Early medieval settlement archaeology in Surrey: some thoughts

Well, I suppose someone had to do it. The piece linked below is the first review of the settlement archaeology of the county of Surrey between the 5th and 11th centuries CE (apologies to anyone who has written one before, but you really should have tried to make it detectable in some way online!). It was first circulated as an Annexe to the issue 16 of the Surrey Archaeological Society Medieval Studies Forum Newsletter (which, for my sins, I edited as well). After a few minor tweaks and corrections, I produced a slightly revised version which I uploaded here and to my Academia profileThe following, however, is a final corrected version of that later piece, with no substantive additions I promise, just little things like the accurate spelling of Stansted Airport’s name…

Early Medieval Settlement Archaeology in Surrey December 2020

It’s not necessarily the case that such a piece of work was long overdue. Even aggregated, the examples cited (and it’s worth adding that this is not a truly comprehensive study of all known sites of this nature in Surrey, although I think it does mention the majority) are relatively few in number and certainly not spectacular in nature. It doesn’t take a dedicated study to set out that we have evidence of early medieval settlements and buildings in Surrey, and that there are hints of an even greater number of sites of this nature. Hence why such matters have been covered in a matter of a handful of sentences in the main key works on the county in this period published in the past four decades.

So how have I been able to write 24 pages on the topic? Snide remarks about a profound lack of self-restraint aside, it was reading John Blair’s magnificent Building Anglo-Saxon England (Princeton UP, 2018) and attending the Medieval Settlement Research Group Spring Conference 2019, that together gave me no end of new perspectives and ideas about the Surrey evidence, and so formed the impetus for looking at the reasons for it seeming to lag behind other counties as well as the validity of such impressions. When subjected to much closer scrutiny, much like the contemporary burial evidence, Surrey turns out to be anything but a case apart in terms of its regional and indeed national contexts.

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Building Anglo-Saxon England is a monumental book in more than one sense…

A lot of what the essay contains is based on work done in the months leading up to its original dissemination in June 2020, but not everything falls into that bracket. One of my main motives for researching this topic was a simple disparity I’d noticed a few years ago; the not-inconsiderable number of 5th- to 7th-century sunken-featured buildings known from the historic area of Surrey versus the much smaller number of earth-fast buildings – three to be precise, from two sites. It was much more recently that I twigged there’s an even more dramatic discrepancy between what’s known from the present county area and the bits of the historic county now in Greater London, but that’s by the by…

I don’t pretend that the observations and arguments made in the essay will serve to bring Surrey to the fore as a hitherto unfairly neglected setting for early medieval settlement archaeology. Although I ended it on an optimistic note, admitting the possibility that a nationally-significant settlement or building will be found and excavated in the future, it will always be overshadowed by what’s known from the likes of Kent, Hampshire and London. My main aspirations for the essay are that further research is done off the back of it (just how many SFBs have been found in the county?), and that Surrey will feature a little more in regional and national syntheses produced and published in the future.