The monument includes a high status Anglo-Saxon settlement comprising four post-in-trench timber hall buildings and a sample of numerous putative sunken featured buildings; a sample of enclosures and associated droveway representing the remains of a Roman ladder settlement and a portion of Roman trackway centred at SU 54953 93511.
Reasons for Designation
The remains at Long Wittenham of an Anglo-Saxon Great Hall Complex, Roman Linear Village and associated trackway are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* for its role as an administrative centre within a broader socio-economic and politico-religious network during the Anglo-Saxon period;
* the Roman linear village and trackway attest to the nature of rural settlements and associated routeways during this period, and their co-location with the Anglo-Saxon remains demonstrates continuity of occupation of the site over an extended period of time.
* cropmark, geophysical and archaeological investigation revealed a high level of survival for remains related to the Anglo-Saxon halls and associated features, the Roman linear village and trackway.
* antiquarian reports combined with modern archaeological assessments, academic articles and aerial photographs provide information and data regarding the nature, extent and significance of the archaeological features on the site.
* it has only been in the last 30 years that survey work has successfully located rural settlements of the period 400-1066, and identified sites with known archaeological potential remain relatively rare. Positively identified Anglo-Saxon great hall complexes of the 7th century are also rare.
* archaeological investigations of the site have been targeted to proving the nature and survival of settlement activity and have demonstrated significant potential remains for further data to be recovered from buried archaeological features in the event of future investigation.
* hall complex sites of this nature are a distinct feature of the Anglo-Saxon period.
* the range of diverse features is significant and includes trackways, settlements, halls and Grubenhäuser from multiple phases of occupation.
* the interrelation of settlement activity on the site between the Roman and Anglo-Saxon period offer a cumulative group value;
* the site has further group value with neighbouring scheduled monuments: Sinodun Hill camp; Dike Hills; Settlement site SE of Church; Round barrow cemetery at Fullamoor Plantation; Settlement site N of Thames; and Settlement site at Northfield Farm.
High status Anglo-Saxon occupation sites often comprise one or more large structures assumed to be halls, together with associated buildings, sometimes enclosed by an earthwork. Such sites can encompass a wide variety of functions and, as a consequence, a wide range of nomenclature have been associated with them including ‘palace’, ‘estate centre’, ‘royal vil’, etc. ‘Great Hall Complex’, as used here, which as a term is neutral and assumes neither centralised functions or royal status, can describe settlement activity of a specific period for particular sites displaying certain characteristics. Few surface features remain from these sites; they have been discovered predominantly through air photography and excavation, defining large halls, often axially or coaxially aligned, with associated buildings, earthworks and burials. Such Anglo-Saxon settlements have been dated both by archaeological evidence such as architectural comparison, stratigraphic relationships, associated artefactual material and in some cases radiocarbon dating, and by the use of documentary sources, to between the 5th century AD and the Norman Conquest, although many have continued in use after this date. These methods have dated the use of individual sites quite accurately within this time span; Yeavering, Northumberland (National Heritage List for England 1006519), for example, was an Early Anglo-Saxon palace site, dating to the 6th and 7th centuries AD, as was Cowdery’s Down, Hampshire and Cowage Farm, Wiltshire (NHLE 1018389) and Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire (NHLE 1004853). Evidence from excavated sites suggests that individual examples were in use as royal sites or ‘palaces’, but not continuously during the whole Anglo-Saxon period. For instance the royal site at Cheddar, Somerset (NHLE 1017290), dates from the 9th century and continues in use after the Norman Conquest. During their occupation the structures underwent phases of development and rebuilding; at Yeavering for example the site was burnt down and completely rebuilt in the mid-7th century. It is generally accepted, from present available evidence that ‘Great Hall Complexes’ were, with some minor exceptions, a predominantly 7th century phenomenon.
The most prominent components of such sites are the large and elaborately built timber halls. References to these structures appear prominently in documentary evidence, in particular Anglo-Saxon literature. The hall is a recurrent theme in Old English poetry, most explicitly in ‘Beowulf’ and also in shorter compositions such as ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘The Battle of Maldon’. They provide valuable information concerning the physical characteristics of the buildings confirming, for instance, that they were tall and constructed of timber with wide gables and featured gold decoration. They were structurally reinforced with iron bands and featured a reinforced external door and separate internal door. The interior contained mead-benches and were furnished with tapestries and decorative flooring. Contemporary poetry indicates that the wider complex included ancillary structures which presumably functioned as private residences and guesthouses. These sites are also mentioned in other documentary and legal sources including the ‘Anglo Saxon Chronicle’ and land charters. The governance of many, if not all, kingdoms included a periodic Witenagemot (‘meeting of wise men’) also known as the Witan (more properly the title of its members). Presumably such assemblies were normally accommodated in the large halls known at Great Hall complexes.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the hall buildings were typically between 12m and 30m in length and between 5m and 10m in width (dependant on the nature of the site), although some were much larger as at Hatton Rock, Warwickshire (NHLE 100574) where one building appears to measure 50m x 9m. In common with timber buildings from other Anglo-Saxon sites, most halls were rectangular, often with simple length: width ratios (often 2:1 or 4:1); the use of the square, often in pairs, was very common. The archaeological evidence for these buildings comprises the foundation trenches and postholes from which may be inferred the methods of construction and the basic superstructure of the building. Construction methods varied both between sites and within sites. The most common method was the 'post in trench' technique which comprised foundation trenches, in general up to 1m deep, although in the case of one hall at Yeavering between 2 and 3m deep, dug to hold the upright timbers. The impressions or "ghosts" of the posts left in the trenches show that the walls were either of solid vertical planks or of posts spaced apart and probably infilled with panels of wattle and daub. Another method of construction was the 'post in pit' method as used in the 10th century halls at Cheddar; here square posts 0.30-0.60m across were set 2.3m apart into pits averaging 0.94m in depth, and the superstructure was probably either wattle and daub panelling or horizontal planks. The halls had between one and four entrances with two usually set symmetrically in the centre of the long walls. In several cases the halls had annexes at one or both ends of the main building, or partitions within the building to create antechambers. Internal postholes suggest that some halls were aisled and timber walls and other internal timbers probably supported a thatched roof, in some cases strengthened by supporting buttresses.
It has been noted that there lies a distinction between great halls and long halls, the latter being architecturally distinct from the former, being narrower and slightly bowed in form and featuring neither external raking posts nor ‘Yeavering style’ annexes. In addition, great hall complexes appear to have been part of a general shift towards more permanent constructional techniques. Documentary and archaeological evidence suggest these halls served a number of functions including consumption, particularly in terms of feasting and drinking rituals, accompanied by music, games and the exchange of stories and news. As well as the halls there are also smaller timber-framed buildings. These are either of the "timber in trench" type or of posthole/stakehole construction. Some of these buildings were similar to the great halls although on a smaller scale, others were of much lighter and less elaborate construction. The associated artefactual material from some buildings comprises general occupation debris suggesting that they were dwellings; others have produced evidence that they housed a specialised function, such as iron smelting and forging residue from a building at Cheddar. Another component of high status Anglo-Saxon sites, but not confined to them, are the sunken featured buildings (SFB’s). These have been recognised at a number of palace sites but vary a great deal in size, shape and function. One such building at Northampton (NHLE 1003628) measures 3m x 2.6m, at Yeavering 12m x 5.7m and a possible SFB at Hatton Rock measured 24m x 9m. At most sites there are ritual or religious buildings. These have been identified by their association with later churches and chapels or burials, and had several phases of rebuilding and development. An additional structure observed at Yeavering comprises a wood ‘theatre’, comprising a tiered seating structure with a ‘totemic’ pole and wooden screen position behind a central dais or ‘high seat’. The same site also features a monumental timber palisade.
The status of the site at Long Wittenham was first indicated in the C19 when two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries were excavated by antiquarian John Yonge Akerman. Akerman was first alerted to the presence of burials in the area following an account of a discovery of human bone, by Reverend James C Clutterbuck, in 1848. Those remains, uncovered by labourers excavating foundations for the construction of a cottage, were accompanied by a spear-head, sword, dagger and the remains of a shield boss. Further excavations in 1859 and 1860 revealed a total of 46 cremations and 188 inhumations, a number of which contained further examples of weaponry and imports from Northern Gaul, including a remarkable late fifth century bronze bound bucket, or ‘stoup’, decorated with biblical scenes. Although the precise location of the cemetery was not recorded, it is believed to be located on the present day ‘Saxon’s Heath’ estate, west of Didcot Road. Subsequent to this, aerial photography undertaken in 1975 and 1986 revealed a series of cropmarks indicating the presence of three large rectangular buildings and what was tentatively identified as a number of SFB’s. It was soon suggested that, due to the building size, the settlement may represent a ‘royal vil’ similar in scale and arrangement to nearby Sutton Courtney.
A 2013 study by Helena Hamerow which combined more recent aerial photograph with LiDAR data clearly indicates the layout and location of structures in relation to earlier rectangular enclosures and a track way running north-east by south-west to the south of the complex. In 2015 the University of Oxford, under the guidance of Helena Hamerow, undertook a magnetometer survey covering 8ha of land revealing the location of what was believed to be a great hall to the east of an L shaped arrangement of halls, a further hall immediately to the east and a smaller isolated hall about 250m to the east. Subsequent archaeological investigation of the ‘great hall’ in the same year, demonstrated this feature to be a late Roman enclosure believed to be part of a larger Romano-British linear village settlement. In 2016 the University undertook an excavation of the small isolated hall to the east, revealing a post-in-trench timber building with substantial foundations which was found on the basis of radiocarbon dating to have been constructed in the 7th century. All of the foundation trenches were excavated as part of the investigation. In 2019 planning permission was granted to erect a reconstruction of the hall (partially offset from the location of the originally hall) as part of a HLF funded project led by the Sylva Foundation who own the land. Also in 2019, an archaeological evaluation undertaken by Oxford Archaeology, targeted on the results of an earlier geophysical survey by SUMO Geophysics, confirmed the presence of the L-shaped arrangement of hall buildings, dated by pottery to the 5th-7th century.
An archaeological evaluation of land off Didcot Road, located adjacent to and outside of the north-west boundary of the scheduled area, was undertaken in 2015, followed by an on-going excavation which commenced in 2019. The results of these investigations appear to reveal the eastern limit of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery encountered by antiquarians in the C19. A total of 40 burials comprising inhumations and cremations have been excavated, with the eastern boundary ditch having also been identified. To the east of the cemetery one SFB was also observed along with an undated rectangular open sided structure. A number of ditches dating from the Roman to the medieval period have also been recorded. The results of this investigation appear to confirm that the centre of the Saxon settlement is sited further to the east of the cemetery, in the vicinity of the L-shaped arrangement of halls.
Such Anglo-Saxon settlements are often associated with earlier settlement activity, as part of a broader process of political legitimisation and institutionalisation. The settlement at Long Wittenham is close to a scheduled round barrow cemetery, sited to the north-west (NHLE 1421606), Sinodun Hill Iron Age encampment (NHLE: 1006302) situated a short distance to the south-east and an undesignated Iron Age enclosure and roundhouse located on the northern edge of Neptune Woods.
ROMAN LINEAR VILLAGE AND TRACKWAY
A linear village (also known as a ladder settlement) is a series of three or more, adjacent, rectilinear enclosed farmsteads, lying to one or both sides of at least one defined track or roadway. It shows up on aerial photographic and large-scale field survey as sequences of low, rectilinear earthworks or crop/soilmarks which are aligned along a common axis or axes. Geophysical survey reveals the same pattern by highlighting below-ground remains such as enclosure ditches. Linear villages are generally dated by pottery or coins found in stratified contexts. Most recorded sites are securely dated to the Roman period but few are precisely dated within that. The tradition of construction spans the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. Linear villages were primarily agricultural. The available evidence suggests mixed farming with a strong pastoral element in certain localities, eg the Fenlands. Craft production was varied, being heavily dependent upon local materials, but was usually small-scale and sufficient only for the needs of the community. There may have been some social and functional differentiation within the settlement but this remains to be demonstrated convincingly. Although the lifestyle of the inhabitants was not luxurious neither was it utterly poverty stricken. Building materials and skilled construction techniques suggest a community of individuals with some surplus wealth. The styli and writing tablets which have been found on several sites also suggest a degree of literacy or, at least, regular contact with the Roman administration.
During the Roman period the present day county of Oxfordshire was divided politically between three late Iron Age tribes: the Catuvellauni, the Atrebates, and the Dobunni. Although several small towns were established there was no central administrative centre and no major towns present. However, Dorchester-on-Thames was an extensive settlement surrounded by earthen defences by the late second century AD, later reinforced in stone, and an altar shows that there was an official working for the Governor in the town in the early 3rd century AD. The scheduled sites east and west of the scheduled area comprise Iron Age and Roman enclosures and/or settlements alongside a system of trackways and the recent investigations on land of Didcot Road has revealed further Roman activity in the form of a series of ditches.
The cropmark evidence and subsequent geophysical investigations that have been undertaken across the site have confirmed the presence of a series of rectangular enclosures located to the east of what appears to be a north-west by south-east aligned droveway. This droveway, in turn, extends from a significant north-east by south-west aligned track which runs through the scheduled area appearing to link Sutton Courtney with Dorchester-on-Thames. The latter track was archaeologically investigated as part of the works undertaken in Neptune Woods in 2006 and was seen to comprise a series of parallel ditches, which had been recut during their lifespan. Roman pottery was recovered from one of the ditches, indicating that they silted up during the 2nd to 4th centuries AD. No surviving trackway surface was observed during the investigations and it is believed that this represents a minor track as opposed to a major route way. Part of the north-west by south-east aligned droveway was investigated during the 2019 evaluation of the site and was dated by two base sherds derived from separate pedestal beakers of fine Oxfordshire reduced ware. One of the enclosures pertaining to the ladder settlement was investigated by the University of Oxford in 2015. It was concluded that the settlement was late Roman and may have been of relatively high status, based on the proportion of fine wares recovered. It is suggested, based on the presence of Early Saxon pottery in the top fills of the Late Roman ditches, that the gap between the latest Roman occupation and earliest post-Roman activity was likely short.
The monument includes an Anglo-Saxon Great Hall complex comprising four post-in-trench timber hall buildings and a sample of numerous putative sunken featured buildings (also known as grubenhauser) centred at SU 54828 93665, SU 54902 93770 and SU 54961 93571: a sample of enclosures and associated droveway representing the remains of a Roman ladder settlement centred at SU 54883 93756, and a portion of Roman trackway centred at SU 54953 93511. The area is situated at a height of approximately 50.00-55.00m AOD (Above Ordnance Datum) and comprises four separate plots of land which are bounded overall by hedgerows, and post and wire fencing. Didcot Road runs parallel to the west and Neptune Wood encroaches to the south-east.
ANGLO-SAXON GREAT HALL COMPLEX
Cropmark, geophysical and archaeological evidence for the monument at Long Wittenham suggests the presence of at least five separate hall buildings representing part of a great hall complex and probably grubenhauser. To the eastern and central portions of the monument lies an L-shaped arrangement of hall buildings whose presence has been confirmed by a combination of aerial and geophysical surveys and an archaeological evaluation undertaken by Oxford Archaeology in 2019. The geophysical data indicates that the northernmost hall measures approximately 12m (north-south) by 5m (east-west). Archaeological investigation revealed the foundation trenches or beam slots to measure between 0.85-1.40m in width by 0.14-30m in depth. A posthole measuring 0.70m in diameter with a depth of 0.56m was recorded cutting one of the beam slots, containing two sherds of pottery dating to the 5th-7th century. A pit measuring 1.40m in diameter by 0.54m deep was observed outside and to the west of the hall which appears to be located on a line of discrete geophysical and cropmark anomalies thought to represent a pit alignment or, more likely, a fence line. This alignment appears to extend for a length of 110m in a roughly north-south orientation until meeting a semi-circular feature to the south. A second hall which appears much larger on cropmark evidence but was not picked up on the geophysical survey is located approximately 12m to the south of the first. It measures about 18m (north-south) by 7m (east-west) and was represented in the 2019 archaeological evaluation by a single beam slot measuring 1.76m in width by 0.60m in depth. Its projected size places it within the parameters for consideration as a ‘great hall’ building. The third hall completing the L-shaped arrangement is located approximately 22m to the south-east of the second hall and measures 12m (east-west) by 8m (north-south) as indicated by the geophysical survey. Two confirmed beam slots were investigated during the archaeological evaluation measuring between 0.50-64m in width and 0.28-32m in depth. A posthole with a diameter of 0.40m and depth of 0.11m was observed cutting one of the beam slots.
Cropmark data and a geophysical survey undertaken for the University of Oxford in 2015 indicate the presence of a further east-west orientated hall building about 115m north-east of the centre of the L-shaped arrangement of halls, measuring 16m (east-west) by 7m (north-south). It’s size and location in relation to the other halls indicate this to be a further potential ‘great hall’ building, although this is yet to be confirmed by archaeological investigation. A smaller structure was also identified by the same means approximately 160m to the east of this and was the subject of an archaeological investigation by the University of Oxford in 2016. The fieldwork fully uncovered the remains of a post-in-trench timber building measuring 11.6m (east-west) by 6.1m (north-south). The foundation trenches or beam slots were observed cutting the natural gravel horizon by 0.70m in depth (about 1m below the present day ground surface) and exhibited vertical or near-vertical sides and a sub-flat base. The walls of the structure appeared to be primarily comprised of 0.10-0.12m wide rectangular planks, placed centrally within the wall trenches. It was observed that the east and west halves of the hall were not perfectly aligned and there was a break in the north and south wall trenches, coinciding with the north and south entrances, subdividing the hall into two halves. It was also noted that the foundations of the western side of the structure were less regular, that the western half of the north wall bowed outwards, and the edges of the wall trench were disturbed in several places. It is posited that these features may be due to an episode of rebuilding, or it may be a consequence of the building’s construction, which appeared to have taken place in several successive stages.
A series of possible post pipes were visible extending from the north-west and south-west corners of the hall and within the wall trenches. One certain and three possible entrances were identified in plan, one in the middle of each wall along with a number of internal features including two possible partition walls and a series of postholes. Small external bulges and posts were also observed along with squared corner posts. The hall is believed to have had a gable roof, supported by a ridge beam running along the longitudinal axis of the building, based on the identification of two ridge posts in the centre of each end wall. There was also evidence for repair, rebuilding and possible dismantling after use. The investigation of the building typically produced very little material culture, but what was recovered comprised one sherd of Early Saxon pottery and eight sherds of Roman pottery from the foundation trenches. A number of fragments of animal bone, mostly sheep/goat with some cow, pig and red deer, were also recovered. Radiocarbon analysis of the bone has dated the building to the 7th century AD, with the architectural styles consistent with high status buildings of this period seen at Sutton Courtenay and Yeavering.
Numerous possible sunken-feature buildings (SFB’s or Grubenhäuser) have been identified at Long Wittenham from aerial photographs. A significant number of these (in excess of 60) appear as cropmarks to the south of the hall complex buildings and appear clustered to the north of the junction of the north-east by south-west trackway and the north-west by south-east droveway. These features are yet to be archaeologically investigated. Further evidence of Anglo-Saxon activity was observed in the 2019 evaluation including a large pit containing 5th-7th century pottery westwards of the L-shaped arrangement of halls. A rectangular feature, indicated by a geophysical survey prior to the evaluation was investigated and comprised a very shallow linear feature measuring 0.30m wide by 0.06m deep with a flared concave profile. This feature was postulated to be a sixth hall building but the evaluation results throw doubt on this interpretation and it is likely it represents an enclosure. Present evidence indicates the scheduled area takes in the heart of the Anglo-Saxon activity.
ROMAN LINEAR VILLAGE AND TRACKWAY
A substantial linear trackway has been identified from aerial photography running north-east by south-west across the southern portion of the monument. Cropmarks delineating the trackway indicate that it survives for around 100m across the scheduled area, although it continues beyond this into neighbouring fields to the east and to the west. Sections of the trackway were investigated in Neptune Woods by Oxford Archaeology in 2006, with at least two ditches on the appropriate alignment being observed in a majority of the trenches. Investigations there revealed four ditches, the most substantial of which were 3.70m-4m apart, both between 1.5m-3m wide by 0.25m-0.5m deep. A number of the ditches had steeply sloping sides and flat bases. Roman pottery and one residual prehistoric sherd were recovered from the fills, lying above the primary erosion deposit. Towards the centre of the southern end of the monument a junction appears visible in the cropmarks with a north-west by south-east alignment track or droveway extending north and south of the main route. A northern portion of this droveway was investigated in the 2019 evaluation by Oxford Archaeology. Two parallel linear features were observed orientated north-west to south-east. The easternmost of the pair exhibited a broad ‘V’ shaped profile, with a steeper side to the south-west. The lower fill contained two sherds of Roman pottery of about AD 100-410 date. The second ditch was not excavated.
The above trackways appear to correspond a Roman linear village or ladder settlement. This comprises a series of rectangular enclosures, seen as cropmarks and confirmed with geophysics, sited to the eastern side of the north-west by south-east track or droveway. The enclosures start to be visible about 120m north of the main north-east by south-west trackway, but intensify after approximately 200m. The northernmost enclosures appear to measure between 45-48m in length (east-west) by 14-17m wide (north-south), with some smaller square shaped cropmarks backing onto these to the east measuring between about 12m (east-west) by 11-14m (north-south). Two larger southern enclosures are evident measuring between 30-40m (north-south) by about 45m (east-west). In 2015 the University of Oxford undertook an excavation targeting a geophysical anomaly believed to represent an Anglo-Saxon long hall. The subsequent excavation demonstrated that the feature in question represented one of the Roman enclosures. The ditches that formed the enclosure were bowl shaped and measured 1.30-66m wide by about 0.60m deep. Roman pottery sherds recovered from the fills were predominantly 3rd-4th Century, with the exception of a near complete 2nd-4th Century beaker. Two putative pits/postholes, measuring 0.33m wide by 0.05-2.7m deep were observed within the fill of one of the ditches. Despite containing 7 sherds of Roman pottery dated to the 2nd-4th centuries, their precise nature is uncertain.
Modern gates and post and wire fencing are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.