House of Wessex project - celebrating the birth of the Kingdom of England

In 2016, the remains of an important Anglo-Saxon building were discovered on our land at the Sylva Wood Centre in south Oxfordshire. Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and with support from volunteers, we will reconstruct the house and launch a series of exciting education activities.

House of Wessex discovery 2016

The Project

  • Working with teams of volunteers we will accurately reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon building, on its original footprint, using tools and materials faithful to the 7th Century.
  • With local history groups and other partners we will create a heritage trail, linking our site to nearby historic features and sites.
  • With a living history society, we will hold open days at the site.
  • Funding has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with match-funding and in-kind support provided by our project partners.
  • The project is live from June 2018 until December 2019.
  • The House of Wessex Project Manager is Lesley Best.

Wulfheodenas

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Are you interested in attending Anglo-Saxon living history days at the Sylva Wood Centre, or taking part as a volunteer in the project? The success of the House of Wessex project depends on the support of a wide range of people.


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More about the History

Long Wittenham lay within the heartland of the early kingdom of the Gewisse, later known as the West Saxons. The local area has produced evidence of a wide range of early medieval activity, of which our recently-excavated Anglo-Saxon building forms an important part. Within a few hundred metres from our building, two early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries have been discovered containing richly-furnished weapon burials, and a complex of large, high-status buildings.

Our excavated Anglo-Saxon building dates from the seventh century, a period that saw rapid social change in England including the emergence of the first English kings and the conversion to Christianity. An animal bone excavated at the site has been dated to AD 608-679.

Timber remained the building material of choice for Anglo-Saxon kings and nobility, even several centuries after stone construction was reintroduced for building churches. Indeed, the word ‘timber' is an Anglo-Saxon one and was synonymous with the act of building itself.

The Anglo-Saxon building was constructed with substantial foundation trenches, surviving to a depth of around 1m, and the walls of the building were composed of rectangular planks. Three entrances were identified, in the middle of the long walls and in the middle of one end wall. The walls and the roof of the building appear to have been supported by external and internal posts. These features are characteristic of Anglo-Saxon great hall complexes, and analogous buildings have been excavated at Sutton Courtenay (Oxon.), approximately 6km upriver from our site at Long Wittenham, as well as at Yeavering (Northumb.), Cowdery's Down (Hants.) and Lyminge (Kent)

Great hall complexes have generally been dated to the 7th Century however, few sites have been closely dated, and there are significant questions about when great hall complexes first emerged and whether they continued to be occupied into the 8th Century. In light of the rapid and dramatic changes in the social, political and economic fabric of Anglo-Saxon society that occurred between the late 6th and early 8th Centuries, it is critical to pin down the chronology of great hall complexes, which - together with princely burials - provide some of the earliest evidence of Anglo-Saxon kingdom formation.

The Long Wittenham building, like most earth-fast buildings of this period, yielded no datable finds. However, with the help of a grant from the Medieval Settlement Research Group, an animal bone recovered from the foundation trench has been radiocarbon dated to between cal AD 608-679 (95.4%) (AMS date provided by the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, Oxford). This adds significantly not only to our understanding of the enigmatic site at Long Wittenham, but also to our knowledge of the overall chronology of great hall complexes.

Download short academic paper: H. Hamerow and A. McBride (IN PRESS) 'A Seventh Century "great hall complex" at Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire', Medieval Settlement Research 32.