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Alderbury & Whaddon

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The Saxons: 450 AD to 1087 AD

 

Moving forward in time, the area to the south of Salisbury has long been known to be of importance as a Saxon settlement and it is to this that we must turn for an impression of life in Alderbury and Whaddon in Saxon times. The Saxon settlement at Downton was extensive and stretched from where Grim’s Ditch crosses the modern A354 road in the west, to Bramshaw in the east. These lands were ceded by King Cynewalc to Winchester Cathedral some time before 672, a transfer recorded in a twelfth century cartulary by the monks of St Swithun’s Priory at Winchester. These lands may have followed the river Avon for part of their eastern boundaries but it is probable that any settlement in the Alderbury and Whaddon area at that time would have been under the influence of the Downton chieftain. Certainly, some of the lands were associated with the modern parish boundary as the ancient Saxon boundary was known to bisect Witherington Ring to the east of The Lynchets, (an old stockaded area of entrenchments), following the old Pack Path road. What is probably the most significant Saxon find within the modern boundary was unearthed at The Lynchets, to the SW of Treasurer’s Dean Wood. In 1874, one of Lord Radnor’s keepers was out with his ferrets when one became stuck in a rabbit hole. On digging it out, the keeper discovered a skeleton. Next to it was a two-edged sword, with an inscribed pommel. A spear head, the remains of a shield and other artifacts all point to a warrior and the burial was typical of a Saxon thane and warrior of some worth. Certainly, the burial contained works of mixed metals, including bronze, iron and silver. The Saxon Chronicles teach that in 519, the Saxon Cerdic advanced from Cerdicesore (near Southampton) to defeat the Britons at Cerdicsford (now Charford) and in 527, Cerdic and his son Cynric defeated the Britons at Cerdics leah (Cerdics field). Thus, The Lynchets burial was considered the first grave to be found on the spot where Cerdic fought one of his decisive battles – on the edge of the parish of Alderbury!

 

There is also evidence that the Saxons had a settlement within what is now the parish of Alderbury. A number of earthworks have been found at the northern end of the village and notably, near to the site of the present St Mary’s church. These are recorded as not having been surveyed, although the WI History of Alderbury records that: ‘Many Saxon remains were found when the road up from Longford Lodge to the Church school was straightened out instead of curving round by Alderbury House. This must have been in the last half of the nineteenth century as it is recorded that the remains were all re-buried in the present churchyard under Canon Hutchings’ supervision’.

 

Village folk-lore talks about ‘the long man’, a skeleton of some two metres or more found at this time, but it has not been possible to trace any archaeological record relating to this. Further research may bring this to light. It is, however, interesting to note that Wiltshire Notes and Queries states that the skeleton at The Lynchets was considered to belong to a tall man, the length of the leg bones initially being taken as that of an arm and compared to the arm of the finder!

 

A further source of knowledge about the Saxons in the region is the burial ground found at Petersfinger. Although this falls within the parish of Clarendon, it was an important find and tells us much about the life led by people in southern Wiltshire in those far-off days. That the cemetery was found at all was serendipity, its presence being revealed by quarrying for chalk in May 1948. Although a number of graves were destroyed by mechanical diggers, once their presence was known a systematic excavation of the remainder revealed a large and important burial ground. In total some 63 graves were found. It is clear from the grave goods that many of the people buried here were of some importance.

 

The cemetery is located to the north of the Salisbury to Southampton railway line, and to the east of the track running from Milford Road across the eastern edge of Laverstock, on the western escarpment of Ashley Hill. No remains of a settlement have been found in the immediate vicinity although some have speculated that the cemetery may have belonged to a community across the river at Britford, dating from the early ninth century. Such a move to rising ground for interment, away from the waterlogged meadows of Britford would be consistent with other finds in the West Harnham area, where this pagan Saxon cemetery bears a similarly distant relationship to St George’s Church.

 

The skeletons of the people buried at Petersfinger reveal a remarkable anthropological homogeneity, with longish faces and slightly pointed heads. They show that men were about five feet eight inches tall and women about five feet four inches. Most retained virtually all of their teeth, in good condition, suggesting a healthy lifestyle. Some graves contained warriors, evidenced by finds of sword, spear, shield and axe. The latter weapon was, at that time, associated almost exclusively with Frankish graves in England. A number of small button brooches (commonly found in Kentish Graves) and saucer brooches (from Chessel Down), both illustrated in Figure 4.2, have been found in female graves. These bear testimony to the non-provincial character of the community, as do many other ornamental finds.

 

Some finds come from as far away as the midlands and Kent and some bear a resemblance to ornaments found in France. Early graves containing significant grave goods are positioned north-south, with poorer occupants being oriented east-west; later graves are the opposite. This suggests a change of fashion and provides evidence that the cemetery was in use for a long period, indicating a well established community. Thus, the region of central Wiltshire was one of mixed origins and this factor, coupled with evidence for long use of the cemetery, suggests a well developed community for whom trade, possibly linked with travel, was of significance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saxon brooches from the cemetery at Petersfinger