A pleasing thing happened a few weeks ago – I was sent a new book by its author, in the hope that (1) it might be of interest to me and (2) I might publicise it via this blog. It’s never happened before, but then I realised two other short books with a major focus on aspects of Surrey in the medieval period have been published in recent months. Cue the obvious thought – let’s write a post about them all! I did this once before a couple of years ago, and hope to do so again in the not-too-distant future. (I have also been working on a review of Susan Kelly’s Charters of Chertsey Abbey but for another outlet, at least at first.) By then I may be able to offer an answer for why these books seem to be published in threes!
Vested interest disclosure (of sorts): the first book below is the one I was given for free, whereas I purchased the second and third books below. Trust me, though, this has not affected my judgement one way or the other, and I recommend all three.
Susannah Horne, Early Medieval Dorking 600 to 1200 AD (Dorking: Cockerel Press, 2016)
It’s both a rare and bold choice to publish a whole book on a subject that, at a local level, is all too often accorded little more than a superficial treatment along the lines of “the Romans left in AD 410, stuff must have happened in the centuries after but we have no means of knowing what, then the Normans came and 20 years later compiled Domesday Book which tells a few things…” Fortunately, it’s a successful one so far as this book is concerned. Dorking was not a place of especially great consequence at any point in the early medieval period as defined by Horne, nor (with one later ninth-century exception, of which more in a minute) is it the provenance of any significant contemporary material culture. To get around this, Horne adopts another familiar tactic – augmenting the local evidence with national history – but does so in a way that means her book acts as a primer for the entire period, a canny move given a chunk of the book’s readership will be one for whom the subject period is the Dark Ages (extra credit is due for resisting the temptation to go down the route of an alliterative title Dark Age Dorking!)
The book is divided into three chapters, each covering two centuries, a device that works rather well. Because of the temporal limits of the book, there are a couple of omissions which the completist in me would probably have included, especially given the initial discussion of Dorking’s origins goes back before the year 600. The first is a small-long brooch from the Milton Court area that is probably the earliest Anglo-Saxon artefact from the Dorking area (SUR-545C71), and a group of artefacts – two spears, one glass ‘bottle’, and a ceramic urn – recovered from the West Dorking Sandpit beside Vincent Lane that would seem to have come from otherwise-unrecorded inhumation burials, perhaps of sixth or early seventh-century date.
However, by way of compensation, the book provides nuggets of information that are not well known. A notable instance of this local-level insight concerns the “Dorking Hoard”, a remarkable group of over 700 silver coins contained within a wooden box found in 1817 at Winterfold Hanger, a remote spot well to the south-west of Dorking town. It was recovered in a far-from-ideal manner typical of the early nineteenth century, and the contents divided up and sold soon afterwards, with the two main purchasers offering the pick of the coins to the British Museum (page 34). Here and elsewhere, with considerable industriousness Horne shows Dorking to have been a place of no little interest during the six centuries covered by her book, and one worthy of both wider attention and further study.
Jo Richards and Esher District Local History Society, Esher: Origins and Development of a Surrey Village in Maps (Guildford: Surrey Archaeological Society, 2015)
This is the latest – and, apparently, the sixth – volume in the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Villages Study Project, an enterprise which began at the turn of the Millennium and is slowly building up steam again after a few lean years. This book appeared right at the end of last year, and is in my opinion the best in the series to date. For those who don’t know/can’t be jazzed to look it up on Google Maps, Esher is more or less subsumed into London’s outer suburbs (although I’m sure its residents would emphasise its continued place within the administrative county of Surrey), and may be known to you from Monty Python’s (!) three or more (!) references to it as the stereotype of wealthy suburbia, or perhaps the episode of Time Team (one of the better ones, too) in which excavations and other investigations were centred on Waynflete’s Tower beside the River Mole – here’s the excavation report if you’re interested.
Whereas earlier Villages Study Project volumes took a regressive approach to chronology, starting in the recent past and working backwards (in some cases tailing off quite badly) into earlier centuries and periods, the Esher volume starts at the beginning (quite literally, with an an excellently-explained and illustrated overview of the parish’s solid and drift geology on pages 10-11) and works forward from there. Another point of departure is the focus for the most part being on changes happening within the parish bounds rather than within the eponymous “village” – here a practical measure because Esher as a distinct settlement did not take on a village-like form until the late medieval period (and then seems to have shifted north-west in the eighteenth century).
A highly laudable element of the research project that went into producing the book is its commissioning of transcriptions and translations of selected Esher sections of the Winchester Pipe Rolls by Dr David Stone. The manor of Esher was purchased by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, circa 1233, and remained in episcopal hands until 1530. The testimony of the rolls shines such a bright light on the later medieval landscape, its economy and nomenclature that it makes Esher the envy of many Surrey parishes (even more so when Stone’s work is published as a standalone volume by the ever-excellent Surrey Record Society.) Even the summary form in which the pipe roll evidence is presented in the book, I struggle to recall work of equivalent quality being done in Surrey before, particularly with attendant cartographic representation of the data.
The earlier medieval period is split between a Norman sub-period lasting 1066-1233, and a traditional 410-1066 Anglo-Saxon period that is joined with short accounts of prehistoric and Roman archaeological discoveries in the parish. Both sections displays confidence with the material to hand, be it a thorough discussion of the boundary of the Esher estate in 1005, as recorded in the Eynsham (re)foundation charter (pages 16-17), or Esher’s multiple appearances in Domesday Book (handily tabulated on page 19). Some interesting insights emerge, the sorts of thing that only come from years of focused local-level research. The presence of the place-name Æscere in the little-known Cerne Abbey foundation charter is interesting (page 16, 60), and the identification of Æthelmær, minister of King Æthelred and founder of Cerne, as the common denominator with Esher goes a long way towards disproving the statement in its Electronic Sawyer entry that all named landholdings were in Dorset.
Another suggestion that hopefully will gain wider traction concerns the nine-hide estate named æt Dittune in a diploma of 983 (S 847) as well as the Eynsham charter, which previously has not been identified beyond lying within Thames Ditton parish, abutting Esher on the north-east. Richards and her co-authors propose it comprised the Domesday manor of Weston (whence Weston Green) and possibly Arbrook – though the latter lies far to the south (see map on page 18). Other questions might have been asked of the early sources. What made þære ealdan dic, a point on the Esher estate boundary, an “old ditch” in 1005 – was it a landscape feature of earlier Anglo-Saxon date, or something older still? Is it significant that Sandon hospital, a modest Augustinian foundation of King John’s reign (and of which Sandown Park racecourse is a namesake), was on the site of cran mere, “crane mere”, the start-point of the recorded boundary of Esher as well as the neighbouring Ditton estate? And why is there so little in the way of Roman-period archaeology known from the parochial area?
At a more general level, the only thing missing from what is a very thorough study is a synthesis of the evidence that sets it in a broader context (the late Dennis Turner did this sort of thing very well in some previous Villages Study Project volumes). Particularly valuable would have been a discussion of Esher’s medieval settlement geographies (and indeed archaeology) that integrates the evidence with at least some of the raft of important studies – too many to list here – published on this subject in the past 20 years. Two, apparently contemporaneous, Early Anglo-Saxon settlement sites have been excavated in Esher (pages 14-15); these are commensurate with a dispersed settlement pattern, yet this goes unmentioned and so does the fact this is typical of lowland England as a whole in this period. Indeed, dispersed settlement is for the most part what Surrey did throughout the medieval period, one of the reasons why it rarely features in the extraordinary string of works looking at the topic of Anglo-Saxon settlement nucleation, so it would be nice to see local researchers set their findings in a wider context. But to do this first requires an ample foundation of published research to be in place, and this book makes a very significant contribution towards that target.
To buy the book, which I’m led to believe cost £12, contact the Surrey Archaeological Society’s office for details; it may also be on sale in the shop at Guildford Museum and other local museums…
Various, A guide to the Saxon and medieval pottery type series of Surrey (Guildford: Surrey Archaeological Society, 2015)
There’s a tinge of sadness to introducing the third book since Phil Jones, its main author and Surrey’s pre-eminent expert on the subject of medieval ceramics – and early ceramics in general come to think of it – passed away in January. This new guide is founded upon, and so should be read and used in conjunction with, the type series of medieval pottery manufactured or otherwise found in significant quantities in Surrey in Jones’ 1998 Surrey Archaeological Collections article ‘Towards a type series of medieval pottery in Surrey’. That said, this new book(let) stands on its own as an excellent primer to a sometimes very complex topic.
The content is thorough but succinct, beginning with an explanation of the main terminology (pages 4-6), then progressing to accounts of the various Anglo-Saxon wares known from Surrey (many of which are known from a couple of sites) and duly the “main” wares of the 11th-16th centuries. As if that wasn’t enough, as a bonus there’s a quick rundown run-through of the key post-medieval stonewares found in Surrey, and dating tables of imported and post-medieval wares, all of which are the work of Steve Nelson (who three years ago was kind enough to look at and identify some of the medieval pottery sherds I’ve found in Surrey). On the back cover is perhaps the single most useful feature of the whole guide: a dating table of all non-imported medieval wares discussed in the book.
A few, apparently novel, suggestions catch the eye. The notion of a significant link between Late Saxon Shelly ware (code S1; dated circa 900-1050) and places linked to Chertsey Abbey is interesting, though the text stops short of stating it was produced under the monastery’s auspices (page 12). The manufacture of Ironstone Sandy Ware (IQ; before 1050-1150) is explained in more detail, with its constituent elements of crushed “ironstone” (ferruginous sandstone) localised to the Farnham area and at least some of the clays coming from the Reading Beds along the north side of the chalk ridge, maybe even along the Hog’s Back (page 16). This makes a lot of sense given IQ ware is well represented in the assemblage of medieval pottery sherds I have collected from Puttenham village.
For a publication that’s being sold at such a low price, the production values are remarkably high. The cover’s not too flimsy so I’m hoping it will withstand years of being carried around in bags and large pockets. The guide is colour printed throughout, with only colour photos – and no small number of them. On the whole, the photos are very useful: one or two are maybe a little on the dark side, and others not as sharply reproduced as they might be. However, the cross-section images by Isabel Ellis are all perfectly legible, and are especially useful as a result (those of the various whitewares are made even more effective because they can be compared with Jones’ earlier hand-drawn schematic reproduced on page 24). If there are factual errors contained within the text then I’ve not been able to spot them. All in all, a truly excellent product and, if it’s not already following an established model developed in other counties and regions, is one that deserves to be emulated in the future.
The guide is probably available from the SyAS office, price £5; if not, email me at email@example.com and I’ll put you in touch with the person who sold me my copy!