Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Greenwich Park


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Greenwich Park
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Greenwich (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 38812 77099

Reasons for Designation

Beginning in the fifth century AD, there is evidence from distinctive burials and cemeteries, new settlements, and new forms of pottery and metalwork, of the immigration into Britain of settlers from northern Europe, bringing with them new religious beliefs. The Roman towns appear to have gone into rapid decline and the old rural settlement pattern to have been disrupted. Although some Roman settlements and cemeteries continued in use, the native Britons rapidly adopted many of the cultural practices of the new settlers and it soon becomes difficult to distinguish them in the archaeological record. So-called Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon period, from the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. With the conversion to Christianity during the late sixth and seventh centuries AD, these pagan cemeteries appear to have been abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which have continued in use up to the present day. Burial practices included both inhumation and cremation. Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemeteries consist predominantly of inhumation burials which were placed in rectangular pits in the ground, occasionally within coffins. The bodies were normally accompanied by a range of grave goods, including jewellery and weaponry. The cemeteries vary in size, the largest containing several hundred burials. Around 1000 inhumation cemeteries have been recorded in England. They represent one of our principal sources of archaeological evidence about the Early Anglo-Saxon period, providing information on population, social structure and ideology. All surviving examples, other than those which have been heavily disturbed, are considered worthy of protection.

Despite partial excavation and some levelling the barrows in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Greenwich Park will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence, relating both to the cemetery and the landscape in which it was constructed. They will provide information about the Anglo-Saxon presence in this part of the Greater London area in the sixth to eighth centuries AD at a time when Greenwich was emerging as a Saxon 'wic' or trading settlement. Whilst there are some 1000 recorded sites of Anglo-Saxon inhumation burials in England, only about 100 to 150 of these are cemeteries of equivalent size to that in Greenwich Park. Although a high proportion of these are barrow cemeteries, particularly in the south east of England such as in Kent and Sussex, it is not common in a national context for upstanding barrows of the quality of those at Greenwich Park to survive.


The monument includes an Anglo-Saxon barrow cemetery of at least thirty one barrows dating to the sixth to eighth centuries AD. The cemetery is located south west of the Old Royal Observatory on high ground overlooking the River Thames. The barrows are set back from the edge of the Greenwich escarpment on a small natural rise 0.9m high; to the north east the ground falls steeply into a deep valley cutting the scarp edge. The barrows are low mounds varying in diameter from 3.4m to 9.5m, and are from 0.1m to 0.7m in high. Twenty two of the thirty one barrows have an encircling ditch which can now be seen only as slight hollows or grass marks between 0.6m and 1.9m wide. Some of the barrows have steeper sides and flatter summits than the round profiles of most of the group. In one case the mound is separated from the ditch by a berm 1m wide. The barrow group forms a tight cluster, some less than 1m apart. Almost all the barrows show signs of disturbance, whether by excavation or tree roots, and at least four of the barrows are cut by paths which are associated with later quarrying. A 5m margin of protection is allocated around the barrows for their support and future management. The first mention of the cemetery is in Harris's 1719 History of Kent and they are shown on a 1784 watercolour in the British Museum (Cat. No. G6863) and in a drawing in the illustrated London News of 1884. The barrows were plotted by H Sayer in an 1840 plan of the Park and by the Ordnance Survey in 1871. Twelve of the barrows were levelled in 1844 during preparatory work for a new reservoir. The reservoir was subsequently built further to the south in its present position. The Reverend James Douglas opened at least twenty barrows in 1784; only eight of these are described by him, and they contained primary burials some of which were in wooden coffins. Finds included an iron spearhead and knife and also a shield boss and textile evidence. Douglas thought that some of the barrows had been opened previously, possibly by a park keeper named Hearne. In 1927 Martin produced a plan and description of the surviving barrows. The RCHME recorded the barrows in 1930 and again in 1980 and 1993. The Commission's geophysical survey of 1994 estimated the size of the original cemetery to have been about forty, and have suggested linear arrangements within the group. Another cemetery may have existed in the vicinity of Queen's House, where human bones and a hanging bowl were found in 1860 but little is known about its location. The Park paths which cross the cemetery, including the make up of the paths and their tarmac surfaces, are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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