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Winchester is an interesting town. The ”first” settlement was an Iron Age hill fort, then at c. 70AD the Romans came and established a town there. In the early and mid-Saxon period there seems to be a decline of the town, but in 662AD Winchester becomes the site of the bishopric, and then becomes the capital of the kingdom of Wessex. After the Norman invasion London takes over the throne (so to speak), but Winchester remained the site of the bishopric. And not just any bishopric: the See of Winchester was one of the wealthiest in Medieval England.

winchester book cover

The Northgate House, Staple Gardens and Winchester Discovery Centre (formerly Winchester Library) sites are located in the north-west corner of the Roman and Medieval town, within the walls*. The Saxon (and Medieval) street Brudene Stret (nowadays Staple Gardens) separates the sites. There is plot continuation throughout the Late Saxon, Anglo-Norman and High Medieval periods, which lent itself to comparisons between the plots both spatially and chronologically. However, in the early 13th century, the buildings on the northwest side of Brudene Stret were demolished and the area formed part of the Archdeacon’s residence.

The book gives an introduction to the sites, including documentary evidence from the Medieval period and land use over time. The next few chapters discuss the two sites by period: Prehistoric and Roman, Late Saxon (c. 850-1150), and Anglo-Norman/Medieval (c. 1150-1550). The latter two chapters are discussed by property, which would facilitate easy chronological comparison. Thereafter follows a discussion of the site in a wider context, again by period. Here the Late Saxon and Anglo-Norman/Medieval periods are combined and form a substantial chapter, discussing the creation of the town, building development, water supply, pit function, industry and craft (metal working, textile working, skinning and furriering**, bone and horn working), and the Archdeacon’s residence.

There is a short chapter on the scientific dating evidence, i.e. radio carbon dating and archaeomagnetic dating, a method which was chosen since there was an abundance of fired hearths in situ throughout the Saxon period. A large number of dating samples were taken to form a detailed phasing of the site, trying to find out whether the properties were laid out at the same time, or grew more organically. Other research aims included finding out whether the settlement existed before or after the ”official” foundation of the burh, and trying to calibrate the pottery dating sequence.

That’s half the book. The other half is devoted to the finds. Lots of pottery, from prehistoric to post-medieval, much building material such as tile, stone and painted wall plaster, 305 Roman coins, several ”small finds”, i.e. metal and bone objects, glass and shale. The small finds are significantly summarized in the book (a shame, as I found lots of worked bone mounts when I did my analysis, and I haven’t got around to check the cd yet - mea culpa), and the full report is included on an accompanying cd. In fact, all specialist reports, including scientific dating, are included in full on the cd. The finds section in the book also includes the ecofacts, i.e. animal bone (a lot, including evidence for a furrier’s workshop), molluscs (not many), charcoal, seeds and other plant remains (a lot, including evidence for dyeing, probably textiles), as well as human bone (mainly a small number of Roman infant burials), intestinal parasites (very few). There’s also a summary of an analysis of soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility.

As with the Lankhills book, there are plenty of drawing and colour photographs throughout the book. I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in urban archaeology from these periods.


*: The layout of the town wall didn’t change much over the centuries. Waste not, want not, I guess.
**: This is one of the sites I use for my tawyers and furriers talk at the conference in Gdansk in September. It’s (AFAIK) the second site in Britain where they have found dumps of bones from squirrel feet - one of the most common fine furs in the Medieval period and subject of a huge industry and trade. The other site is much later in the period: The Bedern in York (14th century).

B.M. Ford and S. Teague, 2011. Winchester - a city in the making. Archaeological investigations beteeen 2002 and 2007 on the sites of Northgate House, Staple Gardens and the former Winchester Library, Jewry Street. Oxford Archaeology Monograph No. 12.

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