Thursday, November 08, 2007

Anglo-Saxon Reconstruction Village at West Stow

Back in the summer, after a violent altercation with some over-zealous home school blog-ring folks, I set my home school blog to Private. That means only my family - and any interested friends - can catch up with what we've been doing recently on the home education front. However, the drawback of that decision is that people searching for photos and other information on various of my blog entries - such as the following one on the Anglo-Saxon Village at West Stow - are no longer able to access the information.

So, since I'm steeped in poetry revisions and not yet ready to blog about Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, I'm reposting it here for the world to see. Apologies for those who only want to read about writing on this blog, but normal service should be resumed once I've finished tinkering with the latest draft of my third collection.


Last month we took a two-day trip from the Midlands across Cambridgeshire into Norfolk and Suffolk. One of the best places we visited in this brief trip was the Anglo-Saxon Reconstruction Village at West Stow. This is a small portion of an Anglo-Saxon village reconstructed on an original site where many artefacts have already been found. The work was supervised and carried out by archaeologists and other experts using traditional methods and trying to get the reconstructed 'village' as close as possible to how they think the Anglo-Saxons might have lived.

The kids absolutely loved their trip. We bought some handcrafted kids' swords and bows and arrows in the shop, for messing about with afterwards in nearby Thetford forest, plus some books on runes and Old English. Here are some photos from our day at the centre:

The village consists of five or six buildings in a loose cluster: individual huts for living and sleeping in, such as the one pictured above, a larger meeting house, and several crafts buildings such as a hut for spinning and weaving wool on looms, a hut for firing pots and woodworking, for grinding corn, and also some covered or open areas where animals could be kept.

The kids enjoyed pretending to cook around this open hearth. People used to think there would be a hole in the thatch, rather like a chimney, for smoke to escape, but this is now considered unlikely. I presume smoke would simply have drifted up and slowly out through the thatched roof. Those Saxon huts must have been very smoky places on a windless day!

The huts are mainly constructed of wood, with the typical thatched roof you can see in the picture. Some are different styles, constructed as experiments to see which style of housing would be most practical and provide the most likely explanations for some difficult questions the archaeologists wanted to answer.

One of their main problems was the existence of a mysterious pit excavated underneath each original Anglo-Saxon hut on the site. Various explanations for its use were considered, but in the end, the archaeologists have decided to remain open to ideas on that score, as it's hard to prove definitively what the pit was used for.

Here's a lovely atmospheric shot of M. lurking behind a hanging pot on one of the raised 'sleeping' areas. As you can see, it's very dark inside these little huts, especially with the fire unlit and the door pulled to.

The roof beams were probably used for hanging dried food on (for smoking, perhaps, over the fire) and also for general storage of equipment, such as nets, household goods and cooking utensils.

Still, I'm sure that with the fire crackling nicely on those long dark evenings, and an enclosed bed of rushes and perhaps even furs to retire to after the last chores had been done, and perhaps a little poetry had been listened to, an Anglo-Saxon hut would have felt like quite a cosy place, even in our British winters.

The wool-crafting, woodworking, corn grinding and pot-firing workshops would have been built apart from the living quarters, as they are now at West Stow. There were also areas set aside for corn and other crops to be grown and for animals to graze, with probably a small pig-sty of some description on the site. Chickens would have had the run of the place, and some of the more vulnerable animals may possibly have spent the worst of the winter indoors with the villagers!

The Anglo-Saxons used a Runic Alphabet for some of their writing, particularly when commemorating something important or when writing on a sacred object.

This is a Rune on the doorpost of one of the reconstructed houses. It represents the letter 'h', as you should be able to guess, and would have been engraved on stone monuments, weapons and armour. This runic writing system is called the furthorc, after the first few letters, just as our alphabet comes from the first two letters of the Greek writing system, alpha and beta (α & β).

It was a fantastic day out and, if you're a history hound, I can thoroughly recommend the trip. Take boots for the mud on wet days though, and a picnic if it's fine weather! There is a cafe there but eating al fresco under the trees, surrounded by new oaks, is a lovely experience after visiting the Saxon village. And if you go into the nearby forest areas, be prepared for some Blair Witch Project scenes in the woods afterwards. That's a wooden broadsword my son is wielding there, by the way!

Find some more text and pictures about the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Reconstruction Village at 'Experimental Archaeology'.

And, since this particular post is now attracting so many visitors every month, here's another link, this time to the Friends of West Stow Village: more photographs, opening times, and other useful information.


Bo said...

Looks fun.
Jane, I've had an email disaster: my new address is as before but ending not .com. Cd you send me a quick email so i have your address? Ta xx


Sure thing, me hearty.


Jane Holland said...

Anyone who's found this post useful, or the photographs of the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village informative, please feel free to leave a message here.

You are also welcome to re-use photographs from this post, but please acknowledge Raw Light (Jane Holland) when doing so.