prehistoric and Roman times, all that is known of Saxon occupation comes from outside of the later city (p. 301), and, if any ever existed within and near the walls, it must have been swept away in centuries of building. It is farther north along the Banbury Road between St. Giles's Church and Summertown that the presence of Saxon settlers has been attested by a few discoveries. The earliest recorded and the most interesting is the gold bracteate (Pl. XXVIII a), found in the 17th century in St. Giles's Field and described by Dr. Robert Plot in his Natural History of Oxfordshire. On it, within a border of punched circles arranged in quincunxes, is a helmeted head in repoussé, behind which are the letters C O and in front a cruciform sign and another like the Greek Omega. Plot, reading into the inscription an E that does not exist, though rightly attributing the piece to Anglo-Saxon times, deduced from the letters that it must be a touch-piece bestowed by Edward the Confessor on a sufferer who had been 'touched' for the king's evil or scrofula. In reality it is a bracteate of a well-known class best represented in Denmark. The Oxford piece, however, is pronounced by Sir Arthur Evans to be of Anglo-Saxon workmanship in this country, and therefore, though based on 4th-century Roman coins, more particularly those of Constantius II, can hardly be earlier than the 6th century. (fn. 23)
On the south side of Park Crescent, 1 mile north of Carfax on the east side of the Banbury Road, a spear-head and shield-boss found about 2 ft. deep must betoken a burial, and the same holds good at Summertown, where, in 1850, also on the east side of the same road, a knife, a bronze disk-brooch decorated with circlets, and some variegated glass beads were found with human bones. Again, in 1865 Professor Westwood recorded a burial, with which were a knife and a buckle, from Summertown, but the exact site of these latter discoveries is now unknown. Finds of a more casual nature within or just without the limits of the city are an unusual Saxon vase from Osney (Pl. XXVIII e), its body ornamented with a wavy band in strong relief, between the curves of which are bosses, and tapering rapidly to a small foot, typologically an early piece to which close parallels exist from Frilford and Abingdon, Berks.; a bone heddle-stick from Wolvercote, and baked clay rings (loom-weights) found in 1876 on the site of the reservoir at the top of the hill leading to Headington, all evidence illustrating a chain of occupation linking up the future Oxford with settlements in other parts of the county and across the Thames into Berkshire.
A burial without relics was exposed close to the Fox Inn at Barton, ¼ mile east of Headington village during the construction of the Oxford Northern By-pass in 1931. It appeared to be lying in the remains of a house-bottom from which Saxon sherds were recovered.
In Antiquity, 1935, Miss Helen Cam has a note on a record of 1261 about a 'how' or barrow called Cudeslowe, the name of which still persists in Cutteslowe, now in Wolvercote parish, but formerly in a separate parish on the east side of the road to Banbury, 2½ miles out of Oxford. Owing to its becoming a haunt and shelter for robbers the sheriff of the day was ordered to demolish it. In spite of this the field immediately south of Water Eaton Lodge and thus adjacent to Cutteslowe Farm contains what is almost without doubt the remains of a large barrow. The barrow may, of course, have been erected in prehistoric times and have received a new name in Saxon times, but with the example of Asthall barrow (infra, p. 365) we must not exclude the possibility that the 'low of Cud or Cuda' may be of Saxon date, especially if it was of such large size as to afford harbourage for malefactors.
Passing northwards beyond the modern limits of the city, notice has first to be drawn to a rather meagre record for the right bank of the Cherwell; a burial found in 1892 at Kidlington with a seax now preserved in Bristol Museum, two spear-heads from the site of the Oxfordshire Cement Works at Shiptonon-Cherwell, and a large clay ring or loom-weight from Bunker's Hill, a short distance northward, and three more of somewhat variant form, at Middle Aston, 14½ miles north of Oxford. Along the course of the Evenlode the evidence is fuller. Notes were made by Professor George Rolleston between 1875 and 1877 of discoveries at Yarnton, the ancient Earding-tun, a name that may be compared with Ardley mentioned above. Observations in a ballast-pit north-west of the station showed that, as so often in the upper Thames Valley, the site had been inhabited from the early Bronze Age onwards and had even attracted Saxon settlers, a few of whose graves were mingled with those of earlier date. For such must be one equipped with an iron spear-head, a second with a knife, nearly 12 in. long, evidently a seax, and a third, orientated west to east, with a shield-boss, spear, knife, and some strips of bronze, possibly the bands of a bucket. A spindle-whorl and a large heddle-stick of bone may be taken as witness to house-sites nearby.
Two miles westwards is Cassington, a name that is held to go back to an earlier Carsington, the first element of which may be connected with the OE. caerse, watercress. Here, even more strongly emphasized than at Yarnton, the same phenomena of continuous occupation have been observed (supra, p. 356). Two large gravel-pits, one east, the other south-west of the village, have produced Saxon remains. In 1930 or earlier a large number of burials were exposed in the first of these pits, but few details could be gathered; merely the usual statements about small knives, a spear-head, and the like, such as always give the clue to the date of the burials, confirmed in this case by a skull submitted to the Department of Human Anatomy at Oxford. What would seem to have been an outlier of this cemetery was a grave found late in 1930 in Mr. Lay's garden on the west side of the lane leading towards the church. In it were a man, woman, and child, with heads to the west. Along with them were two small knives, and there must have been other relics, since the radius and ulna were stained by contact with bronze. In distinction to this evidence of burial, the other pit, immediately south of the crossing of the Oxford Northern By-pass, yielded evidence of habitation during the making of the road. A few house-bottoms of normal type excavated 1½ to 2 ft. into the gravel were partially explored and produced the usual litter of bones, sherds, and a few other objects, among them a disk-brooch, and a parcel of 10 clay loom-weights found packed together in a row. (fn. 24)
Proceeding up the valley of the Evenlode no further discoveries are known until Spelsbury, 1½ miles north of Charlbury, is reached. A spear-head and knife, exhibited to the North Oxfordshire Archaeological Society by Mr. Beesley, the Banbury antiquary, again indicate a burial. More interesting, however, is a gilt bronze brooch (Pl. XXVIII c) found in 1933 in a field adjoining the church. It belongs to a class only represented by a few examples, all of which may fairly be assigned to the 7th century and may be even later. In the centre is a large green boss and round it is an interlaced pattern which on examination proves to contain remains of zoomorphic elements. It evidently marks the gradual disappearance of the older Germanic animal ornament before the newer fashion of intricate interlacing that begins to assert itself from the close of the 6th century. The brooch thus falls into line, both in point of form and style, with the example from Standlake described below (p. 362).
From Chadlington village a road called Catsham Lane leads southwards down to the valley of the Evenlode and crosses at the brow of the hill a deep gravel terrace that has been exploited for many years past. Like others of these terraces in the Oxford district it has yielded evidence of prehistoric man, and here, too, the local Saxon settlers buried their dead. Attention was drawn to the cemetery in 1930 by Mr S. E. Groves and inquiry established that a large number of graves had been destroyed without much notice being taken of them in Mr. Hobbs's pit on the east side of the road. Subsequently 25 graves, 9 partially destroyed and 16 intact, were investigated by the Oxford University Archaeological Society. All lay with the head orientated to west or westsouth-west, and according to the variation of the overlying humus were found at depths ranging from 2 to 3½ ft. Several graves showed signs of ancient disturbance. In two cases the skull was found detached from the vertebral column and placed by the legs; in a third the greater part of the bones were entirely missing, though the remainder lay as originally buried and with them a comb and knife. Relics were very scarce; noteworthy are a seax with blade 12 in. long (Pl. XXIX d, top), and the remains of an almost spherical bead (or possibly a whorl), 1½ in. high, constructed on the same principle as a bead found at Kempston, Beds., (fn. 25) though more elaborate. It was built up of tiers of bronze disks round a central tube, each tier divided up by bronze partitions, each of which was filled with a small slab of shell, and the whole overlaid with openwork caps of gold filigree.
An Anglo-Saxon predilection for appropriating prehistoric barrows as burial-places, more particularly for interments of men, so well exemplified on the Wiltshire and Dorset Downs, is also established for Oxfordshire by discoveries in Lyneham long barrow (see p. 239). In the top of the barrow Mr. Edward Conder in 1894 found burials that can be assigned to this period. For the first an opening had been made on the median line from the top towards the north end, and a trench 7 ft. long by 2½ ft. wide had been cleared to a depth of 3½ ft. in the stones of which the barrow is composed and its bottom lined with small stones and earth. On this bed lay a skeleton with its head to north-east and with it an iron spear-head and a knife. Thirty feet farther south a similar grave came to light, orientated due south; in it was a knife. Later, in the north-east quarter of the mound, a shield-boss and a knife were found at a a depth of 2¾ ft., but no mention is made of any body.
At the time of these discoveries Lord Ducie furnished particulars of two spear-heads found in planting trees at the north-east corner of Lyneham Camp, which crowns the hill one furlong northwards on the same side of the road to Chipping Norton. These may well have come from graves, since Manning notes that several skeletons were found in 1842 in the quarry on the south side of the camp, and in 1872 Rolleston records a burial containing a knife which he took to be of the same date. Another grave was investigated in the same quarry in 1928. In it the skeleton lay with head to the west without relics, but the skeletal remains when examined by experts were pronounced to be Saxon.
In an account of the Rollright Stones Thomas Beesley records that about 200 yards east of the King Stone, and on the same side of the road, many sepulchral remains have been discovered. He says 'there is a bank, here running north and south; the upper layers of stone have been removed, and the soil, which is of a slightly darker colour than that around, covers many bones of men and horses. Burnt stones and a few fragments of pottery are scattered about'. These, indeed, do not read like Saxon, but it is otherwise with the next. Still farther east, about 12 skeletons were found, one with the head laid to the west. Again, in 1836 an urn of black clay, evidently made by hand, was dug up at the same place. Other remains noted are a ring-brooch and some beads, which with the urn are figured by Beesley; mention is also made of brooches of 'flat, hollowed brass', evidently saucer or applied brooches. Other skeletons are said to have been unearthed on the south side of the road in the direction of the Whispering Knights.
North of this line only two finds of the period are known. The first is that of a spear-head with human remains at Holywell Farm in the parish of Tadmarton recorded by the Ordnance Survey. The second is the furniture of a fairly rich burial, now in the British Museum, discovered at Hornton, 5 miles north-west of Banbury on the Warwickshire boundary. It consisted of a large, gilt-bronze, square-headed brooch, 4¼ in. long (Pl. XXV c), a pair of saucerbrooches with very shallow rims decorated with running spirals, and a mixed string of beads, glass and amber. The large brooch is a decadent example of a general class represented in most of the districts where the great square-headed type occurs, but in point of detail exhibits affinities with a variant of a group that appears to be restricted to a line connecting Cambridgeshire (Harlton) by way of Bedfordshire (Luton) with the settlements of the upper Thames, such as Abingdon, Brighthampton, and Fairford. Its nearest parallel is perhaps that from Marston, Northants.
The greater part of the area lying between the Evenlode and the Windrush was covered by forest growth out of which later was constituted the royal forest of Wychwood. Only on the edges of the forest and on the gravel by the Thames is it likely that Saxon remains are to be found. Naturally one of these places should be Eynsham at the Swinford crossing of the river, the Egonesham of Cuthwulf's campaign recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 571. The evidence for occupation at this point is meagre enough, but is unmistakeable. From a ballast-pit immediately south of the railway station came perforated pins, a comb, and heddle-sticks, all of bone, now in the Ashmolean Museum. These are of types found in some numbers in the Saxon village at Sutton Courtenay, Berks., and again in similar sites at Radley, Berks., and at Yarnton and Yelford, Oxon. Also to the early days of Saxon occupation may be assigned an enamelled escutcheon, originally attached to a bronze hanging bowl of the class well typified by those found in recent years at Winchester, (fn. 26) or that discovered in a Saxon warrior's grave at Lowbury on the Berkshire Downs. (fn. 27) Whether the escutcheon is still in existence is unknown, but it is vouched for by a cast preserved in the Ashmolean Museum.
In 1929 objects found by Mr. Brown of North Leigh in quarrying on the north side of the road to Wilcot, immediately south of the lane leading to Holly Court Farm, were submitted to the Ashmolean Museum for inspection by Miss Mason of Eynsham Hall. It appeared that from five burials, orientated west to east, there had been recovered two small knives, a seax, 11¼ in. long, a narrow strip of bronze, bent at intervals and pierced by a tiny nail at one end, presumably part of the binding of a wooden casket, and, lastly, a cylindrical bronze work-box (Pl. XXVIII i), 2 in. high and 2 in. in diameter. Projecting from the wall of the box is an ear formed of two thicknesses of metal cut at the outside edge into three teeth, the middle one of which is perforated for the reception of an iron suspensory ring. The top of the lid slightly exceeds in diameter that of the body of the box. The lid is decorated with four engraved, double-lined imitations of triquetral knots leaving a plain cross between them, and the body by two rows of embossed dots. The lid is hinged to the body by a bronze ring and was fastened by a small pin which passed through the collar of the lid and the wall of the box close below the rim. A work-box with a similar large ear was found by Bryan Faussett in a grave at Sibertswold, Kent. (fn. 28) Further investigation revealed three more graves, all, like the first, orientated west to east: two of men, one with no relics, the other with a knife, 7½ in. long, and a small iron buckle. The third was of a girl; by each ear were remains of three thin silver rings, on which beads of blue and green glass and a small silver tube had been strung. These burials belong, like those at Chadlington, to an advanced stage in the Saxon settlement. The bronze work-boxes, as known from associations in East Anglia and Yorkshire, come from the later graves of the period, and in the lack of other evidence the essentially non-Saxon triquetral knots point to that renaissance of Celtic motifs and ornamental treatment that becomes more and more evident as time goes on. (fn. 29)
At the western end of the forest an iron spear-head, now in Bristol Museum, was found in 1880 at Fordwells, 1 mile south-west of Leafield and close to the line of the Akeman Street; and on the western edge of the county at Idbury in a quarry opposite Idbury Camp and south of the lane leading from the village to the main road from Burford to Stow-on-the-Wold, the presence of graves was reported by Mr. J. W. Robertson-Scott. Some had been destroyed in the past; remains of others could be detected in the side of the quarry. No relics are known to have been preserved, but the depth and disposition of the graves in the limestone is closely comparable with those found outside Lyneham Camp.
South-west from Stanton Harcourt beyond the Windrush another gravel terrace has produced a group of cemeteries, the most important of which, and indeed the largest as yet known from the county, came to light close to Brighthampton in a gravel-pit at Malthouse Farm, on the east side of the road leading towards Aston and Bampton. The name Brighthampton itself goes back to Saxon times through forms like Brihthelmeston and Brithelminton (OE. Brihthelmes tun, the tun of Beorthhelm or Brihthelm), and thus is related to the name of Brighton, Sussex. First knowledge of the cemetery must be credited to Stephen Stone, whose activity in observing and reporting on the archaeology of the district has already been noted in the chapter on the prehistoric period. It may be inferred from a communication to the Society of Antiquaries of London on 21 May 1857 that graves, some containing spears, had already been discovered some forty years before: Stone himself reports opening two, one of a youth, containing a long knife (seax), spear-head, and shield-boss, the other of a child with a knife. A month later workmen discovered a third grave, of a child, containing beads of amber and glass, a bronze-mounted bucket, and a pair of gilt-bronze brooches of a small square-headed type, imitated from a Kentish type that can be dated to the first half of the 6th century.
These discoveries led to the organization of a regular exploration of the cemetery later in 1857 and again in 1858 by J. Y. Akerman, Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London, supported by the Rev. Dr. J. Wilson, President of Trinity College, Oxford. The objects discovered were presented to the Ashmolean Museum by the subscribers to the cost of the investigation. A plan of the cemetery was made by Stephen Stone and exhibited to the Society, but unfortunately is no longer extant. The number of rich graves is fully in proportion to the total number explored and seems to indicate a much larger cemetery than is presented by 54 graves, even allowing for some previous destruction. In 1857 14 graves were found, none of them remarkable, though all but one con tained some relics, and two cremations. In one case a man with spear, knife, and shield-boss was buried above a woman with amber beads, a bronze hair-pin, and a circular brooch. The second campaign in 1858 was more productive, yielding 40 more graves, three containing swords, and in addition eight cremations in pots, but even so the cemetery was not exhausted.
The deepest grave recorded was 3¼ ft. deep; many were much shallower, one no more than 12 in. Here, as at Abingdon, Berks., and elsewhere, some had been protected by large stones. Particulars of orientation are only given for 35 graves; in 16 the body lay with the head to south-west; 8 to west, 5 to northwest, 3 to south-east, 2 to east, and 1 to north-east.
Among the notable graves opened in 1858 are the three of men, containing swords, all of which were accompanied by large beads, or in one case a flat, square, perforated piece of bone. These probably served as toggles at the end of a belt-knot. The number of swords is large in proportion to that of the graves explored. One of the swords (Pl. XXVII a—c), that from grave 31, was furnished with a bronze pommel of cocked-hat form and a scabbard of which the bronze mounts alone were preserved. The mouthpiece has a cast design of affronted S-spirals, while on the large U-shaped chape the decoration has been outlined by engraving and subsequently embellished by gilding. The principal feature of the ornament is a pair of running animals of wolf-like appearance with their heads turned backwards on each side of the chape, and below these two indeterminate objects, possibly intended to represent the heads of birds. Also to the scabbard must have belonged a cross patée and several small studs of tinned bronze. In the same grave were the elaborate mounts of a bucket.
Of two richly furnished graves of women, one (no. 22) had the remains of a wooden vessel near the head; on the right breast lay four silver rings, possibly ear-rings, while lower down were the constituents of a large necklace of 74 variegated glass beads, together with 10 denarii of Roman emperors from Caracalla to Hostilianus, evidently a little hoard discovered or looted from some Roman site. Further, a tinned bronze finger-ring, two applied brooches with good zoomorphic decoration, a knife in a sheath furnished with tinned bronze mounts, with delicate engraving on the mouthpiece and the chape, and along with it the carrier, also of decorated bronze, in which it was suspended from the girdle by means of a twisted ring, a large faceted crystal bead or whorl, and, lastly, a large ivory ring, 5 in. in diameter, which, as shown by the position in which such rings have been found, was not an armlet, but must have served as the handle of a bag, as Akerman suggested, or for some similar purpose (Pl. XXVI b). Grave 49, that of an old woman, contained a similar ring and in addition a large crystal whorl, a knife, and two saucer-brooches ornamented with rude faces, beads, bronze rings, and other minor objects. From grave 51 came the only example in the county, apart from that from Hornton (p. 359), of a large, gilt-bronze, square-headed brooch (Pl. XXV b); with it were a bronze belt-tab, two tinned bronze disk brooches, a knife, and an amber bead.
The cremation-urns, usually found in a shattered condition, are mostly described as plain. Some, however, were decorated with stamped patterns. A few other vases had been deposited in graves, among them two squat decorated bowls that come from the hand of one potter (Pl. XXVIII d and f). As they lay in adjacent graves of a man and a woman, a close kinship between the two persons may fairly be assumed.
In the period intervening between the first and second campaigns Stone recorded a grave, probably of a woman, with knife, buckle, and a pair of disk brooches, (fn. 30) and subsequently in 1859 he reported another, of an old woman, with beads (mostly of amber), knife, hair-pin, bronze-mounted bucket, two bone pins, and a pair of saucer or applied brooches decorated with figures of 'snakes'. (fn. 31)
In 1863 yet more discoveries were reported by Stone, (fn. 32) among them an urn the ashes in which contained a saucer-brooch that had been burnt along with the dead person, as at Abingdon, Berks., at Marton and Baginton, Warw., and elsewhere. In the grave of a woman there was, in addition to beads which were said to resemble dice in shape and size, a perforated bronze plate of which no description beyond 'of peculiar shape' is given. A more exact account of 'a plain bronze fibula of cruciform shape' would have been welcome, since cruciform brooches, so common in Anglian districts, are very rare in West Saxon cemeteries. At present they are only known by the specimen from Dorchester (supra, p. 350) and by two pairs considerably later in date from Frilford and East Shefford, Berks. (fn. 33)
That the cemetery even then was not exhausted is suggested by information obtained by Manning in 1895 from the occupier of Malthouse Farm, who stated that several skeletons had been unearthed in 1892 in the rickyard of the farm. (fn. 34)
In February 1857 Stone reported the discovery on Standlake Down, about ¾ mile north of the Brighthampton cemetery, of skeletons lying in a trench, some with cleft skulls and accompanied by iron weapons, from which he deduced that they were Saxon burials after a battle. Whatever the justification for this inference, there was certainly a considerable cemetery of the period nearby, since in the same report he records a grave containing a shield-boss and two spear-heads, and in May of the same year the rumour of the destruction of about 40 graves some thirty years before. Most of the relics had either been lost or thrown away, but he rescued what appears from the figure to have been the disk of a circular brooch, embossed with an interesting design of a knotted serpent (Fig. 4), much in the style of those on the mount of stoups found at Croydon, Surrey, and at Taplow, Bucks. These entwined serpentine forms, like those in filigree on many of the Kentish buckles, belong to the later period of the pagan cemeteries and help here again to corroborate a late dating already indicated by finds in other counties, as at Garton Slack, Yorks., (fn. 35) and at Holywell Row, Suffolk, (fn. 36) for what must have been a bronze thread-box that was found along with the Standlake brooch. Stone opened 7 more graves, none with more than a knife and buckle. (fn. 37) Again in 1863 he records in all 34 more graves, apparently on the same site, varying in depth from 2 to 5 ft., most of them containing no relics, or merely a knife. One rich grave of an old woman yielded two small gold pendants set with garnet or red glass. These he compares with examples found on Roundway Down, near Devizes, Wilts., (fn. 38) belonging to a necklace that must be dated to the 7th century. A bone disk he compares with one found at Wingham, Kent, (fn. 39) and with that from Yelford (infra), but without mounts. Among other objects he notes a large iron key, apparently ornamented with a silver (tinned) cross atop, a small thin bone disk, fragments of a vase of greenish glass, and several beads, among them one of amethystine quartz, again like one found at Yelford. A man had with him a spear, knife, iron buckle, and whetstone; three of six very young children had beads, and in another grave was a small earthen cup. The site of the cemetery seems to have been in the field immediately across the road from that in which lies the group of Bronze Age ring-ditches (supra, p. 246), since from the former field Mr. Percy Manning obtained in 1897 objects said to have come from one grave, but certainly the contents of two, if not more. They include a spear-head, two knives, an antler ring, coloured paste beads, a bronze annular brooch, a bronze disk, possibly part of a brooch, decorated with a punched radiate pattern, and, lastly, a large saucer brooch, the design of which, as on those from Dorchester and Wheatley, is composed of elements borrowed from Kentish jewellery, in this case an imitation of triangular garnet settings and s-filigree (Pl. XXVIII b). (fn. 40)
A short distance west from this cemetery remains of a hut-bottom have recently been observed; and what was evidently another, to judge from Stone's record (fn. 41) of broken bones and two typical bone heddle-sticks, came to light about a quarter of a mile east. This, from his description, (fn. 42) would appear to be the site at which was found in 1863 the grave of a young man with a spear, the only one of many that yielded any relics. Stone's observation that this cemetery had every appearance of being of much higher antiquity than that on Standlake Down or that at Brighthampton reads strangely now, since the absence of relics must certainly be interpreted in an exactly converse sense.
About a mile westwards in the parish of Yelford is Westfield Farm, which stands on the very edge of the gravel cap of the high ground before it dips sharply to the valley of the Thames. The first account of the cemetery (fn. 43) again comes from Stone, who reported in May 1857 examination of 10 graves, mostly devoid of relics, a few with a knife only and one with the bronze fittings of a casket. In 1858, omitting nos. 11–13, he recorded 13 more graves, making 26 in all, again with one exception either without or poor in relics. The exception was that of a woman with whom was an unusual pendant made from a bone disk with a large central perforation and engraved with groups of small bull'seye circlets, the edge bound with bronze and furnished with an iron loop. Along with it was a large pear-shaped bead of amethystine quartz, indicating a somewhat late grave, a perforated bronze disk, and objects of iron. None of the graves lay deeper than 2½ ft. The bead and pendant are figured in Archaeologia, xxxviii, pl. 111, figs. 10 and 11.
Two furlongs north-west of the cemetery Stone (fn. 44) investigated a hut-bottom, 12 ft. square, from which he recovered broken bones, sherds of pottery, a bone pin, and an unfinished bone spindle-whorl, these last now in the Ashmolean Museum, and all, as proved by discoveries in the Saxon village at Sutton Courtenay, Berks., normal finds in houses of the period.
During the period of the excavations at Yelford a grave containing a knife was also found in Standlake parish near Cokethorpe Park. (fn. 45)
Except for a bronze pin closely comparable with a silver specimen found in a grave at Kingston Down, Kent, (fn. 46) no relics of the Anglo-Saxon period are recorded from Bampton, but at Black Bourton, 2 miles north-west, in 1926 Saxon pottery was noted and a Saxon skeleton without relics was exposed in Mr. Akers's gravel-pit immediately south of the churchyard. In 1894 Mr. P. Manning learnt of human skeletons at Brize Norton, 3 miles northward, in a quarry in the angle where the road from Minster Lovell meets the 'Abingdon Lane', accompanied by 'swords and armour', some of them also with 'helmets', the common local interpretation of shield-bosses. About 1901, 200 yards along the lane from Astrop Farm, a skeleton with a knife was found buried in fully extended position.
Westwards and close to the Wiltshire border are Filkins and Broughton Poggs, an adjoining hamlet, in each of which a small cemetery came to light in 1856. That at the former place was found in quarrying in a paddock called Purbrick's Close, near a small stream which rises a short distance away in a field called 'The Heads'. The original discoveries consisted of 3 graves, the first of a man with a sword, spear-head, and shield-boss, the second of a woman with amber beads and a pair of gilt-bronze saucer-brooches, the third of a young man with spear-head and knife. All lay east and west.
In the autumn of the same year J. Y. Akerman conducted further excavations, when 11 more graves were found. Of four containing male burials, one is noteworthy, since it produced two flat annular brooches. The occurrence of brooches with men has been observed more than once in the Thames Valley, two of the applied type with a long spear-head at Fairford, Glos., and more recently at Abingdon, Berks., two male burials contained each an iron penannular brooch, and a third one of narrow annular form. As both these types, particularly the former, are Celtic rather than Anglo-Saxon in origin, a survival of a native element is indicated. In one of the graves of women a saucer-brooch with the recurrent leg pattern, known from several Thames Valley cemeteries, was associated with two small fibulae, one purely Celtic in type (supra, p. 260), the other of a well-known early Romano-British form, evidently, like the coins at Brighthampton, gathered from some Roman site, and finally a pair of bronze girdle-hangers, which are objects commonly found in East Anglia and Anglian districts in general, but normally foreign to the dress of the West Saxons. Other saucer-brooches were found.
The cemetery at Broughton Poggs was exposed in quarrying on the summit of a hill known as Kinchin Knoll, ½ mile north of the village, some time before Akerman learnt of its existence. Akerman remarks on the shallowness of the graves at this site, their average depth being no more than 6 in. as compared with 2 ft. at Filkins. His initial attempt only resulted in the discovery of a single grave of a woman with two applied brooches and a knife. In 1857 he reported to the Society of Antiquaries 4 more graves, one of them containing a hair-pin and two small saucer-brooches, ornamented with a central swastika design within a debased egg-and-tongue border, a close parallel to which is among the collection from Long Wittenham, Berks., in the British Museum. The pendent needle-case, figured in the record, is not mentioned in the inventory of the grave. All the relics from these excavations are now in the Mayer Collection at Liverpool. A few others, obtained by Akerman in 1864 and 1867, including a pair of small saucer-brooches and a Celtic bead of blue glass inlaid with fine spirals in white, and the contents of 5 graves from Filkins, passed into Sir John Evans's possession and are now in the Ashmolean Museum. Mr. Manning also obtained a few beads from Filkins.
Most of our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon burial customs is derived from interments in open cemeteries, sometimes, more particularly in Kent, covered by low mounds, as often remarked by Bryan Faussett in the late 18th century. But that on occasion more elaborate sepulture was accorded to the dead is well illustrated by the lavishly appointed burial under a large tumulus at Taplow, Bucks., or again at Broomfield, Essex. Clearly persons of standing and note were so honoured. It has already been suggested that certain isolated barrows in other parts of the county, where prehistoric remains are very scarce, may belong to the Anglo-Saxon period. A similar suspicion attaches itself to others farther west, as at Leafield, Lew, Swinbrook, Shipton, Churchill, and elsewhere, by the unexpected results attending Mr. George S. Bowles's excavations in Asthall Barrow in 1923 and 1924.
The barrow (Pl. XXIX b) stands on high ground (c. 430 ft. O.D.) with a wide prospect southwards on the south side of the main road from Witney to Cheltenham and immediately opposite the turning to Asthall village. At the present day it measures only 55 ft. in diameter and is surrounded by a dry wall, but must originally have been much larger; its present height, 12 ft., may well be original. A shaft sunk into the present centre of the mound revealed a floor of clay brought up from the valley of the Windrush and laid upon the freestone below in preparation for the funeral rites. This layer faded away towards B on the plan (Fig. 5), but still remained thick at G, and, as proved by supplementary excavations in 1924, extended still farther in this latter direction. It thus becomes clear that a cylindrical cavity found in the body of the mound must correspond to the position of a large post erected after completion of the funerary rites to mark a centre for erection of the barrow.
Unlike at Taplow, the rite employed here was not inhumation but cremation. Scattered above the clay floor was a burnt layer with abundance of carbonized wood, in places 6 in. thick, the remains of a pyre evidently held together by a series of posts, some of the holes for which were observed in the extension of 1924. From this burnt layer were recovered human and animal bones, bronze, silver, bone, and pottery, all fused or shattered by the heat of the pyre, but even so obviously the appointments of a rich burial. To part of a set of gaming-pieces, like those found at Taplow, a die was added in 1924, interesting for the disposition of the spots, which follow the formula, 1: 5, 2: 3, 4: 6, commonly employed in northern Europe, as contrasted with the Roman arrangement in use on modern dice. The sherds belonged to two small hand-made pots, reminiscent of a glass form frequently found in Kent, whence must have come a bottle-vase of hard wheel-turned pottery decorated with wavy lines and an elaborate band of design impressed with a roller-stamp. The bronze included portions of thin bowl, the lug of a Coptic bowl of a type imported into England from the close of the 6th century, again chiefly known from Kent. In addition there were a bronze tab, a neat swivelled attachment, and an object of unknown use decorated with a pair of affronted griffins or eagles in Salin's Style II, springing from a kite-shaped plate filled with interlaced zoomorphic ornament (Pl. XXIX a). On all counts the burial can hardly be dated before the 7th century and thus bears interesting witness to the stubbornness with which the practice of cremation yielded to that of inhumation.
Some association may be suspected between the burial in this barrow and other discoveries in the same locality. In February 1872, 3 stone-walled graves were exposed on the north side of the main road from Witney to Burford at a point about 4 miles west of Witney and ¼ mile east of Asthall barrow. The site is recorded under the parish of Minster Lovel, but actually, to judge from an account in the Oxford Journal of 16 March, 1872, it would appear to tally with the field in Asthall parish in the angle formed by the main road and a lane leading down to Worsham Bottom on the River Windrush. Objects from the two latter graves (the first had been destroyed without adequate supervision) passed into the possession of Professor Rolleston and are now in the Ashmolean Museum. One of a man contained a shield-boss with well-preserved grip and a spear-head, the other, of a woman, a small vase at the head (broken at the time of discovery), two tinned bronze disk-brooches decorated with circles, toilet implements on a ring, a bronze belt-mount, a finger-ring, a knife, and a silver (? tinned bronze) buckle (no longer extant), a short string of dark blue glass beads, and one large melon-shaped Roman bead of blue glaze. The body lay north to south, and with it were associated the bones of a small dog.
Reputed to have come from a site called Battle Edge just west of the main street at Burford, are a sword, shield-boss, and spear-heads in the British Museum. The sword has a plain U-shaped chape resembling that from Brighthampton, and the guard is inlaid with four doubled lines of gold wire. They are probably earlier than the battle of Burford in a.d. 750, with which the site has been connected.
A word needs to be added on the question of earthworks. In view of discoveries like those in Asthall Barrow (p. 365), as also those at Taplow, Bucks., it would seem probable that many of the Oxfordshire barrows may date from this period. Only excavation can establish the fact beyond dispute, but attention may be drawn to one or two facts. The first is the contrast in point of size between those of the Bronze Age (supra, p. 243, and V.C.H. Oxon. ii), and others like those at Churchill, Leafield, Lew, &c., that compare with Asthall, and secondly the presence of barrows of similar dimensions in the north-east of the county, where signs of prehistoric occupation are notably lacking. To this may be added the evidence of names that point in the same direction. Cutteslowe has already been mentioned; others are 'Aewardeslowe' at Garsington, Copping Knoll at Wootton, and Kinching Knoll at Filkins, and names like Enslow at Bletchington, Hounslow at Watlington, Shenlow at Shenington, and Whistlow at Middle Barton. At Ploughley Hill, which gave its name to one of the hundreds, and at Mixbury the discovery of skeletons is recorded, but no details are known.
Of running dykes, both the Grim's Dykes, in north and south Oxfordshire, have been connected with the Dark Ages, that near Ditchley by Mr. Crawford as a defence to a group of Roman villas in that neighbourhood; (fn. 47) while according to Dr. R. E. M. Wheeler the southern Grim's Dyke, running from Mongewell to Nuffield, perhaps formed, along with others farther eastwards along the Chilterns, part of a system of demarcation between Saxon valley settlers and the older occupiers of the clay uplands. (fn. 48) Neither of these hypotheses has been confirmed archaeologically, though the attempt has been made to ascertain their date by excavation. (fn. 49)
The history of Oxfordshire after the pagan period is obscure. The see established at Dorchester continued until after Birinus's death in 648, but, when Cenwalch attempted to divide it by appointing Wine bishop of Winchester, Agilbert, Birinus's successor at Dorchester, retired to France. The see remained vacant, possibly until c. 679, when it had fallen into Mercian hands, as it did once more from the battle of Bensington in 777 until 802. Later again the see of Leicester was transferred thither during the Viking inroads. But evidently it soon lost its importance and there is nothing in Oxfordshire's history to replace it until the rise of Oxford itself. First mention of Oxford appears in the Chronicle under the year 912, when Eadweard the Elder took possession of Oxfordshire after the death of Æthelred of Mercia. It has been clearly shown by Dr. H. E. Salter that in Oxford there can be detected distinct signs of an original town-planning that must be attributed to Saxon times. The legends connected with St. Frideswide suggest the existence of some settlement on the site of the future city, but it is held that the town-planning and fortification were a single process, promoted possibly by Eadweard the Elder, to furnish a strong point towards the western edge of Wessex confronting the Danelaw. In any event, before the middle of the 10th century it appears among the towns striking silver pennies. The series is generally regarded as beginning with Æthelstan (925–40), from which time it continued without interruption down to the Conquest and beyond. Not without interest in this connexion is the discovery of coins of Eadweard the Elder and Æthelstan in 1896 during work at Carfax Tower. It has long, however, been a matter of controversy whether or not certain coins with an inscription usually read as ORSNAFORDA must be attributed to Oxford. These appear to have been struck during the later years of Alfred (871–901). The late Dr. G. C. Brooke in his English Coins expressed a belief that the second letter is in reality a K and that the legend reads OKSNAFORDA.
Probably to the 10th century belong two gold rings of interlaced wires welded together at their tapered ends, a type well known, especially in silver, from Viking hoards. One was found at Butcher's Row at the top of Queen Street, the other in a stone coffin in St. Aldate's in front of the gateway of Christ Church.
The outstanding relic of this period is the enamelled jewel in the Ashmolean Museum found in the middle of the 19th century at Minster Lovel (Pl. XXIX c). It is the only object known that in point of form affords a parallel to the famous Alfred Jewel. Though smaller, it evidently served a purpose similar to that of its more splendid counterpart. It is of gold and measures 1¼ in. in length. It consists of a slender tube, with rivet-holes at its lower end and bordered with twisted gold wires, and above it a circular head with bevelled wall, in the top of which is framed a disk ornamented with cloisonné enamel. The background of dark blue has eight cloisons round the edge, alternately U-shaped and rectangular and filled respectively with lighter blue and white enamel, while at the middle is a four-petalled floweret with green petals round a white centre. The wall has two bands divided by cabled wires, and within these is a wavy line of plain wire interspersed with fine pellets of filigree. The front side of the scolloped border of the back plate, which is otherwise plain, is similarly treated. Like the Alfred Jewel, it is probably to be assigned to the late 9th century.
Otherwise relics of the period are scanty, and for the most part consist of weapons and the like. A group of such was found in dredging the Cherwell just below Magdalen Bridge. Here along with horses' skulls and human bones were three stirrup-irons, a shield-boss, spear-head, spur, shears, and horseshoe (Pl. XXIX d, e, and g). The boss with its discoidal knob differs in no way from some of the pagan period. Of the stirrup-irons, two, one taller than the other, are damascened with gold in spiral patterns, closely resembling those on the example from the Thames at Battersea in the British Museum. (fn. 50) The third is less massive and has the front of the arch encased in diagonally ribbed bronze plates with animal heads at the middle and at each end. The find is suggestive of a Danish raid, like that in 1009 when the town was burnt by the invaders. The form of the first two stirrupirons is familiar in Viking times. Another, also of Viking type, of undecorated iron with the sides twisted together at the top and the loop set at right angles to the tread, paralleled by a specimen in Oslo Museum, (fn. 51) was found at Sansom's Ford across the Windrush at Standlake, and yet another, strapped with gilt bronze, by the bridge across the Ray at Islip. With this last was a spear-head round the socket of which are raised bands, a feature of late Saxon and Viking weapons which is repeated on specimens dredged from the Thames at Henley, Iffley, Folly Bridge (Oxford), from the Minster Ditch, opposite Ferry Hinksey (with blade 18 in. long), and from the Thames again at Northmoor and Shifford, besides others from various points of the river listed under Berkshire parishes. A similar spear-head and an iron key with ovate bow, like one in bronze from Norham Manor, Oxford, come from Kencot. A seax from the Thames at Shifford (Pl. XXIX d) has the obtuse-angled back that distinguishes later forms like the inscribed specimen in the British Museum (fn. 52) from those found in the latest graves of the pagan period. Part of a bone draughtsman from the Minster Ditch also has been assigned to a pre-Conquest date. A small ornamented bronze tab from Wood Eaton is dated to the 9th century by examples found at Sevington, Wilts., along with a hoard of coins ranging from Wulfred of Canterbury (806–32) to Æthelstan of East Anglia (878–90). (fn. 53)
That some remains of Saxon craftsmanship should still be preserved in Oxfordshire churches can hardly be doubted, though in many cases they are probably to be regarded as post-Conquest survivals of Saxon style. Of the more certain cases are the churches of St. Michael's, Oxford, and Langford, on the western border of the county, both of which are more than once cited by Mr. A. W. Clapham as exhibiting Saxon features alike of plan and detail, (fn. 54) among them the remarkable rood (fn. 55) on the outer wall of the latter. Less well known is the sun-dial (Pl. XXIX f) on the south face of the tower. Though the stone is badly pitted by the weather, the two figures, supporting the no longer legible dial, admirably reproduce the dress and posture so familiar in the late Saxon illuminated manuscripts. A block incorporated in the oldest part of Burford Church (fn. 56) and carved with three crude figures is thought to have come from an earlier building, and a scratch-dial with cabled border at Marsh Baldon (fn. 57) is included by Dr. A. R. Green in a list of 24 undoubted Anglo-Saxon dials that have survived to the present time.
Archaeological Index of the Saxon Period
Museums in which objects are preserved are given in square brackets. Abbreviations used are A.M. = Ashmolean Museum and Br.M. = British Museum. Except where indispensable, only primary references to literature are given here. For others the reader is referred to An Archaeological Survey of Oxfordshire in Archaeologia, lxxi.
Adderbury. Coloured glass roundel found in the bed of Sor Brook (A. Beesley, Hist. of Banbury, 19, pl. viii, 1). Included here since such roundels are known from Viking burials in Scandinavia. They were used for smoothing linen, but, unless found under controllable conditions, their date must remain doubtful, since they continued in use until modern times. [A.M.]
Benson (p. 352). Spear-head and knife; Mr. F. B. Chamberlain (information from Mr. T. Colyer). Battle-axe and spear-head, found SE. of the village (Ordnance Survey), of doubtful date; knife and pottery from Chapel Lane. [A.M. from the T. H. Powell Coll.] The knife, of normal type, is accompanied by sherds of hard, grey ware with rouletted decoration, that may possibly be late Saxon. Axe-head, spear-head, and seax from the Thames. [A.M.]
Brighthampton (p. 360). Cemetery at Malthouse Farm, 1858, 1863, and 1892 (Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 1), iv, 96, 217, 231, 329; (Ser. 2), ii, 443; Archaeologia, xxxviii, 84; Berks., Bucks., and Oxon. Arch. Journ. iv, 12). [A.M.]
Broughton Poggs (p. 364). Cemetery at Kinching Knoll, 1856 (Archaeologia, xxxvii, 140; Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 1), iv, 73; Berks., Bucks., and Oxon. Arch. Journ. ii, 101). [A.M. and Liverpool (Mayer Coll).] A spear-head found in 1835 (A.M. Cat. 1836, p. 124, 77 c) may come from the same site.
Clifton Hampden. According to information obtained by Mr. P. Manning in 1895, 'about 1865, during drainage work in fields called "Long Hadden" and "Yards", N. of the village, human skeletons with "battle-axes, swords", and other similar objects of iron were found'.
Dorchester (p. 350). Burials in the Dyke Hills, 187 (Rolleston MSS. in University Museum, Oxford; E. T. Leeds, The Archaeology of the Anglo-Saxon Settlements, 55, fig. 8). [A.M.] Burials with brooches, &c. (Archaeologia, xxxviii, 334, fig. 3). [Reading.] Brooches and weapons found 'with an interment' Cat. Guildhall Museum, 1908, pp. 119–20, nos. 44–52, since transferred to the British Museum). Burial S. of Bishop's Court (Ordnance Survey). Other objects found in the Dyke Hills (R. Gough, Camden's Britannia, 2nd edit., 1806, ii, 28, and A.M. Cat. 1886. 177 and 799 d). Part of a cloisonné jewel (Minutes of the Soc. of Antiquaries of London, xv, 40–1, with sketch). Gold solidus of Mauricius Tiberius and other coins (F. Mackenzie, Skelton's Engraved Illustrations of the Principal Antiquities of Oxfordshire, Dorchester Hundred, p. 10, fig.). Spear-head near Burcot, 1863 (Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 2), ii, 209).
Headington (p. 356). Clay rings found on the site of Headington Hill reservoir, 1876 (A.M. New Cat. (unpublished), 240–4). Burial at Barton. A burial at Wick Farm (Berks., Bucks., and Oxon. Arch. Journ. iv, 19) may possibly be attributed to this period.
Iffley (p. 354). Brooch (Br.M. Reg. 1874, Nov. 5, no. 1; Baron J. de Baye, The Industrial Arts of the Anglo-Saxons, 43, pl. iv, 8; Br.M. Guide to Anglo-Saxon Antiquities, 62, fig. 68. [Br.M.] Spearhead from Iffley Lock, 1935. [A.M.]
Kingsey (p. 352). Burials and cremation at Tythrop Park, 1859 (Rec. of Bucks., ii, 166; V.C.H. Bucks. i, 198; Somerset Arch. Soc. Proc. v, 15, wrongly given under Prythrop House; Archaeologia, lxiii, 97. [Aylesbury and Taunton.]
Minster Lovel (pp. 366 and 368). Burials (Oxford Arch. and Hist. Soc. Proc., New Ser., iii, 125). [A.M.] The site of the discoveries should possibly be registered under Asthall parish. Enamelled gold jewel (John Earle, The Alfred Jewel, 47, with illustration in colour). [A.M.]
Oxford (pp. 355 and 368). Gold bracteate found in St. Giles's Field (Robert Plot, The Natural History of Oxfordshire (1705), 359 with fig.; Archaeologia, lxii, 491, fig. 6). [A.M.] Burials at Park Crescent, 1865 (A.M. Cat. 1836–68, p. 10). [A.M.] Burials at Summertown, 1850, &c. (Oxford Arch. and Hist. Soc. Proc., New Ser., ii, 15, and A.M. Cat. 1883. 197). [A.M.] Vase, possibly a cremation urn (Oxford Millenary Exhibition, 1912, Cat. no. 39), at Osney. [A.M.] Gold rings from St. Aldate's and Queen Street (Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 2), xix, 221, and Oxford Times, 25 May 1907). Coins of Æthelstan and Eadweard the Elder found at Carfax (A.M. Report, 1896, p. 9). [A.M.] Stirrups, arms, &c., found in the River Cherwell at Magdalen Bridge, 1884 (Oxford Millenary Exhibition, 1912, Cat. nos. 43–4). [A.M.] Spear-head at Folly Bridge (Manning MSS.). Bone draughtsman and spears in Minster Ditch (Berks., Bucks., and Oxon. Arch. Journ. iv. 24–5). [A.M.] Bronze key at Norham Manor (Oxford Millenary Exhib. 1912, Cat. no 45). [A.M.] Sceatta at Binsey. [A.M.] Iron spur in Queen Street, c. 1850 (Oxford Millenary Exhib. 1912, Cat. no. 46). [A.M.]
Oxfordshire. Three Saxon saucer-brooches (Proc. Soc. Ant. (Ser. 1), ii, 101), Saxon pottery labelled 'near Oxford' (Br.M. Reg. 1868, 9 July, nos. 77–8), and an enamelled escutcheon from a Celtic hanging bowl, also labelled 'near Oxford' (Proc. Soc. Ant. (Ser. 2), xxii, 68). Of these one of the brooches and the vases, now in the British Museum, and the escutcheon [Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham, Dorset] cannot with certainty be listed as having been found within the limits of the county. The same holds good for a coloured glass roundel (Arch. Journal, iii, 354, fig.), the Saxon date of which is also a matter of question (see under Adderbury).
Standlake (pp. 362 and 369). Burials and habitation-sites on Standlake Down (Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 1), iv, 70, 93–4, 98; (Ser. 2), ii, 443; Berks., Bucks., and Oxon. Arch. Journ. iv, 40); and near Cokethorpe Park (Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 1), iv, 217). Stirrup-iron from the Windrush. [A.M.]
Stanton Harcourt. The evidence for post-Roman occupation suggested in An Archaeological Survey of Oxfordshire is still to seek. The reference given to post-Roman finds there is inaccurate. Iron axe-head from the Thames (Br.M. Reg. 1891, 9 May, no. 8). [Br.M.]
Warborough. Identification of the Saxon mint of 'Weardbyrig' with Warborough was suggested by Sir John Evans (Numismatic Chronicle (Ser. 3), xii, 220). It has also been placed at 'Wedensborough in Staffordshire' (Br.M. Cat. of Anglo-Saxon Coins, ii, cxix), but the old form of the name of Warborough, Weardburg, agrees closely with that on the coin.
Whitchurch. Two burials are described by J. Slatter in his History of Whitchurch, 8, one with a knife, the other with a Roman coin in the mouth of the skeleton. Though the knife is suggestive of Saxon, the other must surely be of Roman date, like those at Frilford, Berks., and Cassington.