7. Saxon

410 AD – 1066 AD

At Staines, an execution cemetery included a grave with three criminals, hands tied behind their backs. Image: SCAU

At Staines, an execution cemetery included a grave with three criminals, hands tied behind their backs.
Image: SCAU

Angles, Saxons and Jutes settled in Britain as Roman rule began to break down. At first the retreating Romans hired them as security forces to try to keep the peace.  Later settlers became farmers, and in time small kingdoms grew up.

The Jutes settled in Kent and the Isle of Wight, the Saxons settled in Essex, Wessex and Sussex, and the Angles settled in East Anglia, the Midlands and Northumbria. The kingdom of Wessex became important, and Surrey became part of it under King Alfred, who built a burh, or defended refuge, at Eashing.  Some kingdoms were more powerful than others, and there was constant unrest due to power struggles between them until most of them were unified under Athelstan, the first king of all England.

Most of the Roman buildings had been left to fall into rack and ruin. Instead, people built rectangular Germanic style houses, some of which had a sunken floor over which planks were laid, and a pitched thatched roof (click here to see the HER record for an example from Molesey). The houses were used for both living and working activities.

Fetcham Church has Saxon origins (SHC ref 4348/2/97/3)

Fetcham Church has Saxon origins (SHC ref 4348/2/97/3)

The first settlers were pagans, worshipping gods like Woden and Thunor (Thor), after whom Wednesday and Thursday are named. In 597 St. Augustine brought Christianity to Kent, and monasteries and churches spread throughout the country. Towns such as Lundenwic (London) grew up as trading and royal centres.  Smaller villages and farms grew up, with names, like Chalton (meaning the farm with calves) and Banstead (meaning the farm where beans were grown).

A plan of a burial at Gally Hills, Banstead

A plan of a burial at Gally Hills, Banstead

Vikings were armed raiders who attacked parts of Britain from about 790 onwards, targeting the poorly defended but wealthy monasteries.  Finds of Viking weapons have been made from the River Thames and one has been found at Chertsey, where they killed the abbot and most of the monks. Later they began to settle in farms and towns, mostly in the north and east of England.

The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings were highly skilled craftsman, making weapons and gem-encrusted gold jewellery. They traded these items between towns, and as far as Russia and Newfoundland. The pagan Saxons buried some of their finest items as grave goods in cemeteries and burial mounds.  Saxon burials have been found at Epsom (click the links to see the Historic Environment Records: 1107, 1118 and 1128.).

Saxon Surrey

  • Burials in a cemetery at 42-54 London Road, Staines
  • The tower of St Marys, Guildford has projecting stone strips, which may have been used to imitate timber framing. They are characteristic of late Saxon building.
  • A coin of Cnut (popularly known as King Canute, who ruled England from 1016 to 1035), which was minted in Guildford. Mints were always sited in towns in late Saxon England
  • Viking sword with the makers name Ulfberit inscribed between two crosses was found in Chertsey.

Search...Search this website for Historic Environment Records related to the Saxon period

Visit the University of Oxford’s Project Woruldhord web site.

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