Anglo-Saxon settlement in Suffolk

Our excavations in the village of Chelmondiston, on the Shotley Peninsula in Suffolk, have revealed archaeological finds and features of three main periods – Early Iron Age (5th to 8th centuries BC),  Middle Anglo-Saxon (8th/9th centuries AD) and late medieval (12th to 14th centuries). The site is just 600 metres from the coast at Pin Mill, on the southern side of the estuary of the River Orwell, and 500m from Chelmondiston Parish Church which is to the southeast.

Most of the Early Iron Age features were small pits, scattered across the part of the site that fronts the estuary; what prehistoric pits were used for is a subject much debated. There were also a few, small, four-post structures, usually interpreted as storage or granary buildings.

Middle Anglo-Saxon settlement in Suffolk

Middle Anglo-Saxon Settlement: Buildings, Wells and Cess Pits

The main phase of activity saw a group of Middle Anglo-Saxon post-built buildings set within curving enclosure ditches and occupying the higher, southern half of the site. These were clearly part of a larger spread of settlement that extended to the south and east, now under the modern village.

Excavation of a storage pit at the Anglo-Saxon settlement in Chelmondiston
Excavating one of the pits

The main structure was what’s called a hall building – 12m long by 6.5m wide, with an eastern extension or annex of around 5.5m square (see photo above). It was constructed with earth-fast posts and would have had planked walls, a raised floor, and a roof of thatch or oak shingles. It would’ve been the main living accommodation for a family, with a large open room and central hearth, and an internal division at one end for storage, and sleeping space on a ‘mezzanine’. The building was aligned roughly east to west and would’ve sat within a ditched and banked enclosure. Further postholes to the east and south of the building represent fence lines and smaller, perhaps open-fronted structures, such as barns and sheds.

Chelmondiston Ipswich Ware from the Anglo-Saxon settlement
Examples from the large cache of Ipswich Ware

To the east of the build, still within the enclosure, was a line of four wells and cess pits, the latter dug into earlier infilled ditches, likely to help them drain. All of these features contained some finds material, mainly pottery, with one holding a good assemblage.

The pottery recovered was all Ipswich Ware, a beautiful, hard-wearing material made in the nearby town between c. 700 and 850AD. Ipswich ware was the first wheel-turned pottery made in the country since the Roman legions departed some 300 years earlier, and was turned on a slow wheel rather than being spun.

Ceolmund’s Enclosure: The making of Modern Chelmondiston

Chelmondiston medieval pottery from the Anglo-Saxon settlement

While the village was not mentioned in Domesday Book, it was clearly in existence at the time (a common occurrence) and these enclosures may well represent the beginning of Chelmondiston as a nucleated ‘modern’ village. The name most likely comes from ‘Ceolmund’s Enclosure’ – Coelmund itself coming from the from the Old English Ceol “Keel” (of a ship) and Mund “Protection” – and it is tempting to think of this house as belonging to one of the first Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the village, late in the early 8th century (perhaps not Ceolmund himself, but one of the wider family…?!).

As an aside, this part of Suffolk has an unusual number of ‘-ton’ village names running up the Orwell into the River Gipping and its tributaries, which took their names from named individuals such as Floki (Flowton), Nagli (Naughton), Hnaki (Nacton), Wulfhere (Woolverstone) and Eoforweard (Erwarton). It’s an unusual concentration of such place names and there will be some meaning in this.

The Medieval Pottery Industry

Chelmondiston medieval pottery from the Anglo-Saxon settlement
Beautiful and intact medieval jug

The village either shifted eastwards or consolidated into a tighter area around the church over the late Anglo-Saxon period (late 9th to 11th centuries) and it wasn’t till the 12th century, after the Norman Conquest, that an area of small-scale roadside activity came back to the site, along the frontage of Richardson’s Lane at the west.  At the back of this area was a large and well-preserved 14th century pottery kiln. The surrounding area contained large quantities of material produced in the kiln, much of it ‘wasters’ – the pots that didn’t fire properly or collapsed or burst while firing.

Something like 130kg of pottery were recovered alongside five complete, or nearly complete, vessels. This represents the first evidence for pottery production in Chelmondiston and will add greatly to knowledge of Medieval pottery production, use and supply within this part of the region. At first glance the pottery does not look to fit with any known, named contemporary types and may well end up with its own moniker – Chelmondiston Ware.

Richard Mortimer
Post-Excavation Manager

Middle Anglo-Saxon settlement in Suffolk
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